Next on the agenda was Quebec City. I had been warned that it was altogether more French than cosmopolitan Montreal, at 95% Francophone. The old town, Vieux Quebec, is a once walled area on a mont with the modern city sprawling around it, and I was to be staying right in the centre. I got a lift from Montreal to Quebec with a young musician, before catching a local bus which pulled up just as a downpour erupted. In old Quebec I dashed as fast as my heavy bags would allow me, into the hostel. After the storm I went out to orientate myself in the evening humidity. Street markets were displaying local arts, a comedy festival had taken over the main square and queues for the well known restaurants stretched out the door. The architecture was beautiful, made up of the promenade next to the Saint Lawrence river, many churches and basillicas and the famous Chateau Frontenac.
In the morning I set out on a walking tour from the hostel to understand more about the city. We passed the parliament building which is modelled from the Louvre in Paris. Quebec has had two referendums posing the question whether it can become its own nation. It has a distinct separation from the rest of Canada as its official language is French and it uses Civil Law rather than common law. It was founded in 1608 and established New France until 1763 when it was taken over by Britain in the Treaty of Paris at the end of the 7 years war. This was the way until Canada was founded in 1867. The flag of the province includes four fleur-de-lys, however the name Quebec comes from an Algonquin word meaning ‘where the river narrows.’
I had planned on being around for four days, so felt no pressure in ambling along, half listening, chatting along to the group from the hostel. I met a lovely Austrian girl, Melli who was leaving the next morning for Prince Edward Island, my next stop, but was camping along the coast of New Brunswick as she made her way there. She offered that I could join and with a few hours to contemplate it, I decided a roadtrip would be an awesome idea.
Suddenly the afternoon became the time to see all of Quebec. The tourist bucket list started with one of the oldest eateries in Quebec which served a traditional menu of Quebecois food. I sampled pea soup, ratatouille and a slice of the maple pie to finish. Of course, with its French roots, it is a meat heavy menu, served with a beer or wine. After indulging I decided that just maybe a three course lunch may not have been conducive to energetic sightseeing.
We ambled to the waterfront and took the steps down to the Petit Chamblain, voted Canada’s prettiest street. The narrow cobbled street was fronted on both sides with local artisans, artists and makers. It was first seen from above, decorated with lights and flowers so it burst with colour. Among many murals, the most famous is the Mural of the Quebecois, showing many iconic founders of the city with a cross-section of buildings and carefully incorporating four seasons.
That night, a big group of us who had met on the morning’s tour, headed across town to watch the circus performance of Feria. It is a nightly, free outdoor circus show, performed to a big crowd who gather to watch bike stunts, acrobatics, trampolining and music come together under the lights. It was an incredible display, along the lines of Cirque d’Soleil which actually originated in Montreal. Not ready to go home, the group headed to a few bars along the route. The first had an arcade theme and was a big hit for serving grilled cheese. The second was a karaoke bar which didn’t give an appealing first impression. About 4 locals took it in turns to sing, mostly in french, in a dimly lit space. Once we had settled in, the first of our group got up to sing, and from then the ice was broken. I managed to start some line dancing. Each of us took it in turns to take the microphone. Melli and I sung “Eye of the Tiger,” which seemed appropriate to secure a roadtrip with someone you had only met that day.
Way too soon, the light broke over the city. Before we headed out there were a few final things I needed to see in this fascinating city. We walked the Petit Champlain before the crowds of the day gathered, observed the city of Levis across the Saint Lawrence and nosied in the fancy Chateau Frontenac as we ambled the hallways in search of a coffee. The circuit completed at the Citadel where at 10am each day there was changing of the guard. Far from being a simple affair, the process was 35 minutes long and involved a goat. We were warned that the ceremony was immediately cancelled at any time in the event of rain. I imagine this is due to the fluffy hats being hard to tumble dry. The soldiers are on duty for a full 24 hours, so the Drill Sargent must fully inspect them and make sure they are ready for duty, picking the two most well prepared to guard the front of the Citadel. It was conducted in French, with a lot of shouting. The goat, with its gold horns and mirror tiara, is descended from a line of royal goats. It was not explained why a goat was needed, indeed maybe he inspected from a different angle. The goat ended the ceremony by posing for pictures next to some manicured grass reading “Je me souviens.” This is also the catchphrase on the Quebec numberplate, declaring they will not forget their heritage or past.
On our way out we got caught up in a reenactment of some soldiers defending the city from the British. Quebec City had provided an interesting stop on the journey and had much more to discover, however we were going to follow its main artery of water, the Saint Lawrence, all the way up to source.