The last time I had been in Quebec City was more than ten years ago when I stopped in for a night with friends on our way to a wedding in Nova Scotia so it was certainly time for a return visit.
Given the preciptious drop in the Canadian dollar and a bit of patriotic guilt, we decided this year to put a priority on travelling in Canada with the kids. Quebec City is often referrred to as a kind of ‘encapsulated’ Europe within Canada. I think that may be a bit of a stretch but it certainly has a unique culture – or some might say it is a ‘distinct society.’ It is just about a five-hour drive from Ottawa to Quebec City so we decided that it was worth a three-night stay and we also put a priority on trying not to do too much in one day since we have been busy at home and at work lately. Our weather represented a true Canadian spring – you name it, we had it. Rain, some flurries, clouds, sun, warmth, cold, wind – it was all there.
On Saturday, we woke up to sunshine and set out to explore our neighbourhood of Saint-Roch. Most of the activity seems to be focused on Rue St. Joseph so we walked the length of it until we were drawn in by Benjo, a giant toy store. In the last seven years I have been in plenty of toy stores but this was certainly one of the most impressive with giant displays, a racetrack that we had to drag the big guy off, and even a train that the kids could ride around the store on. After that, H found her own version of a toy store, some unique furniture shops!
In the afternoon we hiked up to the old city and wandered through the streets before visiting the Chateau Frontenac, a most impressive old Canadian Pacific hotel. From there, we took the stairs down to Petit-Champlain and then boarded the ferry to Levis that crosses the St. Lawrence river. The ferry provides quite an impressive view of Quebec City, much like taking the Staten Island ferry out of Manhattan, and although the ice was out of the water when we were there, it is impressive that this thing manages to run all year. After taking the ferry back since there really isn’t anything to do in Levis beyond getting back on the ferry, we took the funicular back up to the walled city instead of the stairs. By the time we walked all the way back to our neighbourhood we had covered a pretty good distance.
Despite this, we thought it was a good idea to try out a fancier place for dinner, Les Salles Gosses, right near our place. The staff was excellent, the food was really good, and the kids were complete contrasts as Lil’ E downed lobster linguini while the big guy declared everything on the menu ‘disgusting’. Things really went downhill when we discoverd that the ‘veal balls’ were not actually a meatball made with veal, but a more literal translation. Perhaps not our finest parenting decision to try and push for this meal, but the snow crab croquettes were delicious!
On Sunday morning we set out to Montmorency Falls, about 15 minutes east of Quebec City. This is quite an impressive sight that is actually slightly higher than Niagara Falls. Although the stairs that allow you to go down right beside the falls were still closed for the season, the suspension bridge was still open and it provided quite an amazing perspective. Although we didn’t make use of it, there is also an old lodge there that houses a restaurant and a small interpretative centre that we toured through. From the top of the falls, there are also impressive views of the St. Lawerence River and Ile d’Orleans.
Later the same day, we went up to check out the Plains of Abraham, the site of Canada’s most famous battle that eventually led to the fall of the French troops and victory of the British Empire. Although historically significant, the Plains are essentially just a large, open expanse of grass which while lovely in the summer was just plain cold and miserable with the wind whipping off the river. However, while checking out some of the historic cannons we were offered passes to the National Museum of Fine Arts by a kind lady who had extras. While we only had a little time to check out the museum before it closed, we did manage to explore the Bryan Adams photography exhibit which exceeded my expectations and was pretty interesting to see. Even the kids enjoyed the large-scale photos and took turns picking their favorites. Overall, despite the weather being a bit dicey, we had a great time in this unique city. On Monday we returned to a couple of our favorite shops in our neighbourhood, picked up lunch for the ride home and headed back to Ottawa around noon, flying through Montreal on the bypass that makes travel through the city a much more reasonable proposition again.