Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Honeymoon in Quebec (part ii)

The next day in Quebec city was our exploration day. We had planned to just walk around and see what we could see, which was perfect for my obsessive plaque reading, and for Jenn to scout out the best places to eat.

We decided what better place to aim for than the old town, and so we wandered around the upper town for one of two gates that led down there. In the process we discovered the final resting place of Samuel de Champlain (under a souvenir shop fittingly called Souvenirs Champlain) to the left of this photo. They had build atop an old church, and recently excavated the footings.

We crossed the upper town, past the Postcard famous Chateau Frontenac (a.k.a. the most photographed hotel in the world), and took some pictures so we didn't seem left out. In fact, I can see why it's photographed so much, because wherever you take a picture in the city, that damn hotel is in the background. I looked at the photos later, and in quite a number of them, like an insecure teenager at a family picnic, there it was, fingers in a vee above our heads.

We finally found a park full of cannon, and from there the gate and narrow street that wound down to the old city.

Had we been lazy, we also could have taken the 'Feniculaire', which is a trolley car, and a steal at $1.50 per passenger. It was still windy and brisk, and we had all day to burn, so we walked.

The first stop was the oldest street in North America, Rue du Petit Champlain, which in the 1600's probably housed families of hearty habitants, and the odd craftsperson or barber or baker, but is now row upon row of souvenir shops. Still, we took our time looking at what they had to offer. Most were closed, except for those selling chocolates or maple syrup. I think we were a couple of weeks ahead of their tourist season.

After that, we wandered to Place Royale, where I photographed the bust of Louis the XIV. We discovered that here stood the very first general store in the new world. Now a park stands in the same spot. By this point, we were getting tired, and cold, and the wind was whipping through our light jackets. It was enough to drive us indoors for more coffee and some supper. 

For supper, we returned to St. Jean street to a Restaurant called the Retro, and at first glance we weren't impressed. It was empty, and there didn't seem to be a focus on service. When we sat the server explained to us that they were not open yet, but they had let us in out of the cold anyway. 
The steak, and we both had different steaks, was cooked perfectly, and served with vegetables, and a type of warm coleslaw, with a cream sauce on the side. Brilliant. 

It was the perfect way to round out a cold, and tiring day.

The next day, after our gift basket and coffee, we trudged up to the Citadel to see that and the Plains of Abraham. The citadel was built in the 1820's by the British, nearly fifty years after British General James Wolfe defeated the French Marquis de Montcalme for control of the new world, and was seamlessly integrated into the existing French defenses. Walking up there the only indication that there was a fort was the flags that flew above the earthworks. Everything else is under the ground level until you are upon it. Finding the entrance is near impossible without a map. We walked all the way around the ramparts, admiring their techniques in 'field of fire' and egress, and how it would be near impossible to get inside. Winston Churchill once aptly called it the 'Gibraltar of the North'.

Hey, look! Chateau Frontenac again. Get out of here, you!

Our tour through the Citadel brought us up onto the highest natural point in Quebec, and right into the wind and rain we had been hiding from the day previous. It was a damp day, but it brought us in contact with many other brave early-season tourists. An English man who explained some of the history of the second World War to us, as we went through the museum of the 22ieme Regiment, the Van-Doos. A couple from Kitchener, and another couple from New York State, who were very nice. We were united by our good-natured determination to see something touristy, dammit, and a little weather would not hold us back.

What was more impressive was driving around Rue de Champlain at the base of the cliffs under the Plains of Abraham. I looked up at the nearly 200 ft tall rock, and imagined the 4500 British soldiers who scaled the heights to assault the city. I remember thinking that they must have found an easy way up, a path or existing road, so when we got into the Plains visitor centre, I asked. No, she said, they were supposed to climb up a small riverbed cut into the rock, but instead drifted off course, and so, carrying their packs, guns, and supplies, they scaled near vertical for 175 ft. Holey crap.

All I can say is those British were hearty stock.

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