After breakfast this morning with Jan & Jack, and petting the cat one last time we headed out the door for our final vacation destination: Quebec City. The drive was pretty uneventful. We stopped once to eat lunch, get gas, and have a milkshake. Other than that, we did the 6 hour drive straight. Alex got caught up on the trip journal, and then Chad took a nap while listening to Harry Potter while Alex drove. One book down, so many more to go...
We made our way into the Old City without any issues. Our only hiccup was that Google told us to turn down a road that was closed for construction, which eventually led Alex to going the wrong way on a one way street, and when she tried to turn around and pull over to check the map (since we knew we were right beside our hotel but just weren't sure how to actually get to it by car) we got waved on by a security guard implying we couldn't stop where we were. So we had to circle the old City while trying to figure out how to get to the parking area for our hotel. Finally we realized that we could actually go straight past the security guard, and that was how to get there. So we blame him for the extra driving - if he hadn't waved us on so persistently we probably would have figured that out on the first try. Oh well, the detour didn't hurt us.
After checking in to our room, we headed out to wander old Quebec. The Grade 8 tours from a week ago are no longer around, but there are still a crazy number of tourists compared to locals. It really feels like the only locals are the ones working in the shop and restaurants, and that's it. Pretty much everyone wandering the street looks like a tourist.
We scoped out some paintings and wandered through some markets, and then went to one of the restaurants our hotel recommended called La Buche (the lumberjack), which serves traditional Quebec dishes with a bit of a spin. Dinner was very good - Alex had a Salmon Pie 2.0 which meant all the ingredients but not actually in a pie form with a delicious vinaigrette salad, and Chad had pigs feet stew with a creamy salad. We ate well! Then more wandering on the way back to the hotel.
We woke up today ready to go exploring, with a list of museums that Chad wanted to see.
Breakfast today was at a craft market where they were selling sweet and savoury crepes. Alex opted for the ham, cheese, tomatoes, egg, and lettuce. Chad swapped ham for sausage. Buckwheat crepes are delicious! There were a bit unusual in that the tomatoes and lettuce (and in Chad’s case the sausage) was not put inside the crepe. Instead, the crepe was folded like a taco shell and those ingredients were added into the middle. It was still good, just a bit harder to eat.
Bellies full, we headed off to find the ferry. Chad wanted to see the skyline from the water and apparently the simplest way to do that is to ride the ferry between Québec City and Levis that take about 12 minutes per crossing and costs ~$4/person. It is an impressive view, with the Old Quebec walls and the Chateau Frontenac towering over the lower town area. We’re still not quite sure where the famous angle that everyone paints is (looking up at the Chateau with Champlain’s statue perfectly off to the side of it). The two possible explanations we’re going with so far are (1) the trees are now too tall for this view to exist, and/or (2) someone took some poetic license with the angles, and everyone’s copied it ever since.
We briefly hopped of the ferry in Levis, to look at their preparations for Canada Day and watch some little kids happily running through the water fountains spurting up through the concrete. Then, back over to Québec City to find the Naval Museum.
The museum was a bit off the beaten path – we had to walk beyond the tourist blocks to the area where Quebec City inhabitants work – actually to the naval base itself. Clearly people in some of the offices were a bit tired of being asked for directions, because in addition to the official signs, there were a few signs in office building entrances saying “Naval Museum to the right”.
The museum was pretty neat, and quite different. It was free, and set up all in one room. It looked at different aspects of the lives of sailors, with each one telling a short story specifically about one sailor with quotes from them and their families, and displaying some of their memorabilia. After going through exhibit, Chad spoke briefly with the guide who was there to answer questions, and was told that the man who had put the exhibit together had known all of these sailors and their families, and so had been about to collect these very personal quotes and artifacts. It was clearly a personal mission to preserve these stories before the men who had survived the world wars died.
We wandered the lower portion of the old town after the museum, exploring some shops and looking for a good place for lunch. We ended up getting pizza (Chad) and a “European hotdog” (Alex) at a café on the stairs connecting the lower town with old QC. Alex thinks a European hotdog really just means thin sausage, but it was good. She also had another “lemonade”, which was not lemonade – apparently in Quebec (it happened in Percé as well) lemonade means grapefruit juice with grenadine. Not what you’d expect, but pretty good.
