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Quebec City!

Rolling right along with the travel posts, we venture into colder territory - CANADA.

More specifically, Quebec City.

I had crossed seven borders at this point and been waved through without a care (even in Japan with my extended stay) until I got to Quebec City, which decided to do the whole interrogation and rifle-through-the-suitcase thing. There was no real concern because I knew I wasn't carrying anything remotely contraband, but jeeeez did it give me a helluva lousy first impression of Quebec. Luckily I had been playing some Papers, Please on my laptop in Chicago which has given me a whole new world of empathy for immigration agents.

In any case, I was staying with a friend in Quebec, and since I got in on a Friday night, bright and early Saturday morning we went to his favourite bakery.


There are bakeries all over Quebec City. Chocaltiers too, they are ridiculously prevalent. French patisseries, guys! The food was so so good. The best one out of this set was definitely the pear-thing, I have no idea of what its actual name was. My friend speaks reasonably fluent French so for the vast majority of transactions I was content to sit back and let him speak and avoid outing us as filthy, filthy tourists.

French Canada really is Europe on training wheels. Most people, especially in the tourist areas, spoke English fluently, but much like the Parisian French preferred not to speak it and were a lot nicer to you if you at least attempted French before they took pity on you and switched to English.


The architecture was also very European, and the fresh snow everywhere gave the whole city a very fairytale look. This is the central train station.


We mostly wandered around the old city, within the walls. Quebec sprawls out into much more typical suburbs further out, but the inner city is ridiculously charming, even in sub-zero temperatures.


Feels like a movie set in some parts, really.


There's plenty of chocolatiers, and art galleries, and souvenir shops - all the usual hallmarks of a touristy area, but the best part is just waltzing along all the old narrow streets and looking at the buildings.


There were also a string of ice sculptures in the pedestrian areas! There had been a couple of days where the temperature climbed above freezing so the sculptures had begun to lose some of their definition but were still pretty cool!


That day actually wasn't too bad in terms of temperature either - only a couple of degrees below zero. Ahahaha how quickly that became tolerable. I got much much better at layering throughout Japan and Chicago, and by this point had a warm scarf and hat and gloves that weren't entirely ornamental, even if they fell short of mittens. Also when it got really cold, I was introduced to the concept of 'hot pockets', these little satchels that when exposed to air start off a chemical reaction that gives off heat for up to about seven hours? On the really cold days I stuck a pair in my shoes and some in my gloves and that made everything so much more bearable. Can't do much about the face, tragically, but bury your nose in your scarf against the wind and hope for the best.


Being a Saturday, it was pretty busy. A surprising number of other tourists and tour groups, which caught me by surprise - I'd never really considered Quebec City a tourism destination until I had a friend move there and spruik the place aggressively. Apparently their Winter Festival is quite excellent though. And I was constantly told about how amazing it is in Spring. Except this was the middle of March it was supposed to be Spring, dammit.

After wandering the old town for a while, we caught the ferry across the river to the south side.


The St Lawrence was frozen, but not so much that the ferry couldn't break through the ice to cross the river. It was definitely one of the coolest sights ever though, seeing these giant slabs of ice floating around the river and crunching up against each other to make way for the ferry.


There were some people canoeing across the river. They would pull their boat up onto the ice and run it across until they found a gap to get back into the water. Seems like a kind of extremely dangerous sport, since one wrong step and BOOM, instant hypothermia!

There wasn't a great deal of interest over on the south side beyond a neat chocolatier and a cool view of the north shore, so we headed back after a while in search of lunch.


Le Grand Château, from the shore, with the Quebec flag in the foreground. I'd thought the fleur de lis was a Louisiana thing, but given its prevalence in Quebec, to the point of being on its flag, I'm thinking that it's maybe just a French thing. The Château is where they planned D-Day apparently. Makes sense, geographical proximity to the United States, English colony, historically French area, as close as you can get to neutral ground for three major allies. Quebec is a pretty interesting place in that respect.


