We got up pretty early on Mardi morning, checked out of the hotel, got coffee at Tim Hortons in the Metro station, and then got on the road to Quebec City.
I wanted to take Route 40 through Trois-Rivieres because it followed along the north side of the St Lawrence, and I figured it’d be more scenic, if slightly slower. (It wasn’t, really.) There was very little traffic along the way, which was a good thing since there was road work (traveaux) EVERYWHERE. We learned to curse the traveaux just like at home.
We were hoping to make it out of Canada before needing gas, because as far as we could tell by the strange per-liter pricing, gas was super-expensive there. It was nice to have a 50mpg car, too, but that meant the tank was tiny. We pulled off in a town called Batiscan (which we named “body scan”) because they had a Shell sign on the highway, and then learned we had to drive into town. At least it wasn’t too far, and the town was apparently built in the 1640s. Holy crap.
We got gas ($50 Canadian for our tiny tank!), used the restroom, bought pop, snacks (tout garnie chips are the best!), and local beer. They had a really impressive selection of local stuff there, and we were pretty excited to have a beer called “Shawinigan Handshake“.
When I got back behind the wheel and turned the key, nothing happened. The car made an electric sound and did nothing. I tried again, and then again and again. I tried, the gas, the brake, the emergency brake, and nothing worked. The car wouldn’t start.
After a few minutes of panic about being stranded in a tiny Quebecois town, I decided to Google the problem. The first post that came up said that Priuses have a regularly-occurring issue with the steering wheel lock. Suddenly I remembered my really old cars having the same issue. I turned the steering wheel roughly back and forth, and then it started. WHEW.
We got back on the road and arrived at the outskirts of Quebec City around 2pm. It was an impressive view driving into town and seeing the old city up on top of the hill. I was really excited to see it, because it’s known for looking so European.
We managed to get to our hotel only getting lost once, which was miraculous considering the very-European streets. We got there via the Grand Allee, passing through the city gates. It was as gorgeous as expected.
We were staying at the Hotel Chateau Bellevue, which faced a park bordered by the famous Chateau Frontenac on the north, and the Terrasse Dufferin on the East. They only had valet parking, so we left the car out front and checked in. The guy at the front desk was very friendly, and the valet charge of $19/night was shockingly low for the location. Though we were there before checkin, they got us a room on the second floor (overlooking the parking lot, unfortunately – St Lawrence views don’t come cheap, I’m guessing). It was exactly the kind of room you’d hope for in a historic building.
We headed out to see Vieux Quebec. Crossing the park takes you to a set of stairs that goes down to the Terrasse Dufferin (the boardwalk-like walkway that goes along the edge of the Haute-ville, overlooking the St Lawrence River. From the edge, you look down on the Basse-ville.
There were cannons everywhere. Since we have a huge collection of photos of Bally hanging in cannons (i.e. Cannonbally!), we were in hysterics over the massive quantity of them sitting there. No, we didn’t put him in every single one. Just many of them.
The Chateau Frontenac is ENORMOUS. It’s a Fairmont hotel now, and has over 600 rooms.
It towers over the city. And yes, that’s a Starbucks at the bottom.
Here’s the view of the Basse-ville from the terrace. If you’re a sucker you climb down there, but those of us in the know take the funicular, obviously.
I got a text from my mom saying they were arriving in Quebec City, and wondered where we should meet. Since we were right by the most easy-to-find landmark in the city, we decided to meet near the Chateau Frontenac.
We figured it would take them a while, so we decided to walk up to see the Citadel. We headed toward the funicular that went up the hill, and realized as we got there that it was long out of service. We headed up the stairs instead.
A million steps later, we had to rest at the top. My mom said they were getting near, but after climbing up that high there was no way we were going to walk back down right away. It was also much warmer than expected, so we were totally sweaty and overdressed for the weather.
Most of the grounds of the Citadel were barricaded, so we had to circle the entire thing and then climb down a hill to find the entrance. Once there, we were told you can only go on an organized tour (it’s still in active use! We had no idea.), unless you want to go into the small courtyard and look around. Since my parents were waiting, we decided to do that. We checked out the shop quickly, too.
I love Quebec’s motto: je me souviens. We took it as a threat, since it’s way funnier that way.
My mom said they were waiting by the Frontenac, so we headed back that direction. We’d apparently gone a long way, because it took a while to get back. We walked through Vieux Quebec and found them waiting on a corner, worried about their meter running out.
They asked if we wanted to take a drive to see some of the stuff that wasn’t walking distance, and we said yes. (They had been to QC a couple times already, so they knew all the tourist stops.)