After a bit of a rest, we headed off to the Plains of Abraham to check out their museum. This was a well done exhibit that in theory started with a movie giving you a timeline of events and then a museum display floor showing aspects of soldier’s lives and life in QC at that time. It also spoke a bit to the alliances with the different Native American tribes, and some of the conflicts that could arrive because of the very different cultures (Native American and European). Because we arrived 15 minutes too late for the movie, we started with the exhibit, so had to be careful not to do them backwards (we discovered in Europe how confusing that can be!). It was interesting to read about what life was like (they have done a few different archeological digs in the area) as well as how the soldiers lived and the different punishments that they had for various crimes. I don’t remember if I’d previously known where the phrase "run the gauntlet” came from – running between two rows of soldiers hitting you on the back with metal rods. We also learned that they drank a lot – apparently at one dinner hosted by General Wolfe, the average number of drinks per person was 34. Their alcohol must not have been as strong as ours; otherwise I don’t know how they were still standing.
The battle at the Plains of Abraham lasted only ~30 minutes, and is famous because it resulted in the deaths of both generals (Wolfe and Montcalm) and appears to have ultimately helped the English take QC, which surrendered several days later (somehow Alex feels like the exhibit seemed to gloss over that aspect).
After a nice walk along the boardwalk back to our hotel (so conveniently located!) we changed and headed out for a nice Italian dinner. It turned out that the restaurant we were headed to is owned by the same person as the place we ate at last night, and has the same head chef. Again, they did a great job with the food – excellent calamari and seafood tagliatelle pasta for Alex, and arancini sicilana (fried balls of rice and cheese) and pork risotto for Chad. Alex was also very pleased to discover that they served a good non-alcoholic beer – Krombacher wheat ale. This restaurant (Bello) also had the same style bathroom as La Buche, although the fancier version. Very nice!
Then we strolled back to our hotel and listed to a Harry Potter audio book before going to sleep.
This morning we tried out the breakfast at our hotel. For $4/person, we each got 3 mini croissants (nice and warm), a hard-boiled egg, jam, tea/hot chocolate, and 2 slices of toast. Not bad!
Our main itinerary stop today was the Citadel. We arrived in time to see the changing of the guard that happens every 2 hours. They must be so hot in their dress uniforms! And those hats.. I really question whether they can actually see at all under those hats.
The Citadel is a functioning military base, with ~180 soldiers working at it (most do not live there because their families are not allowed to do so, with the exception of the commanding officer). This base is one of the homes of the 22eme regiment (the “Van Doos”). Our guided tour took us into a few of the buildings, which are now used as museums, and told us about some of the history of the regiment as well as the history of the Citadel, including why it was constructed in the first place (the English wanted QC to be well defended – and so far it’s never been attacked, so as our guide said “it worked!”).
The Van Doos were the first French infantry regiment in Canada. They were created so that the French speaking Canadians were not put at risk by not being able to understand the orders of their commanding officers during World War 1. This was apparently quite an issue at first, according to our guide. After WW1 was over, the unit was disbanded, and then reformed a few years later. Our guide told us no one knows why the regiment’s emblem is a beaver but the mascot is a goat (Batisse). However, the first 4 Batisse’s (they’re now on #12 I think) were sent all the way from England as a gift to the regiment from the Queen. It was interesting for Alex to hear about some of this history and additional context after having read the book “Out Standing in the Field” by Canada’s first female infantry officer, who served in the Van Doos. There is a lot of history in this regiment, as well as the Citadel. There are statues honouring the members of the regiment awarded the Victoria Cross during WW1, and their moto is the same as that of the province of Quebec “je me souviens”, although in this case it means “we remember our history, our comrades”. We were also on the base for the cannon firing, which was very loud. Alex didn’t quite manage to plug her ears in time.
After that Alex was not feeling great, so we headed back to our hotel for a rest. After a snooze, we did some more wandering and window shopping around old QC, and Chad got his birthday present a bit early – a moose head made out of hockey sticks!
After another rest (this time Chad fell asleep), dinner was at Polina Pizzeria. Chad’s pizza was very good, and Alex’s French onion soup (of course here just called onion soup) and caesar salad hit the spot. Then back to the hotel to bed!
Happy 150 years Canada.
With all of the stories in the news recently about the various views on this celebration, we were both OK with driving home through it. Alex still wasn’t feeling great, so we headed off first thing after waking up.
Home Sweet Home! :)
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