Québec City, QC, Canada 2010

Friday July 2, 2010

In a move that is a little out of character for us, El and I decided to do something a little different and vacation relatively local this time around. Having discovered Montréal in the past few years, we decided to try taking on this city for a real vacation. In my brief time there ten years ago, I remember feeling that it was as foreign of an experience as any we have had in France or any other place where the language and culture are different from what we are used to. One of the first benefits is that we do not have to fly there. Still, it takes us six hours to drive there, but just cutting out the airport hassles is a huge plus. As we set out at 10:00am on Friday, we expect to be in the only fortified walled city north of Mexico by dinner time. We are looking forward to good food and a lot of walking around to explore the city that we are largely unfamiliar with.

As we drive the first leg of the trip, the first thing I notice is how much I take for granted the scenery in my own backyard. Being a traveler who prefers cities to countrysides, I always say when someone talks about driving through Ireland or someplace like that, that I can see greenery and rolling hills in New Jersey, but I can’t see the Eifel Tower or experience Mexican street food in Pennsylvania. It’s not that I can’t appreciate nice scenery, but I am reluctant to spend the money travel half way around the world to see a forest! So I do consider myself a city traveler above all else. The thing that I see now is the Adirondack Mountains as we head towards Plattsburgh and the Canadian border.

Granted they aren’t the Alps, but in less than 100 miles from the house, there are some pretty nice vistas that I miss because I see them all the time. Most of the drive is pretty non-descript and we keep ourselves occupied as we would on a flight with me starting my journal and El working on her knitting. She does not like to drive in unfamiliar cities, whereas I am much more comfortable, so she takes on much of the highway driving...allowing me to appreciate the views that I usually miss when I am doing the driving. We arrive at the border at 1:00pm and get through in 16 minutes, which for a holiday weekend (in addition to July 4th, it is also the weekend of Canada Day) we think we got through pretty easily. Also, having been through the border several times in the past, we know what identification and information we need to have ready, so we come prepared and think that might help us through, but I can't speak for the people in front of us. El stays on the driving for now we start the Canadian portion of the trip as I-87 automatically turns into AUT-15 as we pull away from the customs booth. With all of the construction being done on this highway, New York’s scenery was certainly the highlight of the past two hours. One thing that I notice within a half hour of entering the country is the lack of English written anywhere. All billboards and street signs are all in French. Our experience is that Montréal is a truly bilingual city where we did not encounter anyone, in a retail capacity, who did not speak English. We would be OK if they didn't, but that was what we found. From what I remember, the rest of Québec is not as bilingual as the city of Montréal. I, admittedly, have a puny amount of French under my belt, but when I am in places like this, I am amazed at how many words I do recognize and remember the meanings of. I can order off a menu in a diner and ask for simple directions as long as the other person has patience. Our connection to Québec City today is AUT-20. It runs about 184 miles between Montréal to Québec City making for a very easy ride...again, at least easier than flying there. We arrive in Québec City around 4:30pm and although the traffic is not bad, thankfully we have the GPS because the amount of construction going on with closed streets and detours is a bit tricky. We finally make it to the hotel, check in, freshen up and head out to explore the neighborhood. We are both hungry but the mild weather and the number of choices near the hotel makes for a great walking expedition. Our first stop is the ATM and a wine bar callled Le Moine Échanson. It is pretty small and because of all of the reservations, they only have tables outside available. Actually, not tables they are barrels with stools. We each order a glass of dry white wine and a plate of marinated olives. A nice start to the trip. Afterwards we start our walk around. There is a bar called the Scanner Bistro that is supposed to be heavy metal friendly. We walk to it and it is closer than I expected. We decide to get a beer and then probably head next door, if not for dinner, at least for a plate of nachos or escargot advertised in the window. At Scanner I see some guys in Motorhead shirts and girls with lots of tattoos. I think I might like this place. The beer selection is limited. We get a cassis or black currant beer for El and I opt for a Belle Gueule Pilsner. The temperature outside on the patio is just right and we are in no rush. This is just perfect for now. We sit and drink our beer while I journal and El works with the camera phone. We want to try to take some pictures to post in real time, but my interest in learning the (by now outdated) technology is limited. We ask the waitress to take a picture of us for me to post but she does not grasp the concept of holding the button for a short time takes a still photo, hold the button for a long time takes a video. After taking a couple of videos of El and I posing for a picture, we thank her and then the guy sitting next to us offers to take the pic for us. It works and El works on the upload while I ask him for food recommendations asking for an opinion on the place next door. He instead steers us to a Canadian smoked meat place next door. The longer we sit, people hear we speak English and strike up conversations with us. Being a metal bar they ask if we are in town for the upcoming Iron Maiden show, we are not. The beer is starting to hit me having not had enough food yet. We take our photographers recommendation and head to Joe Smoked Meat. We each get a glass of house red wine and the house specialty of "Le Sandwich" which is a smoked beef tenderloin on rye with mustard and I was told to ask for Swiss cheese. When you order they ask if you want your meat lean, medium, or "gras" (fatty). I was told to order a mix of medium and fatty- because “fat is where the flavor is”. As we sit and wait for our food, we reflect on the fact that we have had many great travel experiences based on recommendations from people we met along the way. So far, so good. The food arrives and looks like a deli basket with a meat sandwich, cole slaw, potato chips and a pickle. The pickle is very salty, the chips are the dregs of the Ruffles bag, the slaw is vinegar based (no mayo) and is quite sweet and tasty. The sandwich looks like any corned beef or pastrami sandwich. With meat piled high and untoasted rye bread. As I attack it in my own special way (with a fork and a squeeze bottle of Dijon) I realize the difference between this and a pastrami. This is made from the tenderloin which makes the meat really tender. Also the smoking process must include some flavor that tastes like cloves if not cloves themselves. This is the only place the sandwich gets some points off. Beef flavored with cloves is not my favorite. It is still edible and enjoyable all the same. The sandwich was so moist, tender, and flavorful I will give it and the restaurant a thumbs up, although I say this would be perfect late night drunken fare, rather than a dinner. We are glad to have tried it if this is what Québec City is all about. After dinner we walk back to Scanner for another pint. After this we will probably head back up to Rue St. Jean to find a coffee or pastry shop. The biggest issue now is the set of steps and the hill we have to navigate to get to Rue St Jean. It was a minor challenge coming down, so going up the 97 steps after a few pints and some wine will be punishment at best. We continue a Scrabble game while we nurse our beers and start thinking about tomorrow's plans. While we play we also take the time to update our Facebook pages as friends’ comments on our activities provide comic relief while we squander our time. El finds a dessert place in the guidebook that she doubts will be open, but is worth a shot in our eyes. We make the uphill walk back to Rue St Jean and find the first of two addresses we have on this street. The closest turns out to be Bar Le Sacrilège.

