Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Anniversary in Quebec City

Château Frontenac. Old Quebec.This year we had a little bit less time for our anniversary trip than we usually do, so instead of flying somewhere we decided to take a road trip on our own car. We initially thought of going to Montreal, but since we were going without kids we figured we could go a little bit further and add Quebec City to our itinerary.

Vermont capitol building at Montpelier.Plus we’ve been to Montreal only a year and half before and our last and only trip to Quebec City was way back in 2008. At first we were concerned that it’s going to be extremely cold there at the very end of November, but after looking at the map of Europe we saw that we’ve spent our vacations much further north than Quebec and it was fine. That turned out to be not a correct assumption.

Inside the capitol.Another thing of significance of this vacation was the fact that this was the first time that our actual anniversary date fell right on Thanksgiving — just like our actual wedding was. It took 11 years for this cycle to complete. And so our total vacation was 6 days long including the days that we would spend on driving there and back.

From the capitol staircase.Originally we planned to leave on the morning of November 22nd — Wednesday before Thanksgiving. On Tuesday I want to work and learned that we were going to have half a day on Wednesday. It suddenly occurred to me that probably a lot of companies would do the same. I decided to leave a little early from work and asked Alёna to finish packing our bags as soon as possible. I also talked to my mom and she agreed to take the kids a night ahead of schedule.

Entering the province of Quebec.It took me 3(!!!) hours to get home from work. It was maddening. Probably the longest commute I’ve ever had. Even though I was extremely tired I still wanted to leave that night to avoid the same terrible drive the next morning. We ended up leaving at around 10pm and it took us under an hour to pass by my office again. All the traffic was gone by then.

First dinner at hotel restaurant.We decided to start our trip with Quebec City since it was further away than Montreal to make the drive home easier. It was a good decision considering that we managed to leave earlier. Our route ran through Vermont — we wanted to make a stop at Montpelier since we really haven’t seen the capitol during the day time. So we drove for about 4 hours the first night. When we started to get tired we found the closest Hilton chain hotel and were in bed before 2am.

Window view from our hotel.We ended up stopping somewhere in Massachusetts, not far from Vermont border. We drove for about 200 miles out of our total 570 miles and about 140 miles away from Montpelier. The hotel that we picked was Hampton Inn & Suites Greenfield and it ran us around $130 for the night. Nice, clean and pleasant place to spend the night. It was a good decision to leave when we did — we haven’t spend any time in traffic during our overall drive to Quebec at all.

Our hotel in the background.In the morning we set out to finish our journey to Quebec City with a short detour to visit the capital and capitol of Vermont in Montpelier. The capitol turned out to be completely different from what I remembered it to be. I guess I was confusing it with a clock-tower on the main street because last time we drove through this town in the middle of the night. Capitol was completely dark and main street actually had some lights on.

Streets of Quebec City.We walked around inside, looked at some painting, including an official Vermont State House portrait of Howard Dean. And we added another official state capital stamp to our collection — one of the two new ones this trip — another one was for New York at the end of our trip.

Notre Dame de Quebec.Then we ate a small lunch at a restaurant right across from the capitol building and went on to finish our drive to Quebec — about 240 more miles. We got to Montpelier at around 1pm and we left it closer to 3pm. We crossed the US-Canadian border at around 4:30pm and we were in our hotel room at almost 8pm.

Notre Dame de Quebec.LONG drive. I have to say that if before drives like these were fairly easy for me to do it is no longer so. Since Arosha was born our all our trips were cut up in smaller pieces in order not to drive long distances in a single sitting. So I’m no longer used to those.

Our suite. Parliament view.Hilton turned out to be as nice as expected. They upgraded our room to a suite on one of the top floors with a grand view of parliament building from our windows. We also discovered a bottle of champagne on ice in our room and congratulatory note on our wedding anniversary. What a pleasure.

Promenade.The hotel was located only half a mile away from the downtown in the heart of the city. But by the time we got to the hotel we were so tired that we just went downstairs to a hotel restaurant for our dinner. As it sometimes happens with hotel restaurants it ended up being very very mediocre. We ordered several dishes and they were all just off. We haven’t returned to this place again and ate elsewhere. And then we went to sleep to recharge for the next day.

