On my last full day in Canada, Caiti and I went to Québec City on a bus tour with Gray Line coaches. We set off at 8 in a very large, quarter-full coach. Caiti was the second youngest, after a very well behaved toddler. (Caiti was very well behaved too!)
The journey is about three and a half hours, which is why I’d opted for the bus tour rather than hiring a car and going there under our own steam. Not to mention the snow. I’m not the most confident on icy roads, so was happy to let someone else do the driving.
We stopped on the way for a quick coffee break. Caiti noticed on the bilingual price list that ‘croissant’ had been translated as ‘increasing’! That’s its meaning as a present participle, true, but not the right one in this context!
I’d expected us to be just be dropped off in Québec and told what time and where to reassemble, so it was a rather nice surprise to find out we’d be having a guided walking tour. We picked him up (I’m afraid I’ve forgotten his name, although I remember that Jean-Pierre was the driver) when we arrived and he immediately took us into the picturesque streets of the old town.
Old Quebec, Vieux Québec, the original part of the city, has a very European feel about it, with narrow streets, old stone houses and small squares dotted around. It consists pretty much of wall to wall souvenir and arty-crafty shops. Tourism is a crucially important industry for the area.
Our guide told us that Québec’s main enemy is the cold. The old houses have no windows at all in their north-east facing walls, and to brighten these solid sheets of stone up, the powers that be have recently had a load of murals painted. Here’s one that looks very similar to the big one in Limoges city. I can only imagine that the Lyonnais artists they hired specially are the same ones who painted Limousin’s capital city.
He pointed out a few other interesting nooks and crannies, and then we returned to the coach for a quick visit to the Montmorency Falls close by. These are taller than the famous Niagara Falls, which Caiti visited in November with her godmother, but on a much narrower scale. However, they were impressive and very beautiful.
Caiti’s goodness slipped for just a second when she couldn’t help dropping a snowball down the Falls!
On arrival back at Québec, we were driven round to see a few more attractions, including the Parliament building, and then dropped off to spend some free time – three hours to be precise.
Most of the party headed into a restaurant with the guide, but Caiti and I had come with a picnic so we were self-sufficient. We headed along the Governor’s Walk, except, in the six inches of snow that there was, it was more accurately the Governor’s Slither. This gave us some great if chilly views of the St Lawrence River.
The Walk led us to the Fields of Abraham, the battlefield where the English defeated the French in 25 minutes in September 1759. The French has spent the previous 37 years building defences around the city. They must have felt they’d wasted their time. Both the British and French leaders, General Wolfe and Marquis Montcalm, died as a result of the battle.
The most famous feature of Québec City is the Chateau Frontenac hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway to attract tourists. It really is quite spectacularly eye-catching. There’s a Starbucks in one corner of it where Caiti and I shared a slightly strange and hideously expensive peppermint mocha. My first time in a Starbuck’s and I shan’t be hurrying back.
We spent the rest of our time pottering round the old town, and finished up at Les Delices de l’Erable, a shop selling maple-based goodies which had a small museum at the back. We got a free taste of maple tea too.
We had an uneventful journey back with a quick stop at a Tim Horton’s café (more about him in another blog) although it ended with us driving circles around Montréal. The bus driver hadn’t got lost, but was dropping off the well-to-do members of our party at their respective hotels. This was a little irritating, since it must have put about three quarters of an hour on the journey for us humble souls who were then having to rely on public transport to get home.
Despite that, a wonderful day out. As well as Québec and the waterfall, we saw migrating geese, possibly a moose, a Coca-Cola factory and some beautiful Christmassy lights.
(And the title is taken from a campfire song I used to sing as a Brownie and Guide: Were you ever in Quebec, Stowing timber on the deck, And seen a king in a golden crown, Riding on a donkey. Hey ho, away we go, Donkey riding, donkey riding, Hey-ey ho, away we go, Riding on a donkey!)