In Paris we were taken for Germans, in Quebec for native Spanish-speakers. Have just returned from an enchanting first trip to Quebec and it was a lovely respite despite it being, according to last night’s bartender, “the worst time of year to visit.” She said this because the weather’s warmed up enough that the massive piles of dirty snow on the sides of the streets are beginning to melt, but the flowers have yet to bloom. It’s too late in the season for cross-country skiing and too early for trips to the vineyards on the Ile d’Orleans or for certain bits of commerce that shutter in winter to reopen.
This did not matter; we dined beautifully at some of the city’s best restaurants and walked the cobblestone streets, drove out to la Chute-Montmorency, a waterfall higher than Niagara Falls, and circumnavigated the Ile d’Orleans to have lunch at a Cabane a Sucre, a sugar shack. How is it that I’ve gone this long having heard of neither Montmorency nor the institution of the sugar shack? For the uninformed, which is, likely, the vast majority of the world, these are large restaurants where maple syrup is made that serve typical Quebec fare family-style – everyone eats the same meal and the tables are mostly communal – with live music and dancing. Most of the food incorporates fresh maple syrup and the piece de la resistance is the tire neige – taffy made by pouring maple syrup on fresh snow. These places are celebrations of the joie de vivre that we found everywhere in Quebec; the people there love life and love sharing their city and culture. There is no pretense to be found and, according to the gentleman who took us on a walking tour one afternoon, no crime, either. In Quebec City, that is – Montreal is a very different animal.
The history of the city is fascinating and, typifying the spirit of its people, the oldest monument there is one of reconciliation, with the names of the French and English officers who battled one another on the Plains of Abraham carved on opposite sides of the obelisk. On this trip I took three modes of transport I’d never taken before – a funicular, a gondola (the kind in the sky, not on the canal), and a horse-drawn wagon. I challenged my fear of heights – more a fear of falling – every day, and I spoke French as best I could; the Quebecois accent is very different than the Parisian, but I managed fairly well.
And this morning as we left the hotel the bells of Notre Dame were ringing and snow was falling. A perfect ending to a seemingly endless winter in a town that loves Christmas — no one’s yet taken down their decorations, or perhaps they leave them up year-round.
What I love about travel is that it’s impossible to return from it unchanged, with one’s horizons unbroadened.
Merci, Quebec – a la prochaine!