Quebec is the only French-speaking region in North America (although there are some Francophones in New England and Louisiana.) And more interestingly, they are the only Francophones who pledge alliance to the Queen (of England!?!) Who would think that a trip to a ‘European’ city is just across the border by car?
We didn’t really plan anything for the trip, except the dog sledding because it gets full and we must book in advance. I only read some reviews from Tripadvisor to get some idea (which definitely wasn’t adequate) and we just went.
Driving from New Jersey to Quebec (City) took about 10 hours, and the weather was horrible. We were driving through wintry mix of rain, ice pellets and snow. So we decided to spend the night in Montreal, instead of going all the way to Quebec.
The next morning we drove through a vast region. Once in a while, we’d see a small town here and there. I was lucky to catch a picture of this beautiful Canadian train on snow with a church in the backdrop.
As we approached the city, we stopped by at a CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) office. The CAA is affiliated with the AAA, of which we both are members, so we could get free maps there. But alas, not a single employee spoke English. We spoke English to them, and they replied in French, etc. Finally the CAA lady sighed and asked, ‘Parlez-vous français?’ My husband and I both unequivocally and simultaneously replied, ‘No!’ And we left with wonder whether we were actually in Canada, and not in France.
We arrived and checked in at the Hilton Quebec which is located next to the Parliament and just steps from the Old City. As usual, as a diamond member, we were told upon check-in that we were upgraded to a ‘very beautiful room’ on the 8th floor. I didn’t know what to expect, but as I entered the room, all I could say was ‘Wow!!!’
We got a huge corner room with amazing view of the Parliament on one side and the Old City on the other. This is the Parliament as seen from our room. It is just right across the street.
Then we went to the top floor to check out the Executive Lounge which was empty in the afternoon (good photo opportunities).
Very huge, elegant and stylish.
But the wow factor comes from the view…again. It’s actually located in the same corner as our room, but from the 23rd-floor perspective, I could embrace all of Quebec right there.
The whole of this 400-year-old city is right there in front of you. You can see Quebec fortifications, the Old Town, Price Building, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, all the way to the St. Laurent (St. Lawrence) River.
The Parliament once again. Just heavenly…
They even have a telescope here!
OK, it’s time to come down to earth and explore the freezing city for a closer look. We got a city map from the Concierge and began our journey.
Fontaine de Tourny in front of the Parliament Hill. I could also see my room from here :).
A few steps further and we’re in front of the St.Louis Gate. Quebec is the only fortified city in North America. And the Upper Town (Haute-Ville) lies inside the huge stonewall.
There are statues of numerous international political figures, including Churchill and Gandhi.
A restaurant along rue St-Louis with a cute ice sculpture
At the end of rue St-Louis comes the funiculaire station that will take you all the way down to the Lower Town (Basse-Ville).
Look how steep it is. But we decided to take a walk instead, which wasn’t such a good idea for a snowing day like this.
But before going down, you have to appreciate Quebec City at her best here. Terrasse Dufferin is the coolest boardwalk I’ve ever seen. And I mean it both figuratively and literally. I thought boardwalk is only made for the beaches, not for the snow like this. I was amazed to find that this huge boardwalk was made of wood and that it was made since 1879.
Don’t forget to snap a picture of the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac which is the most photographed hotel in the world. If you can afford it, do stay at this stunning historic hotel.
You can hire a traditional sled in front of the Fairmont for just $2.50 and slide down onto the Terrasse.
This is the place for people-watching and chilling out. And it is quite chilly out here. But the view of the St.Laurent river will warm your heart.
Let’s go down to Petit-Champlain in the Lower Town…
I walked, walked,
slipped and walked down the promontory. You wouldn’t believe how steep the road is. They even install handrails along the path for pedestrians to hold on to. But the snow-covered footpath still looks more like an extreme ski slope for a seasoned skier than for a clumsy pedestrian like me. I’m sure the city’s plowman would eventually do something with it. But since it was snowing every single day we were in Quebec, their job must have been overwhelming with priorities given to clearing roads to avoid car accidents than to clearing footpaths. But hey, even with the handrails, I still ‘slipped’ and almost fell and got myself killed prematurely…
Fortunately, we descended safely to Petit-Champlain. It was a week day and only one week after Quebec Winter Carnival, which is the oldest and largest winter feast in the world. So things were quiet.
