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krisek Quebec - A travel report by Krys
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Quebec,  Canada - flag Canada -  Quebec
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krisek's travel reports

The completely walled over city in North America.

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Quebec could be the prettiest city in North America. It does look remarkably French and that is so fantastique. There is no surprise why UNESCO listed it as a World Heritage Site. It is the only fully walled over city in North America, and well preserved. report of the month contest
May 2011

Chateau Frontenac, which is housing the Fairmont Hotel.
Chateau Frontenac, which is housing the Fairmont Hotel.
"A coherent and well preserved urban ensemble, the Historic District of Old Québec is an exceptional example of a fortified colonial town and by far the most complete north of Mexico. Québec, the former capital of New France, illustrates one of the major stages in the European settlement of the cololonisation of the Americas by the Europeans." - a quote from the UNESCO's justification to inscribe Quebec's old town as a World Heritage Site. And it is definitely all true!

Quebec City, or rather Quebec Ville, had been on my wish-list for a few years. I had made a good number of inquiries about its qualities, which had built my appetite - not always a good practice prior to travel to a place for the first time. Some expectations may become unreasonable and might never be met. On this occasion, not only did I know what to expect, the city exceeded my expectations. It was prettier and easier to navigate than I thought.

I was told that the day I arrived was the first day of nice, spring weather. I could believe that! Snow still had not melted in a few places and although it was fabulously bright and sunny, the 30 April 2011 was a chilly day with temperatures not exceeding 10 degrees Celsius. And my other day was also splendid weather-wise - super-bright, cloudless and the sun managed to heat up the air to 15C! I could swear that the trees began to open their leaves only on my second day of visit!

The inscribed old town was divided into two parts. The upper old town and the lower old town. Historically, the upper town was dominated by clergy, nobility and intellectuals - and this was where the most churches and grand mansions, as well the townhall, were erected. The lower old town had tighter ties with the harbour, where buildings were smaller and the streets and alleys were narrower and shorter.

The main train station, the Palace Station, was located on the north-western edge of the lower old town, half a distance between the main squares of the upper and lower towns.

Favourite spots:
The shadow of the Hilton Hotel and the Upper Old Town of Quebec City.
The shadow of the Hilton Hotel and the Upper Old Town of Quebec City.
For a while, I could not quite put my finger on what my favourite spot of Quebec was. The upper old town had a number of picturesque and magical little hidden places, which captivated me. I would have to say that it was the Sainte-Ursule street that I liked the most there. It was packed with marvellous examples of French colonial architecture with almost every other building housing a hotel, pension or a B&B. The window frames were painted in different colours, the stone structure of the facades were obvious and the proportions were immaculate.

The lower town, however, was even more photogenic, cuter. Its narrow alleys, free from traffic, flanked with small stone buildings complete with colourful wooden window shutters stimulated imagination. The Place Royale with the little church Notre Dame des Victoires and a small statue of Louis XIV was my favourite bit of this part of town - on par, perhaps with the cute buildings at the meeting point of Boulevard Champlain and Rue Dalhousie.

What's really great:
The Lower Old Town of Quebec City.
The Lower Old Town of Quebec City.
The state of preservation of Quebec's historical centre impressed me. It was rather phenomenal. Although the Americas were discovered by the Europeans in the 15th century already, North America, apart from places in Mexico (and a few places in the Caribbean and Central America) is exceptionally poor in historic urban sights. No city except Quebec, can claim to have preserved an old or historic part in such a form like many cities around the world. The ramparts and city walls were in perfect condition. The buildings' facades had been very well kept, the clever lighting and night illumination created mesmerising ambiance and underlined the character of the city. And, what was most striking, there was no artificiality, mocking or pretension. The fact that people around spoke French facilitated that feeling.

I also liked that all monuments were painted black! Very consistently. I could not find a monument or a statue having a colour different than black.

Chateau Frontenac, as seen from the River Terrace.
Chateau Frontenac, as seen from the River Terrace.
Although the both old towns of Quebec Ville were de facto the main attractions of the city, there were a few more prominent sights, which I found very picturesque and fascinating:

The Citadel fascinated with its size and the remarkable state of preservation. I think it is the only fully preserved citadel in North America. It was free to wander around it and admire its qualities, together with the ramparts and old town city walls.

The Quebecoise Paliament, just outside the Citadel, actually, reminded that Quebec was a distinct part of Canada. It was a very handsome building with a number of black, animated statues, placed on its front facade. What an incredible effect they made!

The Arsenal, just north of the Citadel, had a curious gate flanked with two round towers, which resembled a grand entry to a mighty castle.

The lovely Townhall looked like a montanious Swiss castle and the Chateau Frontenac, the most prominent of all sights, was a dreamy, fairy-tale like structure. Superb!