We finally located some lunch. Seafood chowder pie. So amazing.


They had a bunch of little electric-powered buses roaming Quebec, they made the best sounds and were cute as hell to boot. Never actually had an excuse to ride one, tragically. One interesting thing though, bus fares in Canada appear to all be flat-fee - three bucks to ride, no matter how far you're going.

We headed up to the Grand Château via a weird diagonal elevator. Up top they had a toboggan and some stalls and whatnot. They also had a sugar shack!


A sugar shack is where they lay out a string of pure maple syrup on the snow, which freezes it, then you can roll it up on a stick like taffy! Pretty tasty, more or less pure sugar really. The maple syrup we have in Australia does not even come close to comparing to the fresh stuff they have in Canada. Canada is very serious about maple syrup. Understandable, I guess, when you consider their flag is a maple leaf.

I gathered a bit of a crowd who watched and all ooohed and ahhhed when I muddled my way through rolling it up, none of them were brave enough to try it for themselves I guess.


Check it out, Quebec City is actually a walled city, here's one of the 'gates'. Surprising when you consider it's not really more than 300 years old. Walled cities were a thing even that recently?


Parliament House. Note the Quebec flag again. I don't think I saw a single Canadian flag in Quebec City, it was all the state flag.

Separation is actually totally serious in Quebec! Heh, we wound up going to a party that night at a self-professed separatist's house, she was very insistent that everyone spoke French! (I got a free pass as a tourist and for at least attempting to communicate a little bit in my very very basic French). It's a pretty interesting notion - could Quebec survive as its own independent nation? But Quebec itself is very very different from the rest of Canada.

After the party though we went back and played Rayman Legends. Has anyone else played any of the more recent Rayman games? They're amazing if you like a challenging platformer.


On the Sunday we wandered the area a bit more. This is the exterior of Quebec City's Notre Dame.


Pretty crazy and lavish inside. I think it might be one of the few actually functional churches in Quebec - the area is incredibly secular, most other churches we passed had been converted into libraries or public buildings or concert halls. I also learned a few Quebecois swear words - all derived from Christian things, such as 'chalice' and about the very worst is 'tabernac' (aka tabernacle).

We had lunch at a place called 'Le Hobbit', which did fairly amazing steaks and burgers and somehow hasn't been shut down by Tolkien's estate. Then after that, we discovered there was a 'History of video games' exhibition going on at the Art Museum!


Assassin's Creed statue by the entrance. Easy to kill an entire day in that area, it's basically a giant low-cost retro arcade. A similar thing came through Brisbane a while back, we sampled a whole bunch of games, best bits were the Bubble Bobble and Dance Dance Revolution marathons. We wound up having to race through the 'modern games' section because the museum was closing and we'd spent so long in the retro area!


For dessert that night, had this amazingly weird mix between fudge, cake, and mousse. It is probably one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.


At this place.

The next day wound up being fairly quiet - my friend headed off to work, so I mostly just wandered the immediate area, checking out stores, and then headed back early to do some much-needed chores such as laundry and job hunting and sorting out some bookings for my next destinations since it was about this point in the trip where I started doing absolutely everything by the seat of my pants with usually nothing more than a week's notice.


The next day my friend played hooky and with another acquaintance to drive we headed to Val Cartier! It's a snow slide park in Winter, and a water slide park in Summer. It was about ten below and had been lightly snowing all morning, so everything was covered in fresh powder, which actually made the slides a little slower it turns out.


To get up the hills they had a bunch of tubes hooked up to a pulley system - you plonked your butt on one and it carried you and your own tube to the top of the hill so funtimes could ensue! You go sliding down the hill on your inner tube, usually with a group of people. They also had sort of life raft boats in some of the bigger slides which took more people and were totally awesome.

