Quebec City is my favourite city in Canada, it is romantic and charming, and has the allure and illusion of time travel. The city represents the beginning of modern day Canada, the reason why I am here with my Scottish and French background. The British and French fought over land that didn’t belong to them, to eventually create this complicated place we call Quebec. Contentious language laws that marginalize other language groups, and a license plate that reminds the French to never forget anything ever (Je Me Souviens). Quebec is the home of poutine; the greasiest and hands down best hangover cure ever, and our very own bizarre set of profanity that has served me well throughout the course of my international teaching career; Sit down Tabernak!
I’ve lived in a few different countries and met people from all over the world, so when they hear I am Canadian the response usually ranges between “Awwwww, I love Canada!” , “Vancouver? Toronto?”, or “it’s very cold there, right?”. When I meet other Canadians and I tell them I am from Quebec the response is usually somewhere between “I fucking hate Quebec” (we fucking hate you too Alberta), to “I love Montreal”. Inevitably though, people start in on the whole French thing and I have to explain to the room why Quebec is different and there are times when I think..”What the Tabarnak, Quebec, you’re so ostie weird” but other times I think… “take that you pickle headed Western Conservatists, with your soaring rents, expensive university tuition and only 1 language!” All this to say, I am really happy I am from Quebec, we speak 2 languages, our history surrounds us, we pay high taxes so we can enjoy the safety of having a social net and overall lower cost of living and we appreciate arts and culture more than the rest of our North American counterparts.
Canadian Thanksgiving is in October and is one of a few long weekends that us Canadians enjoy every year. Compared to our American neighbours who seem to have a long weekend every other weekend, Canadians get relatively few statutory holidays. My husband is new to Canada, he just passed his 1 year anniversary, but since his arrival, we had a baby, moved cities, had to find employment and we have since moved into a new apartment…so it’s been a hectic year. Because of all this mania, he hadn’t had a chance to see much of our country, not even the province, therefore we decided it was time for a weekend away in Quebec City. It takes about 3 hours by bus from Montreal to Quebec City and since we booked our tickets 2 weeks ahead of time, it only cost us 120$ tax included, return for both of us and our baby. We didn’t want to spend a ton of money on this little adventure so we booked a room at a Motel slightly outside the tourist zone, it took about 15 minutes on the city bus.
To prepare for our trip, I went to a toy store and bought 2 new small toys for our daughter to play with on the bus. I went full Mom-mode and packed a lunch with tuna sandwiches, that I promptly forgot in the fridge. We also bought disposable diapers (gross) since we didn’t have the space to pack a weekend’s worth of cloth diapers. We packed everything into 2 knapsacks for 2 people and a baby.
The bus and train station in Quebec City is walkable distance to the main attraction of the city but if you aren’t a fan of walking up hills I suggest hopping on a city bus to the Plains of Abraham and the Musee du Beaux Arts. From here you can visit the museum or you can start walking through The Plains of Abraham where the great battle between the French and British took place in September 1759. The British won and they tried to assimilate the French settlers which didn’t go over well and so now the French have been trying to assimilate foreigners into their French language and culture and let’s just say it’s as bigoted as it was back in the 1700’s. FUCK YOU CAQ and BILL 21!
Back to tourism…What is truly remarkable about the Plains of Abraham are the views of the St Laurent river. My mother (Cdn History Teacher) always talks about the arrival of the British to fight and how they had to climb up these impossibly steep river banks (cliffsides) to meet the French in the fields to fight. Nowadays they would have just shot the Brits as they climbed up the embankments but at the time, the laws of warfare stipulated that they had to line up and fire shots off at each other in a very orderly fashion. The French, waiting at the top, malnourished and cold, lost the battle even though they had the strategically advantageous position.
From the Plains you can walk down to the Citadel, the largest British fortress in North America, I haven’t been to the museum, we didn’t have time; I went about 10 years ago when you could wander around for free and it feels like you’re a little hobbit wandering through Hobbiton if they had a military installation. My favourite feature of The Citadel are the British guards with the Marge Simpson fur hats. They will stomp at you very ferociously if you approach them and try to ask them questions.
After the citadel you’ll find yourself amongst the winding cobblestone streets of Old Quebec, hanging out in the shadows of Le Chateau Frontenac, the most photographed hotel in the world. I suggest you take a bathroom break here, it’s a nice, big, clean bathroom. If you walk through the Starbucks there is a bathroom here and some cushioned benches where I was able to sit for awhile with our little Boop, we fed her here and rested awhile.
Old Quebec is 1 big giant souvenir shop these days and if I didn’t know any better I’d probably leave with a generic mug, not realising that amongst the moose cups, and beaver oven mitts, you can find exquisite blown glass, hand blown in the shop. They have items for every budget, but I covet their large vases, one day I will have one! There is another shop that sells uniquely hand crafted scarves, jewelry, and other items made in Quebec that are a step above the usual tourist fare, although I am in favour of buying a Moose crossing t-shirt. You also must walk through L’Avenue des Artists, some of the artwork is kitsch, but some of the work is stunning or fascinating.
As you walk around Old Quebec, you’ll come across the Rue de la Petit Champlains, Furnicular, Musee de Civilization, Restaurants Aux Anciens Canadiens (oldest restaurant in Canada), Notre Dame Basilica-Cathedral, and the Holy Trinity Cathedral. If you’re visiting Quebec, don’t skip Quebec City, it’s a sweet little city perfect for a few days, and if you have time and access to a car, you can make it out to Les Chutes Montmorency and other natural sites on the outskirts.
I’ve visited Quebec City in every season and so far, Autumn is my favourite times to go. Winter was clearly the worst, except that if you can brave the unpredictable temperatures of December, it’s incredibly charming to see the city lit up for the holidays, especially after a fresh, soft, snow blankets the city for a few quiet hours.
If you’re looking for a budget friendly accommodation I would recommend Motel Giffard, the rooms are very simple but clean, and the service was friendly. You can take a bus directly from Vieux Quebec and the Plains of Abraham. If you get off the bus one stop before the motel there are some chain restaurants and a large grocery store. We opted to order pizza from Pizza Giffard and were not disappointed, again the service was prompt and friendly and the pizza was doughy and cheesy and very comforting after a long day of wandering.
Of all the cities I’ve been to in Canada, Quebec City is my favourite; I have unrealistic expectations of what it would be like to live there, (think corsets and bonnets, and raucous French Taverns), that is where the city takes my fantasy. As if sauntering down cobble stone streets surrounded by gray stone accented by brightly coloured window frames and green copper rooftops, can make one transcend time periods.