Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Quebec City: 400 Year Anniversary

My dad is a big French and Indian War buff and so when he heard that I would be in Boston and that I was very interested in going to visit this city, he and my sister Sarah came out and we all drove up there. The flights were quite expensive- about $500 each from Boston- so we decided it was better for us to make the 6 1/2 hour drive. We drove though very lush and green New Hampshire and Vermont and made it over the border into Canada. A few years ago, I went to sociology conferences in Montreal so I had a taste of the French aspect of Canada and was thrilled to be able to head to the capital city.

Quebec City is named after the Native Indian term "Kebek" (and how the city name shoudl be pronounced) which means "place where the river narrows." The St. Lawrence is the river the city sits on and the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site since it is the only walled city in North America. And it reminds me so much of Europe. This year is also the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec by Samuel du Champlain. This being said, it seemed like the perfect time to visit.

And the city was decorated even more for the celebration
We had a hotel in the PERFECT location- at the end of the "Champ Elysee" of the city, only a 5 minute walk from the old city and right next to the plains of Abraham. It has a rotating restaurant on top of it (shown below) but we didn't eat there. But the view was great
A gate along the plains of Abraham- the place has such a French/European air to it
We discovered that we had come at a great day because they had a big parade that evening. We watched by this quaint building with lots of flags. The parade started at 7 but has to have been one of the slowest parades we've ever been to. It wasn't until 8 that it reached us- and we were only a 5 minute walk from the start!
They started off the parade with period costumes, and also some drummers. They were really good with a great beat (and able to walk at the same time).
But the real "high"-lights of the parade were these giant statue floats. They seriously had so many- here's a few of our favorites.

Samuel du Champlain- founder of Quebec- look how happy he is
My dad called this one "E.T.'s Father". We don't actually know what it is a statue of, but it gave us a good laugh
Don't know who this lady is- obviously loves sunflowers
Another float we don't know who it is
We thought she looks like Mother Willow
This one looks like the Ghost of Christmas Past
And what giant float parade would be complete without going back to its religious roots with a cardinal and a father
There were probably about 20 more floats like this but it was getting kind of boring since we didn't know who any of them were supposed to represent. And we definitely saw a wide variety of the floats.

We went to this ice cream place that has delicious soft serve- very light tasting. Sarah and I each got our own vanilla chocolate swirl 2 days in a row. We wished we could have done day 3 but it was too rainy.

It was so fun to wander the streets of Old Quebec this evening- it was so quaint with scenes like this
We then went to this multimedia presentation called "The Quebec Experience. " It was mentioned in 2 different guidebooks and they had late evening English showings (9:15). Its a bad sign when you are the only 3 people in the theater. It was extremely hokey, and tried to be fairly "theatrical" when really all we wanted to learn was the real history of Quebec- not to see water falling in the room and the fake rifles. I don't recommend you going to it- save yourself. We ate at a restaurant right next to the theater and since it was a festival night, the waitress said that they didn't have any more chicken left. But, I was able to get a yummy seafood pizza. I was so happy that the menus were in French with the English translation beneath them.

On Wednesday, we awoke fairly early to a cold and chilly day- the night before had been perfect- not too hot nor cold so it was a good thing that we had seen much of the old town the night before while it was still nice. We went to the 1st English tour of the Citadel- which the British built after winning the Battle on the Plains of Abraham, yet no actual "battle" was ever fought there. The Citadel is in a star shape with grass growing on top to better camouflage it. The most exciting part was watching them practice for the changing of the guard- its similar to how the British, but in French and they have a ceremonial GOAT. Yes, an actual goat that is the descendant of the one given to them by Queen Victoria. I still don't understand exactly why she gave them a goat, but they take good care of this one.
Doesn't he look so spiffy in his blue uniformThe tour led us around the citadel and see some of the remains and artifacts. By the end, it was FREEZING and my dad and Sarah had not brought jackets because it was supposed to be "hot and humid".
We watched about 15 minutes of the changing of the guard and after seeing the goat, decided that was about as interesting as it was going to get and we left.
They even had a full band
Sarah bought an overpriced jacket in the gift shop and my dad would have bought one too but they didn't have his size. So, we went into town and found a hooded sweatshirt for him. This was a complete lifesaver for them because it later started to rain and we probably would have had to give up and go back to the hotel.

