By Nick Iandolo
This article was originally published on Beantown Socialite (link here): September 16th, 2010.
…continued from première partie.
The first things that we noticed as we got closer to the Old Walled City (originally a fortified enclave complete with a citadel for troops and lined with canons), were the amount of happy people wandering about on both sides of the street, or sitting in the outside patios of the many restaurants one after another, and of course the more than occasional horse and buggy with happy riders enjoying the cool and comfortable summer air.
We were getting more and more excited that we made the right decision to come here the further we went along the Grande Allée. And finally when we passed under the wall of the old city we were treated to something that my wife and I hadn’t experience since our trip to Italy back in 2005: a European city look and feel that was as close to the real thing without ever having to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The sights, the sounds, the architecture of the buildings, the cobblestone streets, the French speaking people, everything reminded us so much of Europe I swore we were in Siena or Florence. The city was abuzz with activity. There were happy revelers about, live music being played on virtually every corner, street performers entertaining the crowds, quaint little shops, eateries, etc. It probably helped that we arrived in Quebec City on the cusp of Canada Day so there was an air of extra celebrating to be had.
After a brief tour of the old city that we would be spending the entire following day exploring, we pulled up to the valet at Le Saint Amour and let them take our car while we went inside. The place had a wonderful “turn of the last century” décor to it with a fabulous main dining section called, the salle a diner jardin. In other words, it was a large open atrium-like space inside that had plenty of seating amidst these massive potted plants hanging high above our heads—i.e. a dinner garden.
The food was exactly as you would expect a fine French restaurant to have, with excellent wine choices (over 250 choices), a delectable lobster bisque, a tender and juicy grilled petit filet mignon with oxtail, and exquisite selection of pastries for dessert. Though a little on the pricey side, we most certainly enjoyed taking in the local color and relaxing in this charming restaurant after a long day of driving. And the staff was immensely pleasant and helpful. We had lost our expensive digital camera there that evening (must have been the wine), but they dubiously found it, secured it, and promptly had it waiting for us when we returned the next day to retrieve it. Had that been a New York City restaurant I fear it would have been seen on the street being sold for a mere $50!
The next day Mireille prepare for us and the other guests at their B&B a wonderful pear crepe breakfast. Serge was only too happy to toast our bread for us and provide helpful tips on visiting the city. The both of them were incredible hosts and made us feel right at home.
After breakfast, we immediately set out back to the Old Walled City to see the sights. The first thing to note was that despite the narrow one-way streets that would give even Bostonians a shrill of anxiety, the traffic jams were at a tolerable minimum (when there were any), and there was ample and affordable parking—especially in the Lower Town part of the old city by the waterfront and the Musee de la Civilisation. Eight dollars Canadian for twelve hours is quite a bargain seeing as you’d have to pay three times that anywhere in Boston if you’re lucky.
Starting out on the Rue Dalhousie we walked up towards the purported oldest street and square in North America, the Rue du Petit-Champlain. Certainly this little village nestled in the shadow of the iconic Château Frontenac high above, deserves its accolades and adorations by residents and visitors alike. Used many times in movies as a double for European hamlets, one can easily see why with its picturesque little shops, stone buildings, outdoor eateries, chocolatiers like Madame Gigi Confiserie (where I purchased a fine Cognac Noir bar of chocolate), cobblestone roads, and the occasional villagers walking about clad in period costumes and even carrying lanterns in the evening, this place exudes Old World charm and is a main draw for visitors to Quebec City.
Over the course of our visit, my wife and I spend hours hanging around the Rue du Petit-Champlain, perusing the shops, dining outside, and dreaming of our next trip to Europe—most likely France this time.
When we were ready to see more of the city on our fist day we decided to take the Funicular railway to the Upper Town part of the old city that lets you out right near the aforementioned Château.
There’s just something really cool about taking an inclined car up the side of a hill overlooking the Saint Lawrence—kind of like being in the elevators at the Luxor in Vegas but outside and more picturesque.
The Château Frontenac is the epitome of Quebec City’s architectural symbolism. Many images have been taken on the Château’s hallowed facade from all over the city, the air, and the river. This edifice defines classic European style and elegance. We wandered around it in awe and proceeded to venture inside. There are many inspiring features to this fully active and classic hotel including high-end shops, lounges with verandas that overlook the Atlantic City-like boardwalk and the river below, and staff walking about in old world Victorian costumes. One could spend quite a bit of time exploring this place; just imagine what it would be like to stay there!
The rest of the day my lovely wife and I spent exploring the Upper Town of the old city. The amount of people wandering about on these small streets was staggering to say the least. Also the streets were alive with performers of all kinds in all manner of costumes and all types of music and live performance: opera, magic, rap, folk music in French and English, comedy, mime, jugglers, dancers, harpists, etc. And a plethora of artists and painters also lined parts of the streets including the famous Rue du Trésor. It made me wonder (as a native Bostonian) if Boston streets ever get this culturally intense.
We ate lunch at a nearby French country restaurant, Creperie Le Petit Château (with a charming little courtyard to eat at set back from the street for a quiet repast), walked down the Rue Saint-Louis touring the shops, and then ambled our way over to the Rue Sainte-Anne perusing more shops, and then headed over to the Rue Saint-Jean for even more shops!
You would think that we would have grown tired of shops in Quebec City, but that simply was not the case. Exploring one quaint place after another is a real New England trademark whether you’re in Woodstock Vermont, Falmouth Massachusetts, or Newport Rhode Island. The shops in the old city were every bit as interesting as their New England counterparts.
We did manage to take in a 3D multimedia experience on the history of Quebec that seemed a little outmoded but historically interesting. The Quebec Experience also on the Rue du Trésor is a combination of 3D movie and animatronic action that falls a little short of knocking ones socks off when compared to a real 3D IMAX show or a top notch interactive experience like Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas (indefinitely shut down) or Honey I Shrunk The Audience/Captain EO at Disney World’s EPCOT Center. However for what it is, it does present a dignified and unique historical perspective on the city that is at least worth the price of admission.
With the sun setting, my wife and I decided to head back to the L’Arvidienne to freshen up and take in an outside dinner along the Grande Allée.
To be concluded in troisième partie…