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Published: July 28th 2016
Being in Europe sure does wear you out. I’ve been in Québec City for a couple of days now, and I’ll be leaving in the morning. I was definitely not ready for all the walking that it would require. I mean, I’ve been to Europe several times and gotten used to the walking (everywhere), but when you don’t build your way up to it, your body says no. While I’ve been out of the USA since Friday, I still hadn’t walked a lot. The Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick involved a good bit, but it wasn’t the same. That’s all for pleasure. Halifax had such awful parking that I just ended up driving most places. But here in Québec, I had to leave my car in the parking deck unless I wanted to pay much more. And it wouldn’t make much sense to drive to all these places, anyway. The streets are narrow, they become pedestrian around dusk, and most places are too close to warrant driving.
I definitely didn’t write an entry for yesterday, so if that disappoints my readers, alas. I had some of that old thing called “living” to do. And by the time that was done,
I was too tired to do any writing. So let me start from my night at the B&B in New Brunswick…
It was definitely worth the money I paid for it. The room was so nice, the breakfast was amazing, and the location was perfect – away from anywhere noisy but still on the way to all the places in Edmundston that I wanted to check out. The breakfast had three courses (I know, right!), one of which was a ploye, a local dish that the hostess gives to all out-of-town guests. It’s a buckwheat pancake, basically, that’s never flipped over. Served with butter, or with any fruit spread too. Of course it was good. And the final course was an English muffin with an egg prepared on it, with hollandaise sauce and chives. She can cook, for sure, and I would highly recommend staying there – the Au NIDaigle – if you’re ever in Edmundston, New Brunswick.
Since I had neglected to take the time zone change into account (New Brunswick is Atlantic Time, one hour ahead of Québec, which is Eastern Time), I had an extra hour to spend before I could check into my hostel
in Québec City. So I ran some errands. I went by the bank to get some money, I stopped by the post office for some stamps, and I stopped by the pharmacy for an ace-type bandage. I think I hurt my rib cage more than I initially suspected at the lake before I left on this trip, so any little bit helps. It has helped so far.
The drive to Québec City took 3 hours and really nothing happened. I had to drive north to Riviere-du-Loup (the northernmost point of my trip) before turning southwest along the St. Lawrence River toward my destination. The city itself – the new part, where most business and homes are located – is noisy and busy. It took so long to get through all that. My hostel, the Auberge Internationale de Québec, is located just inside the Old City, which is walled. It’s within walking distance of every touristy thing you’d hope to do while in town. And after walking around for a while, me and a few French guys agreed that the Old City is basically a good place to eat. Loads of restaurants with all kinds of tastes to offer.
My hostel room is on the 3rd
floor, and it’s a guys-only room. Last night, I shared the room with at least 5 other guys – there’s a capacity for 8. Tonight, I know there are at least 4 other guys, but who knows who else will show up before we’re done. Everything here is clean and easy to find, and I even got the chance to do laundry this morning - $4.50 for detergent and wash and dry, which I really needed primarily for underwear and socks, and that one shirt that I wore yesterday that was ripe when I took it off last night. There’s no a/c, which is somewhat of a problem, since it’s warmer here these days than they’re accustomed to. The high today was 84 F, but it’s cooled down to 77 as of this writing. We leave the windows open, hoping for a nice cross-draft. It’s my first stay in a real hostel experience in years. It’s about how I remember it – mostly decent people but the occasional jerks who turn lights on or make noise in the middle of the night. But my entire stay, with parking, is less than $100 Canadian,
so it’s still pretty much worth the hassle.
Once I got settled in, my first task was to walk around and get my bearing. The first place I visited was the fortress walls, which are a block away from the hostel. You just climb some stairs and end up at one of the gate post towers, and you can walk between many of the towers along the walls, some of which are still stone, other a mixture of stone and grass. They can give you some good views above the hustle and bustle. After that, I walked down one of the major shopping streets, Rue Saint-Jean, where I found plenty of restaurants and souvenir shops. Suddenly, I found myself in a major square, and I know it was major because a pair of performers had set up shop and were doing tricks with knives, fire, and stilts. I watched it for about 10 minutes before I got bored and moved on. It was still my first hour in town, and I wanted to see what else there was to see.
I walked to the “boardwalk” area, which is next to the Chateau Fontenac, the swankiest hotel in town.
It’s seriously like a fortress or castle, but it’s a hotel. It dominates the area. But if you walk across the boarded area, there are great views of the Saint Lawrence River. I took those in before decided to head to the other side of the Old City. I even decided to get out of the Old City and see what fun places were further afield. I entered into a hipster-type neighborhood with plenty of local shops; my main purpose was just to walk around, since I knew going back to the hostel would probably be even warmer. My last stop before heading back was a restaurant called Mike’s, because I wanted some poutine. They advertised an Italian poutine, and it’s basically the same kind I had before, but instead of gravy, they used spaghetti sauce with meat. I felt like I had made something like that when I was younger, honestly. But my appetite was filled and I felt like a rest.