Promenade. On the way to Château Frontenac.The next day was our anniversary day and Thanksgiving at the same time. We didn’t make any plans ahead of time for our special dinner, so we made a little bit of research, read some guides and checked out some videos by Anthony Bourdain about French Canada. And then we set out to Old Quebec — a short walk as I mentioned above.

Château Frontenac.The day was very very cold. We had our late November vacations in much more northern cities of Europe, but I guess Gulf Stream makes a huge difference. All those cities were fairly warm and Quebec City most definitely was not. So one of the first stops we made when we arrived to Old Quebec was at Dale of Norway store and acquiring a new much warmer hat for me. Dale of Norway brought up some recent memories — those stores were all over Norway which we visited only a couple month before.

Rue du Petit Champlain.The we walked along the promenade in front of Château Frontenac — a hotel that was built at the end of 19th century and looks a lot like a huge beautiful castle. Wikipedia says that the hotel is generally recognized as the most photographed hotel in the world.

Rue du Petit Champlain.We made a short walk from there to a nearby Notre Dame de Quebec. I don’t think we’ve been inside before as it did look unfamiliar. It looked quite beautiful inside because of a huge golden structure or sculpture at the head of the cathedral. We noticed a Christmas market being constructed nearby — such a familiar sight from pretty much all of our European vacations. And then a walk back to promenade.

Christmas tree.My memories of Quebec were kind of fuzzy and I actually only remembered two things — one was Château Frontenac and another one was a street of shops and restaurants under some large hill. So as expected it was in the same part of the city, right under the mentioned above promenade. The street is called Rue du Petit Champlain. I also remember that my parents bought Alёna a pair of artsy necklaces as gift for her graduation from college I think.

Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens.I thought it would be nice to do the same thing — this being our anniversary and her birthday being only a week ago. So after looking in couple of places we found a nice handmade pendant and a matching pair of earrings. Nice mementos of our trip. We also spotted a nice restaurant with some rabbit stews, but we already had different plans for today.

At anniversary dinner.For our anniversary dinner we picked a place called Aux Anciens Canadiens — the name that popped up in a lot of places during our “research” in the morning. It had nice ratings at TripAdvisor and came with a lot of recommendations. Time-wise, this dinner, just as all our other dinners of this trip, fell somewhere closer to lunch than dinner. But we often happen to do this when we travel.

Wild meat pie.I started with a great lobster bisque soup that felt just right on this cold day and then I had a really really nice wild meat pie with a delicious sauce. Alёna had a split pea soup and then some cheesy-melty dish with a bunch of vegetables. And instead of pairing our meals with wine we went with a pair of glasses of draft beer. It was a nice place and a good dinner.

Parliament from our window.Afterwards we walked back to our hotel for some rest — we were already tired and didn’t really want to do anything for today. Later on we walked over to the executive lounge at our hotel for some light snacks, deserts and drinks. Another huge bonus of us staying at Hilton as Diamond VIPs. And that was the end of our 11th anniversary.

Montmorency Falls.The next day we woke up to a white Quebec. It started snowing during the night and the snow was still falling. Even though the snowstorm seemed heavy not much of the snow have accumulated on the streets — but all the rooftops were dressed in white.

On a trail at Montmorency Falls park.We didn’t really know what to do for the day, so we walked down and asked for some advice at a concierge desk. We got a recommendation to see the country side and visit a waterfall on the outskirts of the city. Why not, we thought. We drove out to Montmorency Falls and a large park that surrounded it. Took us no more than 30 minutes.

View from the top of the falls.We started at the foot of the falls, but everything seemed to be closed. Then we noticed a bridge running over the top with people on it. So we drove around and found the park with a bunch of what turned out to be nice trails. The views from the top were great. It was still snowing and it was making everything special. In fact the whole day was somewhat magical — like a nice fairytale. This piece of nature and the city itself.

At Montmorency Falls park.The only somewhat unpleasant thing that happened was my icy slip and fall. The ground was very icy and in most places covered by light snow, so it was not always obvious. Eventually I slipped and fell down right in sync with some other woman several meters away. Probably looked funny from the side, would’ve made a nice video. I got up and didn’t really hurt anything.