I do not own snow pants, and there was little purpose in purchasing any - I'd been making it through with jeans, heattech leggings, and tall leather boots. For the most part this was fine, but not so great when you land on your butt in the snow or have to clambering over snow drifts. Also my jacket, while pretty warm, was not remotely water-proof, so had to borrow my friend's spare jacket instead, so got to look like a five-year old wearing a jacket five times too big for me. Still, completely worth it. We got an early start so the park was quite empty, filling up later in the afternoon, which was excellent for gathering more people for the snow boats.


This was genuinely terrifying. Wind and ice stinging your face, you wind up closing your eyes so they don't freeze in their sockets!


We headed back inside to defrost for lunch. Had poutine. I LOVE POUTINE. It's basically fries with cheese curds and gravy on top, which sounds really simple but you really can't skimp on the quality of any of the ingredients. Quebec's speciality, possibly the secret national dish of Canada right after maple syrup. I am amazed it's hasn't taken off elsewhere. Massively unhealthy of course, but so delicious who cares!


We redid a couple of the runs in the afternoon around Val Cartier, also tried making some snowballs and snow angels. The amount of snow in Quebec is kind of crazy.


We eventually got tired (dragging those inner tubes around is exhausting! Not to mention walking through snow is similar to walking through sand in that it tires you out extra fast) so headed back into down and had an Italian hot chocolate from the Chocolate museum which was so thick you almost needed a spoon to drink it.


Also, a squirrel! Still love squirrels.

The next day was when things started to get crazy. The temperature plummeted to something like -24 Celsius, so I slept in, ventured outside for lunch but spent most of the afternoon inside. When my friend got out of work though we went out to dinner and then he had a dodgemball tournament. Dodgemball is totally a thing in Canada still! Crazy violent game, seems dangerous for anyone with glasses, even if the balls are soft and puffy. Some of the teams got some serious velocity on those things. Mildly interesting but not really my thing.

Of course, at this point there are warnings of a blizzard and the snow is coming down hard and fast and the wind picking up when we get outside, so one of the dodgem team members offers to drive a couple of us partway home. So far so good, anything to avoid dying in that insane weather and getting buried in a snow drift.  But then we turn down this steep hill... and the car starts sliding.

The guy is slamming on the brakes but he's like, 'I don't have traction!' and the road is all ice and there are people crossing the intersection at the bottom of the hill... so he steers the car into the snowdrift at the side of the road. It worked! Bumped and scraped but ground to a halt. But brush with death, jeez. Some good defensive driving in retrospect, have no idea how people handle driving in the snow.

He let us out a bit after that and we shivered the last few blocks against the wind and snow. I was so grateful for my hot pockets given my less-than-optimum winter gear. The snow got horizontal that night.

Luckily it had all finished up by morning, though it was still a pretty damn chilly -17. It was also my last day in Quebec City.


We celebrated with cakes at Le Croquembouche.

Then it was onwards to the picturesque train station, to head to Montreal! Which was honestly not that much warmer.

A lot of people asked me 'You came to Canada in March?' And I really had no defence to offer.


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 20th, 2014 04:24 pm (UTC)
You're coming to Montreal? :D That's where I live! The weather is getting warmer these days, just pray that it wouldn't rain it should be good ^^

(I thought you were just going to Japan O.o But this is almost a world tour...)
Apr. 21st, 2014 02:14 pm (UTC)
You're in Montreal? Awesome! Ahaha I'm afraid I'm behind, I have already been and gone from Montreal. Got greeted with a white carpet.

