This morning I drove to the top of Mount Royal, the hill in the center of Montreal, looked out over the city, and then hit the road. I loved Montreal and thought about staying another day, but decided that it’s not much of a road trip if I’m not on the road.
I headed out of the jumble of interchanges and highways that surround the city and drove Northeast to Quebec City.
I discovered a couple of things along the way to the capital city. The first is that Quebec is very flat, at least on the southern side of the Saint Lawrence River. Whenever I think of Canada, I think of mountains and snow. The part of Quebec I drove through was mostly farms and long stretches of flat land. After a while the farms gave way to trees, but never to the point where it felt like some vast northern forest. Score one for reality vs ignorant preconceived notions. Truthfully I’ve been through a lot of Canada on trips, and I know it’s not all mountains and forests, and yet I still hold onto that notion.
The second thing I discovered is that Tim Bits are good, but not all that special. They’re not really different from Munchkins from Dunkin Donuts. I honestly don’t know what I expected. That said, there really are Tim Horton’s everywhere up here, so that stereotype holds true.
It took me a little while to get out of Montreal, and while the drive was only about two and a half hours, I got to Quebec City later than I’d hoped. Much like Montreal, I didn’t have a hotel booked, or even one in mind. I drove around for a while, getting a feel for the city, and eventually stopped at a Best Western, which was all full up. The guy at the desk warned me I’d have trouble finding anything available in the city. He was right. I tried a few other places, and then gave up and went to google. At any rate I’m writing this at a Super 8 about five miles outside of the city center. When I got here the only room they had available was a suite, which I took. I’m not gonna complain but I would never have guessed a suite at a Super 8 would have a fireplace and a Jacuzzi tub in the living room. After two days of walking around cities for hours, that Jacuzzi was a godsend.
One aside from my hotel search. Whenever someone here greets me with ‘Bonjour’ I have responded ‘Bonjour’. Every single time the person I’m talking to has immediately switched to English. I realize that I probably just look American, but you’d think at least one of them would continue on in French. I’m actively trying to say it so it sounds French and not over-pronounced. Something about how I’m saying it is a dead give away apparently. Alas.
Once I finally got a hotel, I headed back into the city, specifically the part known as Old Town. Old Town is exactly what it sounds like. Small cobblestone streets lined with old buildings converted to shops, galleries, and restaurants. It’s the main tourist part of the city, and in the center of it is a huge hotel called the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. Originally opened in 1893, it’s a beautiful building. Old town is separated into upper and lower parts by a steep hill and winding narrow streets.
I parked at the bottom in a lot on the river and headed out. The only goals I really had was to see the Chateau and ride the funicular. To be perfectly honest, the Chateau and the funicular were the only things I actually knew about Quebec City. I knew about the Chateau because it is the first thing that comes up when you google Quebec City. When plotting out a loose structure for this trip, I had looked the city up, saw the picture, and immediately decided I was going to come here. I knew about the funicular because in chatting about the trip, Liza mentioned it. At the time I did not know what the word meant. I have spent a lot of this trip googling things I didn’t know, let me tell you. A funicular is a cable railroad, usually going up mountains. I have actually been on one before in Hong Kong, but didn’t know it had a special name. Live and learn.
I wandered over to the funicular, and I do mean wandered, the lower part of Old Town is really cool and filled with a lot of things to look at. Eventually I got there and road it up to Upper Town. It was worth the price. The ride is short but pretty neat and with a cool view, but also the hill is steep as hell.
Once you step out of the funicular and walk up a short set of stairs you emerge in the shadow of the Chateau. The hotel is enormous and somewhat intimidating up close. It’s also beautiful, as is the rest of Old Town. There is a similar part of Sydney called ‘The Rocks’, that it all reminded me of, although Old Town feels older. It all has a very European feel to it. I’ve not been to a ton of European cities, but enough to say that this has that combination of old buildings, sidewalk cafes, dozens of languages being spoken, and a settled feeling of having been there a long time. That last part is something that I never pick up on in American cities. Everything is too new, and the stuff that isn’t new is in the process of getting torn down to put in new things. Quebec City, at least Old Town, is steeped in its own history and comfortable in the duality of being a modern city in an old place.
Before too long I headed to a restaurant for a nice dinner. The place I chose was in the lower part, with a patio nestled into the rocks at the base of the hill, and lined with lights and green. It was lovely. The food was delicious, and they had pear soda, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The most memorable part was the French onion soup. I felt obligated to have some while in a very French city. I’d never had my choice of cheese on top before, so that was nice too. The cheese I chose was Cantonnier. It was more expensive but I’d never heard of it so that seemed worth it. It was delicious.
After dinner I rode the funicular again, watched the sunset behind the chateau and then drove outside of the city back to the over-large hotel room.
It’s nice here. I think I liked Montreal more, but Quebec City is beautiful and less annoying to drive in.
So that was day two. Tim Bits, French onion soup, long drives, and wandering old cities. I haven definitely had worse days.
Tomorrow I’ve got some decisions to make. My general plan was to drive to Saint John in New Brunswick. That however is at least a seven hour drive, including crossing into the states, and then back into Canada. Given how that went last time, I’m not sure I want to do that, so I think I’m going to drive up to Riviere-Du-Loup and then head south.