After spending three nights in a cabin in Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier, we packed up our camping gear and drove into Quebec City. We were planning to meet my friend in the city, but he had gotten sick and was unable to come to the concert. Luckily, our friend Bryan was able to get a flight at the last minute so he could spend a long weekend with us and see Pearl Jam.
We stayed in the Auberge Place d'Armes in Old Quebec, which was housed in two 17th and 18th century buildings - a charming little place with friendly and helpful staff. It was centrally located and walkable to everything, which also meant it was a touristy area. I expect to encounter lots of tourists when staying in a city (after all, I am a tourist, too) and just try my best to avoid the groups wearing matching t-shirts and wielding selfie sticks.
The Auberge Place d'Armes was also right across the street from Quebec City's most iconic building - Le Chateau Frontenac. Le Chateau Frontenac is actually a hotel - one that was out of our budget, but we visited it many times during our stay because they have several swanky bars that serve delicious cocktails.
We had three days to explore the city.
Day 1 | We walked all over the place, to explore, but mostly trying to find something to eat! Every menu boasted things like elk tongue, horse steaks, all-you-can-eat frog legs, and rabbit served a dozen ways. What are two vegetarians to do? (Full disclosure, in my omnivore days, I would've eaten, or at least tasted, all those things except the horse. I have eaten frog legs, rabbit, and elk meat, though not elk's tongue. Horses, dogs, and cats are pets, and I could never eat them. I did have rabbits as pets growing up. Oops.) Anyway, we walked up and down Rue Saint-Jean looking for anywhere that had something vegetarian on the menu, all while getting hungrier and crankier. At first, I refused to go into a pizza place (or worse, an "Irish" pub), because, we were in Canada! I wanted to try local cuisine. But evidently all local cuisine is meat. When Larry and I had both reached Code Red: HANGRY levels, we went into a pizza place called Sapristi. It turned out to be some of the best pizza we've ever had! We had a Trois Garcons (pears, caramelized pecans, leeks, bleu cheese, arugula, cream sauce) and a Quatre Fromage with Onion Confit. Delicious. With full bellies, we could explore a little more, and walked down to the Terrasse Dufferin, which is a boardwalk that overlooks Lower Town and the Saint Lawrence River. We spent the evening looking for a place to watch the Caps playoff game (who knew it would be so hard to find a place to watch hockey in Canada?) and ended up eating french fries for dinner at the most touristy bar full of Americans. Ugh. To top it all off, the Caps lost! But we recovered the evening with cocktails at the Chateau Frontenac. My favorites were the Ward 21 (Woodford Reserve, Cointreau, lemon juice, orange juice, cranberry puree, ginger beer) and the Jam Le Sam (vodka, pink pepper & cranberry jam, lime, maple syrup).
Day 2 | After a tasty breakfast in the hotel restaurant (the creamiest scrambled eggs I've ever tasted), we hung out in the hotel until our friend Bryan's flight arrived. Then we were off to do more exploring and eating! We walked the full length of the Terrasse Dufferin, and then up and down hundreds of stairs to get to La Citadelle. From the map, I thought La Citadelle was a grassy park where an old fort used to be. Turns out it is still an active military base, and you can only get inside by taking a guided tour. (I did not do a lot of pre-travel research for this trip!) We skipped the tour, though I would have liked to see Batisse the Goat - the mascot of the Royal 22e Regiment. We had our first taste of poutine at Le Chic Shack - a burger/poutine joint, which uses all local ingredients and had a huge list of homemade sodas. (The mango was delicious!) They have vegetarian poutine made with a mushroom gravy that was so good. I highly recommend La Forestiere, and I will be trying to recreate it at home.
That evening, we headed to the Centre Videotron for the Pearl Jam concert. We had a fantastic Uber driver, Alain, who provided excellent conversation (about hockey!) and assured us there would be plenty of taxis after the show. Concert was good, and Eddie Vedder attempted to speak French at one point. (His French is waaaaaay worse than mine, but everyone cheered anyway.) After the show, we were greeted with NO cabs, freezing temps, and hundreds of people in line at the cab stand. We waited for 1.5 hours in the cold before we finally got into
When we came to a screeching halt outside our hotel, the cabbie charged us $5 CAD. Total. That's about $1 US each. Ha! The next day, Larry said "I don't really remember much from that cab ride home." I said, "Was that because your eyes were squeezed shut as you were praying to god?" Oh wait, that was me.
Day 3 | Our best day in Quebec City, and not just because we didn't have to ride in The Death Cab. We visited Montmorency Falls and drove around Ile d'Orleans - excursions that will get blog posts of their own. That evening when we got back to Quebec City, we took the funicular down to Lower Town. This was our favorite part of the city. It felt so European - in fact, it actually reminded me of Florence. We wished we had spent more time in this part of the city - we liked it so much more than the touristy areas of Upper Town. There were also much better restaurants in this area and some great looking boutique hotels. We had dinner at Restaurant SSS, which ended up being the best restaurant meal I've had since we gave up eating meat two years ago. I had beet risotto, another dish that I must recreate at home. I licked every plate clean and was too full to have dessert. Larry said I would regret not ordering the pistachio creme brûlée for the rest of my life - and he was right! But man, that was a good meal, and a terrific end to our time in Quebec City.
Many Americans probably don't consider going to Canada to be international travel. But hearing the Quebecois speak French and walking down streets that reminded me so much of Europe was a great reminder to explore the unfamiliar and use my passport more. Where to next?