Only a little bit of a world tour! Six countries. Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, United States, and Canada! Europe is going to have to wait for another time (when I'm considerably richer).
Apr. 20th, 2014 07:32 pm (UTC)
Yup, the fleur-de-lis is totally a French thing. Louisville's city seal has it too because it's named after King Louis - despite the umpteen dozen pronunciation that don't involve the proper pronunciation of Louis, including the local dialect's. xD But yeah, anywhere there's a strong French influence, there's probably a fleur-de-lis involved somewhere. Wouldn't be surprised to find similar in former French colonies as well. :B

Heehee, I saw a sugar shack on tumblr a while back! Makes me want to do that but it probably relies on Canada-level fresh syrup. Hope it was tasty! :3

Oh wow, that cathedral is gorgeous. *A* I may or may not have lol'd at the swear words. xD //language nerd

Gosh, looking at all these sweets is making me hungry. Makes me wish we had a decent bakery on this side of town but alas.

And I definitely lol'd at the last line. Forever. We love you anyway. x3
Apr. 21st, 2014 02:18 pm (UTC)
Interesting! Does St Louis use it too? (Different Louis perhaps? XD) I like it though, definitely a cool symbol, I saw some lovely jewellery and art and souvenirs using it.

I'm not sure, is it the quality of the maple syrup or the low temperature that makes the sugar shack possible? Worth trying once, but be prepared for the sugar hit~!

Apr. 21st, 2014 03:59 pm (UTC)
I wasn't sure if they used teh fleur de lis, too because I don't know terribly much about St. Louis besides the Lewis and Clark Expedition stuff (although it's a liiiiiiie it started there, it started in Clarksville, IN dammit, even Ken Burns asserts this //brick'd for tangenting), but St. Louis uses it too. Though yeah, named after different King Louis...es. xD I can't plural foreign languages sob

...That is a very good question. :Va I almost wish winter wasn't over so I could test that. Almost. I'm kind of done with winter for like, ten years. <<;;
Apr. 21st, 2014 05:34 am (UTC)
So driving in the snow isn't that difficult if you have the right cars. A car with four wheel drive is very helpful. Chains on the tires works as well, but I've never needed them. You need to be careful going around turns ad its pretty easy to skid. Important bit about skidding is to turn in the direction of the skid, but if you are sliding down the hill I guess it doesn't work that well. SLamming on the breaks is actually really bad as it stops the wheels from turning and provides no traction at all. You wanna very gently use the breaks at increasing pressure and alternate stepping on and off the breaks if they aren't ABS. Generally people try and come to a close stop so they go down the hill pretty slowly, hills suck. Your friend did the right thing though, snowdrifts are generally pretty good, so Yay, you survived.

And wow that was a long rant on how to drive in snow and ice. If I have time I'll respond to all of the other lovely things you mentioned.
Apr. 21st, 2014 02:20 pm (UTC)
LOL, all good to know! But has reinforced my intense lack of desire to ever drive in snow. XD
Apr. 21st, 2014 03:31 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, the green roof of the building in the first pic is such a contrast, I do like the overall shape though =D

The maple snow lolly sounds good. When I was younger there was this candy which is basically semi-solidified treacle twirled on two toothpicks or sticks but it's like a dead traditional trade now. I miss that. Used to be sold by elderly people just sitting on the sidewalk on little stools and pots of treacle.
Apr. 22nd, 2014 01:22 pm (UTC)
It's actually a copper roof! Turned green from oxidisation, much like the Statue of Liberty.

That sounds delightful, sucks when those little traditional sweets vanish! Maybe there will be a fad and they'll come back?
Apr. 23rd, 2014 03:36 am (UTC)
XD yeah, this is one of the not good times when you can't put away your winter coat but sometimes temperatures are high in the double digits and you can almost wear single layers.

Been sick/offline a while, you coming to any other CDN provinces or already heading back? :3 *Torontonian*

Belated Happy Easter!

(also, hope you haven't run into one of those AMAZING weather days where you have sun rain hail lightning thunder storm all in the same daaaaay)
Apr. 23rd, 2014 05:47 am (UTC)
Oh man, I was actually in Toronto for a couple of days! (These posts are about three weeks behind at this point) I had no idea you were Torontonian. Sorry to hear you were sick, hope you're feeling better.

