Saturday, September 10, 2011

Jacques Cartier, right this way...

So last Friday I booked the day off,  booked and hotel for the girls and I, and embarked on the roughly 1000km road from our little dollhouse to Quebec City.  The girls had gotten the bug after I had told them of the trip I took out there a few years ago.  At the time I had taken five days with plans to hit Ottawa, Montreal and if time allowed, Quebec City.  My itinerary was pretty loose, in fact, I really didn't know where I was staying each night until I got there.  I guess it sounded like a pretty fun adventure, so they got on a thing about going to Quebec City as well, and I had said maybe this summer, if we can find the time and the money.

It so happened I had one last vacation day left for this year, and the ex-hub's current wife was going to be laid up due to surgery, so instead of trying to scramble for daycare for two days I figured I'd get daycare for the one day and book the friday off.  It then dawned on me that this was the Friday before Labour day so there was our 'time'.   Still didn't *really* have the money but I DID have the available credit.

I'm usually loathe to put ANYTHING on my credit cards, but with saving for a house I've been scrimping and saving to death and sometimes it feels like I'm missing out on a lot with the kids because I'm always having to say no.

So I said yes (well, actually I probably said "fuck it!") and we were off.

The basic plan was this:

  • Drive to Ottawa Friday.  Stay with friends.  Visit Ottawa either Friday night upon arrival, or Saturday morning before pushing on to Quebec
  • Stay two nights in Quebec city, having the full day Sunday to explore the city.
  • Get up stupidly early Monday morning and book it all the way home in time for dinner.

You'll note that I didn't leave room to visit Montreal.  That is because I don't care much for Montreal.  As someone rather directionally challenged, the roundabouts and one-way streets disagreed with me.

Anyway, a few days beforehand I contacted a friend of mine in Ottawa who I hadn't seen in some time and asked if they would be around.  In an ironic twist of fate, her response was "No, we're not home that night and I really hope you're not telling me you're going to be in Ottawa because we're going to be in the Harbour.  I was going to come see you."

I am the QUEEN of lousy timing.

So via the Facebook, I put out word that the kiddies and I were seeking accomodations for the night in the Ottawa area.  A friend and former co-worker extended an invitation for us to stay with her and her boyfriend so that was set.  I booked a room at a Super 8 in QC (a pretty cool family suite with bunk beds for the kids, and an XBox 360 in-room that we never ended up using) and we were off.

On the way, we stopped in this awesome hippie store in Sebright, ON.  I just spent about fifteen minutes trying to find out what the place is called, with no luck.

There was a giant Betty Boop statue out front and the front doors and windows were covered with tons of pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-pagan, left-wing slogans and bumper stickers.  An old-fashioned triangle hung near the wooden screen door.

Inside was even cooler though.  They sold imported and old-fashion type pop in glass bottles.  The ceiling was covered in old vintage LP covers, and there was a wall dedicated to practical jokes and novelty items.  The front counter was a display of homemade cheeses and meats.

After spending a good 25 minutes looking around, we moved on, stopping in Bancroft.  My grandparents had retired to Bancroft so I spent many summers there before my grandmother eventually sold their house and moved to Orillia to be closer to family.  We visited Nanny and Grandpa's old house and I was a little sad and nostalgic to see that the current owners have kind of let it go.  The gardens out front have been allowed to grow wild only to eventually starve themselves.  I wanted to take some pictures but I saw a curtain move in an upstairs window and felt that perhaps we were being watched.

There's an amazing lookout in Bancroft called the Eagles Nest where you can look out over the entire town.  When I was a kid I used to write scary stores about ghosts that lived the graveyard beneath the Eagles nest.
Yes, we did interrupt some couple having a moment.
We got to Tasha's about 8pm, so really not much time to explore Ottawa once we got there.  Tash left the company where I work to pursue her dream of running a dog kennel, which means that at any given time, they have a good amount of dogs on the property.  During our stay there were about five in the house.  Given that I am not much of a dog person (I respect their right to exist, and don't wish harm upon them but otherwise, leave me alone) I thought this had the potential to be pretty interesting, but considering the number of them, they were well trained and well behaved, and I almost kind of sort of started to like one of them (god help me if I can remember her name though).

This one.
Saturday morning we took the dogs out for a run on the property and Tasha's boyfriend Dave took both the girls on an ATV ride which they enjoyed immensely.  I was really glad she had extended the invite, because I had a really nice time visiting with them, and they were both good hosts.  Thanks again if you're reading this :-)

After saying our goodbyes, we backtracked to Ottawa proper and visited the Museum of Civilization and the Parliament buildings.  It was ridiculously hot that day so after visiting Parliament and getting some ice cream it was unanimously decided that the best option was to get back on the road and try to get to Quebec City before night fall.  Basically it's about six hours to Ottawa, and another four or five to Quebec.

We reached our hotel about 8:30pm and decided to go for a swim and settle for the night, as we would have the entire day to look around.  The Super 8 hot tub could better be described as a 'kinda-warm tub' but at least I didn't feel bad staying in longer than the required fifteen minutes.

Next morning we woke up and it was raining, which put a bit of a damper on plans to park downtown and explore the walled in area that is Old Quebec.  So we had some breakfast, had another swim and got in the car to brave the rain.

Driving down Wilfrid Laurier Boulevard we kept seeing groups of pirates on the sidewalks, waiting in bus shelters.  As we passed the entrance to Laval University I came to the conclusion that this must be some kind of Frosh week activity.

Upon finding ourselves downtown, I tried to find parking and somehow managed to get ourselves on to the Autoroute 40 by taking a wrong turn.  Know what happened then?

