By Nick Iandolo
This article was originally published on Beantown Socialite (link here): October 13th, 2010.
…continued from deuxième partie.
We found ourselves sitting out at on a patio at an Italian restaurant that overlooked the main thoroughfare—with a great view of a night club across the street—complete with a massive disco ball illuminating the entire block with 1970’s flair and equivalent music to boot. The throngs of people wandering up and down the Grande Allée seemed endless and reminded us of many public events back home like the Feast of Saint Anthony in North End of Boston or Water Fire in Providence. If it weren’t for sheer exhaustion of an entire day exploring the city Sue and I would stayed out and partied with everyone well into the wee hours…
That and the next day’s wonderful breakfast at the L’Arvidienne that Mireille and Serge would prepare for us: a tasty tomato and basil omelette with a fine veal pâté for our toasted breads.
After our delightful breakfast the following day, we were ready to explore a little further outside the city limits. We decided to check out Les chutes de Montmorency (Montmorency Falls) and the nearby Isle d’Orleans (Island of Orleans). The falls were exceptional, billed as being approximately 30 meters (98 feet) higher than Niagara Falls they are spectacular to watch especially from the bridge that spans the width of it from above. There is an entire section of stairs and landings that slope down one side of the rocks nearby that offer a breathtaking view of the falls, and a cable car ride that takes you back to the top (or down if you wish) connected to a visitor’s center below. There are many spots to take fabulous pictures and get sprayed all at once.
The Island of Orleans was a bit of a disappointment for us however. We were told that this place was a picturesque spot filled with shops, sites, and great views of Quebec City nearby. We were expecting something like Martha’s Vineyard and what we really got was Nahant Massachusetts meets Westerly Rhode Island with a little Cape Cod thrown in. Not that it was bad, but certainly attempting to tour the entire island would have been a waste of a whole day for us. Instead, we stuck to the main attractions: the chocolate shop, the gelato shop, the foundry, and of course the microbrew. We ended getting there too late to hit the wineries and some of the more rustic shops. But after two hours we were done. We desperately ran back to the visitor’s center to return our skipping English language tour CD for a refund. Our advice would be to avoid the island if you can or stick to the aforementioned highlights and move on to more interesting venues.
So disappointed were we with the Island of Orleans that we immediately made a bee-line back to Quebec City and parked our car near the Rue du Petit-Champlain for an early evening stroll in the shops and a very nice dinner sitting outside one of the more eclectic eateries that feature a lot of pork and pig dishes (including a decent attempt at barbecued ribs) at Le Cochon Dingue. Watching ships go by in the evening hours as we enjoyed the outside ambience was very tranquilizing and helped to undo our pensive impressions of the island earlier.
For our last day in Quebec City my wife and I were treated to a lovely breakfast of, you guessed it, French Toast! I was waiting for it over the last couple of days and Mireille certainly delivered. We were a little sad to be leaving our hosts—we had grown fond of them in the last couple of days. I would certainly recommend any couple of all ages visiting Quebec City to look into staying at the L’Arvidienne Couette et Café. The rooms were clean, decorative, and comfortable: each one named after a famous French painter such as Monet or Van Gogh. The service and friendliness of the hosts are bar-none top notch. And there is ample free parking that you wouldn’t find if staying at a B&B in the crowded Old Walled City. All in all, this was a very good stay for a couple of native New Englanders.
But it was time for us to head home, of course after a little diversion back to the old city for a few more hours. This time we parked at an underground parking garage near The Parliament Building. We headed over to this palatial edifice which is the seat of government for the Province of Quebec, and at one time all of Canada. My wife and I passed through a minimum of security that would have given the guards at the US Capitol Building a nervous breakdown, and we made it just in time for the free tour. We were treated to anecdotes on the building’s history (tied with Quebec’s) as recorded in the architecture and stained glass windows everywhere you looked. Also, we were taken to the two main meeting chambers for Quebec’s Parliament past and present—including the room where they almost voted to succeed from the Canadian Union back in 1995. And we checked out the interactive multimedia kiosks in the building’s foyer that presents many fascinating videos on the goings on in Quebec the province, Quebec City, and Canada—all in French of course.
The Parliament building was a good short diversion that whetted my appetite for more historical ventures while touring the city. So we ended up walking over to the The Artillery Park where you can tour the Old Armory, Soldier’s Barracks, and the Colonel’s Home just beyond the wall near the Rue Saint-Jean. Unlike the extensive Citadel that we just didn’t have time to visit, we thought that we could do a quick tour of these smaller historic military sites before we had to finally head home. We were pleasantly surprised that for a minimal fee (covering all three buildings) we got to see some interesting artifacts and learn some intriguing historical facts here.
The Amory was the largest that once held munitions used to repel the British invasion back in 1759. It was also used as an ammunition factory to help Canada’s war effort in both World Wars of the last century. Finally, it was turned into a museum that features pleasant and informative staff in period costumes, a stage for presentations, lots of artifacts from the city’s various periods, formal tours of the sites, and large model of historic Quebec that can be viewed from a catwalk above much like (but a fraction of the size) the massive Italo Gismondi’s model of Ancient Rome in the Museo della Civiltà Romana located just outside of Rome Italy in the EUR district.
The other buildings in the site were also interesting as the staff/performers played their parts well to give visitors a sense of what it was like to live in earlier times centuries ago—up to and including a wood burning fire in the barrack’s kitchen where a cook was preparing for the visitor to sample actual bread (baked in the original hearth, with a titillating aroma permeating the entire kitchen even from the outside) and other victuals the soldiers of the day sustained themselves with. I should also remark that the cook seemed to be very much in love with the maid who serviced the Colonel’s home nearby as he told us to compliment her eyes for him when we went over there—this was apparently more than an act as those two were beaming when they saw each other—a nice reminder of why my wife and I came to Quebec City in the first place: a romantic get-a-way.
After our little amorous interlude and historical excursion, we decided to have one more meal outside before we headed back to the United States. We walked along the Rue Saint-Jean to the Rue Sainte-Anne, and found a row of eateries with patios just waiting for us to patronize. I was in the mood for a simple hamburger and we ended up at this labyrinthine Irish Pub called, Maison Serge Bruyère—though the name does not match the signage which suggests, The Pub St. Patrick. An Irish Pub in French Canadian Quebec City you say? Well it couldn’t hurt to try it and we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of service, food, and beer we got there. Also, the view of the street and the throngs of people going by were a nice bonus.
Afterwards, we got one more gelato for the road and begrudgingly decided that we absolutely had to leave and go home. We retrieved our car and left this fabulous place the way we came. As we crossed over the bridge once again, the sun was starting to set over the Saint Lawrence bathing the city in an iridescent golden light—what a wonderful last look it was.
On the ride back and well into the evening, my wife and I talked about some of the things that we were definitely going to see and do the next time we visit Quebec City, sites and attractions such as: The Citadel, The Centre d’interprétation de Place-Royale, The Falls at St. Catharines, The Plains of Abraham, the ubiquitous horse and buggy ride, a boat tour of the Saint Lawrence River with stunning views of the city, more nightlife attractions, more museums including the Dragon exhibit at the Musee de la Civilisation (if it is still there), more eating outside and more fine dining experiences, and simply more of everything that can be gleefully enjoyed in one of the most romantic cities in North America—only a six and a half hour drive from Boston. This was a true travel success as far as we were concerned.
We vowed to return again someday, perhaps very soon in 2011 as Quebec City celebrates its 403rd year anniversary on July 3rd. I don’t think Uncle Sam will mind us spending two Independence Day holidays with our neighbors to the North.
Ah Quebec City, “Très Bien!”