We go in to find not only a happy hour menu, but also a 10pm-3am specials menu. We order a "2 petites" for $5.75. Griffon is the brand and it is horrible, but the place is great and close to the hotel, so I expect we will be back. We wrap up our Scrabble game and get ready to head out for a dessert place on the way back home. As we walk down the street it starts to sprinkle, but not enough to force our running into the closest place. El had found a dessert place on the street that happens to be closed. From the closed door, we spy a place called Tutto Gelato that we had read about. It is the typical gelato shop, which by the way, I do not care for as much as ice cream. It always tastes like ice milk to me no matter where I have had it. Nonetheless we go in for our after dinner sweet and I get a dish of mint chocolate chip as I order in my best French. Hey, she understood what I wanted, so I must have retained something from those classes 20 years ago! After the gelato we see that there are exactly two bars that stand between us and the hotel. We head to the first called Pub Nelligan. An Irish pub. I opt for a Bushmills while El steadies with a Coca-Cola. The music ranges from Beach Boys to Flogging Molly to Rolling Stones. I expect we will quickly finish our drinks and head to the last bar on the way home for a nightcap and call it a night. We head directly for the only bar standing between us and the hotel called St Matthews. It is a dimly lit doorway leading away from the street and as we walk down the hall, we start feeling the thump...of house music. As we walk into the main room we find a handful of people looking like sorrow drowners, seemingly unfazed by the trance-like sounds. I order a pint of Molson and another Coke for El. It comes to $12 CAD which I feel is a bit steep. I sit down and journal, but the music reminds me that this is NOT a place Ii belong in. I expect to drink my pint and call it a night. [after a few minutes] I take this all back, let me start over. This place is horrible! The music is unlistenable. The beer selection is adequate at best. The tile floor is sticky and I am not sure why. This seems like a bar that wants to cater to a dance crowd, but only lonely old men patronize the place. We will NOT come back here! The longer we stay, we speculate that this may be a gay bar where old queens come looking for eye candy, who have the sense to stay away. We finish our drinks and decide to call it a night. It is close to midnight, and we want to make the most of tomorrow, if we can.Observation: English is much more accessible here than I expected. Although all of the signs are in French and most of the food menus we see are in French only, almost everyone speaks some degree of English, with most that we have run into being fluent. Again, they seem to appreciate when I make an effort, but seem to understand when my limitations become apparent. The people so far have been quite friendly and seem welcoming when we tell them where we are from. Saturday July 3, 2010

We wake and discuss the fact that our room is not acceptable (it is a smoking room that just reeks, to close to street level with trucks making too much noise etc.) and plan to pack everything in order to move to another this afternoon. We start off by walking towards our first stop on a self guided walking tour that I printed off the internet. As we walk just for a few blocks we realize just how close everything on our maps seems to be. We take a quick detour to the tourist info center at the corner of George V Parc and get a bunch of flyers, brochures and maps. We continue on to Le Château Frontenac and hope to grab some food on the way. We take the short walk into the Old City passing through the Porte St Louis. As soon as we do, we get (somehow) mistaken for natives as a tourist stops us to ask about the cities bus route. Luckily, having just come from the tourist info center we were in a position to help. El works with them as I start taking some pictures. I remember the name of the street we are on as one that has a breakfast place. Sure enough, L'Omelette is right up the street and the line out the door signifies this could be a good pick. The woman walking out telling everyone within earshot that "it's worth the wait" also helps. We go in to see how long the wait is and to our surprise, we are the only party of two and get immediate seating! It is now 11:00 am and we are both really hungry. We have dinner reservations at 6:00 tonight that we need to plan for. So far, the service is friendly, if a bit slow. The waitress playfully entertains my ordering in French and says they appreciate the effort even if the French is as limited as mine. I guess I will find out when the food arrives if we were effective communicators. It sounds to me that the table next to us is exactly why they appreciate the effort! As we sit at our table we hear the sounds of a marching band growing closer and closer until it is an actual parade walking right by the window of the restaurant- an interesting distraction. Our food arrives and is decent enough. No "wow" factor, but it hits the spot for sure. We quickly pay and exit as our leisurely morning walk has turned from a: “start around 8 am” to a: “it's noon, do you think we should get to the first stop yet?” Le Château Frontenac,

here we come, finally. We find the hotel, but frankly, it is so big that it is tough to get a good picture of the iconic structure. We do our best and decide to keep going on our walking tour and hoping to secure a better shot. Before we leave though, we go in to the hotel to find out about the guided tours of the hotel that are offered. We figure we will wait to see if we have a rain day on this trip and take the 50 minute free tour then. Otherwise, we will probably just wait until Tuesday, our last day, and do it then. We continue down the Terrace Dufferin which is a wooden boardwalk that runs along the St Lawrence River providing excellent views. At the end of the boardwalk, we get to the Promenade Du Gouverneurs. It is 310 steps up to the Parc de Bataille. This, again, is nice for the views, and the shop where you can buy a bottle of water, but there is little else to do at the top. We rest for a few and get some pictures. We head back down the way we came and get back to the Frontenac. Heading up to the Parc de Gouverneurs, where we find a shady bench to rest and catch up on journals. El takes the time to review some of the tourist info we got and to read about the funicular and some of the other culinary items we have heard about in this town. We are ready to press on with the next stop on our tour. Most of the stops so far are more like points of interest, as opposed to places where we would take tours or have other interaction. The next couple of stops are historically significant and the guide tells us a little about each building. One is currently a restaurant called Aux Anciens Canadiens and it looks like a place we may want to try before we leave. Another is called Maison Kent which is a really old house that is the current home to the French consulate. We walk around the Place d'Armes and head down an alley known for local artists who display their work for sale. At the end of the block long walk we come upon the Basilique Notre Dame. Due to a wedding going on inside, El is not allowed to enter. The next stop is the seminary next door, which does offer tours that run an hour long. We do not have the time to take the tour now, but we get the info and think we can possibly get back to it on Tuesday. We walk over to the City Hall, which just looks like an old building and start reading about our next step. As we do, the Ecolobus stops right next to us. This is a free bus that goes around the city on a set path that people can just hop on and off. It is not a tour bus with guides, just a transport bus. Anyway, we jump on and take it back towards the hotel. We get our new room and get settled by getting dressed for dinner and relaxing. We will continue our walking tour tomorrow as I am pleased with the stops so far and I like the pace we are keeping. This city seems like it has a lot of great sites and sights that we are looking forward to learning more about. We are looking to use the Ecolobus to get to our dinner tonight at Restaurant Laurie Raphael which is on the other side of the old city. We are ready to roll, so it is off to dinner now with no plan for afterwards. We walk out of the hotel and catch the Ecolobus as there is a stop right in front of the hotel. The ride takes about 20 minutes and we are in the neighborhood of the restaurant. We are 40 minutes early for our reservation at 6:00, so we decide to walk around a little and find a bar for a before dinner drink. We don't find anything suitable as the ones we pass seem to be more restaurants than pubs and without walking farther away, we just head straight to Laurie Raphael to see if they have a bar. They do, and we order a couple of martinis to start the night. The drink is fine although am not thrilled with the splintering skewer used to spear the olives. Luckily I emerge unharmed. The menu out front looks great, so we think we may be in for a treat tonight. The menu has 3 sections: gourmet menu (7 courses, must be ordered by entire table), the Chef ! Chef! Menu (3 courses, no description of food- chef just delivers whatever is inspired at that moment), and the a la carte menu. Although I would have liked to try the chef! Chef! Menu, El wanted more to try the gourmet menu. So we did. (these descriptions came directly from the menu)

Course I

North Shore Princess scallop, strawberry and organic soy purée, almonds, coconut milk, Labrador tea marshmallow. A nice start to the dinner. The single scallop was way too small, but was well cooked and the flavors were all over the place. This course was, flavor-wise, to busy, but if you ate the components one at a time, it was not too weird.

