Monday, August 18, 2014

Quebec - La Charmante Ville

16 - 17 August 2014

You might be able to tell that we're now in Quebec City (or, in French, Quebec Ville - and Quebec in French is pronounced keh-BECK, not the English kwuh-BECK).

We took the train from Toronto to Montreal, and switched trains to Quebec.  The train first ran along Lake Ontario after leaving Toronto, with occasional views of the lake looking like an ocean, and various rivers, inlets, canals.  Then past farms, towns, villages, open fields, and a few wild turkeys running through.  

The president of the Canadian train company was on the train, and we had a chance to chat with him - so we gave him some constructive criticism, explaining that on the Australian trains they have showers in economy class (he was surprised, and said that might be difficult to add, but he wrote it down in his notes); and we also suggested that it might be nice to have a varying menu in the café car for the Vancouver/Toronto route, rather than the same menu for all four days.  He said that would be an easy fix, and also wrote that down in his notes.  So hopefully those items can eventually be changed, and help other travellers and maybe make it better for the next time we do the trans-Canadian train.  (A shower would have been SO nice!)

We finally arrived in Quebec, only to find we should have gotten off the train in the town of Sainte-Foy (pronounced Fwa, like foie gras - the French equivalent of Saint Faith).  Our hotel is in the suburb of Sainte-Foy, which is far enough away from the city center to have its own stop along the train line.  Ah well, live and learn.
Our hotel is quite nice, even though it’s a bus ride into the city.  So we spent our first day exploring this town of Sainte-Foy, complete with highway intersections, malls, various restaurants, and plenty of chances for me to dredge up
my decades-old high school French and pretend I can converse with people.  I can ask directions, ask if there are restaurants nearby, or what hours a place is open.  I don’t always understand the complete answer, but I get the gist of the reply.  Of course, then Richard says something and the person usually smiles and switches to English to be sure we have the information.

I’ve found that Quebecoise, the people of Quebec, are very tolerant of those of us who speak old high school French.  People let me put together sentences with, I realize later, the wrong tense or word or whatever, but they often seem to understand and will reply.  Then I run out of French vocabulary, and have to switch.  But I have had some small conversations completely in French, with the occasional person who doesn't speak English.  (Most hospitality industry people here are bilingual, but the car rental person in the hotel speaks only French, which we found odd.  But I was able to find out what times she opens and closes the office each day.  The best was the security guard at the mall, who gave me directions nice and slowly.)  I'm also learning new vocabulary which then expands my conversation.

And of course the food - the world knows French food, and yes, the food here is wonderful.  Croissants, chocolatines (pain au chocolat elsewhere), crepes, omelettes, steak frites, mousse, profiteroles - now, we haven't had all those items, but they're available.  Ah, new word - homard is French for lobster.  Our first restaurant was a French Canadian version of a Louisiana Cajun cuisine, featuring homard from the Bay of Gaspay - so of course I had the lobster bisque and then a lobster sandwich.  SO good.

And where else would you find fleur-de-lys cookies?

We took the bus to the old part of Quebec, which is the prettiest part of the city, and had a wonderful time doing our usual thing - walking around looking at everything, occasionally sampling food, hanging out in a café or patisserie chatting with local people in both English and French, finding out where's the best spot for whatever.  Plus some people watching, store browsing, and just absorbing the atmosphere.
The old part of Quebec City, referred to as Vieux-Quebec (literally Old Quebec) has a stone wall complete with huge arching gates and lookout towers or turrets or whatever.  It is just, well, charming is about the best word for it.  Beautiful, old world French, sometimes more French than Paris - the old style of architecture, the attention to small details, even the flowers and placement of park benches - all focused on creating a lovely atmosphere and milieu for the people who live there as well as the tourists who visit, drawn by this small pocket of French culture in North America.

We started with a cup of tea or coffee in the Place d'Youville which is where the bus terminates.  (Doesn't Place d'Youville sound like a town in a Dr. Seuss story?  Horton Hears a You, or something like that?)  Anyway, Richard and I were trying to decide if we should sample a croissant at the place, and the lady next to me turned and quietly said, "It isn't my business, but the croissants here are very dry, nothing is good.  Go out to le Rue Saint-Jean and go up the street, there is a wonderful bakery, the best croissants, breads, viennoiseries - go there."

So we took her advice (she was a little chubby so we figured she knew what she was talking about) and yes, they had wonderful chocolatines and we each had one.  Soooooo good.

While we were there, we ended up chatting with two older men (who looked like retired professors or something).  The agreed that this was the best spot for croissants, tried to get us to move to Quebec, and also recommended a spot for lunch.  We started in French but quickly moved to English, and they were just funny.  And yes, we followed their recommendation, and went to Le Brillig, a bistro serving Breton-style crepes - huge buckwheat flour pancake filled with all kinds of good stuff.  (Mine was Swiss cheese, ham, asparagus, and apple slices - I know, weird combination, but really tasty!)

We walked around and I just couldn't get enough of the architecture - these buildings look like they're straight out of Paris, maybe 1700-something.  I felt like I should be wearing a long dress and shawl, and there should be horses and carriages.  Really, the place is just like an historic movie set, everything feels so classically, well, French.

With, of course, colours brighter than we tend to see in most places in North America.  

And baskets of flowers hanging from charming lamp posts.  Hanging charmingly.  Rather than being multi-coloured, they tended to be one kind of flower in one basket, and grouped so that each building had all matching flowers.  Trés charmantes, les fleurs!!!

And the doors!  Doors are wonderful examples of design, and there's a particular curve similar to the in/out curve of a violin or cello that seems to be classically French, often from the Provence area - so I took door photos as well as buildings.

So I have a bunch of architecture photos, and I'll try to catch up the photos and words here.  (I never seem to get them synchronized quite right.)

I also ended up with a collection of signs, in wonderful shapes and designs (and of course another chance to practice my French).  Just because they were so interesting, both in shape, design, and trying to figure what the sign was advertising.

 Then there was the huge church, sort of Norman in design, or at least looking like a church from that time period (1066 or so) - the big square stones, the boxy shape, turrets and towers and little arched doors with ornate roofs.  

Apparently there was a wedding at the church, because a few cars out front (a Jaguar!) were decorated with flowers - the bouquet was gorgeous, but I thought the beribboned single rose on each side-view mirror was truly a special touch.

As we were sitting on a bench people watching and enjoying our afternoon coffee, the church bells started ringing, on and on and on, we guessed as a way of celebrating the wedding going on inside, or maybe as the bridal couple left the church - we weren't close enough to see what was happening at that time.  But it made a nice ending to our day, and just seemed like a romantic gesture that was very French.

Les bluets (blueberries) et las fraises (strawberries) were gorgeous, and just packaged so, well, attractively.  Frenchly!

So, we've had a great time in Quebec, but we leave early tomorrow.  I will end with a photo of the adorable fire hydrant, which looks like a tiny soldier (or the Nutcracker), standing sentinel and at the ready, waiting to be needed for a fire.

And, of course, the most French of building and flower views.  With la biciclette somehow making the scene more French than ever.

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