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Sketches of Quebec City (Post-Script)

by DaniGirl on July 4, 2006 · 5 comments

in Away we go

It is the morning of our last day in Quebec City. We are in the car, on our way out of town.

Tristan asks, not for the first time, if we are going back to Canada today. “We are in Canada,” I reassure him. He has not asked this question when we have visited Toronto or Kingston or any other city. I launch into a lengthy explanation about cities, provinces and countries, which takes most of the drive to the outskirts of town.

We cross the soaring Pierre Laporte bridge in silence, and as we gain terra firma on the other side, Tristan asks brightly, “Are we in Canada yet?”

How is this possible? I am fervent federalist, and yet I have given birth to a separatist.


Sketches of Quebec City (Part Five)

by DaniGirl on July 3, 2006 · 2 comments

in Away we go

The boys are asleep in the back seat, Beloved is taking in some culture at the National Musee des Beaux-Arts and I am driving randomly through Quebec City, as relaxed as I’ve been since sitting in Nancy’s comfortable kitchen two long days ago. I start out driving rather aimlessly, and end up in a rather boring suburban neighbourhood that has the same big box stores every Canadian city now seems to have. I am pleased, however, to find a Tim Horton’s – our first in Quebec City – and maybe it’s the familiar caffeine burst that sooths my frazzled nerves as much as the sleeping boys and gentle loops I am making.

The boys should sleep for a good hour or more, their bellies full of the familiar tastes of home thanks to the most exquisite McDonald’s I’ve seen since the Champs-Elysee in Paris. Lunch on the patio of a 300 year old manor apartment converted into a McDonald’s on the Grand Allée, the most grand boulevard in Quebec, seems a perfectly reasonable compromise that leaves everyone content after our busy morning’s adventures.

I drive down to the old port, and circle the outside of the city walls, looking up the formidable escarpment first at the imposing Chateau Frontenac, and then at Battlefields Park. For the first time, gazing at the sheer face of the escarpment, I get a visceral understanding of the history of the place. I can see why Champlain stopped here, why the British fought for this land, what 400 years of civilization – 400 years of Canadian history – looks like. It leaves me feeling infinitesimal yet strongly connected to the past. I follow Champlain (the road, not the explorer) as far as the looming bridges that ford the St Lawrence to the west, and loop back around for another pass.

I begin to realize that Quebeckers tend to be such aggressive and poor drivers (I once heard a stand-up comedian opine that the motto on the Quebec licence plate, Je me souviens, does not in fact translate to “I remember”, but “I will be cutting you off in the near future”) because they have the most arcane, confusing road system known to man. Traffic lights take forever to change, and seem to do so not to assist the flow of traffic, but to impede it.

After almost two hours of driving, during which I cover surprising little territory due to the aforementioned traffic peccaddilloes, I finally feel like I know Quebec City, and I wonder why I didn’t do this the first night we were here. Eventually, it’s time to return to the Musée des Beaux-Arts to pick up Beloved, and I manage to miss the exit I need.

Full of bravado and my newly acquired sense of the geography of the place, I forsake my map and make random turns through the heart of the old city. I am temporarily lost, then get my bearings, then become lost again. I find myself for one embarrassing moment going the wrong way down a poorly (if at all) marked one way street, and I vow that if we ever return to Quebec City, we will not only get a hotel in the old city but park our car when we get there and leave it parked until we are on our way out of town.

The final entry in this series is the post script.


Beloved bought a disposable camera for Tristan to use on our vacation in Quebec City. Despite the fact that Tristan didn’t quite understand why this camera doesn’t immediately show the shot you just captured like our digital one does, I think the whole series of shots makes a wonderful collage of the old city from the perspective of a curious four-year-old. (These photos are actually scans of the index card the photo lab includes with each processing order.)

Continue reading Sketches of Quebec City with Part Five.