Course II

Fois gras crème brûlée declined around the cranberry. For me, the sleeper hit of the meal. Absolutely fantastic. The candied cranberries added a perfect amount of sweetness and tartness to the creamy fois gras. It was called “crème brûlée”, but it wasn’t the dessert kind. Just a creamy texture with a lightly browned top. We both loved it.

Course III

Maine’s shrimps, samphire sphere, mangosteen, tobiko and golden enokis in a dashi broth.

Again, there were a lot of different flavors in this dish. Since it was served as a soup though, it would have been difficult to separate the components…good thing, because these worked very well together.Course IVDuck supreme from Canard Goulu farm, seared on its skin, cherry duck juice, Morello cherry liqueur reduction and repoted summer vegetables. [we didn’t know what “repoted summer vegetables” were]. This side dish was served in a terracotta flower planter with what looked like plants growing in them. From a birds eye view you saw “dirt” with shoots coming out of it. As we dissected the offering, it was a bed of puréed parsnips that had a crumble of cocoa powder with truffle oil “dirt”, and ”planted” in it were a well sautéed baby carrot, baby turnip, and sweet peas whose green shoots were poking up through the brown soil. Very creative and tasty! Oh yeah, and the duck was very well done with an excellent cherry sauce. Loved it.Course VNem of Barre à Boulard goat cheese, salted muesli, cantaloupe chutney and homemade yogurt. Yep, couldn’t remember what I don’t like about goat cheese, but I really had no choice in the matter, as it was part of the menu. It was served like a taquito (the Mexican cigar looking rolls that are deep fried) with the cheese rolled inside on top of a dollop of the chutney. The small cup of about a tablespoon of the granola-like muesli topped with yogurt was refreshingly cool in contrast to the deep fried goat cheese roll. The warm cheese tasted like a mixture of sour milk and bile. I’ll try to remember that for the next time! Easily the worse section of the dinner.

Course VI

Black tea and vanilla spherification, passion fruit textured mousse, tamarind and cocoa purée, chocolate malto. Spherifications were featured in a couple of the dished we had. It is a result of the molecular gastronomy movement going on right now that we are not really that familiar with. Basically, they are gel beads that when you bite into them, explode in your mouth (sort of like a gourmet version of Freshen-Up gum)

Course VII

Pistachio sponge cake, fresh strawberry, textured chocolate mousse, strawberry and black olive puddings and strawberry sorbet. Another very creative dish. The plate made up to look like a patch of garden with the green sponge cake looking like grass, the black olive pudding looking like the dirt and the fresh berries looking like the gardens bounty. Very clever.

We declined the optional wine pairings and stuck with water. The dinner was really very good and we both enjoyed it quite a lot. There were some very creative and inventive items on the menu, which we always appreciate. Having fun with good food adds to the enjoyability factor for us. Being that the weather has held up for us and I am walking around in long pants, we both know I am going to be miserable all night unless I go to the room and change into something more comfortable. We jump back on the Ecolobus which this time is pretty full. The maximum capacity is 21 passengers and the driver keeps the count. They will not stop for new passengers until someone rings to get off. We take the full bus all the way back to the hotel and we find out that this bus has been a free ride for the past three years now, but starting this coming Monday 7/5/10, it will cost $1 per person to ride the bus. We think this is still the best deal in this town that we have found. After the brief pit stop we head back to Rue St Jean which is where we spent most of our night last night. It has a lot of eateries and shops along the street that make for a nice stroll. We get to a point where we decide to turn back and if we don’t see any good bars before then, we will head back to Bar La Sacrilège. We do spot a place called Au Bonnet d’Âne where we sit on the terrace and order a pint. I am quickly learning that I have zero patience for the handheld internet connection devices. The keypads themselves are enough for me to lose interest in the matter of minutes. I have tried to post pictures of our trip or update my status to tell friends what I am up to, but I am deciding to give up for now and concentrate on my journal. After a while of working independently on our devices (cell phone, palm pilot, iTouch, other cell phone etc.), we look up to notice that all other patrons have vacated and we are the last ones here. We scoop our glasses and head to the register to pay. We get there we see our waitress grabbing her backpack and leaving as if they forgot we were back there! You know you have overstayed when you outlast the waitstaff! We head straight for Bar Le Sacrilège. We score a table in the courtyard and settle in for the evening. It is unclear if there is table service here or if we are expected to get our own beers at the bar and serve ourselves. We wait a while for service and then I go get our first round, a cider for El and St Ambroise pale ale for me. $9 for two pints is the most reasonable price we have found so far. The music starts off with the Beastie Boys and is not piped to the courtyard, so it is not too loud. Sometime into my second pint here, I start to feel the beer and the feeling of tiredness overcomes me. I make the decision to call it a night as I know we still have to walk back to the hotel up the hills so steep, there are hand rails to aid in getting up them! We make it and I am beat and fall asleep immediately looking forward to continuing the walking tour in the morning.

Observation: for a city of 715,000, there are virtually zero cars here in the area near the old city. El speculates that there may be driving by permit only here, but truthfully, there are streets that have almost no traffic on them at 6pm on a Saturday night? It is very odd indeed.

Sunday July 4, 2010

We wake up around 8:30 and make a concerted effort to start our day faster than we did yesterday. I hate setting an alarm clock while on vacation, but at the same time, I want to spend quality time discovering the city and not taking too long to get ready. This morning we are going to eat at Tutti Fruitti Déjeuner. It reminds me of a quaint breakfast spot crossed with a Denny's, only with better menu choices. We cannot help but remark just how empty this town is even if it is 9:30 on Sunday morning. We get to the diner and expect at least a small wait. On the contrary, we walk in to an almost empty dining room with several staff waiting on us hand and foot. Not sure if the rush hasn’t yet started or is over. Either way we agree that it was really good and recommended for a good and quick breakfast on a Sunday morning. That being said, I ordered a Jardinière omelette which was filled with broccoli, onions, spinach, tomatoes, peppers and topped with cheese. Sadly, my order arrives virtually raw. I am not usually one to send anything back to a kitchen, but after I use my knife and fork to pull the omelette apart to expose all of the raw egg, when the waitress came by to see if we were happy, she noticed for herself and whisked the plate away for a redo before I said a word. The new one was perfectly cooked and made for a great breakfast. Our first stop today is where we left off on our walking tour yesterday. Towards the place d'Armes we go! We are just in time to grab the Ecolobus which we jump on and follow the route along with our map to determine the best place to signal a stop. Our first walking tour stop today is the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. As we exit the bus at the stop on Rue des Jardins we are greeted with sounds of the Cathedrals carillon. It is very loud and not very tuneful to my ears. El points out that in a window from the parking lot you can see the bell ringers instead of them being rung electronically as so many are these days. El goes inside while I journal. We did see in today’s paper that it looks like it will rain on Tuesday, so we will plan to do our tour of Le Château Frontenac, the Basilica Notre Dame, and the seminary then. Last night I got an email from a friend with some food recommendations while we are here, so we will try to include them into our travels if we can (a method that has proven fruitful ion the past). She says try: 1) Les Voûtes Napoléon - tiny bar good music, 2) Chez Ashton for the best poutine,