I did not get rest. At least not for a while. Lying in my bed, I contemplated going back outside for some night air, maybe enjoy the coolness. One of my roommates, a college student from
Marseilles, France, named Pacou, asked if I wanted to see what anybody else downstairs might be up to. Pacou spoke very little English, so we had to communicate completely in French. It’s not usually a problem, but when we got downstairs, the people in the lounge area spoke pretty much English only, so if we asked them about their plans or whether they knew of anything going on, I had to interpret. Not really my cup of tea, especially when the English speakers wanted to keep having the conversation as I was translating. Anyway, some guy from Newfoundland told us about a circus, so we decided to find it. It had already started, but they said it was free, and we had nothing else to do. Once we figured out how to get down to the harbor where it supposedly was taking place, we could find no evidence that there was or ever had been a circus there. So we went back to the hostel bar, where our Newfie friend was still sitting, and told him we had found nothing. Pacou got a beer, but I just needed to rehydrate. After that, we went back up to the room and
found that we had some roommates from Paris who had been to some national park all day. They were heading to Montreal today, but they were planning on going out and doing whatever they could find in town here. We wished them luck and then Pacou and I turned in for the evening.
Our Parisian friends returned around 4:30AM and, well, they tried to keep the noise down. And then they opened up the curtains next to their window and it may as well have been 10 AM with all the light. I covered my head with the bedspread and was able to sleep until about 7:45. When I got out of the bed, I was sad to see that Pacou had already departed. I didn’t realize he’d be leaving so early. We did have a good time last night, despite the failure of our mission. I guess he didn’t say goodbye because of the bedspread over my face. Alas.
This morning, I had the breakfast at the hostel, which was decent for the price, and then I did laundry. Business before pleasure, I guess. After that, I decided that I’d go visit the Parliament of Québec. They
consider themselves sort of their own country – and I suppose they do have a certain amount of autonomy within Canada – but calling themselves the National Assembly seems a bit pretentious to me. Anyway, they offer an English tour a various points of the day, one of which just happened to be about 10 minutes after I walked up. So I got to see the fancy hallways and the meeting rooms of the parliament. The tour took about 30 minutes, after which you’re free to wander around the areas designated for visitors, as long as you keep wearing the nice visitor badge they give you when you go through the metal detectors at the start.
By this time, it was getting to be noon, so I was hungry. Another day, another poutine. I had seen a place last night that offered good prices, so I went back and had their chicken poutine. It was just like my first poutine, just with chicken in it, too. I enjoyed it. It’s a little bit clichéd to order around here, but then I’m usually not around here. With a full stomach, I went to the boardwalk area again and found a
nice park – the Parc Montmorency – where I could sit and relax in the shade. And people watch. The park is off the road where Pacou and I walked back from the non-circus last night, and there had been some places I wanted to see in the daylight. So I found the huge mural that I had seen – take a look at that; it represents 5 centuries of Québec from bottom to top. After that, I found the Escalier Casse-Cou, the Breakneck Staircase, and I can see why they call it that. If you’re going about your regular business, no problem. But if you’re running up this thing to seek refuge in the fort, it could be a problem. At the bottom of the staircase is the shopping district next to the port, known as the Petit Champlain. I found another nice place to cool off and listen to a couple of street performers playing accordion and classical guitar – like something stereotypically out of France. It was very pleasant. The only thing I bought down there was a maple sugar ice cream cone dipped in chocolate, one of the new specialties advertised by one of the shops.
So much sugar. But it was good. And it helped beat the heat, too.
But the heat was getting to me, so I headed back for the hostel. I needed to get out of the sun and off my feet, and this was the best place. I almost fell asleep a few times in my bed, but I found a little (big) brochure of all the touristy things to do in the area, and the one thing that could get me off my rump was chocolate. They have a chocolate “museum” and shop that’s combined under one roof – the Erico chocolatiers. The museum was in a single room, but it’s free, so I did it. They show the history of chocolate from Mayan origins to the big trade it is today, showing how some gets made and the crazy things people have done with it over the years. There’s even a window where you can watch them make chocolate. Naturally, I bought some before I left – cookies only, since I don’t have any place to keep it from melting. The girl who sold me the cookies gave me a piece of chocolate with orange filling – just
because she was feeling nice. No complaints here.
On the way back in, I stopped at the Délices de l’erable (Maple Delights) shop because they also had a museum about maple syrups and sugar production. Before this trip, I didn’t really even know there was such a thing as maple sugar – I thought it was just sugar with maple flavoring. Consider me educated now. The “museum” is the 2nd
floor of the shop, and part of it does tell you about how it all gets made, including technological innovations over the years; but the 2nd
half of the museum is more about the corporations that joined together in the 20th
century to keep maple sugar/syrup production alive and profitable. I did look around the store, but there wasn’t anything in my reasonable price range to entice me to pick up.
After one more circuit around the Old Town, I headed to Rue Saint-Jean again for some food – what I guess is my last culinary stop here. After weighing my options, I chose the Casse Crepe Breton, where they make crepes before your eyes. Crepes of all kinds. Since I wanted a meal, and not
dessert, I chose a crepe with Swiss cheese, turkey, and pepperoni. Most people think of crepes as just pancakes, but they have many uses besides breakfast/dessert. The pepperoni was also not the pepperoni I was thinking of, though it was just as spicy. It was all delicious. Afterwards, I walked the 2 or 3 blocks back to the hostel to get everything situated for my checkout tomorrow. I’ll be heading to Ottawa, via Montreal, and thus out of French-speaking regions. It’s been a fun couple of days, but I won’t undervalue a room with a/c ever again.
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