View of the Old Port and Old Quebec
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Quebec City Overview
Consider sidewalk cafes by the dozen, baguettes in bicycle baskets, the classic French shoulder shrug, charming plazas and graceful squares designed largely for pedestrian traffic and residents with a special Gallic grace and beauty. Am I in Avignon? Lyons? St. Tropez? Non, mon ami, just a little bit north of the U.S.
Tres French Quebec City offers a savory taste of Europe right here in North America. Not unlike any French town across the Atlantic, Quebec City locals and their language signal a special aura. It may merely be a sense of romance or fondness for a slice of the Old World, but Quebec City is a charming city and a wonderfully distinctive port of call on Canada/New England cruises.
Quebec City celebrates its 400th anniversary in 2008. Chosen as a site for a permanent trading post in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, Quebec's name comes from an Algonquin word for “where the river narrows.” The year 1608 marked the beginning of a continual French presence in the area.
Anniversary activities are scheduled throughout the year with the bulk of events scheduled from June to October. These include musical and dramatic performances, museum exhibits and street parades.
A lovely new promenade named for the city's founder is an attractive green space built between the river and the Boulevard Champlain. A charming new fountain sits at the entry to the Old City and was presented to the city by Simons Department Stores to commemorate the anniversary. Extensive rehabbing has taken place throughout the city.
Quebec City is delightful for fall foliage and impressive with its boughs of green and remarkable light in spring and summer -- all seasons that will find cruise ships in town. In May, the heat was Topic A with cruise passengers all over town, but on an autumn cruise, a jacket was an absolute necessity. Be prepared.
The city is located on the St. Lawrence River Valley, framed to the north by the majestic Laurentian Mountains and to the south by the Appalachian foothills and mountains leading to New England. The St. Lawrence River, flowing beneath the cliffs of Upper Town (dominated by the regal Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, one of the world's great hotels) swirls on into the Atlantic, and explains the colonization of this part of the world.
That colonization, or settlement, occurred in four phases: Native Amerindians, the French, the British and finally, the Canadian Confederation in 1867. Quebec was named the provincial capital. To control Quebec City meant control of the St. Lawrence River and navigation to the Great Lakes. It remains the home of the only walled city in North America.
I have visited on Ile d'Orleans twice: once to shop and tour, another to have lunch and drive the whole circuit of the oval-shaped island. It's magical, and unbelievably like rural France.
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Other Canada & New England Cruise Ports:
Bar Harbor • Bayonne (Cape Liberty) • Boston • Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island) • Halifax • Montreal • New York (Manhattan) • Newport • Portland (Maine) • Quebec City • Saint John (New Brunswick) • St. John's (Newfoundland)
French primarily. Some English is spoken, more is understood.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Canadian dollar is the currency of the country. At this time, the exchange rate is approximately $1.07 Canadian to $1. ATM's are located all over.
Unibroue, a local beer (also available in parts of the U.S.), really hits the spot after a morning of touring.
Anything made with maple sugar; biscuits, syrup, candies and Quebec's famous ice wine are popular with tourists.
Watch Out For
Pickpockets make traveling through crowded streets a challenge. As in any city, stick to major thoroughfares and keep the valuables you carry to a minimum while in town. One credit card and a photo ID should suffice.
Where You're Docked
Ships dock at Le Vieux Port or La Basse Ville, (the Old Port or the Old City,) where the Saint Charles River enters the St. Lawrence. The Old City is situated on two levels, Lower Town, at the Port, and the Upper Town and quick walk from the terminal.
Le Vieux Port offers easy access to shopping nearby at Quartier Petit Champlain, considered the oldest commercial district in North America. Art galleries, clothing stores, souvenir shops and quite a few cafes line the pedestrian street.
For a touch of culture, head across the street to the Musee de la Civilization. Here you'll find a mixed bag of exhibits including a model of Samuel Champlain's early dwelling on the shores of the St. Lawrence; a longboat, the transportation of choice by the early Amerindians; and the Olympic Torch.
Don't want to tour? Go right next door -- inside the terminal -- to Le Cafe du Monde (418-692-4455) for mussels you won't soon forget, then climb back aboard ship. Diners get a delightful taste of Paris, lunching on a terrace overlooking the St. Lawrence.
On Foot: One of the easiest cities to negotiate. So much is within walking distance of the Port.
By Taxi: Quebec City has many cabs and reasonable fares between the Port and Old Quebec. For example, from Place d'Armes, near the Chateau Frontenac, to the ship fares are $10 - $12. Negotiate with drivers for a package price, say, to tour Ile d'Orleans, but rates are about $30 an hour.
By Car: Budget on Cote du Palais (418-692-3660); Discount, 12 Ste-Anne, (9418-692-1244).