We headed down the "breakneck stairs"- that is the literal French translation and I really didn't feel that they were "breakneck" at all. I thought the RB stairs at BYU were much worse.
They have a funicular (a little cable car) to take you up the hill instead of walking them, but we didn't feel it was worth the money for such a short walk. The stairs lead you down to Vieux Quebec- the part of the city down along the shore, which is just as quaint and charming.
We walked along the water for awhile and then headed back where we took a boat tour of the St. Lawrence River. We were one of the 1st people on the boat so we got the prime indoor seats which was quite a bonus when it was raining. However, halfway through, there were these cool falls and my dad wanted all of us to go outside to check them out and get photos without the glass. I thought that I should wait at the table, but he didn't think that anyone would take our seats. Well, of course they did and the short time I was out snapping a Kodak moment, someone had taken our seats. Oh well- at least it was the same view going back to the city.
These waterfalls are pretty sweet- they are actually taller than Niagara Falls- just not as wide.
My dad with all of his French and Indian war readings had heard about these falls and really wanted to see them.
And we were able to get a panoramic view of Quebec City from the boat.
However, after our boat cruise, it just turned into a terrible downpour- just dumping buckets. I was the only one who had an umbrella so Sarah and I shared it while my dad used his hoodie. We managed to struggle up the breakneck stairs back to the city where we found an Italian restaurant where we could eat and get out of the rain. We had tried to go to this authentic Quebec cuisine place and it was completely booked with reservations. So we lucked out by finding this place. I got a yummy calzone and was able to reminsce by seeing a little bit of old school New Kids on the Block on the t.v. near by. Mainly, it was just nice to get out of the rain for awhile.

Next, we went over to Chateau Frontenac. It is definitely the most spectacular building in the city. Its named after one of the Governor's of the city who never actually stayed there. My dad had been willing to stay there, that's how incredible it looked, but it was all booked. Even for $500 a night. But, we were able to pay much less and take a tour of it.
The tour was really fun- the guide had a specific "character" that he portrayed- being one of the bell boys who delivered notes to the guests back at the opening of the Chateau. Here's one of the secrets- the chimney doesn't work- you can see that by the window in the center of it.
Here's the crooked hallway (it really is crooked)
And the 3rd floor (there are 3 slight levels joined by these staircases)
The beautiful ballroom
And check out these amazing chandeliers
This staircase has a special story behind it- that one couple walked down that staircase on their honeymoon and then came back on their 60th anniversary and walked down the staircase again. William wasn't with me so I walked down it by myself, so I guess the 60 year thing doesn't apply :-(
On Thursday morning, we went to the Plains of Abraham and made it there right when it happened. Unfortunately, they had canceled the 10:30 am bus tour so we thought we would go at the noon one. Until them, we went out to one of the bastions where some of the soldiers lived. We got to go down to the basement where they kept the gun powder
They had an audio tour and they told that one of the punishments for disobedience for the soldiers that they were tied naked to this horse and kept out in the elements for awhile. Yikes- definitely a painful punishment
The multimedia presentation at the plains visitor center was much better- it actually gave many historical facts about the founding of the city and its 400 year history. Here's a view of the famous Plains-
And we did not end up going on the bus tour because the bus arrived late (about 12:10) and it was 40 minutes long and we needed to check out of our hotel at 1. I could see that my dad would be panicked about making it back in time so we told him that we didn't care if we went. Instead, we went to McDonald's where I was trying to talk in French, but with a Spanish accent, yet to my embarrassment, and my sister's amusement, he replied to me in English. I was just trying to be respectful but ended up sounding really lame. Oops- at least I tried.

All in all, despite the yucky weather on Wed. and Thurs., we quite enjoyed our time in "Kebek". And the celebration continues for the rest of the year if you are able to make it up there


ryan, maren and leah said...

you do the coolest things!! loved the post.

Melanie said...

wow... i'll have to hide these pictures from jonathan. he always wanted to go there when we were living in boston (don't forget, he speaks french), and of course i wanted to go, too, but it never seemed to fit into our budget/schedules/etc. how sad that we missed it! FANTASTIC pictures!!!