3) the only café on Coulliard Street, and 4) Piazzetta on St Jean is decent. As we continue our tour we are guided to a tree with a cannonball in it. I guess there are some differing speculations as to whether it landed there during a battle or it was placed there by citizen who wanted to protect the tree from carriages drawn by horses. Either way, it is a landmark that we probably would have missed if we were just strolling by. From here we walk up Rue St Louis to the Hotel Esplanade. This building is an example of how frugal property owners used to cheat the taxes that were based on the number of windows the building had by filling them in with bricks. We continue on towards the Porte St Louis and walk up to the citadel. An English military installation on the top of a hill. They offer tours for $10 each, but we decide to forgo the guided tour and just walk around the area that is open to the public. We get our pictures taken with the Beefeaters take the opportunity to have a quick rest before pressing on. There is a changing of the guard everyday at 10:00am, so we may try to see that tomorrow if time permits. We head back down the hill from the citadel and exit the walled city through the Porte St Louis gate. We follow the directions to the Hotel du Parliament, which turns out not to be hotel at all, but the actual parliament building. We take some pictures and note that the drape that is shielding your view of the construction to the facade of the building is actually a photo of the completed project. Anyway, we take some pictures and also see the Fountain de Tourny. We have to hit the restroom so we head for the tourist info center then back onto Grande-Allee Est. With dinner reservations at 6:30 we are reluctant to eat big now at 2pm. As we stroll down Grande-Allee Est the rain starts coming down harder. We opt to hit the Second Cup Cafe for a coffee and to get out of the rain. With the forecast mentioning nothing of rain we conveniently left our rain gear in the room. We will try to wait out the rain here and will journal and check email while we can get a free wi-fi connection. We have been here an hour now and it looks like the rain has passed. We will move on to the next stop on our walking tour, but as I prepare to map out the last leg of our walk, I realize that we are in fact done with the walk. There was one optional last stop of a panoramic view from L’Astral Restaurant on top of the Lowes Le Concorde hotel, but the overcast sky makes it not seem worth the effort to go up to see an obstructed view. One of the things El wanted to do during this trip was visit a knitting shop she found online. We find the street on the map but have no idea how long it will take to walk there. We start off and as we get to the street see that we are at address #1 and need to go to #1487. This could take awhile, but, hey, we are on vacation and plan to take the bus back. As I half expected considering the look of the neighborhoods we are walking though, we find the shop, but it is closed on Sundays. Luckily the bus stop is right in front of the shop, so we take our coin inventory ($2.60 each) and wait for the next bus which should be coming momentarily. We plan to take the bus back to the Rue St Jean and grab a coffee or a beer before getting ready for dinner. The plan works and we are able to get rid of a lot of coins that have accumulated. We take it to St Jean and get off. A lot of the restaurants are still closed as it looks like 4:00 is a popular opening time. Being about 3:45 we head towards the hotel and decide to try Tim Horton's which, for those who don't know is like the Canadian version of Dunkin' Donuts. Having never been to one, we tried our first. The coffee was decent and on par with DD, but the triumph at this place is the maple Boston crème donut. I never had one of those before. It was really quite fantastic. We rest for a few minutes and then head back to the room to get ready for dinner. Our reservation is at 6:30, and we plan to take the Ecolobus again so now we know how to get there and unlike last night know we don’t have to allow for too much extra time. While we sit at Tim Horton’s we take inventory of the things we still need to see and do before we leave on Wednesday morning. The weather has made it necessary for us to wear sunscreen and after walking around all day, the shower feels great. We leave the hotel at 5:30 for our 6:30 reservation. We are testing a risky strategy tonight though as I am wearing a pair of long shorts with my button down shirt. We figure they will either serve us without comment, refuse us service due to my dress and we will eat McDonalds tonight or seat us outside in the corner of the patio away from other diners. No matter what happens, at least I will be comfortable. My problem is that when I go out in my long pants like last night, I was so hot and uncomfortable the whole night, it is all I can do to keep it from letting it ruin my dinner. We take the Ecolobus and it shows at the stop after only a minute or two (they run every 15 minutes) and we get to the restaurant after only 15 minutes. We now have 45 minutes to kill before dinner. We walk back up to one of the areas we saw last night and find a bar called Oncle Antoines Pub. It is happy hour, but their beer selection is weak and we plan to go beer drinking after dinner, so I start with a Chivas Regal so that I don't have to pay Panache prices for the same drink. We catch up on journals and rest before heading to dinner. The combination of the amount of walking and the sunshine is exhausting me. I see an early night in my future. As we sit in the bar, most people are sitting outside and we choose inside listening to Janis Joplin. We are having a difficult time getting people to take good pictures with our cell phone (the only way we can post them on the web immediately). This is frustrating me to no end as we ask passersby to take a picture of us and when they hold the photo button down too long, it turns from a still photo to a video. It usually requires us to ask for multiple takes- which I think sucks! We wrap up our before dinner drink and walk over to Panache for our dinner. We approach the reservation desk and let them know we are here. They don’t even bat an eye and before we know it we are seated and the moment of truth is behind us. What a relief. Tonight we opt for the a la carte menu. We order two different appetizers to split, each get an entrée and dessert. We order (these descriptions came directly from the menu)

Appetizer I

Lobster and mayonnaise: Canadian lobster tail with tomato and avocado

This was a pretty simple dish that was presented well. It was a salad of avocado chunks with tomatoes. The chilled lobster tail was spread across the mound and a smear of house made mayonnaise was on the plate. More simple than we usually get at a place like this, but the taste was really light and fantastic.

Appetizer II

Fois gras ravioli: Three raviolis stuffed with fois gras and served in a truffle, butter sauce.

