Quebec City has an upper part and a lower part and that about summed up our visit, highs and the lows. The highs were good friends, good food, and a pretty city. The lows included the weather, aches and pains and a very long journey there and back.
The lonesome whistle blows. The train passes through another small town in northern New Brunswick. You can hear the wheels scrape a little now and then as the motion of the train sways as it heads into another bend.
We're on our way to Quebec City from the east coast city of Halifax, my home town. The Ocean, the train that connects Halifax to Montreal pulled out at 12:15 exactly on Sunday afternoon. We booked a sleeper cabin on a Via Rail half price sale since the journey by train takes about 18 hours. You can drive to Quebec City in about 10 but the train would be a nice, relaxing experience. Or so we thought...
Our cabin is small, just enough room really for the two of us and some small carry on cases and even then it's a bit full. There's a little toilet and sink in a closet about as big as the kind you get on an airplane. The "sofa" we're sitting on will convert into a bed with a pull down bunk overhead. Graham will get to climb up to that. There's a good sized window, temperature controls, a few little cabinets to put things, a tiny closet with a couple of hangers. It's comfy enough but we also spent a little time in the lounge car and had our evening meal in the dining car though we brought store made sandwiches and snacks for lunch.
The problem started when Graham felt a bit motion sick with the buffeting of the train as we walked to the lounge car. Oh dear... We did sit there for awhile, it's got lots of windows and a little take out counter with places to sit. We watched some movies on the laptop in the cabin and went to the dining car later for a meal which was pretty good. Not large portions but all we needed. We finished watching a movie and had the beds turned down about 10 since we knew we'd be up very, very early in the morning. That's where it all fell apart.
We found the bunk beds quite hard. They took up even more room in the limited space available. The little ladder attached to the top bunk blocked the bathroom door so you'd have to move it away to go in. I think the train does have some cabins that are a bit larger but also pricier. We found the night very long and uncomfortable with very little sleep and a lot of tossing and turning. We had found the room chilly though and with the comforters on the beds, at least I was warm. We were up by 4:30 a.m. for arrival at 5:15 at Charny. A shuttle took us into the city center and Katherine and Keith kindly came and fetched us.
We had a little breakfast and some caffeine which helped steady us a bit but we really were exhausted and off kilter so we went to our room for a nap. It was wonderful to lie on a bed that wasn't moving and was soft!! We napped for a couple of hours and when we got up, it was still only 9 o'clock!
While we get our bearings, here's a bit of information for you: Quebec City is one of the oldest settlements in Canada, founded over 400 years ago by the French. It's been fought over and, most famously, won by General Wolfe leading the English, at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. Although Canada ended up being owned wholly by the British, the province of Quebec has been predominantly French. The larger city, Montreal, has a larger percentage of English speaking people than Quebec City which is over 90% French.
The old historic centre of Quebec still has narrow lanes and streets and has a European feel to it. The City has two levels, the Upper city, or Haute-Ville and lower city, or Basse-Ville by the waterfront along the St. Lawrence River. There are steep hills between the two but there's also a funicular just below the huge old hotel, Chateau Frontenac.
Katherine is the pastor of "Scottish" church, St. Andrew's, the only English church inside the walls of the old city. The manse was built in 1837 and very large. The church dates to 1810 though the congregation dates to 1759. I'll have a visit inside tomorrow. The manse is very comfortable and our room is large and um..pink! (It's where their granddaughter stays when she visits so she's got it decorated to her preference!)
The sun is out and it's going to be a really nice day today. We are going to drive a little way out of the city to the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Beaupre and then visit the Montmorency Falls and it was a wonderful day for it!
Ste. Anne de Beaupre has been the site of many healing miracles dating back to 1658 when a man was healed of crippling back pain when he came to help build the church to be dedicated to Ste. Anne. The Basilica is a pilgrimage destination and the church that is here today dates to the 1920s, replacing an earlier one that was burned. The church contains lovely mosaics depicting the life of Ste. Anne and the stained glass is very nice. There's a spectacular gold statue of Ste. Anne as well, just to the left of the altar in a side chapel. Below the main chapel is the Chapel of Immaculate Conception with lower ceilings and mosiaiced arches. All the corners on the supporting posts have little mosaic decoration as well.
The grounds are landscaped with a large fountain in front and statues. There's a museum and there are restaurants and motels in the area too. The church is very busy in summer especially. We found a little restaurant just down a short distance called Marie de Beaupre and had our lunch there. It was very good and we all came away stuffed!
Next stop, the Parc du Montmorency, focussed on a high waterfall. It's quite spectacular! They have some cable cars that take you from a visitor centre up to the cliff at the top of the falls where there's a nice inn, a park and lots of lookoff spots. There is also a footbridge right over top of the falls and a series of steps down the side of a cliff/hill near to the falls for the fit of foot! We took the cable car and walked around at the top. Graham and Keith went on the bridge while I explore the lookoff spots a little lower down. The sun was really warm and the spray at the bottom of the falls was throwing up lots of rainbows.
All this and it's still only mid afternoon. Katherine and Keith did a few errands on the way home and we relaxed for a few hours before an early dinner at one of the oldest houses in the city, l'Ancienne Canadienne. The house, Maison Jaquet was built in 1676 and it's been a restaurant since 1966. It's in the heart of the old town and is popular with tourists. While it's expensive, they have a specials menu which is very reasonable and includes a starter of soup, a dessert, a main course and a glass of wine or beer. All the choices were excellent. We had a variety, one special was salmon, the choice of the day. Mine was a dish of scallops and shrimp, huge ones, in a cream sauce with piped potato around it. Keith had a bison burger and Graham had chicken breast and all were very happy with their choices. Keith and I had sorbet for dessert while Katherine had a blueberry cake and Graham had a chocolate cake, one of the best I've ever had a taste of! Because of the specials menu, I'd definitely recommend it. Otherwise, it's on the pricey side but the quality of the food is still very much worth a splurge.
Thoroughly fed and watered now, we head back home to rest and recover. We had a pretty long night last night so we'll both probably be in bed early tonight. I think we'll be exploring a bit more of the city on foot tomorrow.