John and Gina's Quebec City/Quebec Province of Canada Trip Blog - - September 29 to October 5, 2008
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Written by John Rice, General Manager - (813) 868-0007 - firstname.lastname@example.org
Quebec City and the Province of Quebec in Canada - il est Magnifique!
We chose Quebec for last fall's vacation for a variety of reasons. First we had $400 vouchers from a previous trip that were expiring and we could fly to Montreal for about $400. Second, we had a need for a taste of Europe, some cooler weather and fall foliage in Quebec seemed like the ticket. Lastly, Canada provided us with short flights from Florida and a positive exchange rate.
The trip ended up being much nicer than we expected. The vouchers would only get us as far as Montreal so we rented a car and drove the highway along the St. Lawrence Seaway up to Quebec (about 3 hours). With a very early start from Tampa, we were ready for some food when we got out of Montreal. As we got off the interstate, it looked mostly like fast food joints, but a mile or so up the road, we found fresh baked baguettes with home made brie and other cheeses along with a couple of bottles of water. The rental car was full of crumbs by the time we arrived in Quebec. The scenery was spectacular along the way as fall foliage was at the peak with reds and yellows surrounding the interstate. We had explored public transportation on trains and busses and it was readily available, but we went for the extra cost for the car and parking. We were very glad that we did because of the weather and the great attractions in the Northern Quebec region. Quebec City is the old town and new town but Quebec is also a mostly French province of Canada that stretches from Montreal in the south to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the north.
We rented an apartment for six nights in Quebec and the management had a mix up with the apartment we were supposed to stay in outside the wall. We were upgraded to a large apartment on the main street in Quebec and we were about two blocks from Chateau Frontenac. When we looked at the guidebook, we were walking distance to all the best restaurants we had researched. The weather did not cooperate, but even the cool drizzle the first few days was a nice change from the nineties that had extended into September in Florida. The first night, the rain had not started yet and it was a cool night, so we actually used the spectacular back porch with the view of the Laurentian mountains, until it got too cold for a glass of wine. We looked in the guidebooks and web stuff we had brought and settled on a restaurant called Le Retro and wrote down the address which was the same street as the apartment. We walked less than two blocks and realized we were really staying in the heart of the action. Retro is a small French bistro serving what could only be called French country fare with classic entrees teamed up with veggies, starches and other beautifully displayed sides. Gina has a chicken with wine and mushrooms and I have a beef with some other kind of wine sauce. Both dishes are great with an inexpensive bottle of French wine.
The first morning, we got up to a cold steady rain but we had planned to go see the Louvre exhibition anyway. We have the car stashed in the parking lot across the street under the City Hall for about $65 a week and the auto rental only cost about $120 US$ for the week but the drives to the nearby islands, areas and mountains made the trip. France has sent a wonderful exhibition of Louvre pieces to celebrate the 400th anniversary of The City of Quebec and we spend the whole morning, but are not finished. We drive through the park to find the mussels in the guidebook. After a winding road down through beautiful yellow and red leaves, we are in lower Quebec by the seaport. We went out to the Cochon Dingue "The Crazy Pig" for two buckets of mussels with one with herbs and wine sauce and one with mustard sauce plus a home brewed beer. We pass the buckets back and forth with bread and a salad. After lunch, it is still raining so we head back to the museum for the rest of the exhibition and the rest of the museum. About nine, it is still raining, so we headed next door to Portofino for what is billed as the best Italian in town. Real authentic Italian and real overpriced with so so service but right next door on a rainy night.
The next day, we head out in a light cold mist to see Ile d'Orleans in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. We drive the whole loop and the entire island is still agricultural with strawberries, potatoes, cows and farmhouses, on a very large island, all in the middle of the river. The whole loop around the island took us about 2 hours to drive. We pass a couple of restaurants with the Globus tour busses so they are probably good restaurants but very crowded with two busses at the same time. This makes for a good point that you can explore this area for fall foliage, even if you do not drive. We offer cruises from New York or Boston up the St. Lawrence River plus companies like Globus Tours that run escorted bus tours take people around places like Canada with luggage handling, breakfast daily and motorcoach transportation.
On the north side of the island, we see a brew pub that has a hand written sign saying pub food. We are almost back to the beginning of the loop, so we pull in to see gleaming stainless steel beer tanks on floor one. Upstairs, we walk into a beautiful local wood paneled bar with locals speaking French. We are lucky as the waitress speaks some English so between our terrible French and her English, we laugh our way through ordering. I have a dark Scottish ale and Gina has a wheat beer. We are pleasantly surprised that the "pub food" is heavier specials of the day for a cold rainy day and we both order the beef stew. Large chunks of beef along with local potatoes and carrots are served steaming hot in a large bowl with baguettes.
After lunch, the sky has finally broken through and we stop at Parc de la Chute-Montmorency to climb up the waterfall. At the base is a reception building with an optional cable car to the top for an extra charge. The sky has cleared for a while with a cold fall sun so we opt for the path and steps to the top. Gina announces that she does not think she can walk across the suspension bridge over the waterfalls, but we head off. We take two picture stops (actually rest stops) up on the hundreds of steps to the top. Afterwards, you cross a green park and a fall foliage path with yellow, red and green trees to the top of the waterfall. Gina looses her fear when she sees the substantial design of the bridge and we walk across for the view. You can see all the way back to Quebec City and across to Ile d'Orleans where we spent the day.