You guessed it, we got horribly, horribly lost.

And those Google maps that you print out when you get directions somewhere, don't do shit when it comes to navigation, since they only name about four roads.  Oh yeah.

EVENTUALLY I made it back downtown and found a place for us to park.  We came upon an outdoor Zumba display and looked in a few stores while we looked for a place to eat lunch that wasn't ridiculously expensive, and wasn't McDonalds.  Because yes, even Old Quebec has a McDonalds.  It's a neat looking McDonalds in an old stone building with wood shutters on the upper levels, and possibly even turrets, but it's still a McDonalds nonetheless.

One place got vetoed because the hostess wouldn't let me in with my coffee even though I made it clear we were definitely buying food.  For all three of us.  So congratulations, pub-whose-name-escapes-me, you lost out on what would have probably been a 40 dollar meal, easy.

Eventually we stopped at a place called Buffet D'Antiquiare, which was a neat kind of place with exposed brick, dark wood, framed black and white prints, and large menus written in vibrantly colored chalk.  The waitress met my helpless shrug and inquiry as to whether she spoke English with a bit of impatience.  I had been holding my own okay up until then, very stiltedly making efforts to communicate in French whenever possible, but at that point, the thought of having to order three breakfasts in french was overwhelming so for that little amount of time, I gave up.

After lunch, we continued on foot.  I was trying to get us to the boardwalk that runs between the Chateau Frontenac and the St. Lawrence River.  I had spotted what I thought was the Frontenac's green-copper roof and told the girls to follow it.  However as we drew closer, it because evident that this building was NOT near a boardwalk OR water.

Not the Chateau Frontenac
This, however is. (from 2005)
I approached a young woman and in my stilted French I gestured towards the building and asked "C'est la Chateau Frontenac?"  to which the woman responded by saying no and pointing to a tall peaked roof well off in the distance to which I responded by swearing in English, saying "merci" and saying to the girls "Okay, so remember how I said my sense of direction is better on foot than by car?  It's better, but not by much."  I pointed out the same roof and said "See that roof? That's where we need to be."

Have I mentioned Quebec is a city of many many steep inclines?  Oh yes.  We wandered through the little shops of lower town and took Le Funicular which is kind of like a Wonka-esque Great Glass Elevator that takes you up the hill to the Upper Town where the Frontenac and the boardwalk is located.
While wandering the boardwalk, we spotted another flight of stairs that appeared to go up another level of town.  After walking up these damn stairs for a good 20 minutes or so, I asked another tourist couple "Umm.. where are we?"

Where, was apparently the top of the Citadelle, which are some of the military fortifications that were built in the mid-1700s for the protection of the city.  It's pretty freaking high up.  Funnily enough, where it took about 20 minutes to walk up the 8 million stairs to get to the top, there's a trail on the other side that brings you back downtown in oh.. say 10 minutes.  Yessir.  well, 25 if you have an eight year old child who leaves her sweater at the top of the Citadelle and doesn't realize until you are halfway back to downtown.  And of COURSE it's the really nice sweater that she really likes and that I really like that her Great Grandmother got her for CHRISTMAS so of course we can't just leave it and call it a loss.  I went up the hill just to the point where I could see the lookout where she left, collapsed on the grass and said "Okay, go get it and come back here."  So with eye peeking over the arm I had flung over my face, I saw the little yellow t-shirt sprint across the wide green field, disappear for a few moments and reappear as a yellow and purple blur bobbing and weaving back across the field.

We made our way back to the car (with the kids naysaying my ability to actually navigate us back to the car.. but I made it there!) and we had dinner at the Chinese buffet next to the hotel.  Next morning we got up at six, we're on the road by 7:20 and did a straight out burn down Autoroute 40 to Highway 401, making small stops for gas and to pee, and managed to make it home around 6pm, in time to get ready for school the next day.

Some random pics of Quebec:

View from the Funiculaire

Dirty old man table art

Lower Town
Probably my favourite shot from the whole trip.

Funny story about that last picture.  I saw the guy in the wheel chair kind of struggling to get up the hill, before I saw him turn around and head back down.  A few minutes later, two kids go zooming past, each hanging onto a handle bar, just motoring this guy up the hill.  I think they were his kids.  They were yelling stuff as they shot past, and the three of them just looked like they were having a lot of fun.


  1. Sebright, Ontario! I thought there were only about a dozen or so people in the world who knew where Sebright is, and that little place on the corner. (From there, it's just down the road to Uphill and around the bend to Head Lake.)
    It sounds like you had a delightful time on your spur-of-the-moment holiday. Yes, a few, um, "challenges" in the process, but your survived.
    Well done.
    Thanks for sharing your adventure.

  2. Damn, I'm exhausted after all of that.

  3. Sounds like you had a great vacation if not for a couple minor set backs. That place that's "not the chateau" looked awesome in its own right. Also, in that last picture, what are those weird silhouettes on the roof of the building?
    I echo Rob-bear's sentiment: Thank you for sharing your adventure.

  4. This sounds like so much fun! I bet your girls loved it. I love all the photos you've shared but my favorite, too, is the last one. So sweet.

  5. I love that you interrupted the romantic moment of the couple on the rock and took the picture anyway. That made me chuckle. And well done for at least making the attempt at French. Quebec can be intimidating.

  6. @pickelope, those were cut-outs that were actually suspended between buildings, so they're actually above the street that the girls are standing on, but they do look like they're on the roof, don't they?

  7. @vixen.. I kind of wish I had taken a picture of the girls 'crushing' the heads of the romantic couple, like they were doing the buildings below.

  8. Wow, the last one really is a nice pic. I think it could be the postcard for that street!


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