Were You Ever In Québec?

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!)

Caits in the Quebecois snow

Caits in the Quebecois snow

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.

Here's our tour group in one of the old streets

Here’s our tour group in one of the old streets

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.

That's our tour guide on the left.

That’s our tour guide on the left.

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.

quebec mont falls1

Caiti’s goodness slipped for just a second when she couldn’t help dropping a snowball down the Falls!

Plotting...

Plotting…

Executing!

Executing!

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.

The Parliament building.

The Parliament building.

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.

quebec governers walk

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 snowy battlefields.

The snowy battlefields.

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.

That's the chateau in the background.

That’s the chateau in the background.

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.

quebec christmassy street

(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!)

quebec chateau caiti

Canadian Weekend

This weekend, back at Les Fragnes, I’ve been pottering around in t-shirt and light cotton trousers, and popped off for a bike ride in shorts. This is a total contrast to last weekend in Montréal where it was well into the minuses and Caiti and I were well wrapped when we went on our travels.

Saturday saw us at the Biodome. This was the velodrome for the 1976 Olympics and it’s wonderful that it’s been recycled into such a fabulous feature. Because it really is excellent. It’s essentially an indoor nature museum I suppose, and it presents you with four different ecosystems to walk through.

First up is the rainforest. At 27 degrees C this was a slightly daunting prospect when we were all bundled up for the minus 10 outside. We’d obviously taken our coats, snoods and mittens off, but still had many layers of warm clothes that had to stay on! But we soon forgot about feeling too warm when we saw the parrots, monkeys, fish, alligators and other creatures in the amazing rainforest flora. Our only disappointment was that we couldn’t spot the three-toed sloth anywhere.

canada biodome rainforest

After the rainforest came a Canadian maple forest, thankfully a good bit cooler. Here, as well as the beautiful trees, were raccoons, a lynx, ducks and a pair of beavers. These latter are just flat ragondins (coypu, of which we get unwelcome ones on our lakes) with flat tails. Fascinating to see though!

canada biodome beaver2

The St Lawrence Gulf was next. (The St Lawrence is the river that runs through Montréal.) Here we had sea creatures such as crabs, sea urchins and anemones, a huge variety of fish and seabirds. The cliff backdrop was very impressive. This photos shows the velodrome roof too.

canada biodome gulf roof

And finally came the arctic, complete with penguins, puffins and guillemots. This was probably our favourite section since the penguins were fabulous.

canada biodome penguin look out

canada biodome penguins snow

We fortified ourselves with rolls and hot chocolate and then visited the observatory. This is the tallest inclined tower in the world, verified by the Guinness Book of Records.

canada olympic park tower2

It wasn’t finished for the Olympics (and neither was the stadium – do take a look at this for more info about the exciting, chequered history of the 1976 Olympic stadium, whose retractable roof never retracted) but is now a major attraction. You go up (and down) it in a funicular that ascends 266 metres at 6.3 miles per hour.

canada tower funicular

It was awesome. There were wonderful views from the top. As you can see, Montréal is very flat, apart from the Mont Royal hill and some distant mountains.

canada tower montreal view9

canada tower montreal view4

canada tower montreal view7

We finished off at the insectarium, which it has to be said was somewhat underwhelming, since the vast majority of the insects on display were dead and pinned to a board! I’d been expecting rather more living insects. There were some, and we had fun trying to spot them, although the lighting at the base of each vivarium made it quite tricky at times. Caiti got to hold a giant cockroach. He was very well-behaved but I didn’t risk the flash in case it panicked and shot up Caiti’s sleeve, so forgive the slightly blurry photo.

canada caiti cockroach

It was a fabulous day out.

And Sunday was cool too. I spent the morning exploring Montréal by metro and then met Caiti for dinner at her flat and then an ice hockey match. This was between the Montréal Carabins and the Ottawa GGs, the ladies’ teams. We put blue facepaint stripes on our cheeks and generously sprayed blue haircolour on our heads and were enthusiastic supporters.

canada carabins

The match was brilliant, incredibly fast and exciting. Both teams played well although a good few players ended up in the sin bin, more GGs than Carabins though. The GGs won 4-3 which was a shame, since the Carabins were definitely the better team.

canada carabins2

What a great weekend.