Happy Easter to you too!
Apr. 23rd, 2014 11:11 pm (UTC)
XD No problem, three weeks ago things were pretty insane too - I could've used the excuse to escape from family. XDDDDD

Maybe you should post a projected iternary so stalkers can say "HEY SINN COME SEE US WE'LL GIVE YOU FREE FOOD AND STUFF IN EXCHANGE FOR AUTOGRAPHS AND PHOTOS :D" XDDDD
Apr. 24th, 2014 01:19 pm (UTC)
LOL I should have, but I honestly didn't have much notice to provide!
Apr. 26th, 2014 03:14 am (UTC)
Heh, it's always interesting hearing about our country from the point of view of outsiders.

Apparently we're obsessed with dodgeball? Maybe it's a Quebec thing? And yes, poutine is totally our unofficial national dish. As for separatism is a seriously dangerous topic of conversation in Quebec.

Quebec city is the oldest city in Canada. Most likely, the wall got built to repel the British. Why they wanted this frozen wasteland beautiful country, who knows? If you come again, I strongly recommend wool socks and mitts, thick soled boots and a coat that is strongly wind-proof. This is why all the smart Canadians live in Vancouver. Here all you need to worry about is drowning from the rain or magnitude-5 earthquakes.

As I said before, if you come Vancouver or one of the outlying cities, you are welcome to crash at my place.
Apr. 26th, 2014 06:57 am (UTC)
Dodgeball might not actually be that big a thing, it just seemed bigger than it was because I landed inside a tiny niche of enthusiasts. The fact that it was played at all was kind of neat to me, because it's doesn't really have any presence in Australia at all. It's like a mythical sport that only shows up in movies and tv shows.

Ahaha separatism really is a dangerous topic! I didn't bring it up with anyone but it was a little amusing/alarming when the party hostess comes up and is all like 'what is this?! You are speaking English in a separatist's house?!' and you weren't entirely sure if she was joking or not.

Quebec really was super charming overall though. I definitely hear you on the winter gear! But it actually wasn't too bad with a bit of layering - double socks, woolen sweaters and thermals... I did consider buying all those things you mentioned but for the couple of weeks I was there it wasn't worth the investment. The only times the cold got super uncomfortable was when the blizzard was starting.

I actually went to Vancouver! But it was such a last-minute thing I didn't get the chance to drop you a message, I pretty much landed in the city and was like 'so I'm in Vancouver, now what?'. Thank you for the offer anyway, had I been better organised I would have totally taken you up on it! I really missed out on the North American LJ peeps. :( I did love Vancouver though, you can bet I'm going to write a whole lot of words gushing about it.
Apr. 28th, 2014 05:30 am (UTC)
D'Oh at least you made it Vancouver. I hope it was somewhat sunny when you were here.
Apr. 29th, 2014 04:46 am (UTC)

Glad you managed to get over here, and that the weather was relatively good for Spring! I've only ever accidentally been to Quebec, haha, so I need to go back one day. (Accidentally, because I was in Ottawa and walked across a bridge that brought me to the Quebec side of the border, and I didn't realize until I'd come back over the bridge that all the signs on the other side had been French first, then English. :P)

Poutine! Maple syrup! Snow! I think you've pretty much gotten the whole Canada experience in one trip, haha. Hopefully you'll be able to come back and visit the west side of the country one day, just for kicks. :D
Apr. 29th, 2014 05:47 am (UTC)
I like how I talk about a blizzard and you go on to say how glad you are the weather was good for spring. XD

Heh, across the bridge counts! It's worth going I think, definitely has a very different flavour to it than the rest of Canada. They're so obstinate about their French it's almost like being in a foreign country.

Nice, good to know I ticked off all the must-dos! Everything after that is a bonus. :P

I did get to Vancouver! Not up to Calgary though (that your area, right?) Post on that coming up soonish. I'm a bit behind on these.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )