A very scenic drive takes you a few hours to get from Montreal to Quebec City, and if you’re us and you take a wrong exit you also get to cross the Ste. Lawrence River a few times, and you can then say, “That fucker is huge!
Happy birthday, Quebec City! Who in this year of 2008 turned 400 years old. The city has gone all out and the celebration goes on night and day the whole summer. (They even had a FREE Paul McCartney concert on the Plains of Abraham, but it was after we left). This meant we had gone from Canada Day in Ottawa to Jazz Festival in Montreal to this non-stop celebration in Quebec for 9 straight days of civic festivities!
The world knows Quebec City as Quebec City, but people in Quebec just refer to it as Quebec, which can be a little confusing. It’s a rather large city and one of those that has another half of a city on the other side of the St. Lawrence river, Levis, that thinks it’s a whole ‘nother city. The area of interest is really Old Quebec, herein referred to as Vieux Quebec, which, absurdly, has an even older part in it, Old Old Quebec known as Vieux Vieux Quebec. Just kidding you—the old old part is known as Lower Town and the simply old part is known as Upper Town. Viuex Quebec is the only completely walled city in Canada (even the USA has none) with battlements and canons still all around it. Like in Montreal the attitude is you can assess your own risk of things so it’s okay if you want to walk on the top of the wall and stuff, which is cool.
I don’t want to get ahead in travel blog chronology, but later in Halifax we saw a comedian who said when he saw Old Quebec he exclaimed “this is the most European city in the world!” Haha—-it’s in Canada! It does have a very European feel, with winding narrow cobbled streets and ornate stone buildings, and public squares and beautiful buildings like the Chateau Frontenac, the most photographed hotel on Earth. We got to Quebec in the evening and walked down Grand Allee Est, which is the main gateway to Vieux Quebec. When those French people say they’re having a party they really mean it. There were all kinds of drinking and dancing on the street and the hugest disco ball known to man.
We were hungry for more crepes and night was falling. The Latin Quarter of Viuex Quebec was hyper crowded with shoppers and people watching street performers. There were pretty girls standing on street corners with menus to entice you into restaurants and I asked one where the best crepes could be found. Step was shy to ask a competitor but she was really friendly and said the locals eat crepes at Casse Crepe Breton, a mere block away, and that the prices were very reasonable, too. Like everywhere else, there was a line-up, but it wasn’t too too long before we were fed a fairly decent savoury crepe. AND there was a ‘50’s aesthetic poster in the bathroom advertising “Robin”. The concert was the next day and it had my name on it, so I took it (sorry, Robin, but your poster was such a beauty I couldn’t resist!).
We walked almost all the way around the wall. The portion facing Levis had crowds of people lined up facing the river, waiting for what we guessed were fireworks, although if any happened we never heard them. The buildings and hotels were beautifully lit and there were all sorts of battlements and canons everywhere. It really had a romantic feel. The area above the Citidel was all grassy hills with no one else on it, and from there you could hear that night’s concert, which was some band—I think their name was ‘Flower Power’— covering songs of the ‘60’s (where have all the flower people gone? They are partying in Quebec). Nearer the stage people had climbed onto what were actually not very safe portions of the wall for a free show.
It was getting late and we decided to find a campground, as they all were a bit out of town. (I haven’t mentioned yet that Quebec Tourism puts out the best campsite guide of all the Canadian provinces, detailing locations, routes, costs and services AND has maps. As a rule, we go for municipal or provincial campsites before private ones). On the way we stopped to check out the huge disco ball at night—quite an effect! I drove and got a little lost, until we found ourselves on “Louise Quatorze” Ave, which is what the Beaumont Municipal Campground was on. They were closed but we happened upon a French speaking man who let us in and led us to the one Anglaphone on staff. He said we could come in but cautioned us to be very quiet as it was after hours. All the lights had been turned off and the roads were very dark. We got to the campsite okay, but when backing in I somehow wedged the Boogie Bus across the road in between a tree root and a dirt embankment. It was a very stressful situation and in the end we just bit the bullet and dragged the bus across the root. This operation took some 20 very noisy minutes.
