30.05.2012 - 31.05.2012
I liked Quebec City. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is the only walled city in North America still in existence north of Mexico City and has a definite European feel to it. It is also perched on a hill, which is something I always like. Having said that, whilst it was undeniably pretty, and the Chateau Frontenac hotel – originally built by the railway company (who built grand hotels across Canada in the the glory days of rail travel) – is definitely impressive, it gave me a sudden understanding of just how young North America really is. Whilst in local terms it is incredibly rare and old, by European standards it would just be another quite nice old city – one of hundreds, if not thousands of old fortified towns and cities in existence, the vast majority of which have relatively few visitors and are unknown to the general populace.
After arriving at night and finding my hostel with a nice uphill walk through the rain, the weather cheered up the following day and I spent a happy day trekking around. Walking around the streets of the old town and along the walls, it was a very agreeable place. In fact the only thing that was not so agreeable was the presence in both my hostel and the city in general of large groups of teenage kids, all apparently on school trips of one sort or another, all English speaking, and all incapable of either letting other guests sleep, or other pedestrians pass them on the street.
That evening, there was a spectacular air-show promised, so I joined the thronged masses along the river front. But without a timetable, it seemed a tad disappointing to me: A helicopter passed by a few times. Then 4 military planes 20minutes later. Then the air display team, another 25minutes later, although they didn't do anything much except fly in formation. I left at that point so might have missed the big finale, but doubt it. Against that, the people watching was great.
Acting on more than one tip-off, I had dinner at Pape Georges and did exactly what I had been told: don't worry if the bar is empty, go in, try the local beer or wine and ask about cheese. I got there just after a dreaded overland truck group arrived, but they seemed to have stumbled in by accident. Arriving from New York that afternoon, they would be in Vancouver in less than 3 weeks, which struck me as not much time when there are such long distances to be driven. Still, the assorted early 20-somethings seemed happy at this stage, although the single male guest in the group of 14 in the bar looked a tad overwhelmed. When they had been served – and the food looked good – I picked a platter off the menu, and we indeed discussed cheese. It was not the cheapest meal I have had, but after a couple of days of ramen noodles, it evened out and the combination of several sorts of local cheese (picked to fit my taste), meat, pate, garnish and hot fresh baguette was a good one. The overland group headed off, and I was adopted by Miriam and Christine, the two bar girls, and ended up staying most of the evening. Good food, drink and company, interesting conversation and in a 350 year old bar in lovely city. What more could I ask for?
On the way home, I stopped and watched a man stripped to the waist in an unlit part of a garden as he played a huge flowerpot, complete with flowers. He had his own drumsticks, and was incredibly talented. He didn't know I – or anyone else – was there, and I didn't let on. He was just a guy that liked drumming, practising his music against a flowerpot at midnight. When he finally stopped, it seemed a fitting moment to go home.