This item was not on the menu, and was a daily special, so I am unclear of all of the ingredients. Really an excellent dish. The flavors all went together really well and we were really happy with this choice.EntréeAtlantic coast divers scallops, lemon butter and ‘La Part des Anges’ liqueur emulsion. Light. Perfectly seared scallops. The sauce lemony, but not too much so. Just right.DessertPine nuts and maple tart with bourbon ice milk. Perfectly flavored, not so perfectly executed. Unfortunately, the warm tart sitting next to the ice milk melted it a little bit. That could probably have been thought out a little better.The dinner was very good. The flavors were excellent and the service couldn’t have been better. An overall excellent dining experience. I wouldn’t say the dishes were as inventive as last nights at Laurie Raphael, but the quality goes a long way in the satisfaction factor. I like inventive and have experienced some wildly original dishes, but it all eventually comes back to whether you can properly sear a scallop or not. Not if you can make it a sight for the eyes. Although this place was a little lower on the creativity scale than last night the food was every bit as good and I would come back to this place in a second. A pleasurable dining experience! On a humorous note, the irony about this particular place is that it is connected to a hotel and Panache also serves as the hotel’s restaurant. I was worried about wearing a pressed shirt with long shorts! I perished the thought when a family of five including an infant showed up and one was wearing flip flops and short shorts. Not that I cared (although I would have been peeved if I wound up sitting next to a crying baby!). I laugh as I exit as I know this could only fly in some restaurants. After dinner we head back to the Ecolobus stop near the restaurant. We will take this back to the hotel area and walk back down to Scanner Bistro since tonight is grunge and rockabilly music night. We figure we can get some beers and if the music sucks, we'll head back to Bar Le Sacrilège for the night. The first Ecolobus is full and passes us by. We wait for the second. It is not as crowded and we take it. It gets more packed as we go, but it's not that far and it is free. We get off at the stop closest to Scanner Bistro and walk down the 97 steps again. We get there around 9:00pm and the place is empty and the music is just about the farthest from something I would listen to. Repetitive techno electronica. It is obvious during my first beer that I will not be hanging here for a second round. The music has improved slightly to rock from the 90's, but still not my favorite. We just updated our Facebook and are taking advantage of the free wi-fi here. Before we leave Scanner Bistro we use their computer to get the address for the places that have been recommended to us then we head to Grande-Allee Est to find the place called Les Voûtes Napoléon and all we know is that it is a bar. Now, the hill situation here is a little rough. Some of these street are on very steep inclines, not to mention Scanner Bistro which has 97 steps standing between its level and the next street above. Then we have to get up several blocks just for the hill to plateau. We walk up to Grande-Allee Est and look for #680. We know we are getting close, but we pass it anyway and see we are at #684. You would think it would have been easy to find the place next door at 680? Not even close. We stand there knowing it has to be right in front of us. I spot a sign that says “Les Voûtes Napoléon" underneath a sign for Savini. We walk over to the hostess who happily seats us with menus. Since we are only looking for a drink, we sit and look over the wine list. After we order our glass of wine El points out that it appears we are at a restaurant called Savini and not at Les Voûtes Napoléon! We ask the server where Les Voûtes Napoléon is and she tells us that it is one door over and then downstairs. Over our wine we discuss at length how we could have missed our target and wind up in this overpriced establishment. After the wine we head downstairs and walk in to an acoustic guitar player. His song selection is not my favorite, but the place is pretty empty and we are able to sit in the back away from the music. The beer selection is limited to Molson Export and Molson Light. I get a pitcher of Molson Export, work on my journal and we play Scrabble until all three are finished and we decide to call it a night. We are back in the hotel by 12:30. We are seeing conflicting reports about tomorrow’s weather so we are planning our stops to account for both sunny and inclement weather.

Observation: I have seen more unisex bathrooms in this city than any other I can remember. This city has also provided me with a vacationing first as, for the first time ever that I know of, I used the wrong bathroom in one place! As has come up in my journals before, I am always learning the words for men and women in foreign languages to avoid just this situation. Of course some places get loose with the concept of labeling their restrooms. For example, Scanner Bistro had murals of Jimi Hendrix on one door and Ella Fitzgerald to signify the difference between the men's and women's room.

Sadly, Bar Le Sacrilège did not have the situation under control for a person like me. I went downstairs to the restroom area and was confronted by two identical doorways neither with a door on it. There were no people around and no visible signs as to which one was men and which was women. Having seen the unisex bathrooms earlier, I went in to a stall and used the facility. I did put the seat up, and I did flush afterwards and I did not pee on the seat. I was respectful of the next patron no matter what the sex. I finished and washed my hands. As I exited the doorless doorway an employee walked by and spoke something in French. I mumbled that I did not speak French, to which he replied in English "you are using the wrong bathroom!" I asked what sign I had missed to show me which room I was entering. He pointed to a black and white photograph of an old woman sitting in a chair near the doorway I used and he did admit that the men’s room did lack any identifying mark whatsoever. I knew better for the next time…

Monday July 5, 2010

We are up and out before 9:00 and decide to try to make the changing of the guard ceremony at the citadel which happens only once a day at 10:00am.

