Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Québec City—The French Connection

With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

Bert Gildart: After several delightful days with Rich Luhr and family in Burlington, Vermont, we have made it to Québec City. Rich is the editor of Airstream Life, and we were there partly for business, but mostly for pleasure, as our encounters these past few years have shown that we share much in common beyond the possession of Airstreams.

Six hours from Burlington, now, and we’re in Québec to gather material for a story on the city and its 400 year celebration to be held in 2008. But we have confronted a number of challenges.

Though we’re only a few hours north of Maine, our Verizon Wireless telephone doesn’t work and neither does the Verizon card for our computer. The alternative is to use the wireless card built into our computer, and so we checked our campground director for campgrounds advertising wireless connections, but we learned after checking in that theirs is out of order and, as a result, we’ll probably be moving in several days. In the meantime, I’ll make do with an Internet Café located not far from Campground Transit, as this place is called. These methods of communication, of course, are the methods we’ve come to rely on in the 21st century, and now must have.

The most significant communication problem, however, is the language barrier. Neither Janie nor I speak French, and all of the signs in this province for driving are in French. Of necessity, we’ve learned words such as Sortir, for “Exit” and Arrêt, for “Stop”. Much to Janie’s consternation, I’ve also been trying to learn a few colloquialisms, and not necessarily the most proper ones.

Many of Quebec’s travel brochures are also in French. However, many, though not all residents are bilingual, and everyone seems to be incredible helpful. The differences seem exotic, though not all Canadians from other providences would agree, as a couple from Nova Scotia hastened to inform. They immediately reminded us that Canada was bilingual because of Québec and that the province of Québec almost withdrew from the country about 10 years ago.

But even this couple, which we encountered on the ferry crossing to Old Québec City, said they sought out Québec because “it is like (for them) going to a foreign country, with all of its exotic pleasures.” Put in other words, it’s their French connection, just as it is ours. And like them, we’re attracted to the area for the romantic nature of the French, for their reputation as great artists, and for the history inherent in this great province.

From our campground, which is on the south side of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, we have two means of accessing Old Québec, a component of the much larger city of almost one million. We can make an hour long drive over an expansive bridge, circling back then to the city—or we can drive 10 minutes to the ferry, and then use the ferry pass the owners here make available to their campers, and enjoy a 20 minute ride across this brawling and historic waterway. For us, the ferry was the preferred way, and immediately, the charms of this ancient city begin to grip you.

Dominating the skyline is Château Frontenac (first picture, above), reputedly the most photographed hotel in the world, but certainly Québec’s most familiar structure. Certainly its size stands out, but so do its components of high copper roofs and countless dormer windows and turrets. Tour guides told us the hotel opened its doors in 1893 and that it was inspired by the Châteaux of the Loire in France. However, it was named for Louis de Buade, Governor of New France from 1672 to 1682 and again from 1689 to 1698.

Québec is Canada’s oldest city, and it was founded in 1608, just shortly after the founding of Jamestown. Though there is certainly a modern component to Québec, Old Québec reflects its ancient tenure along the St. Lawrence River. Fortified walls surround Old Québec, and there are, as Charles Dickens wrote in 1842, “splendid views which burst upon the eye at every turn.”

We still found that to be true and enjoyed statues to Samuel de Champlain (second photo), the quaint shops, bistros and old churches. But as first voyageurs to an ancient city, we were most entertained by the more secular—the street people, trying to ply a living.

At every turn, we found street musicians, entertainers whose performances were a bit on the bawdy side. But what captivated us for over an hour were two men just off Saint Louis Street near the Ministry of Travel. One man had encased himself in materials that enabled him to imitate the Statue of Liberty, while the other imitated one of the robots from the TV series Star Wars. We called him the Silver Man, and at first we thought he, too, was some kind of immovable lifeless statue, but realized that he would quickly come to life with short, choppy—staccato like motions when someone placed a donation in the large silver container at the base of the silver platform on which he stood.

He was, of course, a hit with children, but he was equally as appealing with adults, who took as much joy in joining hands with him in short jerky “high-fives;” in short jerky bows, and in strained smiles.

All the performers were tireless men and women, and we watched several for almost an hour. Old Québec, of course, has much more depth to it than street exhibits, but as first time visitors, we took comfort in the secular. In several days, we’ll be posting thoughts on other aspects of this ancient city—and what we hope will be our more insightful French Connection.

Comments are closed.