Room #1115 of the Hilton Quebec Hotel
Room #1115 of the Hilton Quebec Hotel
Hilton Quebec put me in room #1115 on the 11th floor with a superb view of the upper old town and the river. Sadly, the windows had not yet been cleaned after winter (spring had not quite arrived in Quebec when I landed). So, I could not take good photos from there. Although, the executive lounge 12 floors higher had clean windows already and view was even better.

My room was of an expected standard, Hilton Quebec being a five star venue. It was thoroughly scrubbed, had spotless bed linen and towels. All amenities were in place, including free tea and coffee and there was a coffee maker with paper cups for coffees 'to go'.

Personnel were very professional, friendly, helpful and smiled a lot. The best smile ever belonged to an incredibly welcoming and 'sympatique' lad (Jean-Rudolph) manning the concierge of the Executive Lounge. I had not seen a better smile in years! The view and that smile made my day. Really!

Le Bistro Plus Discoteque in the old part of Quebec City.
Le Bistro Plus Discoteque in the old part of Quebec City.
The liveliest street in the old town at night was the Rue Saint-Jean. It had a few drinking holes along its sides and a couple of discotheques. At its bottom, closest to the Townhall was Pub St-Patrick, which was very popular. Also during the day. It had tables outside in the pavement and the crowd was positively mixed.

In the middle of the street, or so, was the Le Bistro Plus, Discoteque - it was at number 1063. It did not look like a real disco, as the dancefloor was relatively petite, and the action was concentrated around the bar instead. It was a very atmospheric and lively spot though with interesting and somewhat sophisticated clientele.

Right by the gate on the city walls was the Bistro Le Chantauteuil Pub & Bar - it was at number 1005. It looked more like a rustic tavern than a pub, but it was also very lively and attracted younger crowd, some of whom spilled over to the street - often to have a cigarette.

The Parliament Building of Quebec and the Citadel on the top left corner.
The Parliament Building of Quebec and the Citadel on the top left corner.
Ramparts and the city walls of the upper old town were places where locals liked to hang out. They either walked along the walls or sat down on them and watched the people walking below and the sun go down. It was rather incredible to see so many people lingering on the top of city walls. On a sunny Saturday, however, some of the relaxed individuals got a bit too much to drink, I think, and I was a witness of an empty beer bottle being thrown down on people sitting on benches below. That bottle missed a small girl by a few inches! I was rather unimpressed by that, I have to say.

Another spot for lingering, much safer it seemed, was the square with no name, between the Townhall and the Notre Dame de Quebec Cathedral. On weekends, circus students put on shows demonstrating their acrobatic abilities on bicycles, monocycles and other objects. I saw three shows and all were very funny. I chatted to a couple of students after the show and they were really very interesting people!

The 1640 Restaurant - the seafood pasta and white beer.
The 1640 Restaurant - the seafood pasta and white beer.
I particularly liked the restaurants that put their tables in the pavement. Weather was perfect and eating under the sun and watch people walking by was my idea of recharging batteries. My first choice was Restaurant 1640, across the Chateau Frontenac and adjacent to the small hotel Auberge du Tresor. The setting was so pleasant that I decided to go 'plenty for lunch'. I started with beer Blanche de Chambly (C$8.25), followed by chicken liver pate with pickles (C$9.50), and seafood tagliatele for the main course (C$24) finished with chocolate cake (C$8). Everything was positively delicious.

My other choice was La Pizz Restaurant at the pretty Place Royale. They had tables on the square opposite the Notre Dame des Victoires. They only did pizzas, a couple of salads and three lasagnes (meaty, salmon and veggie). But they also had Blanche de Chambly and that lured me in. The pizza wes not great, despite what they claimed. The dough was spongy and the pizza was too light on tomato sauce.

Other recommendations:
Inside the Palace Train Station of Quebec City.
Inside the Palace Train Station of Quebec City.
Quebec had its own airport, but it was not terribly well connected with airports overseas. So, if one flew into Montreal, Via Rail Canada offered usually three very smooth rides on very clean and comfortable trains, which took 3.5 - 4 hours to reach Quebec Ville's fabulous Palais train station, right at the bottom of the lower old town. The train passed through vast expansions of the country, occasionally going through extremely picturesque little towns and over massive rivers. If purchased well in advance over the net, a return ticket in the economy class would cost approximately C$85. I had ordered mine three months ahead, and that's how much it had cost me. A day before my train ride, the same ticket would have cost me 50% more. I did not spot any taxis at the station's entrance, but since Quebec Ville was a very compact place, taxis for trips around the old town were not necessary at all, unless one had a massive luggage to drag.

Published on Tuesday May 17th, 2011

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Sun, May 22 2011 - 09:37 AM rating by mistybleu

A great read. It really sounds like a fun city break.

Thu, May 19 2011 - 03:21 PM rating by pesu

Very good informative report again. Great to get to know so many places by your pics and words. Thanks!

Tue, May 17 2011 - 04:25 PM rating by porto

Superb Krys, love your pics also. Thanks again for sharing your memories here on Globo. :)

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