Sketches of Quebec City (Part Three)

by DaniGirl on July 1, 2006 · 3 comments

in Away we go

We are sitting on the warm pavement of the parade grounds at the Citadel, the site of the original military fortification at Quebec and still an active military garrison. We are hot and sweaty under a heavy grey sky, having marched uphill into the Citadel from the old city in double-time to make it in time to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony.

(If you are looking for a way to keep two preschoolers sitting still for a 35 minute outdoor spectacle, walking for a couple of hours through the winding streets of the old city and then running them twenty minutes uphill in dreadful humidity to get there is a pretty good way to ensure they sit in quiet stupor awe for the entire thing.)

I couldn’t resist at least one cheesey tourist photo for posterity:

Okay, so these ones are pretty cheesey, too – but cute!

I can tell the boys are starting to lose patience in being dragged around the old city, but Beloved wants to make one quick stop at the l’Hotel Dieu, a museum run by Augustinian nuns within a working hospital, before we stop for lunch. I was hoping the boys could stand at least a little bit of cultural indoctrination, but am fearful of what kind of behaviour we might encounter with tired, hot, cranky boys inside, of all places, a monastery. We are wandering down from the Citadel back into the city walls when a perfectly lovely park appears in our path like an oasis. I nearly fall down with joy and gratitude, and the boys and I stop to play for an hour while Beloved makes his way down to the museum unencumbered.

The Parc Esplanade is truly a gift, a full park nestled up against the old city walls. We swing, we climb, we play with the children of other exhaustedly grateful tourists, and we even make our way up on to the old walls themselves to run on the grass-topped ramparts for a few spectacular minutes.

The hill that rises up the left side of the photo leads up to the old city walls, which you can just barely make out. The buildings you see are all outside the old city walls.

Now I get it. This is the Quebec City that people have raved to me about. Amazing…

Continue reading Sketches of Quebec City with Part Four, Tristan’s Perspective.


Sketches of Quebec City (Part Two)

by DaniGirl on July 1, 2006 · 2 comments

in Away we go

In 1759, the British and French forces fought the a definitive battle on the Plains of Abraham. Early on a humid morning in 2006, I was just grateful for a place to let the boys wander safely and explore the world at their own pace for a while. Wide open spaces, sweeping vistas down the escarpment to the river, and sporadic canons – not the worst way to pass a bit of time.

Finally, with at least some of the boys’ energy burned off, we manage to make our way into the walled old city. I finally understand why people rave about Quebec City. The cobblestone streets are narrow, winding, unpredictable. Centuries-old buildings crowd together, leaning into each other for support. Everything is an arm’s reach from everything else. Windowboxes adorn every window, and containers overflowing with flowers stand sentry at most doorways. It is like something out of a fairytale.

We wander near the Chateau Frontenac, and make our way down to lower town on the funicular, a 127 year old elevatorish device with a panoramic view that descends the side of the escarpment at a 45 degree angle. It is, we are told, the only funicular of this kind in Canada. The boys and I discover ‘funicular’ is a funny word to say, especially if you say it out loud, several times in a row.

Continue reading Sketches of Quebec City with Part Three.


Sketches of Quebec City (Part One)

by DaniGirl on July 1, 2006 · 2 comments

in Away we go

I’m never going to get around to writing the epic post that sums up our sojourn in la Belle Province, so I’ve decided to cover it in a series of vignettes instead. I’ll try to post them over the course of the next couple of days.

We made, I decided in the end, a tactical error in choosing a Holiday Inn in downtown Quebec City over a more picturesque inn in the old city. For those of you who have never been there, the old city is an 18th century walled city perched atop an escarpment, looking down on the St Lawrence river. Our hotel is in the commercial district, a twenty minute walk from the old city. Twenty minutes seemed entirely accessible when making the booking through the Quebec tourism website, but a lot less so when Simon, Tristan and I set off on a wander shortly after arriving in Quebec City. Beloved, here to do research for his upcoming course in Quebec Art, has set off in the other direction toward the Musee des Augustins de l’Hopital General.

