If you’re a fan of lovely old stone buildings and mansard roofs and want to stick close-ish to home — assuming you’re in the northeast — Quebec City can’t be beat. We stayed in the old city and thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the EXTREMELY hilly, winding streets, seeing the sights, and taking loads of pictures.
One of my regular destinations for the few days we were in town was this boardwalk next to the Frontenac Hotel. The open space and benches overlooking the river afforded me the opportunity to bask in the warm weather with just my thoughts for company or to take in more of the surroundings and people-watch.
Flame-juggling street performers on stilts attracted a nice crowd, as they are wont to do.
More pictures after the jump…
About a 15-minute trek from the boardwalk brings you to J.A. Moisan, the oldest grocery in North America, founded in 1871. The space is constructed as a series of small rooms that lead maze-like through the store. As I turned corner after corner to find the store was much larger than I thought at first, I was reminded of the Drinkwater house in Little, Big — “the farther in you go, the bigger it gets.” I’m always happy to reflect on that novel, especially in unexpected situations, but sadly, there were no fairies.
THAT I SAW.
And then, AND THEN, across the street there’s this little gem of a spot — Érico — which is either a chocolate shop with a museum attached or a museum that also sells precious handcrafted chocolates. Either way, it was a nice diversion. The museum is really only one room and all of the signs are in French. I got tired of translating after a little while, so I stopped off to take a look at the chocolate-making, then bought a few items I thought wouldn’t melt on the walk back to the hotel.
Oh, and there’s no shortage of cathedrals here, just in case you were wondering.
We didn’t have great luck with food in Quebec City. There, I’ve said it. The food scene reminded me quite a bit of Paris, actually. It was easy to have a phenomenal meal if you were willing to spend a lot to get it, and I’m sure street food is as good as it is anywhere, but decent mid-priced meals eluded us until I hit up the concierge at the hotel. Lucky for us, we made it to the Marché du Vieux-Port on our first day in the city. This large, covered farmers’ market was overloaded with fresh beans and colorful berries, as well as local products like sausages, duck, and wines. And tucked away in a corner was the Marche ou Crêpe, which became my go-to spot for breakfast each morning. The crepes here are substantial enough to take the place of a meal, but not tourist-priced. Win-win!
Sorry, this is getting long, isn’t it? Well, no way out but through! On to Montreal…
One thing I loved about both cities was the way they embrace street art. We stumbled across the art below on our walk to Beauty’s for the outrageous mish-mash omelette, which includes sliced hot dog, salami, green peppers and onion. And omg, is it ever good. Gil and I naturally settle into a routine of only two meals per day when we’re on vacation, so eating something substantial before a full day of walking is ideal.
Speaking of substantial meals, you didn’t think I’d let my first trip to Montreal go by without indulging in their famous comfort food, did you? I did extensive research to find the best poutine, but opinions differed greatly, so I chose the spot that sounded best to me, Le Canard Libéré. It’s a gourmet store that specializes in Lake Brome duck, from huge containers of fat to sausages and even frozen meals. The café was our destination since we couldn’t really bring any of the other products back with us. Poutine was featured on the menu, along with salads and sandwiches, but I didn’t travel to Montreal for no stinkin’ salad. I settled on La Poutine Canardine (on the left side of the picture) — potatoes fried in duck fat, topped with duck gravy and confit and, naturally, cheese curds. Gil’s version at right added foie gras to the already-artery clogging dish. It was worth the wait, and worth every step of the many miles we walked that day.
We intended to make that the only thing we ate all day, but you know, Schwartz’s…
We picked up a pound of smoked meat that evening and brought it back to the hotel for breakfast the next morning. We couldn’t help at least sampling the meat while it was hot and before it completely soaked through the paper, but we really did set aside most of it for the next day. It was just as good after the wait. The smoked meat isn’t as in-your-face as corned beef, but has more character than standard bbq. I’d read about the gruff service there, but it’s nothing compared to Katz’s, honestly. Still, the brusque counter-guy won my heart when he asked if I wanted lean meat, fat, or somewhere in the middle.
Thank goodness there was Mount Royal demanding we climb it. I’ve never been so happy I’m a regular exerciser, because THAT was a CLIMB, my friends. Unfortunately, at the top, the view just looks like any city seen from above, so here’s a shot of sky with the very tallest buildings peeking into the frame.
We wandered the touristy area near our hotel, too. We stayed just behind the Notre-Dame Basilica, so we were right in the heart of things. The architecture was beautiful, but the crowds were insane.
Loads of street performers here as well, but none of the juggling/stilts variety, that I could see.
I’m already looking forward to our next trip to Montreal, whenever that might be. Five hours on the road and we’re at Schwartz’s…