As we arrive there is an actual change of the guards who are guarding the citadel gates where basically the two guards are replaced with two more. I guess that with the actual ceremony the current two, plus their replacements are changed out for the next 24 hour tour. I am happy to have seen what we did and figure I do not need to pay the $10 entrance fee to the citadel itself which will includes seeing the changing ceremony. In addition to the military personnel on the grounds there are also several tourist wranglers who answer questions, point you into the tour area, keep people from wandering in the wrong direction, and, most importantly, remind tourists that they can take pictures with the beefeaters, but they cannot be touched! I take th opportunity to ask a couple of questions of my own. How often do the guards at the gates change? (every two hours). Is this a 24 hour operation? (no, it is more about tradition. They start at 7am and go until 10pm). Are there any women beefeaters? (yes. Some of the smaller guards are women). Well, after hearing that this whole process is mostly just for tradition and show, I was convinced that the change we saw was enough for me. Not sure how long the weather will hold out today, so I suggest heading down to the funicular to do that before the weather goes bad. The “funiculaire” is located in front of Le Château Frontenac and runs every 2-3 minutes and is more like an elevator than a cable car. The cost is $2 each and takes about 45 seconds from top to bottom starting in the upper old town and ending in the lower section of the old town. At the bottom, I am hoping to get a good view of Le Château Frontenac, but from my current perspective the cliff is too steep to see to the top of the hill. We are both hungry and are debating how to incorporate dining at Aux Anciens Canadiens into our day. Right now we need to either eat big and dine late or eat small and dine sooner. Either way I need food now. The funicular lets us off in the section called Quartier Petit Champlain. El finds some walking tour highlights in the guidebook and we look for some of the points of interest. At some point I move to get the food to tide us over. We duck into a small café called Casse Cou and sit at a table near the window. I just get a hot chocolate and a croissant with orange marmalade and it hits the spot. We will walk around this area for a bit, then probably walk up the "breakneck staircase" to get back to Le Château Frontenac. One of the things to look for is one of several murals around the city that tells some of the story of Québec's history. We stroll down Rue de la Petit Champlain which our guide says is the narrowest street in North America. This is a quaint little area that has a lot of eateries and shops in it. I am still looking to get a good view of Le Château Frontenac before we leave here. Well, not only do we find the better view of the hotel, but as we walk towards the waterfront, we recognize the area as being one we have walked through before which sort of ties together the layout of the city. It is a moment of epiphany for me since we have explored different sections of the city independently and now as a stand back I can see three of these sections at once and now I am able to put together the layout in my head. I feel like I have solved a riddle. We wander the streets of the lower old town bridging the area we are exploring now and the area we are already familiar with taking shortcuts because we have been through here a day or two earlier. I journal while El goes into the Notre Dame Cathedral. We are on a quest to find the best route back to the top, although with this new perspective, we may head in a different direction altogether. We start walking uphill on Rue Montagne with shops and boutiques all along the street. Before we know it we are at the top and find a separate connection to an area we already know. We wind up at the Basilique Notre Dame de Québec that was closed the last time El tried to get in. She takes the time now to go in while I write and try to find our next stop on the map. So far the rain has held off, but I want to be prepared if things go south. Our next stop is the Pub St Patrick, since if there is anywhere to get a decent pint in this town it should be at an Irish Pub! Not looking to eat lunch, we are seated at the bar. I get a pint of St Patrick’s amber. The waitress assures me that there is no connection to the brewery and the pub. The beer is not bad, although I think I prefer the St Ambroise pale ale to any of the others I have had here. For an Irish pub the music selection is a little odd. We have gone from selections by the Muppets, to Disney show tunes, to now Schoolhouse Rock "Sufferin’ ‘Til Suffrage". Uh oh! We have taken a serious turn for the worse music-wise I swear that right this moment I am listening to the Chipmunks perform Pink's "U And Ur Hand". With that, I think we will be leaving sooner than later. Before I finish my current pint, the tunes rebound to Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, and Guns ‘N Roses so, we figure we will stay here for another pint and some Scrabble and then head down to another one of the wall gates and then hopefully up to the restaurant for an early dinner. I think we have seen everything that we need to see and now the real discovery begins. So far I am so thrilled with this city. It has so much history and we are able to wander around aimlessly and see interesting things at every turn. The streets are not very car friendly and walking them is a much better prospect. I am enjoying so much the European feel and walking around this city that is so new to us. Ordinarily, after spending a few days in any city, I do not expect to return. Even in the cities we love, I expect the second time will not match the first that made us want to return (London for example). However, considering the circumstances here as it is a city we can drive to without hassle I could easily see coming back here for another round. The old city is small and is so easy to get around, both walking and with the public transport. Admittedly, the lack of a subway worried me, but that fear has been put to rest with the buses (Ecolo and city). I have had some great experiences recently with the city of Montréal which is about 3 hours closer to us than this, so I expect to spend more time in both cities as the convenience factor is very high on these towns. After leaving Pub St Patrick, we walk up Rue St Jean to the Porte St Jean. We see an access ramp to the top of the wall, and try to walk along the top of the wall to the Porte St Louis which is where our early dinner stop is. The idea of walking along the wall turns out to be better than the experience. The disappointment came for us as we were "greeted" at the top of the steps by a drunken gentleman presumably asking us for change in French. As we righted ourselves on the top of the wall and started walking towards the next gate we wanted to enter, we come upon a group of 12-15 young people all drinking their beers in the hot sun. Not sure if this is the weekly meeting of the terminally unemployed or the Québec beer drinkers association, but they started to call out to us. We did not feel unsafe or anything, but it was just enough though to make us exit the wall and walk up the street to get to where we had to go. We walked up passed Porte Kent and then eventually reached Porte St Louis, turned left on St Louis and walked down to Aux Anciens Canadiens where we had our early dinner. The location of this restaurant on the Rue St Louis makes it ripe for walk-ins at all hours of the day. We arrive around 2:30 and the place is pretty slow, but not empty. The waitstaff was very friendly and seated us immediately. The restaurant is known for their Québecoise cuisine and we had read about their duck cutlet braised in maple syrup sauce. They had menu items including pheasant, caribou, and their “game meat pie”. Well, I was hooked on the duck and that is what I ordered. I started with garlic escargot “Jean Michael” which was a standard garlic butter sauce on escargots served in mushroom caps. They taste better than they look! Next up was Pea soup Grand-mere. It was decent, but it wasn’t mom’s. One of my favorite dishes my mom makes is pea soup, why I ordered it here, I couldn’t tell you. Like I said, it was fine…like a canned vegetable soup (I wonder if his grandmother approves of this version?). Next up is the main course. The wild rice is nothing special and the veggies taste either canned or frozen, not bad but a little too assembly line steam table for me. The duck is very fine though and I think worth the price of the meal. It is not too sweet, but it is very tender. A really nice, new flavor combination for me. We finish the dinner off with a maple syrup pie with a dollop of cream. That and a cup of coffee are a nice ending. I thought this was a good pick for lunch. The appetizer, soup, entree, and dessert run about $60 each person which is probably a little steep for the quality overall, but with the generally higher prices in this city, I was not surprised. My take on this place is that it is a good tourist quality place to eat at. We met a gentleman who had 24 hours in this city, and based upon guidebooks, this was his only dinner in town. I think he certainly missed out on some of the much finer dining experiences. However, he seemed to really enjoy it, so maybe it depends on your standards? It is now around 3:00pm and we need to plan a next stop. I think this might be a good time to go back to the knitting shop with El and then return to the Rue St Jean for more late night options. We walk down towards St Anne where we know we can catch the 7 bus that we took home yesterday. They are open until 5:30 today. We know there is not much in that area if the rain does come we will be left to stand at the bus stop with no cafes or bars to duck into. One of the things we want to do is to try "beaver tail" which is a flat kind of fried dough pastry that they put things like apples and strawberries on as a sweet treat. Just having come from a big lunch I cannot think about food now, but there is a "beaver tail" place down by the riverfront where I am also hoping to see Le Château Frontenac lit up at night from, so maybe we can do them both later tonight? One of the local landmarks is the revolving restaurant on top of the Lowes Le Concorde Hotel that offers a great view of the city. El wants to go there for a drink, but not necessarily to eat so that is a possibility too. It is only 4:30 now and we have arrived at the knitting shop. I spy a bar with a small patio. I decide to pass on the knitting shop and go there for a pint while I wait for El. The beer is called Alex Keats and is OK at best. It seems to me that maybe Ontario got the brewing brains in this country. I sit on this patio drinking the pint and thinking what a great travel partner I have. She has always humored me when trying to find record shops in outlying neighborhoods, so this is obviously the least I could do for her. I don't have to go to the knit shop, but I do have to enable getting there and back. She does not stay long and meets me at the bar so we can grab the bus back. While on the bus I discuss with El that afterwards maybe we could head back to the room for a nap as all of the walking and the heat are making me very tired. Then after the nap we could Ecolobus down to the waterfront, take a picture of Le Château Frontenac at night,