In the morning we saw some trim had been ripped off the driver’s side running board and one of the fog lights, which had never worked anyway, had been broken off. The Boogie Bus has a fiberglass spoiler which drops down on the front for aesthetic purposes that had annoyed us ever since the Stewart-Cassier highway, as it has very low clearance and it grinds against the pavement every time there’s a dip in the road (a noise that was incredibly worrisome until we figured out what was making it). We had kind of been hoping it would just break off eventually but the Get-Away conversion people attached it very firmly. The Beaumont back-up disaster had bent that up pretty good but it still tenaciously clung to the bus. (Later I was able to reattach the trim with some double sided tape, and maybe now we can get some fog lights that actually work, so the damage wasn’t as bad as it seemed that day).
I went over and apologized to the neighbours about waking them up. They said they had been awake, anyway, but had been amazed to wake up and see only a van, because the noise sounded like a semi-tractor truck.
When you’re traveling you’re on vacation, but there’s always the pressure of having to see the local sights while you have the opportunity, which can get somewhat exhausting as you get over stimulated and your brain gets full. The day before Step was all burned out and wasn’t in the mood to do anything, so I suggested a day off from vacationing, which he agreed was a good idea. Step spent the better part of the afternoon sleeping on the day bed and I read Pete’s book outside and ate ice cream bars. It was a beautiful day and I went for a walk and got lost in the woods, but it was okay because all paths led eventually to Beaumont. After Step woke I went and got a tandem bike for free at the gate, and we rode around the site a bit. We tried to go out on a peddle boat, but the guy at the canteen said he couldn’t let us because a storm was brewing. It was still hot so we went for a swim in the outdoor pool, and amused ourselves for quite a while with a couple foam noodles and a beachball.
At Beaumont we met a couple from Italy who had been driving across Canada, starting on the west coast, and had been in Ottawa for Canada Day, and in Montreal for the Jazz Festival, and Quebec for it’s 400th birthday. They had been partying for 10 days straight! But they were having a great time and it was kind of cool they were doing the same thing as us, only they had to fly across the Atlantic to do it. They were soon going home, and we were headed to the Eastern seaboard.
That night it did rain a lot, and Step put his straw hat outside to soak, because it had got all bent up living in Area 51, the large catch-all storage space above the front seats of the Boogie Bus.
It turned out we used up all the nice weather sleeping and reading, for the next day when we went back to Quebec it was rainy and wet, and yet still warm and muggy, which doesn’t seem fair. You should only have to deal with one or the other, in my opinion, but so far no one has put me in charge of the weather. We started our day with breakfast at Buffet de L’Antiquaire, because that is our Quebec raised friend Linda’s favourite place to eat in Quebec. She enjoys the homemade baked beans there. It was good but honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference between their beans and Heinz’s. Maybe their beans were having an off day? The diner is near the wall of Vieux Quebec so we could walk into the city from there. We spent the day mostly walking around marveling at the old-style architecture and the beautiful colours of things. I considered buying some fleece lined Crocs which I had wanted since I discovered their existence, and maybe it’s silly but I just couldn’t bring myself to buy them there—it seemed so incongruous around so much history. But people live in Vieux Quebec so they obviously must buy mundane items like fleece lined Crocs all the time. So therefore buying fleece lined Crocs must be an authentic Vieux Quebec experience. Unfortunately this line of reasoning did not occur to me at the time. Which is too bad because I would have really enjoyed those fleece lined Crocs.
Even thought there are all sorts of things you can do in Vieux Quebec like tour the Citadel mostly we just walked around and ate. We weren’t even that hungry but we really wanted to try the Table d’Hote at Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens, so we did. They serve up what is supposed to be traditional Canadian food of the 17th century, and the décor is old style, too. We both had navy bean soup and Step had a meat pie of wild game while I had a sort of salmon and shrimp in pastry with white sauce. I had maple sugar pie for dessert. I can’t remember what Step had for dessert (maybe a pear sorbet?), except that it was good, and I can’t remember what it cost, except that it was very reasonable. We wandered a bit in Lower Town, and had a pretty nice coffee at an Italian café, and took the Fenicular back up because we felt sluggish after all that food and it’s a pretty high climb up. The Fenicular is like a glass elevator that goes up on a slant instead of straight up and down, and is well worth the 1 dollar 75 cents for the lazy. Then we found a depanneur that carried a Quebec beer Step likes. They also had some posters advertising another beer I looked for, because the graphics were really groovy, but it turned out they only had the poster and not the beer.
Around evening time we felt Vieux Quebeced out, and decided to head for the Gaspe Peninsula, so off we went.
Later in the summer, we revisited Quebec city, and if you’re curious, you can read about it here.