We get back into Quebec in the late afternoon, but still full of beef stew, we walk around the old town for an hour or so, watch the cruise passengers scurry back to the ship. After the walk up Montmorency and around Old Quebec we are actually hungry again. Then we head back to the apartment for a glass of wine and a trip down the street to Les Freres de la Cote for dinner. This is a crazy open kitchen with one of the best meals we had in Quebec. Not much atmosphere but absolutely great food. Gina has a veal and I opt for Saltimoboca like in Rome and both are excellent!
Friday, the weather forecast is still for so-so weather, so we head out for a daytrip about two hours north to Charlevoix. The main elements that beautify Charlevoix are undeniably the majestic Laurentian Mountains and the Saint-Lawrence River. The wildlife and the exceptional richness of its flora has warranted its classification as a world biosphere reserve. As we leave Quebec City, we pass the ski resorts and Mont Tremblant, then the interstate ends and we are on four lane country road for the whole time. At the gateway to Charlevoix is Baie St. Paul with art galleries and craft shops. We drive through town, move to two lane country roads and make the climb into the hills. We stop to look back to the valley and drive for another hour and a half up and back the across the twists and turns on highway 138 to La Malbie with each corner of the trip more beautiful than the rest. On the way back, we stop at at a small B & B for a very classic French lunch of local seafood in puff pastry as a price fix lunch so we are very full as we head down the mountain. We stop in Baie St. Paul for the arts and crafts walk but after the big French lunch, mostly for the walk before driving back to Quebec. As we really do not know what we want to eat and it is the evening for the Vice Presidential debate on Vermont TV from across the river, we head out to look for a delicatessan. What we find delighted our senses after traveling Italy and France. The gourmet store as they called it had everything Gina was familiar with in Italian delis but also the French equivalent of the same things with every cheese like a fine French Formagere. Off we go with a fine Bordeaux and an antipasto to sit on the couch and watch Joe Biden throw punches at Sarah Palin on TV with a crisp French baguette.
Saturday morning, we get up to a clear crisp morning to walk the old City. We start inside the walls of the City walk up to Chateau Frontenac. Up the boardwalk and then we climb up to the Citadelle. The view from the Citadelle is fabulous and you can see both up and down the river at various vantage points. The cruise ships are parking in the early morning bright, cold sun and the ocean going vessels are working their way up and down the St. Lawrence as Quebec is at a strategic bend in the river. Today is our day for Old Quebec on our fourth full day in town so we walk the uppertown and find that in a few hours, we can walk up and down all the streets to see the architecture and beauty that have made this a stop for travelers for 400 years. We stop back at the apartment for a coffee and then head into lower town looking for something to eat. First we go to market and wish we had found this a few rainy days earlier. Buy a fresh lobster and some fresh made pasta and voila you have a meal or some handmade sausage and potatoes grown on Il d'Orleans. We got to taste some things but did not think much of the Quebec red wine we tasted or the port type product they made by fortifying the wine. Too late in the week for food shopping, but a nice walk around on a cold day so we head off to menu shop for lunch. After all the heavy French, we are not sure what to eat and opt for a fire baked pizza with a Cesar salad. In the afternoon, we do some shopping with the cruise ship people and have a taste of the frozen maple candy. The heavy French cuisine can only be had so many times in a six day trip so we are thinking steamed mussels. Two evenings ago at Les Freres de la Cote we saw a steaming bowl of mussels done in the classic French style with Herbs d'Provence and Pernod so about 10 we are finally hungry again and head a block down in the rain for a glass of wine and two buckets of fresh mussels.
Sunday we head out of town to the North and into the Laurentian mountains. As we climb out of the City, the reds turn to yellows and finally as we get to the pass, the colors are gone and all we see is tiny little pine trees. We stop to look at a small brook and I tell my wife and fellow Floridian to get out of the car because snow flurries are coming down pretty fast. Neither of us have seen snow in years so we are thrilled even though it only lasts about two minutes. We head back down into the valley section of the Jacques Cartier National Park and the fall colors are as pretty as they could possibly be. As it is Sunday, everybody has families out hiking in the fall foliage and they are having a great time. We stop at the Park Lodge for a couple of bowls of soup and split a sandwich. We drive about ten miles into the park and take a short hike. After that, we head back into Quebec for an average meal at one of the fancy Italian restaurants suggested by our landlord and called it an evening after a pub crawl in the rain.
Right: A Florida girl bundled up for
Monday with the crispest 40 degrees we had felt in a long time, we took the beautiful three hour drive back to Montreal to catch the plane. We had enough time to drive an hour along the river and stopped at a very average looking diner in a working class mill town near Montreal. The only thing we had not eaten on this trip to French Canada was onion soup so we took a chance. Probably the best bowl of baked French Onion soup on the planet with a salad at half the cost of inside the wall in old Quebec City. We slept most of the way to Philly and half the way back to Tampa after the plane change as we are getting too old for the after dinner pub crawl. Quebec and French Canada in Quebec Province was one of the best trips we had taken in a long time and we vowed to return as soon as we can.