We drove out of the city gate again and headed into the park surrounding the Plains of Abraham. The area is gigantic, with a series of parks, trails, historic sites, and scenic overlooks.
And cannons. ALL the cannons.
We drove around some more looking at historic houses and awesome little neighborhoods, and then headed back into Vieux Quebec. I really love any city that has a wall around it.
Then we headed down to the Basse-ville, the oldest part of the city down on the river. The road heading down there is super-steep, which is why when you’re walking the funicular is the way to go. (Plus you know my love of funiculars.)
We found parking in a lot by the river and walked into town (just a couple of blocks). We found this gigantic mural on the side of a building, in a plaza commemorating the old part of Quebec City being a Unesco World Heritage site.
Photos can’t really do the town justice. It’s really incredibly attractive.
My dad was clearly ready for dinner – he walked around looking at menus while we looked at historic sites. He found an Italian place on this plaza that had an English menu, friendly hosts, and an outdoor patio (at our request), so we decided we’d go there after we were done wandering.
My one recommendation for what not to see in Vieux Quebec is the public restrooms. They’re mixed-gender and totally disgusting.
Check out the funicular!!
After walking around for a while and seeing some shops, it was time for dinner. My aunt and uncle were somewhere in QC, but we didn’t exactly know where. It sounded like they wanted to come with us, but we weren’t exactly sure. We got a table and ordered drinks while we waited.
Eventually we were dying of hunger and tired of waiting for them, so we ordered. We had another beer, and the food came out fairly quickly. By the time they arrived, though, I think the kitchen staff had quit or something. Service ground to a halt, nobody had anything coming to their tables, and the two servers looked like they wanted to cry.
My parents told us to not bother waiting, since we were done eating and had just arrived in town. We were more than happy to be let off the hook.
We walked around the area a while longer and then decided to go up to the Hotel Chateau Frontenac. The funicular was waiting to take us there.
It’s $2.50/person to ride the thing. Worth it.
Here’s the view going up the hill.
The Chateau Frontenac is even prettier at night.
We’d read that the Frontenac had a couple of really good bars, so we decided to check them out. The inside of the building was as opulent as expected, and the bar at the far end was really attractive except for the animal-based furniture.
(It had a hunting-lodge theme, so I guess it’s forgivable.)
Their cocktail menu was impressive, and though the prices were pretty steep, they were nowhere near what we expected. (Nothing like the 30-euro cocktail we had in Paris.) They were really innovative, too: Matt had a mix-your-own Negroni, and I had a gin drink that had an ice-shell cup holding powdered berries. (The drinks were apparently specialties from the SAM bar next door, which was more known for their craft cocktails.)
After a couple drinks there, we decided to check out another bar in town. We’d see a bunch of stuff along the Grand Allee when we’d driven in earlier, so we decided to walk up that direction and see what was there.
It ended up being a lot farther than we thought, and the entire route was up a gradual hill. We hadn’t really recovered from all the walking in Montreal, so we were both a little crabby about it.
Once you got past the Hotel du Parliament building, the street was lined with restaurants. Everything had a sizable patio, and the vibe was way more South Beach than we’d have liked. We saw a beer bar called Les Trois Brasseurs, so we headed in there. It was a huge cavernous place that was mostly empty inside, since everyone was out on the patio. As we walked in, though, we felt a couple raindrops, and felt that inside was probably the place to be.
We found a spot at the bar and ordered a sampler of their beers. The Coupe Memorial and the Rangers-Lightning Stanley Cup game were on TV, so we were happy. Ten minutes later, the sky opened up and it started pouring outside. Suddenly the patio was empty, and the huge bar was very full.
There had been nothing in the weather report that even mentioned rain, so we figured it would pass quickly. It kept going, though, so we ordered another round and waited. The bar had last call at 11:15, so when we noticed that the rain had mostly stopped, we got our check and headed back toward the hotel. It was about a half-mile walk downhill from there.
Within a block, it started raining again. Then it started pouring. I was really glad I had a purse made of vinyl, because we were absolutely soaked. I was wearing flipflops that became really slippery, and walking downhill didn’t help. When we got to the city gate, we huddled under it for a while just to get out of the rain and wring out our clothes.
We walked into the hotel lobby, dripping all over the place. Sorry, Hotel Chateau Bellevue. Back in our room, we had a beer in bed and watched a weird Quebecois call-in game show involving unscrambling the names of places in Quebec. The man hosting it was so annoying that I had to take his picture and keep it forever.