Dufferin Terrace above the Old Town and the River offers a one-stop experience blending history, show biz and commerce: It's close to great restaurants, charming shops, the Old Town and street performers -- mimes, jugglers and the like. Pull up a bench and enjoy!
Stroll through the Plains of Abraham -- also called Battlefields Park -- where the British and French fought. View the gardens, see the absolute tranquility of the park, but envision the battle that claimed the spot. There's a multimedia show and more than 30 regimental uniforms in the Discover Pavilion (418-6484071).
Learn more about the battles at the Plains of Abraham and Benedict Arnold's march to Quebec at Musee du Fort, a historic recreation of sieges of Quebec. Open daily April 1 - Oct. 31 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.; Nov. 1 - Christmas and Feb. 1 - March 31 open Thursdays - Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Open daily from December 26 until the first Sunday following New Year's Eve 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
The hustle and flow around the Place Royale and statue of Louis XIV in the Lower City. Place Royale is a centerpiece of the Old Town, where the young crowd clusters, where older folks stop to rest, and a general gathering place for those on their way to the funicular.
Take the funicular from Lower Town to Upper Town. The funicular is a lot like a cable car at a ski resort, but the landscape is dotted with historic old buildings, shops and tons of people instead of snow-capped mountains.
Check out the artists exhibiting along rue de Tresor and take a sample home. Choose from watercolors of the Citadel, oil paintings of the Chateu Frontenac, splendid street scenes in varied media and a variety of handicrafts. This daily art show is there through rain and show and is especially wonderful on a bright sunny day.
Been There, Done That
The Ile d'Orleans, just 25 minutes from the Le Vieux Port, is a rustic and beautiful island where time almost seems to stand still and wondrous farmlands and churches, fishing ponds and quaint shops offer a wonderful respite from urban ports. It could be a part of Normandy, Brittany, but it's definitely French.
Visit the largest buffalo herd in Quebec at Parc des Bisons. Stop for chocolate, preserves and great baked goods as you travel across the island. Tour the park in your car for a closer look at the mammals; the complete circle takes about three hours with lunch -- the island is about 23 miles around. Visitors may also stroll along a trail leading to one of the highest points of Ile d'Orleans.
Have more time and a rental car? Drive to the Park de la Chute-Montmorency, the falls are one-and-a-half times higher than Niagara. Walking trails and views of the mountains and the falls are beautiful, serene and 360 degrees away from the crowds in Old Quebec.
Many come for the sights, others for the food. A local specialty is tourtiere, a spicy meat filling topped by a tender, flaky crust. Or, find time to lunch at one of the many inns (La Crepe Cochonne, 418-829-3656 for great crepes and delicious homemade soup. See the Isle of Orleans chamber of commerce on your right at the first intersection on the island (418-828-9411).
Best al fresco lunching: Delice du Roy (418-694-9161, daily from 11:30 a.m., 33 rue Saint-Pierre). Take a table outside and watch the passing show while enjoying an omelette or a salad.
Best nighttime option: Au Parmesan, (418-692-0341, daily lunch and dinner, 38 rue Saint-Louis) features Italian and French cuisine. Live entertainment accompanies evening meals.
Best traditional French eatery: Aux Anciens Canadiens (418-692-1627, daily lunch and dinner, 34 rue Saint-Louis). An authentic decor showcases early homes in the area and features traditional dishes, beef, lamb and fish and seafood specialties.
Best for brunch: Omelette (418-694-9626, summer 7 a.m. - 10 p.m., 66 rue St. Louis). Great breakfast or brunch with a French accent.
Shore excursions usually include a trip to St. Anne de Beaupre and Montmorency Falls that mixes a religious history with nature; another offers a taste of the region and several walking, hiking and museum tours. Here are a few of our favorites:
Best for First-Timers: Take the Best of Quebec & Countryside tour for an orientation of this interesting part of North America. Highlights include a visit to Old Quebec, a scenic drive through pastoral landscapes, and a visit to a sugar shack to see how maple products are made (seven and one-half hours).
Best for Active Types: Go rafting on the Jacques Cartier River, located in the highlands of the Laurentian Mountains (six hours).
Best for Families: A Montmorency Falls and Ile d'Orleans tour offers something for all age groups. Parents will enjoy seeing the 19th-century resort homes of Quebec's rich merchant class on the Island of Orelans, and kids will be blown away by Montmorency Falls -- one and one-half times higher than Niagara Falls (three and one-half hours)!
Staying in Touch
Centre Internet (418-692-3359, 52 Cote du Palais). Cost is 42.50 for 20 minutes, 44.50 for 40 minutes and $6.75 for 1 hour.
Cybar Cafe (418-692-4255, 43 rue de Buade). No wireless connection. Cost is $6 per hour.
For More Information
Call: 877-Bonjour, 877-266-5687
On the Web: www.quebecregion.com, www.bonjourquebec.com, www.iledorleans.com
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--by Marcia Levin