We are in no particular hurry, and set off without a specific destination in mind. Many of the tiny streets are only wide enough for a single car to pass, and the buildings crowd the street on either side. We wander down what seems to be a main street, and my stomach is tense trying to herd my wandering nomads through the pedestrians and away from the heavy traffic. Quebec has just passed a bylaw similar to the one that prohibits smoking in public spaces in Ontario, and the sidewalks are thick with cigarette smoke and loitering displaced smokers. The skies are heavy and threatening rain, and I’m not incredibly impressed with this first taste of a city that everybody raved enthusiastically about before our departure.

Then again, it could be that I’m a little cranky from the long drive (we sat on the highway for more than an hour while an accident was cleared away less than 700 metres ahead of us) or from the greasy lunch of pogos and french fries at the Bigfoot Madrid gas station, buffet, monster truck zone and plastic dinosaur exhibition (talk about brand confusion) a few hours ago.

I’m idly hoping to stumble across a mall, or a department store, where we can find – of all things – a magic wand for Simon. He found a piece of black tubing broken off another toy at Nancy’s place, and has fixated on it as his ‘magic wand’. Unfortunately, the treasured magic wand went missing somewhere in transit and Simon the Magnificent is apparently powerless without it.

We walk a scant two blocks from the hotel, and I’m beginning to realize we’re never going to make it as far as the old city, when I see a shop window with a lovely display of toys in it. We walk along, and the next two windows are similarly decorated. Hardly able to believe our luck, we pull open the doors to the largest, nicest toy store I’ve ever seen. Not only do we find magic wands, but we find – gasp! – train tables, and a full-sized train that is sadly only run on weekends. Simon busies himself with a doll house, Tristan settles in at the train table, and I stand guard nearby, gazing about with wonderous relief.

Dinner an hour later is a comedy of preschool shenanigans, funny to the few young men sitting at the bar in the otherwise empty (thankfully) small restaurant we have chosen to subject to the boys’ antics. The hotel guide recommended it for pizza, paninis and burgers, which seemed a perfect family-style combination. In retrospect, the raised eyebrows of the welcoming server when I ask for a table for two adults and two children should have served as a more clear warning that this is not a child-friendly establishment. It is not unfriendly, exactly, but moreso unprepared for the hurricane that is my boys.

They refuse to sit still, slipping in and out of their seats and under the table. They tug the tablecloth and rattle the silverware. Simon insists on holding his own glass tumbler, and while Beloved and I focus our attention on him, Tristan elbows his own full glass all over the table. After carefully mopping up the ensuing puddle, with a look between amusement and pity the server brings over a box of pencil crayons and markers and earns a tip half the price of the meal. The young guys watching with amusement at the bar chuckle when I reach across the table and gulp half of Beloved’s pint in one weary pull.

The boys refuse to eat, so I eat half of their incredible club sandwich (made with real turkey – exquisite!) after downing my own sicilian pizza. Beloved raves about his reuben panini and the belgian sauce (garlic mayonnaise) that accompanies his home-cut french fries. It is a delicious meal, what I taste of it in my hurry to swallow it down and get the hell out of there, and I am grateful to the patient kindness of the server and his cronies.

By the time we make it back to the hotel, the boys are clamouring for a swim in the hotel pool. I am disappointed to find that it is so deep in the shallow end that Tristan can barely touch bottom, and I have to hold Simon in my arms. By the time we make it back upstairs, I am overtired, overfull, and rather cranky. We all fall asleep to Regis Philbon and America’s Got Talent, having never even made it near the old city.

Continue reading Sketches of Quebec City with Part Two.


730 days, 762 posts, too many words to count

2 February 2007 It IS all about me

Today marks two years since I started this blog. Two years = 730 days, and in those 730 days, I’ve put up 762 posts. This is what a year of blog posts looks like when you kill a small forest of trees in fear of losing your precious words to the interwebs, stored somewhere far […]

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