Birthday in Quebec City
Tim Hortons – 6 branches
This is my last planned birthday celebration abroad.
For each of the last ten years, I’ve woken up in a new city to welcome my birthday: San Francisco, Washington, Montreal, Milan, Reykjavik, Tromso, Calgary, Gottenburg, Vienna and now Quebec City.
This my third birthday in Canada is the first time I’ve been rained on. Heavily. In Norway, I was delighted to be greeted with snow on the ground! We even had that in Calgary but otherwise it has been dry - or moist in the case of Iceland.
Now I am in French speaking Quebec City, with its 400 years of history and UNESCO heritage status, it’s a bit like been in Europe. It has cobbled streets and most people’s first langue is not English and yet the maple leafed reminders tell me that I am, in fact, in my favourite country, Canada. Despite French being the official provincial language here, in person, it’s actually less French than I expected and for all its magnificent heritage, not overtly touristy. We found out about a few places we’d could have gone to a little too late so perhaps it’s not touristy enough!
Everyone is very approachable, including the friendly lady at the tourist office who felt we were more likely to be more equipped for the upcoming rain as we were British!
Jumping on a bus is a great way to get a feel for the place. Just getting to your destination is an adventure as it was for us getting to the Montmorency Falls Park.
Watch out for the colourful art on the flyover pillars; you can’t miss them around the city.
Go to Avenue Cartier for the shops, restaurants and for the giant lampshades decorating it! This is probably my favourite neighbourhood.
Pop up to Chateau Frontenac and look down across the sea. It’s a Fairmont hotel – they always look like castles anyway so worth having a look inside. Frankly everywhere you turn you’ll see spectacular old structures like the Parliament Building and those with bright red roofs.
Worth popping in to see the Quebec City Train Station even if you’re not travelling, especially as it’s just along from it is the remarkable food market, Le Marche Du Viuex Port.
Climb some steps or get into a free lift to see the views but the $2.50 funicular is always fun to go in.
The first Second Cup we experienced on this Canadian adventure (other than their coffee on Air Canada) resulted in wonderfully warmed up almond croissants.
We enjoyed Saint-Henri Micro-Torrefacteur a couple of times, once when we saw Darth Vadar pop into the supermarket opposite. There are some great home furnsihings stores on this street too.
Nektar Cafeologue is equally lovely and further away Kantook is good. I especially liked the very French La Maison Smith in our neighbourhood where we popped in on the last day.
With all these great places, I still find myself looking out for Tim Horton locations and there outstanding value hot snacks came in handy here.
I stopped breathing when I saw my first Hortons of the trip at Montréal Pierre-Elliot-Trudeau Airport. We had easily missed our connection to Quebec, even without the mis-leading information about luggage (we were meant to collect it at Montreal and re-check it in) so we had a much longer delay waiting for the next flight to Québec city. Hortons made up for it.
My birthday falls just before Halloween so it’s always interesting to see how different places around the world mark the day. Here I saw a large shop give over eight aisles to fancy dress costumes. Exactly eight years ago I was living in New York during the election and at the parade, Sarah Palin and John McCain were popular masks.
There aren’t shopping malls in this small city, you’ll need to go out of town if you need those but there are plenty of shops. Of the biggies, we loved Simons, which, here, is housed in a beautiful old building. We loved it equally in more modern Montreal too. There's a bus going to Place Ste-Foy which as well as being a great indoor centre for rainy days, has a huge Simons.
One of the reasons we picked out beautiful hotel as, uniquely, they bought us breakfast in a bag every morning. So after a light breakfast, we sometimes had a late brunch. We found the fabulous Grafitti just by chance on Avenue Cartier. We didn't read any reviews, just looked through the window checked the menu for fish and chips (yes, it was a Friday) and in we went for one of the delights of Quebec. Great value and of course, pleasant, welcoming service.
Bistro Les 3 Garcons served me well on my actual birthday. It’s popular but huge so you should get a table whenever you go.
For dinner that day, we chose Bistro Sous Le Fort, a tiny little place right by the Funicular in which we were lucky to get a table at on Saturday night.
I don’t understand the local dish Poutine that Canadians abroad miss so much. We had it in the seemingly popular but appalling Bistro L’Accent. We both asked for the small portions as we weren’t convinced but felt we had to try. My plate (teeny, tiny me) came to the table very much huge. I questioned it and to their credit, we only paid for the small version. I ate about a third. Quebec is known for this dish of essentially chips usually covered in cheese and gravy plus other additional toppings as required. It was vile and it arrived with poor, indifferent service.
We worked up the courage to try it again from a food court in Toronto during out last couple of days and it was lovely!
If you want to go further afield, there are buses ($3.50 single) to get out to places like the waterfalls and shopping centres. As ever, it’s often cheaper to get a day or week pass and you don’t have to worry about having mountains of change. There are more buses during the short summer to the out of town shopping mall.
Anywhere around the city will mean you’re well placed as it’s all walkable. You may find yourself high up on a hill or low down on the riverside but there will be steps and sometimes lifts.
We stayed at the charming Hotel des Coutellier, which is a few minutes’ walk away from the station where we were catching a train to Montreal from next. Another time, I quite like the idea of staying near the Avenue Cartier and enjoy the huge lampshades decorating this wonderful street.