Bridge over the top of the falls.And then we happened upon an icy hill. I crouched down and took a nice speedy ride down. Only the ice quickly turned to ground towards the end which brought me to a quick stop and sent me flying with a nice flip. And again I didn’t hurt anything. Alёna wanted to try too, but she decided to just sit down and slide down. That worked a lot better than my feat.

Ice slide.She liked it so much that she decided to do it again. By then a couple of young people came by and saw her doing this. So one of the guys tells his girlfriend that they should do this. And the girls goes — no, that’s crazy! And the guy goes — they just did it! And she goes — oh, OK then, let’s do this.

Back in Quebec.So the guy sat down, she sat in his lap and they rode down. Then they stop and she picks something up from the snow — wow, somebody lost their keys! I check my pocket and holy crap! My keys! So glad that we decided to stay and watch them take a ride. That could’ve been very unpleasant and would probably ruin the day.

German market.After that we drove around a little bit — noticed that a lot of houses had tents around their driveways, so they wouldn’t have to undig their cars — never saw this kind of setup in New York. Seemed to make a lot of sense. And then we drove back to our hotel and walked over to the old city again.

Snow and a snowy beard.As it usually happens the market has opened. This happened many times to us. We see a market under construction and then while we are still around, it opens. Right at the center of it there was an open air kitchen grilling German sausages. What a smell. But we wanted to have a proper dinner, so we resisted. We bought a couple of little toys for our kids, albeit at a nearby store, not the market and now we were ready for dinner.

Snow covered Rue du Petit Champlain.We decided to go back to Rue du Petit Champlain and eat at a place that had rabbit stews. TripAdvisor had high ratings for that place, but I guess it was popular on its own — the wait time was over an hour. Nope, that doesn’t work. So we turned back to TripAdvisor and found another well rated place nearby — Bistro Sous le Fort.

Dinner at Bistro Sous le Fort.I had some deer sausage and some duck with french fries I think. When we were ordering the fries they said that they could put some gravy on top and some cheese curds. That sounded weird to us, so we declined. And only later we found out that what they were actually offering is called poutine and is actually a french Canada specialty. Doh! We actually only realized this when we were at Montreal as you will see in the next post.

Bistro Sous le Fort.And in fact this is it for Quebec City. We went back to our hotel, visited executive lounge again and off to Montreal we went the next morning. A great first part of our trip.

P.S. All the pictures for this trip have been taken with iPhone X. While it’s not D700 quality and I was slightly worried about the possibility of ruined vacation pictures my back has been really thankful. They are most definitely Web worthy.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Anniversary In Quebec

For this year Alëna and I have planned a trip that is smaller than our usual anniversary trip. Instead of flying somewhere far we decided to simply drive to Quebec Province of Canada1. Our total trip is six days long including two full days of driving.

Our first stop is Quebec City where we will spend three nights in Hilton Quebec2 and celebrate our anniversary. We’ve been to Quebec City once a long while ago, so we’re looking forward to re-exploring it again. On our way to Quebec City we will try to make a stop at Montpelier — the capital of Vermont. We’ve been there as well, but it was in the middle of the night, so we haven’t seen much.

Our second stop of the trip is Montreal. We’ll spend 2 nights in Hilton Garden Inn Montreal Centre-Ville3 — the same hotel that we stayed at with kids during our trip of 2015. Montreal we remember rather well, but it’s just a nice city.

This is the first year since our wedding when Thanksgiving falls on the same date — November 23rd. And my parents will look after our kids.

One of the concerns that we had with Quebec was the fact that it was going to be too cold. But looking at the map ALL our European vacations except for Italy, Spain and Portugal were in locations closer to the North Pole than Quebec City is. So we just need to get a little bit lucky with weather.

  1. 1 USD was worth 1.28 CAD at the time of the posting. []
  2. Hilton Quebec — C$464.10 for 3 nights for kind bed room with taxes included. []
  3. Hilton Garden Inn Montreal Centre-Ville — C$383.75 for 2 nights for 1 king bed room with taxes included. []

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