CHAPTER EIGHT: FEELING FRENCH IN QUÉBEC CITY
Day Six: On Track For A Good Day In Québec City, Hotel Excellence, The Walk Of Hell, Thank Heavens For Popcorn, I Thought We’d Already Seen Notre Dame, Are We In London?, A Mysterious Chapel, Never In Doubt … Seldom Correct, Drinks At a Grande Dame, Now We Find the Damned Funicular, Pub Crawl, Quaint & Crowded, Umbrella Policy, Looking For Ancient Drink Artifacts, Oh Deer! and How Many Languages Do You Speak?
Since we had a 9 a.m. train to Québec City, I, of course, needed to be there at least 45 minutes to an hour early. Kim, Mary and Tracy, knowing my OCD for missing trains, reluctantly joined me on our short taxi ride from the Hotel Gault, which we recommend as a place to stay in Montréal (I’m sure the jackhammers have left by now).
I had purchased Business Class tickets for our three-hour ride to Québec City, because the cost between that and the next class down was negligible, plus Business Class includes breakfast on the train, and if there is one thing we like to do is eat! Before boarding, Tom and Kim bought some croissants (need to eat before we eat) and cappuccinos at the station and waited in the lounge as economy passengers were loaded in the back. Upon boarding, we were offered the choice between an omelette with turkey sausage or cereal with honey (gotta try that at home). Both came with a fruit bowl and croissant or bagel. If you are looking for a scenic journey, this is not it. However, if you want unlimited cappuccinos and a smooth journey to Québec City, this is your (train) ticket (through ViaRail).
A little after noon we pulled into the beautiful Gare Du Palais in Québec City, constructed in 1915 by the Canadian Pacific Railway.
The interior is beautiful …
.. and so is the exterior, which due to a pouring rain, we didn’t get to see much of (luckily my friend the internet had better weather when it took a photo). The train station was designated a Heritage Railway Station in 1992.
We found the taxi line which had a long queue of wet people. After a couple of minutes, no taxis had shown up. “Hell with this,” we said. Crossing over to the opposite side, we texted Uber, who arrived almost before the driver’s name came up on the screen. Some of those waiting for a cab might have missed Christmas (and this was only October). It was eight Canadian dollars plus tip to Uber to the charming Hôtel le Priori (15 Rue du Sault-au-Matelot), located in the heart of Old Québec City (Vieux-Québec), which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
After checking out our comfortable rooms …
… we met in the front lobby to explore “la capitale nationale.”
Québec City Fun Fact: Founded in 1608 as a fur trading colony, QC is the only walled city north of Mexico.
By now the rain had turned into a drizzle and there was a brisk wind (47 degrees F without wind chill). For wimpy Californians, that’s cold, but undaunted we were in search of, what else, a couple of historic churches. Reportedly God said, “What? That group again.”
Knowing there was a funicular and that our first stops would be at a higher elevation, I was hoping we could take that baby up. We reached a set of stairs leading downward.
Knowing we were heading upward, we walked in the opposite direction in search of the funicular (a foreshadowing moment).
Within a couple of minutes we were on a curving, steep street, and I knew my bad knees were going to have a workout. After what seemed like an hour (in actuality, it was probably about five minutes) I spied a store. “Mary,” I said, “I didn’t know you owned a popcorn store.” Apparently neither did Mary, but there in front of us was Mary’s Boutique Popcorn Shop.
Already winded, it was a great respite, and the popcorn was unbelievably good (and I’m not a big popcorn guy). No rest for the weary, however, and upward we trudged, leaving kernels of caramel popcorn in our wake just in case they needed to find a deceased body at the top of the hill.
A level, albeit wet, street hadn’t looked this good since we were in Piemonte in 2018.
Our destination was the nearby Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Québec. The church was burned during the British Siege in 1759, and then the interior burned again in 1922, but was completely recreated. Speaking of North American sites, this is the oldest Christian parish north of Mexico. The gilded altar is patterned after the one at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
There are a number of paintings and other treasures dating back to the French regime, including a pewter sanctuary lamp near the right of the altar that was a gift from Louis XIV, one of the few items that survived the fire.
The body of François de Laval, beatified by Pope John-Paul II in 1980, is in the funeral chapel. He was sent to Québec to “oversee the spiritual development of New France and became the first Roman Catholic bishop of Québec.” de Laval was often in ill health, since he would frequently deny himself the use of blankets and healthy food. His death came after his feet were frozen on the stone floor of the chapel as he prayed … or by an ulcer (so many stories, so little time).
It was a short walk in the rain to our next stop, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the first Anglican cathedral constructed outside the British Isles. Look closely and the exterior architecture looks slightly similar to London’s St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Photo on right), which we first visited back in 2013.
Cathedral of the Holy Trinity was built in the first years of the 19th century,
The Gallery Organ dates to 1895.