We walked to Traverse, the ferry terminal, to catch the ferry to Levis on the other side of the River. There is no bridge, so ferry is the only mode of transportation for both passengers and their cars.
Taking the ferry to cross along this majestic icy river is a memorable experience. Once the ferry leaves the port, actual travel time is less than 10 minutes. The only reason we took this ferry because many on Tripadvisor said that the best view of Quebec is from the middle of the river. (They haven’t been to the 23rd floor of the Hilton ;)) They also said that there’s nothing much to do in Levis, so we’d be better off crossing the river and then back without leaving the ferry. If you do this, a few people recommended NOT to pay for the return ticket, but instead bought a one-way ticket ($3) because no one comes on board to check your ticket. (Not sure if that is legal/ethical :P.) I intended to get off the ferry to visit Levis, but I asked for one-way tickets anyway, with the intention to buy another pair of one-way tickets in Levis when we were to return. (Don’t know why I did this.) And guess what. I got a weird look, no, a stare, from the ticket seller. Ferry is the only mode of transportation. If you don’t buy a return ticket, then you’ll just stay there forever!?! That must have been his thought. Lol.
As we arrived there after 5pm, the town information center at the port had already been closed. We didn’t know what to do or which way to go. All other passengers either went straight to catch the bus, went to the car park or waited to be picked up. No one attempted to walk. (That should be a kind of warning, shouldn’t it?)
It was getting dark, and we wanted to explore the town and find some place to eat. After dinner, we would go to Les Chocolats Favoris which is ranked as No.1 restaurant in Levis. But the town was just dead. Where is everybody? Where are all the shops and restaurants? We hiked up in the dark with no trace of civilization. What’s worse? I didn’t wear winter boots that day as I thought exploring the city would be like a stroll or a walk in the park. I didn’t expect it to be a deadly strenuous activity like this. (A lesson learned: always study about geographic characteristics of your destination beforehand and dress accordingly.)
The footpath was full of snow, slush and ice. So we decided to
risk our lives hike ON the street because the snow on the street was more manageable than the ice on the footpath. I hated ice! (The Ice Hotel is another story.) About half way after that never-ending upward-sloping steep street, I simply gave up. The higher we hiked up meant the longer distance we had to roll hike down. I had survived the ski slope in the Lower Town. I might not be lucky this time. And I bought a pair of one-way tickets to Levis! Could that be a sign?!? But if we were to abandon the mission, all the efforts would have been in vain. They said chocolates at Les Chocolats Favoris were ‘to die for‘, they might actually mean it literally. At least we would go to heaven after tasting the divine chocolate. :)
So I sent my husband up to see if we had come the right way before I continued. After awhile, he shouted down, ‘I saw some light over there! That might be a sign of civilization!’ Hahaha. We finally found what looked like the Main Street. Les Chocolats Favoris is here! But guess what, we went there the wrong day. The chocolate shop closed early that evening, and we just missed it. Just like that. So we got in a place that looked like an old-styled American bar and restaurant. With a language barrier, I got a pork chop instead of ribs. But it tasted as great. And I ended up having the best french fries I have eaten anywhere in the world here in the town of Levis.
Quebec City at night, as seen from Levis.
I totally forgot to bring a tripod on this trip. So taking night pictures was difficult. This was the best I could do.
We then returned, and it was snowing HEAVILY. It was impossible to walk back to the hotel. We were so lucky to find a taxi as soon as we got off from the ferry terminal.
Night view from my room. Just plain gorgeous. This is the only time I ever left the curtains open. I am sensitive to light, and I can’t sleep without closing the curtain to completely blind out the light from outside. But these nights I just didn’t care about not being able to sleep. Who would want to close their eyes with such a sight in front of them? I turned on the music to listen to beautiful Quebecois songs, and the time just stood still.
The morning came and we went to have breakfast at the Executive Lounge. We found the croissant amazing. It tastes even better than what we had in Europe. I ended up having like 4 croissants each morning. Hahaha. You think that’s a lot? My husband had 6!
We had to eat a lot because we were to engage in an adventurous activity later that day: dog sledding.
To be continued…
I’ll write about it and the Ice Hotel in Part II. So keep posted!