then go for the “beaver tail”, then Ecolobus back up to Grande-Allee Est to go to the Lowes Le Concorde Hotel for a martini at the revolving bar and then get a poutine at Chez Ashton on Grande-Allee Est. That sounds like a plan to me! After the nap we get to the waterfront and strike up a conversation with a young man from Switzerland who is travelling through the USA and Canada. Figuring we will be eating poutine soon, we save the “beaver tail” for tomorrow. We get back on the bus and take it all the way to the other end near Grande-Allee Est. Our first stop here is L'Astral which is the revolving restaurant bar on top of the Lowes Le Concorde Hotel. We come up for a martini and to enjoy the view of Québec City at night. The city is all lit up and it looks very peaceful. The prices here do not allow for a second round! As we leave we can't help but notice that there is a family dining here with several young teenage kids who are running around, some barefoot, and disrupting the dinning of others. It is enough to make us make a hasty retreat and head for something much classier: Chez Ashton for poutine. The rain has started so we walk quickly to Chez Ashton and order the poutine (#2 on the list of recommendations we have). We hear that even though it is a chain, Chez Ashton makes the best poutine. This is a "dish" (and I use the term loosely) of fried potatoes (french fries) with cheese curds on top and then drenched in beef gravy. The place is like and Arby’s with a similar menu. We only get one poutine and a 7-Up to share. It is all I expected it to be. It looks like a bowl of greasy-looking, salty goodness. The perfect drunken food. This place is open until 3am for good reason. We enjoy it for the mess that it is. The potatoes are fried, but not too greasy. The cheese curds have a texture unto themselves and squeak oddly against your teeth as you bite through them. The gravy is like Swanson canned “beefy”. Afterwards we head back to Les Voûtes Napoléon for another pitcher of Molson and to catch up on journals. There is no food here, so we just drink for a while. I would like to go back to Bar Le Sacrilège, but it is too far tonight. Maybe tomorrow. There is a live acoustic guy tonight doing covers. Nothing great, but when he breaks, they play Elton John and Queen and the like. We will finish up here and then probably either hit another bar for a nightcap or another food place for some late night vittles on the way back to the hotel. I am getting some very positive feedback from Facebook friends about our updates, which is fun. We are having fun with it and it gives us something to look forward to at each of our stops. It has been so hot here. Today it was 90 degrees with a heat index of 96. El got a bit sunburned, but I have been OK with the bit of sunscreen I put on in the morning. Tomorrow we expect it will rain all day, so we have saved the tour of Le Château Frontenac and the seminary as well as the museum of Inuit art. I foresee a lot of café and bar stops in our futures. Other than that and eating a "beaver tail", I do not think there is anything we need to do before we leave. The only thing is that several people have told us to see l’Île d'Orléans for their strawberries, so I figure we will drive to and stop there on our way home Wednesday. After awhile here, as I polish off the pitcher of Molson, I think it is time to call it a night. The acoustic guitar player is entertaining the front half of the room with Sublime, 311, and now Ben E. King covers. It is almost 1am, and we are calling it a night and wondering what these people do for jobs in the morning?


although it appears that the locals know that the Ecolobus started to charge a dollar per ride on Monday, it seems that many guide books are still (obviously) telling readers about the free service. Some of the drivers seem to be reminding all passengers about the new fare, but others don't seem to pay attention. People still get on and off without paying about 50% of the time. There probably should be a better method for everyone to be reminded to pay. Tuesday July 6, 2010

This is our last full day in Québec City. We have been expecting today to be the worst weather of our trip and have saved all of the indoor things for today. We are out of the hotel by 10:00am and greeted with bright blue cloudless skies! We grab the Ecolobus to the seminary to sign up for a tour. The tours are offered throughout the day and the first person to sign up for a tour timeslot chooses the language that the tour is given in. The next tour at 11:15 is already booked for French, so we choose the 1:00pm and reserve English. We now have two hours to kill and decide to head back to Rue Coulliard to a café that was #3 on the list of recommendations. We were told to

“find the only café on Coulliard”. It is called Chez Temporel and it reminds us very much of a little crêperie that we lived near in New York City. I order a croque monsieur which is a baguette with ham and cheese broiled and a bowl of hot chocolate with whipped cream. We recognize a single gentleman sitting next to us as he was seated next to us yesterday to Aux Anciens Canadiens. We strike a conversation with this Hawaiian who is making his way across Canada. After breakfast, we walk back to the seminary area. Here, there is a guided tour and also The Musee de l'Amerique francaise which is a three level museum showcasing the history of the French in Québec. The tour plus the self guided museum exhibit is $8 each. The tour took about 1 hour and the museum took us about 2 hours to get through. After we finish with the museum we head direct for the "beaver tail" place. It is a cafe called Queues De Castor. We walk there and we each order a cake which is a flat fried dough with choice of topping slathered on it along with a coffee. I get a maple butter with chocolate and El gets a caramelized apple. They have other choices like peaches and crème and banana and Nutella. We are both very happy with our selections, except for one major flaw. Now, the ads for this place feature kids with chocolate sauce all over their hands and face smiling because they have just enjoyed (maybe a little too much) a cake from here. When our food is ready, the server at the counter shouts for us to pick up the order. El goes to pick up and asks for a knife and fork for me (and my aversion to all things sticky). But, much to my chagrin, they do not have knife and fork as they tell us, "you are supposed to eat them with your hands". This is bad news. However, after locating the bathrooms as a source of running water, I manage to eat my entire cake without getting any topping on my hands or clothes. I carefully scoop up all of the table trash to find a can so I don’t accidentally put my arm in the sticky paper or used napkins. As I get up to leave, El hands me a used napkin sticky side out! I am sure this was unintentional, but it brought home a reminder of how fast I needed the water. Afterwards, we move out to the patio. We are done eating, but we use the free internet connection and update our journals. Instead of taking the funicular, we decide to save a couple of dollars and take the Ecolobus up the hill to Le Château Frontenac for the tour. We remark again how the weather has not yielded from bright sunny skies all day and wonder where all the rain we planned for is? This being our last day here I can say that I am thrilled to have made this our vacation destination. We get up to the château at 4:15 and we are directed to the tour counter. Turns out the next and last English tour is at 6:00pm, costs $8.50 each and runs 50 minutes. We sign up and now have 1 hr 45 minutes to kill before the tour. Our first stop is the "museum" of Inuit Art. While walking there, El tells me she thinks the place is more of an art gallery than a museum. When we get there, we are both wrong. It is a store! Well, a store, a very expensive store, disguised as an art gallery! We walk in and get a quick explanation of who makes the stone carvings and where they come from. It is all interesting enough, but the prices make it little more than a causal walk around. The smaller sculptures (about as big as your thumb) run about $200 as the big ones (about the size of a basketball) must run thousands, although the prices are conspicuously concealed. I have no interest at these prices so I make a quick whirl through and plan to head to the pub next door and wait for our tour to start. The pints of beer have been running around $9 which I think is a bit steep. I'm on vacation so I try not to think about it too much. The afternoon weather is beautiful and we sit on the terrace enjoying the acoustic guitar players that we have heard as we have walked by this place a few times. While waiting, I get an order of escargot to hold me over until dinner, which tonight will be at Piazzetta on St Jean. We will probably end our evening at Bar Le Sacrilège. We wrap up our escargot and beer and ready for our tour which meets at 5:50 at Le Château Frontenac next door to our current spot. The irony of the weather holding up has been a welcome thing for us today as sitting on a terrace on this fine day is just “fantastique”. It is time for our tour now.