Many people are commemorated on the walls. General John Hale commanded a regiment in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. I’m certain Tracy would not be happy to be considered a “fond wife.”
Jumping Jehoshaphat! The stained glass window up front is a memorial to George Jehosephat Mountain, a British-Canadian Anglican bishop. It was installed in 1864 and was the first monument of its kind in Québec. “The window was made in England and shipped to Québec City in barrels of molasses to protect it from damage.” A sticky situation, indeed.
We were now headed to the highest point in Haute-Ville (“Upper Town”), but suddenly someone looked like they were giving me “the finger.” On the Place des Tourangelles stands a 1997 monument with a hand resting on a bunch of books. It commemorates the 350th anniversary of the death of Marie-de-l’incarnation, founder of the Ursulines. I had never heard of the Ursulines, who, as I found out, are a “Roman Catholic religious order founded in Italy whose primary concern is the education of girls and caring for the sick and needy.”
Nearby, we quickly stopped in the Ursulines Chapel and Mary of the Incarnation Center, which had not been on my trip-planning radar.
There were more memorials on the wall of the chapel (hey, that’s not Mel Brooks is it?) and …
… Marie’s coffin is in an adjacent room.
Now we were finally headed to the highest point in Haute-Ville, the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, whose imposing edifice can be seen from virtually anywhere in Québec City (Umbrella foreshadowing). This is considered one of Canada’s grand railway hotels, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Mai Tai Tom Fun Fact: Canadian Pacific Railway and Fairmont were responsible for providing Tracy and me a nearly free 10-day honeymoon at plush hotels in Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper National Park in 1994 … I’ll have to tell that story one day when I find my old slides. (this photo of Frontenac taken a couple of days later)
A prestigious hotel, it made its mark during World War II as the venue (for the First and Second Québec Conference in 1943 and 1944) where people like Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vice-Admiral Lord Mountbatten, General George C. Marshall, and many others mapped out preparations for the Normandy D-Day invasions. Although I’m old, I am not old enough to have taken this photo.
We were very close to the chateau when Mary decided to head down a nearby alley thinking it was where the entrance was located. Although Kim, Tracy and I were more than skeptical, we followed anyway. “Never in doubt … seldom right,” Kim quipped. Alas, we found ourselves near a kitchen. Undaunted, Mary did come up with a great idea two days later. Eventually we found the entrance …
… entered the grand lobby. Wow!
We had heard that the bar afforded great views, so we wandered through the hotel. The bar was packed, and the views were pretty non-existent due to the heavy rain. We’d return here tomorrow instead
As we exited Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, not far away was a sign that read, “Funiculaire.” (We took this photo the following day). Citing musical philosophers The Grass Roots, “Where were you when I needed you?”
For $3,50 (cash only), we rode the funicular down, and the natives were lamenting the weather. “I don’t remember when it was this cold this early (October 2) in the year,” one woman said.
Exiting back down in Vieux-Québec, I thought I was in France (Cherbourg, to be exact). Holy bumbershoots Batman!
Umbrellas, umbrellas and more umbrellas seemingly floated above the cobblestone street of Rue du Cul de Sac (aka “Umbrella Alley”) in Quartier Petit Champlain. I knew we couldn’t be in Cherbourg because Catherine Deneuve could not be found.
Rain started pouring down again (not even a plethora of umbrellas could save us, so we popped into Le Bistrot Pape Georges, 8½ (rue du Cul-de-Sac). The photo is from the internet … it was dark. The playlist was perfect, and there were eight tired legs looking for a table and chairs.
We plopped down. Kim, Tracy and I enjoyed some beer and wine, while munching on a much-needed cheese platter. When in Québec City, do what the Québeckers do … Mary tried a Québeccoise; tall maple syrup whiskey and soda. It was tasty.
After our brief respite, we started exploring Old Town with its numerous charming shops and restaurants. We were not alone. As we’d been told by locals, when the cruise ships arrive, the town more than doubles in population.
Stores were welcoming everyone with open arms and cash registers.
Although it felt like winter, pumpkins showed us it was still autumn.
The signage was cute, but we decided candy would not be a prudent choice at this moment.
At a small cafe, this guy just wanted to “pig out,” but it seemed the patrons inside must have been hogging all the tables.
I paid this guy to play “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” and, as you can tell by his expression, he was enthralled. Actually, he was very nice and was quite good.
“What the …!” This store sells a popular Québec fashion line.
Le Lapin Sauté on Rue du Petit Champlain just missed the cut as one of our restaurant choices. I heard one of the rabbit dishes was large enough for two to split hares. We hopped away.
This shop had a very colorful spokesman, but you could tell by this photo taken in late afternoon, he had hit the wall.
As the crowds headed back to their respective mothership, we strolled the area for about half an hour. With the cold weather, Tracy said this coat looked inviting. The price, however, was not (even at the good exchange rate for Americans).
