My wife and I love traveling and have decided to dedicate ourselves to seeing as many places as we can. Up until now, I haven’t blogged about our travels, which is a real shame because it’s a great way to look back on the trip years later (hard to recall everything unless it’s written down!) and also to share the experience with friends and family.
This August we visited Quebec City, Canada for 6 days and loved it! Overall, it was an amazing destination and we highly recommend it for either a quick getaway vacation or a longer stay. Canada is a beautiful country filled with very friendly French and English-speaking people. The flight from Chicago was a quick 2 hours and only 1 hour ahead. Some highlights from the trip:
Quebec City is stunningly beautiful. Tons of vegetation (trees, etc.) and flowers. It’s the cleanest city I’ve seen thus far - not one speck of trash anywhere! Coming from Chicago, this was immediately noticeable. It’s said to be the closest thing to visiting Europe without actually going there. I agree - the buildings, architecture and cobblestone streets all have a European feel to them. This makes walking around even more fun since there’s something different to see around every corner. We mostly stayed in a bed and breakfast, Marquise de Bassano, just a couple of blocks from the main town square:
We had a great room: queen sized bed, private bathroom, and delicious breakfast each morning. The owners were very friendly and accommodating. One aspect we really like about staying in B&B’s over hotels is not only lesser cost, but the people you meet while staying there. We had breakfast with couples from Colorado, Paris, Montreal, and Sweden. Sharing stories about other trips and their lives in general is fascinating and really opens one up to appreciating other cultures.
Each day of the trip we explored different parts of the city. It’s very hilly compared to Chicago but fortunately for me (haha), we had very cool weather for August (and lots of rain!) so that helped keep us comfortable. There are lots of parks in the city - this is the main square:
This is a cool alley:
From there there were great views of the St. Lawrence river on one end that included a really neat type of elevator called a Funiculaire that you could ride to go between upper and lower Quebec (also walkable but very steep). Additionally there were lots of shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Along the edges of the river, they’ve kept the old cannons used hundreds of years ago against invaders:
It’s incredible to think about the history that has occurred in the city - America just doesn’t compare! On our first full day, we went to the Museum of Civilization. The two coolest exhibits were a permanent one showcasing the city’s history and one on Haiti’s culture and art. Haiti’s was focused on their voodoo religion which is very dark, very sexual (lots of phallic symbols), and at times very creepy. This piece was one of my favorites: the artist created a life-sized baby doll head that he wore around town, capturing himself amid ordinary scenes of daily life:
Quebec City is also big on street performers and street art. We didn’t know this when we stumbled on this public art piece:
Yes, those are pool noodles! They encompassed an entire alleyway - very cool.
I came away from the trip feeling that Canada has similar tastes as Wisconsin: cheese, beer, and wine abound! Naturally, we fit right in with the local cuisine. We didn’t actually have very many dishes that were Canada-specific, actually; it might have been because we were admittedly in a touristy area, but we ate pizza, thai, chinese, pasta, etc. which was just like being at home. I did get to try duck confit poutine (french fries, gravy, cheese curds, and duck meat), but I was surprised to find that I didn’t like it! It was the duck and the gravy that I didn’t like. I also had a chocolate and banana crepe; coupled with a hot cappuccino, it was a perfect snack on rainy day. The wine and cheese we had was top notch though - it was awesome to get a $5 cheese plate, but not so awesome to think that the same amount back home would be four times as much! The beer and wine were mostly very good. There happened to be a micro brewery festival in town when we were there, which was a nice surprise. $12 for a mug (a nice souvenir) and $3 tastings of all European breweries. I was in heaven!
Île d’Orleans (Orleans Island)
Just outside of the city, across the river, there is a rather large island many miles wide that hosts breweries, wineries, and chocolate shops. Our idea was to explore it during a day trip in which we would rent bicycles on the island and ride around visiting all the shops. The tourism site in the main square was sort of a pain though, as they claimed that nothing involving bikes were available; instead they offered us a bus tour that included multiple sites, but only a 20 minute visit to ONE chocolate shop on the Island. That’s it. Luckily, we found a family-owned bike rental place that drove us to the island in the morning, then picked us up in the late afternoon. It was a lot of fun and a great way to see as much as possible in a day. Here’s a winery we went to (wine tastings are in the basement):
Also just outside of town is a beautiful waterfall slightly taller than Niagra Falls. You can walk around at the top, cross it via a bridge, and take stairs all the way down to the base of the falls. We did all of that, naturally. Here’s the side:
Here’s the long winding stairs to the base:
Here’s a view of the entire waterfall:
and myself at the base, completely drenched from the water mist and splashing:
We thought about taking a day trip to Montreal, but didn’t want to rent a car. Unfortunately it was very expensive and long hours to take a bus, so we opted to go whale watching instead. This was the only packaged day trip we went on; it was quite the gamble since it was an expensive, long 12 hour trip, with no guarantee of seeing any whales. We had to take a 3-4 hour long bus ride to Tadoussac, which is on the Atlantic Ocean. From there, we would have a 3 hour boat ride to view the whales, then a bus ride home. We were skeptical but it ended up being very worthwhile. Our bus driver was very knowledgeable about the whales, so he spent the entire way there talking about them, switching between French and English every few minutes. When we arrived, we were told that we had to wear a water/wet suit, which was news to us! We had been told to bring warm clothes, but nothing about that. These suits were basically like huge winter coats and snow pants. It was 80 degrees outside, so I was not thrilled! Once we got on the water, it was very cold, so it worked out in the end :)
We had the option to either ride in a large boat (basically a cruise ship) or for $10 more, a zodiac. Zodiacs are these things:
We picked the zodiac and were glad we did. Within the first 5 minutes of being out at sea, we had a humpback whale surface very close to us!
That was really the only time we saw the body of a whale. The rest of the times were only just the tails:
That’s ok though - it was really cool to see nature up close. The cruise ship people’s pictures were definitely not as good as ours! On the way back, we went a bit inland and saw some great sights:
We also saw seals sunning themselves:
Our last night in Quebec, we stayed at the Chateau Frontenac, which is basically a huge, one hundred year old castle that dominates the city skyline.
It was super fancy and expensive (especially compared to our little B&B), but it’s great to be able to say that we stayed there.
In the lower levels, there were tons of old relics from various time periods, along with accompanying info about the wars going on at the time and the types of royalty that lived there.
- Cost of living: We assumed incorrectly that overall cost of items in Canada would be cheaper than Chicago. Not so! It was the same if not a bit worse. We definitely need to pay more attention to that next time.
- Take public transportation when possible. It’s cheaper and really helps you get around to places you might not otherwise go if you were restricted to only walking.
- Learn a bit of the local language before you go. Beyond that, the app “Word Lens” is really helpful for translating written text on the fly using your phone’s camera.
- We “winged it” this time in the sense that we didn’t plan out our days at all. Sure, we decided on all the landmarks and other sights we wanted to see, but took each day as it came based on weather and what we felt up to. It was a great, flexible approach that I think we’ll stick with.
We definitely want to go back to Canada, having only seen 1 major city out of an entire country! Bonus pic of us goofing around: