January 21st - 25th 2008
A collaborative family effort - the trip AND the web page! — for which Margaret did a detailed diary and Bob supplied the pictures.
As a winter of many disrupting snowstorms (07-08) drew towards its scheduled close I marvelled at just how lucky we were with the weather for our chosen week. This short holiday began with a very early morning drive to Belleville to take the comfortable Via train via Montreal to Quebec City. The rail journey itself was special as we were luxuriously seated and served delicious meals (wine with lunch), especially on the train to Quebec. Fact of Canadian life: announcements whilst in Ontario came first in English, followed by French; once in Quebec it was decidedly the other way around!
It proved to be a very short cab ride from the station to the Manoir Victoria (Rm 604) on la Cote du Palais with its views of the river and picturesque Old Town streets. There was just time for a short, bracing walk around the area to sample the character, find our bearings and discover an épicerie next door, before turning our backs on the chilly street to wallow in warmth and luxury whilst we looked over the city at night.
The following morning we were greeted with gently falling snow blanketing the surrounding rooftops. Our first full day to sightsee and what better than to begin by visiting the Quebec Experience, a 3D multimedia travel through time to relive the 400 year history of the city. Whilst being the off-peak season for tourists, we met up with a number of school groups; the highlight of any French Immersion program is a stay-over visit to this historic city.
Our days quickly took up a pattern of walking somewhere, indoors to look at things, followed by a café break before repeating the cycle. In summer this area is teaming with coaches and masses of tourists; it was fairly quiet now, but the Winter Carnival was only days away!
Later that day we walked up to the Citadel, built in 1820-50 by the British. We and one other (Japanese) tourist were escorted around this seven acre star shaped site, much of the tour being in the open where by now it was snowing steadily. The citadel is the home of the Le Royal 22e Regiment, most of whom are serving in Afghanistan. Some of the buildings had regimental exhibits from WWI and earlier periods, others had displays of medals bequeathed at the recipient's death. Guarding the river are the cannon of The Bastion, strategically placed on the high cliffs. From there we looked down on the ferry ploughing its way through the heavy ice. Now that would be an interesting experience!
The following morning (Wednesday), with "Ferry 'Cross the Mersey" playing in Bob's head, we resolved to cross the ice-choked St. Lawrence on the Lévis Ferry. To get to the docks, we walked down the steep and aptly named Cote de la Montaigne, where a wide slide-way was being erected right through the Old Town for the coming Carnival's snowboarding races. Then a descent of the well known steps to the exquisite boutique area Petit-Champlain — where luckily many of the shops were closed or I might have been tempted to buy!
Reaching the riverside, we had only a short wait for the Lévis ferry. I confess that I stayed in the warm inside for the greater part of the crossing and back, but always looking out as the boat crashed its way through the packing ice. O.K., I did one circuit of the deck to feel the biting wind and hear the cracking ice, but Bob braved the elements far longer, taking some fantastic pictures with sound accompaniments. On our return, we wandered back to the tourist quarter to eat a sandwich lunch at Le Petit Cochon Dingue (Crazy Pig), again finding a delightful upstairs window table in this famous bistro.
On our way back, we found the Interpretation Centre for the Heights of Abraham. Again, there were few visitors so we wandered freely. The multimedia presentation of the three distinct stages of the city's history was exceptionally well done, as well as being a good excuse to sit down for a while!
One of the pleasures of a holiday is to find interesting places to eat dinner. However, this time, after an active day, a shower and thorough warm-up, we were not inclined to venture far in the crisp snowy evening. We didn't need to, as the St. James Bistro with its main entrance on Rue St. Jean had a back way leading into the hotel. Dinner eaten in this warm, friendly atmosphere was inviting, and the food quite wonderful. I just loved the varied cheese plate served with crusty bread, blueberries and walnuts.
It's almost fourteen years since our last brief visit to the city, but I feel sure we'll be back before too long. So much to see, places to go, galleries to visit, Continental shopping and, of course, real food. Bon appetite!
On our last full day, we were greeted with sunshine, blue sky and its accompanying bright coldness, inviting us to walk somewhere at full pace. So we did — uphill and outside the old city walls, across the snow-buried Plains of Abraham.