Tuesday, July 8, 2014

J'aime le Centre-ville (Quebec City edition)

It's no secret that I love downtowns, but now it is proven that I love French versions too (or at least French Canadian)! My French is still abysmal after a week in French Canadian cities, but my love of downtowns and amazing cities has grown even more (I know...you didn't think it possible, right?) While I've had Paris a the top of my travel list for a while, buying a new house quashed any ideas I had in my head of going to Europe. We decided that we'd do a North American version by heading to Quebec City and Montreal. It was a week filled with spectacular street design, delicious food and cocktails, hard running terrain and a lot of walking. It was exactly what we needed.

On the more than 13-hour drive from Lansing to Quebec City we worked on my French. And by "worked on" I mean my husband said phrases, I repeatedly them horribly and then got frustrated and turned up the radio. We were tested while stopping for dinner and attempting to convey our food order to the young woman who did not speak English. It wasn't pretty, but we ended up with food - even the right thing we ordered. My husband took French in high school, but he was rusty. I starred blankly at the girl speaking French and then blankly at my husband until someone made something work. I'm very helpful like that.

It was around 9 pm on a Monday when we drove into Quebec City, and it was love at first sight...or first street design is more like it. As we exited the freeway into the city we didn't find eight sprawling lanes of traffic like we have here in Michigan, but more narrow streets with crosswalks and bus lanes. It turned into a lovely boulevard with beautiful houses on either side of the street. And then we drove down Grande Allee toward our hotel, and I looked at my husband and said, "Shut up. This is amazing." It was late evening on a Monday, and people were everywhere. The street narrowed and then suddenly became one way with little (or no? I'm not sure) warning. 

I was so tired after the drive that I'd proclaimed we were going to bed early, but after I saw the city I knew we had to go explore. We checked into our quaint auberge (inn) on the fabulously designed Rue Saint-Louis and headed out to check things out. We were just a few blocks from the world renowned Chateau Frontenac, and we headed there to see what was happening. Again, let me reiterate, now nearly 10 pm, people everywhere. Amazing. We walked in neighborhoods around our hotel and discovered the street blocked off a few streets from our hotel. Rue Saint-Jean had people walking everywhere, terraces filled, and my heart nearly exploded with city happiness. 

Rue Saint-Jean. 10 pm on a Monday. In love.
Tuesday was Canada Day, and the city was filled with celebrations and again people everywhere. It was also nearly 100 degrees, which was shocking weather for that area. My husband hates warm, humid weather. I love it, but we generally vacation somewhere cooler in the summer because of it. We were foiled by the very warm weather in Quebec City, which was warm even by my standards. 

Historic Chateau Frontenac near our hotel

Square near the Chateau. So beautiful.
Rue Saint-Louis, right by our hotel
We headed to Lower Town in the morning to check out the shops and galleries near the water. It was a beautiful view as we walked down the stairs. There were some fantastic shops on Rue Petit Champlain, a street that has been recognized as a great neighborhood by the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Looking down to Lower City
The quaint Rue Petit Champlain
Lest you think I made it up.

We browsed, took photos and walked around throughout the morning before heading up to check out the Canada Day celebration at city hall. The Governor of Quebec was there, and the military was out in full force. Several passed out during the ceremony because of the heat, and they have a fancy goat as their mascot. Honestly...I can't make this stuff up.  The Canadian military is legit. (Did that come off as almost sincere?)
This is a goat in a fancy cape. Seriously.

Canadian soldiers lined up outside city hall

Later we headed to check out more celebrations at the Plains of Abraham. The Plains of Abraham is a huge and gorgeous park in the middle of the city that was the site of a battle between the French and British in 1759. The park was filled with people, games and music to celebrate Canada Day. 

That evening was the first of several delicious dinners, this one at Bistro 1640 in the heart of the city. After a warm day it was perfect evening for crisp sauvignon blanc, a delicious duck breast, and the company of my favorite guy. We discovered that despite our fears many in Quebec City spoke English. My husband's French improved over the days we were there. I discovered that if I starred blankly at someone speaking French to me they would adjust and speak English. Winning.

In front of the Chateau heading to dinner
A delicious white wine on a hot summer night.
The next morning I was itching to go for a run, and we headed out in the morning. The temperatures were still hovering in the low 80s on a sunny, gorgeous morning. It did not bode well for a run. Humidity was high, and Quebec City is hilly. We all know I love the hills, but the hills combined with the heat were a bit much even for me. At any rate we ran, and it is always worth it.

Running was also critical because my husband was on the search for poutine. Poutine is a decidedly Quebec dish that tops French fries with cheese curds and gravy. I can get behind the gravy, but cheese curds are squeaky. And gross. I was not loving the poutine, but my husband was happy.

My poutine face.
Following poutine we headed to Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, a gorgeous waterfall and park just outside Quebec City. The falls are 272 feet tall, a full 99 feet taller than Niagara. It's also viewable from the freeway which is very interesting. We walked across a suspension bridge over the falls which was disorienting even despite my general love of heights. We the walked down the stairs beside the falls to the bottom which was gorgeous. It was a workout of more than 400 stairs back to the top, but it was totally worth it (and again we had poutine to burn off). 

Suspension bridge over the falls

What...these little stairs?

I like to jump in front of stuff. It's my thing.

How about a closer look?

Who wears white shorts to a waterfall? This girl.
We had friends from Lansing who just happened to be in Quebec City at the same time, and we met them for drinks in the Lower City that evening. It was raining, but that didn't deter the crowds. We had drinks and appetizers before we bid adieu.  Chris and I ambled up Rue Sous-le-Fort to have dinner at a restaurant of the same name. The food was incredible. My husband ordered the escargot, and I was immediately jealous that I hadn't done the same. It was delicious. I did have bison sausage for dinner (which was incredible and not as weird as it sounds). It was a great way to cap off a gorgeous day.

Thursday was our last full day in Quebec, and it was flawless. It was also the celebration of the City of Quebec's 406th birthday, so there was a lot going on. In the morning we perused the antiques district in Lower City before heading back city hall for more military ceremony and to check out the weird goat mascot. We then headed toward Grande Allee for lunch.  This street is so well designed for public space - restaurants and terraces everywhere. It appears that they removed a lane of traffic on each side to accommodate terraces. The street is narrow, cars move slowly, and it's a great space for pedestrians, bikes and cars. We had lunch on a terrace before heading to The Running Room, a local running store chain. It was about a kilometer walk to Rue Cartier which was another greet street with lots of shops, restaurants and people on foot and bike. 

Lunch on Grande Allee
One of the things we noticed about Quebec City is how beautifully they repurposed old buildings and seamlessly integrated the new with the (very) old. At one point we saw an old church that had been preserved as the face for new condos. An old hotel was turned into a hospital. It was extraordinary their attention to preservation and detail. 

An old hotel turned hospital.
The face of a church saved for a condo development. Gorgeous.

Following the obligatory running shirt purchase we headed to the Quebec Parliament Building for a tour. We ran into our friends from Lansing who just happened to be there as well. Parliament was in session, and we got to observe a bit of it. It was fascinating for us political nerds (our friend is also a lobbyist) to check out how their government works. It's quieter than ours. And more orderly.

On our last night we had an insanely amazing dinner at Chez Boulay. I don't even remember what was in the appetizer we had except she mentioned some kind of melty cheese and venison terrine. Yes, please. It was melty and amazing. I wanted to drink it. I had duck again for dinner, and my husband had bison cheek. The food was just so decadent, and I didn't want it to end. 

We stumbled out of dinner to art on the street and people everywhere. Quebec City was entering the start of a five day festival to celebrate its birthday. The evening was flawless, and it was the perfect capstone to a lovely few days in Quebec City.

Art on the street and reflected on the city's wall
The most beautiful sunset ever.
Before leaving for Montreal on Friday we went for a last run in Quebec City. The morning was much cooler, and we headed to the Plains of Abraham to enjoy the views of the St. Lawrence River as we ran on the bluff along the water. Running in new cities never gets old - it's the best way to scope the place out or enjoy the last views of a marvelous place. We left Quebec City more relaxed and happier than we arrived, and isn't that the point of vacation? C'est le vie!        


  1. I. Love. This. I want to go there now.

    1. You should go - it's amazing! Like Europe within driving distance!