FYI: the bathrooms in Le Château Frontenac are allowed for guests only, but the restrooms across from Starbucks inside the building are open to the public. Our tour starts at 6:00 so we meet the group and take the tour. It is supposed to run 50 minutes, but our guide runs a little over an hour. Being the last tour of the day has some perks. We take the tour which I enjoyed more than the tour of the seminary. It is a recommended hour tour if you have a day of inclement weather to kill. I like the little fun facts about the place, but it is not enough to tempt me to reserve a room. I like the place, but only from afar. We come out and find a bench to rest and plan our next stop. I figure this will be our last time in the upper old town, so we look to see if there is anything more we need to do here before we head back to the new town for the rest of the evening. We finish our time in the old town by walking through and down to Plaza D'Youville, through the St Jean gate. We continue on to the recommendation #4 of a restaurant chain called Piazzetta. We have eaten some very fine meals in this city and if a local recommends a chain, we will give it a shot. We both take the three course special plus a pizza to split. I start with a Caesar salad with an entree of manicotti all'arrabiatta. It is 8:00 now and we are both hoping for it to be a full, but not too late of a night. My Caesar is pretty good. I like the addition off the capers, but the croutons from a bag are disappointing and I do not eat them. The pizza arrives with very thin crust. The toppings were a little spicy and it was pretty good. El remarks how good the last couple of slices will taste after a few pints later tonight. I concur and we get the two slices wrapped to go. My manicotti arrives piping hot. Sadly, it also arrives with a dusting of cinnamon. Who puts cinnamon on manicotti? There wasn't that much, but just enough t be annoying. The meal overall is fine and the place is not that full. We do not mind that the pace is very relaxed and we enjoy our time here. Another decent recommendation from our acquaintances! The dessert comes. I got a praline royale (whatever that is) and a cup of coffee. Almost every cup of coffee I have had in this city has been absolutely horrible. This is no exception. Practically undrinkable. It tastes more like water with essence of coffee ground rather than a full on cafe. We are both pretty full now, and wondering why we didn’t take four of the six pizza slices to go. The whole way on the walk to Bar Le Sacrilège we discuss how unreasonably expensive the pizza we just ate was ($20.75 for a 6 cut thin crust 13" pie!) We get to Bar Le Sacrilège and I order in my best French and the waitstaff encourages my efforts. The terrace is full, but there are plenty of seats inside. We drink our beer and continue Scrabble. As the night goes on, and more people sit inside, I can feel myself getting hotter and more uncomfortable. I am sweating profusely and move closer to a window. Unfortunately, there is no A/C in this place so the influx of people just creates a more uncomfortable situation. At one point El spies a table leaving the courtyard and grabs her stuff to run. She leaves me at the table to gather up the belongings to follow. Sadly she arrives at the 4-top at the same time as a party of four who also had the table staked out. El relinquishes and I have to decide if want to stay here or to move to try to find a cooler table in the place. I do find one next to the bar and the front street window. Besides one table in the vicinity and a few at the bar, the front of the house is empty and there is a decent breeze coming in. Thankfully! We move all of our stuff over here and continue our games etc. After the next pint we are ready to call it a night.

Observation: I fully expected this city to be way more francophone and way less bilingual than I am finding it. Maybe the fact that we are in the tourist center gives us a false sense of just how accessible English is here, but it seems that almost everyone we have come in contact with can switch easily from one to the other. We have never let language barriers limit our travels and I believe it is safe to say that this city is a perfect starter city for Americans who want a foreign experience without the fear of being lost without the language. We thought Montréal was a bilingual city, and now we see that at least this part of Québec City is equally bilingual, and to us, that is a welcome, although unnecessary characteristic.

Wednesday July 7, 2010

We wake early enough, and since we have a 6 hour drive ahead of us, we try not to waste the time. El wants to go back to Tim Horton’s for breakfast. There is one right up the street from the hotel. We check out and get our car and make that our first stop. It is just like Dunkin’ Donuts, with a couple of extra flavors , but not the selection you’d get at DD. The other difference is that you can choose to eat in or take out and if you eat in, they give you ceramic mugs and plates instead of “to go” cups and wax paper sheets. I love the maple Boston crème donuts and the coffee here is some of the better we have had on this trip. During this trip we have been told a few times about L’Île d'Orléans which is an island in the St Lawrence River that is known for their strawberries and maple syrup among other things. There is one bridge to the island and as we cross it, we make our first stop the tourist info center where we buy an island tour guide for $1. We find that the island only has one ring road and everything is on it. It takes about 1 1/2 hours to drive the ring and we will do that until we get to the bridge back to highway AUT-440 to start the drive home. We drive around the island and wind up stopping at a shop called "Le Relais des Pins". The restaurant is closed, but the boutique is open. We run into the owner who enthusiastically gives us a quick tour of the grounds and an explanation of the maple syrup making process. It is quick and interesting enough. The shop sells a lot of different products and she gives us a taste of a few products. It was good enough and we were sold quickly. We ask a few questions about other shops in the area and are pointed to some specific places. We had passed many berry farms along the way that all have roadside stands. We ask for a place for good strawberries and are directed to Laval Gagnon Farm just up the road. We find it pretty easily and El goes to buy a basket of berries.

Since we need to eat them before getting to the border (can’t bring fresh fruit into the country), El asks them to wash the berries for us. We sit in the car and eat the strawberries which are really tasty. While eating, we make the plan to get going. There are some other businesses on the island like vineyards and a cheese making place (the fromagerie) that we could do if we had some more time, but it is getting on noon and we will already be getting home around dinner time. We continue on the ring road until we hit the tourist info center we stopped at on the way in. We stop for a restroom stop before hitting the road for our six hour drive…and we are on our way.Observation: like a typical major city, I am finding this to be a little on the more expensive side. This morning: two croissants, one hot chocolate, and one coffee was $11.00, which I thought was like Starbucks prices. The pints are running about $7.50-9.00 each. We have certainly experienced more expensive, we have also seen much cheaper. In conclusion:

What a pleasant surprise. I have to admit that I was not sure what to expect when we decided to come to Québec City for our vacation. The amount that I knew about the city was limited to a concert at the Colisée Pepsi 10 years ago. I don’t really hear much from others who have visited either. Of course, that never stopped us before and we were looking for a foreign experience without the hassle of plane travel. As we leave, we feel we got it in spades. It is true that this is a pretty sizable city and that we limited our visit to only the old city (Vieux Québec) which is a relatively small section of the mush bigger city. I cannot say that our experience in the greater metropolitan area would have been better or worse, although we did get a little bit of a sense of the suburbs when we went to the knitting shop and, at least there, it did not seem like anything special in terms of sights and points of interest. This was just a regular neighborhood with one bar, a diner, and a supermarket…and a knitting shop. Just regular stuff. The old city is where the action was for us. If I went back, I expect we would probably again spend the majority of our time in the old city and the immediate area. I would recommend this trip to anyone looking for a foreign experience, a reasonable distance from home, who wants to get their feet wet in a non-English speaking environment. Although our next goal is to spend more time in Montréal, this trip to Québec City ranked as one of my favorite trips and we hope to have more like it in the future.