Sunday, October 28, 2012

Day 8 and 9 - Quebec City

For years, Richard and I each have had a strong desire to visit Quebec City. But, for one reason or another, neither of us quite found a way to make it there. Well, our cruise has ended, and now we are finally in Quebec City. And, I have to say, It has been totally worth the wait!

The tired old adage about Quebec City is that it is like visiting Paris. Only closer. And cleaner. I hate to admit it, but the old saying is mostly true. Now, no place can really, truly compare to Paris. But Quebec City does have something of the architecture and gastronomy of the City of Light. All without having to cross the big pond.

And, the city IS clean. Very clean. No dog poo on the sidewalks. No litter on the streets.

There is a disturbing lack of panhandlers.

The people are, well, NICE. And they don't hesitate to speak English (especially after hearing my well intentioned but sorely lacking attempt at French).

It's like France with training wheels!

Some of reasons for the tidy and pleasant nature of the city and it's citizens was explained by the guide of the city tour we embarked upon. Over half of the population works for the government, with reasonable Monday to Friday work hours that leave ample time for recreation and leisure. The residents of Quebec City are ethnically homogeneous, meaning ninety five percent are French-speaking, Catholic and white. In a city of 700,000, the murder rate last year topped out the year at four people. Wow. It all gave me a lot of food for thought. I certainly admire the social welfare aspects of Canadian society, but at the same time was somewhat dismayed at the the lack of ethnic diversity in Quebec. Not making any judgments here, just saying that I came away with a lot to ponder regarding different social systems, why they work in some areas but not in others, and what kind of lessons can be learned from them.

You know, being a responsible traveler.

On to the touristy stuff. Quebec City is divided into a historic riverfront, and then a more modern area further out. The historic area has a lower section (Basse-Ville) and an upper section (Haute-Ville). In days past, the lower section housed the poor and working class, while the upper town was the province of the wealthy and elites. Typical!

The city winds along narrow streets from the river docks of the lower town, up to the steep ramparts, and then into the upper town. Along the way, restaurants, shops and art galleries entice. The crown jewel overlooking the city is the grand Chateau Frontenac. Built in the latter part of the 19th century, the Frontenac was commissioned by the CN railroad to house travelers back in the day when rail was king. Boasting 650 rooms behind an imposing, faux-chateau edifice, the Frontenac recalls the grandeur of The Gilded Age.

Richard and I, minus top hats and monocles, commemorated our visit to the Frontenac with a drink at the the hotel's watering hole, the Bar St. Laurent. Clubby, warm and with commanding views of the city and the St. Lawrence River, it was well worth the stop-in.

Having been founded in 1608, Quebec has a rich history that includes the First Nation peoples, the French settlers, an unwelcome British Invasion (think RedCoats, not MopTops), and the controversial modern Separatist movement. Take one of the historic city bus tours to get the whole story.

I won't go on about dining too much, except to say French food abounds (natch!), albeit with a Canadian twist. A good example I experienced would be the Confit of Duck Salad with Maple Vinaigrette I had at the Aux Anciennes Canadienes.

By far, though, the best culinary experience we enjoyed was at place called Toast! The kitchen is run by a chef who apprenticed at The French Laundry under Thomas Keller. As you would expect, all was about super fresh ingredients and layers of flavors. Instead of entrees, the menu consisted of making as many selections as desired from a long list of appetizers. To give you an idea, I had a Surf and Turf of sweetbreads sautéed in lardons, along with seared sea scallops paired with duxelles of mushrooms. Richard had an unusual, but surprisingly light, tartare of deer. Delicieux!

I guess from reading this post you are getting the sense that I really enjoyed this city. I did. A lot.

I just wish I hadn't waited so long to see it!


Let me make one comment to Frank's posts. I owe him a heartfelt THANK YOU for all of his posts from this journey. I hope you enjoy his contributions to The Urban Flaneur as much as I do.

And stay tuned as we are planning our regular, post-travel "Hits & Misses" feature enjoyed by many of our readers.

That's all I'm saying (for now).


Denise Dickerhoof said...

So glad you had a good trip - it sounds wonderful! And I thoroughly enjoy the Frank/Dick combo when it comes to writing... a real pleasure to read. Hope to catch up soon.

Paul said...

Loved reading about the trip! I'm looking forward to doing this one with Libby and Emerson some day.

Can't wait for the hits 'n misses. It's a great feature.

I agree. I enjoyed Frank's writing... he's a very thoughtful and good writer (not surprisingly).