We meandered back under the umbrellas toward our hotel.
Kim and Mary headed to the Hotel Priori for a nap, but Tracy had told me she wanted to stop at a place called Artéfact. “I thought you weren’t into ruins,” I said. She answered, “I do when they serve martinis.” Damn, I really did marry well.
Bar Artéfact is right down the street from Hotel Priori, and is located inside the boutique hotel Auberge-Saint Antoine. And there are ruins, too, besides Tracy’s husband. “The bar showcases relics dating back from six distinct eras in of our property’s history.” It’s all part of an old warehouse that dates all the way to 1822. The restaurant here, Chez Muffy, also garners great reviews.
We were more interested in a martini and a Manhattan, and these were good ones.
Since we we weren’t having dinner for about 90 more minutes, we decided we had walked enough for some more snacks. Thank God for walking or we’d gain 40 pounds on vacation.
Looking at the bar menu I spied poutine, and I realized I had yet to try this Québec classic dish of French fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy. I figured I’d get to eat this coronary-on-a plate dish later in the week. Although more elegant than most bars we visit, the ambiance was perfect, and we had a very personable bartender.
We arrived back to the hotel, took one of our patented 17-minute naps, and after freshening up, it was time for dinner. More rested, Kim and Mary joined us on our short journey back down the stairs to Bistro Sous le Fort (48 Rue Sous le Fort), which is situated very near the foot of the now omnipresent funicular.
There were only intermittent sprinkles, and what had been a very crowded area just a few hours before, was now the quaint Vieux-Québec that locals enjoyed before the birth of cruise ships.
If first impressions are important for you, our waiter had me confident we’d be in for a good time. He was witty and quite intelligent. We had heard him chatting with a couple of other tables, both in different languages (none being English). As it turned out, he was fluent in five languages. I’m still trying to master one. Looking at the wall of the restaurant, we knew he didn’t speak with a forked tongue.
We started with maple and ended with maple (hey, we’re in Canada!). To begin, Tracy and I ordered brie with maple and rum sauce. For my dinner entrée, I traveled a little outside my comfort zone and ordered red deer. I felt a little guilty since we had seen some of those deer (probably not the ones on my plate) near Broadway Tower in the Cotswolds (right) six years before and also in Scotland (left) in 2017.
From the deer to fish ’n chips to a chicken salad and even quiche, the dinner was delicious and was a great choice for night one in Québec City.
For dessert, I had a spectacular maple cake that Tracy attempted to replicate. She has since given up, but her cake recipe she is working on right now does contain maple..
Back outside, we nearly had the Old Town to ourselves as we walked back to the hotel.
On Place Royale stands Notre-Dame-des-Victoires (Our Ladies of Victory). It is considered to be the oldest church in Canada built in stone that still has its same walls.
A few steps away, we turned to see the Fresque des Québécois, a fresco we had seen on the side of building earlier in the day, which was now lit. The mural “recounts the story of Québec City, weaving in visual allusions to its unique architecture and fortifications, and its larger-than-life personalities. Look closely at the building’s windows: you’ll see some 15 historic figures and nearly a dozen of Québec’s leading writers and artists.” Very cool, and we’d learn more about it as the week progressed.
The four of us trudged the last couple of blocks back to Hotel Priori. We were able to accomplish a lot on our first half day in Québec City, but there were many more sights to behold.
Starting off the following day, tragedy was narrowly averted as Kim, Tracy and Mary nearly plummeted to their ultimate demise at a famed Québec City museum (or so it looked).
We’d have one more day of rain to contend with, but that didn’t stop us from checking out an important battleground in Québec’s history and a park named for one of the world’s most famous women. With the inclement weather, we decided to pass up one outdoor sight that we’d hold off until tomorrow, when, according to weather reports, there might be some blue skies.
Tracy and I would have a surprisingly memorable lunch at an Italian restaurant, while Kim and Mary were able to sample poutine at a place near our hotel. Meeting back up, the four of us got that cocktail at Le Château Frontenac, and in a moment of weakness, after some window shopping (what’s happening to me?), I succumbed to the group’s request for (hard to believe) an afternoon nap.
Since one Italian restaurant wasn’t enough for us, we’d dine at a classic Québec City Italian establishment before finally taking a walk back down that hilly street from the night before. I was hoping my knees would survive.
NEXT – FALLING FOR QUÉBEC CITY
Day Seven – Brrr!, Canadian History Lesson, Optical Illusions, Taking A Pass, The Battlefield Becomes A Golf Course, Halloween & Joan, I Know These Guys, Mist Opportunity, Bella Bello, Cocktail At The Chateau, Rainy Day Napping, Two Italians Are Better Then One, Hail Caesar (Part 38) & Downhill Is Harder Than Uphill