A world heritage site since 1985, Old Quebec City is one of the most beautiful, well-maintained and abundantly touristic places you might ever go. The cobbled streets, wet with melting ice, glimmer under the moon and a bright night sky. A person can walk these streets endlessly. Many turn and snake unpredictably within the ramparts of the old city, ushering visitors unknowingly in circles and spirals through streets cleanly lined with grey stone buildings. These buildings are mostly single-family homes or apartments, boutique hotels and shops. Restaurants, pubs, churches and government fill the rest.
We stayed on Rue Saint Louis, just inside the Saint Louis gate and comfortably within Vieux-Quebec, seemingly in another place and time. After settling in, we put on our hiking boots to safely navigate the snow-and-ice-covered hills above the Saint Lawrence River. It was night and the streets were mostly deserted. We took our first left onto Rue Sainte-Ursule which humped concavely into our first bit of treachery. Sainte Ursule is the namesake of the Ursuline Convent which was built 1639 and is the oldest women’s learning institution in North America. The convent itself is unbecoming, it cleanly matches the typical homes in the city and fits nearly in the center of Vieux-Quebec.Other than its white-enameled metal roof, it would attract no special attention to the otherwise ambivalent.
Somehow we reached Rue Saint-Jean without slipping on the only lighted-salted ice luge of a street. Rue Saint-Jean is probably the most touristy of the streets within the city, otherwise well-preserved. Boutique shops, Irish pubs, a Starbucks, a McDonald’s and other restaurants fill the street with brightly lit and colorfully painted signs. We were headed for poutine, something rib-sticking to help us recover from an eventful day of cross-country skiing in the mountains north of Quebec on route 175. At the recommendation of our exceedingly hospitable bed & breakfast host, we found Ashton, or Chez-Ashton, a Quebecois fast-food chain specializing in burgers, sandwiches and, well, poutine. At first glance its a mix between McDonald’s and Arby’s. This impression led to the awkward exchange of glances between two calorie-depleted souls. It was too late to call an audible, so we ordered a large poutine and got down to work. I’d have to say it was the rubbery cheese curds covered in Chez Ashton’s spicy gravy that replenished and rejuvenated me.
Energized and ready to explore some more by the light of the moon. We continued down Rue Saint-Jean until we reached Saint Patrick’s Pub (there are a lot of Irish pubs in Quebec) and split left, onto an unlit street (Couillard) working our way toward the tip of the wall, where we would peer out at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence and Saint Charles rivers. The rampart (wall) was adorned with canons. As we continued to the right, up the hill along Rue des Ramparts, we passed twenty more canons, each facing perfectly out toward the river, where the British would most certainly come from when they invaded during the Seven Year War. Unfortunately the canons did little to protect French Quebec in 1759, as the Battle of Quebec saw British invasion from the hills west of the fort.
Walking against the ordered one-way streets, we passed the Notre-Dame Basilica and turned up Rue du Fort. Impeccably lit in the brisk winter night, the formidable Chateau Frontenac immediately impressed itself upon us. This is the most notable piece of architecture in Vieux Quebec. Built under Canadian sovereignty in 1893, it towers high above the great stone walls on the Saint Lawrence banks. After some lustful wandering around the Frontenac, we got on the next main street, which, to our great surprise, was Rue Saint Louis. We followed this a few blocks until we reached our bed & breakfast (B&B Saint Louis), where we comfortably retired, exhausted and without dessert.
The next day allowed for much more exploration, hours of walking about the city in bright winter daylight, a deep blue sky and yellow-cast stone buildings. I dragged Emily through a tour of the Quebec Parliament building, which was breathtaking and politically intriguing. We took a very affordable trip up to the Observatoire de la Capitale, where we caught incredible views in every direction around the city. We trudged our way through the snow-covered hill to the top the of citadel–Emily post-holed her way up a cliff while I took the well-traveled route and kept from falling. The Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame, was destroyed during the Battle of Quebec, rebuilt from 1786-1822, and burned to the ground in 1922 but was again rebuilt and restored by 1933. Making time for a quick stop through was well worth it for glimpses of the elaborate interior–similar in elegance but smaller than its counterpart in Montreal.
Our last meal in the city was designed for celebration. Legende provided our tastebuds with plenty of joy as we moved through nine seafood preparations (a shrimp nugget, scallops in pesto, sturgeon gizzard salad, sea snail salad, Arctic char terrine, smoked sturgeon, smoked salmon, mussel salad and a smoky sea clam chowder), seared duck breast and delicious bread with a meat jus butter. This grand display of local and traditional ingredients was the perfect way to end a week-long trip through wintery Quebec, matching our wonderment and indulgence at Au Pied de Cochon.
If I had to do it all again, I would.
During our trip in, we took a planned diversion to drive route 354, along Riviere Sainte-Anne. Covered in ice patches and with snow blowing off the crests of plowed embankments, it was a little treacherous and slow-going. But it felt worlds away, with small farms and quaint village centers marked by their church steeples and bridges. That feeling is what would compel me take more time to explore the coastal, colonial towns out past Saguenay, past the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River and along Atlantic Ocean. And after prefacing our stay in Quebec city with a two-night camp in the wooded Reserve faunique des Laurentides (in the Laurentian Mountains), I would happily do that again.
Nikon D800, AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X PRO,