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Winter Trip to Quebec City
January 10, 2012 - January 15, 2012

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This trip to Quebec City was one of my Bucket List items because it allowed me to put all those years of French classes to practical use. I never thought I would visit in winter but it was the only time I could see the nearby Ice Hotel (another Bucket List item). I enjoyed seeing this quaint city and doing an excursion to the countryside. Most of all, I loved the food.

Things I Really Enjoyed

Things I Would Do Differently

Great Beginning

Quebec City had been on my vacation wish list for a long time. I never envisioned myself visiting the city in winter but it was the only time I could visit the Ice Hotel (located approximately 15 minutes outside of town). We spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights in downtown Quebec City and then again Friday and Saturday night. Thursday night was spent at the Ice Hotel (Hotel de Glace).

There were no direct flights from Washington Dulles Airport to Jean-Lesage International Airport (YQB) in Quebec City. We flew United Airlines from Dulles to Newark, New Jersey and then from Newark to Quebec City. Traci had been doing so much business travel on United that she had reach Premier status with the airline. This meant we did not have to pay to check our luggage and we were allowed to use the short lines at check-in and security. This was my first time being allowed to do this.

The standard taxi fare from the airport to a downtown hotel in Quebec City is $32.50 CAD (tip not included). I was relieved to find out the taxi drivers accept credit cards. This saved us from having to look for an ATM or currency exchange.

We had booked the Courtyard Marriott hotel for both segments of our stay. Having lived in a Marriott for 3 months back in 2010 during our relocation from Pennsylvania to Northern Virginia, we had accumulated many hotel points. Consequently, our stays at the Courtyard Marriott in Quebec were free. Additionally, we were upgraded to a suite each time. This vacation was off to a great start.

We enjoyed our stay at the Courtyard Marriott. The staff was very friendly and helpful. Housekeeping did an outstanding job at keeping our room spotless. Traci enjoyed working out in the fitness room each morning.

The hotel is in a great location for a tourist visit. It is located just outside one of the stone arches of Old Quebec. Most of the tourist attractions and a plethora of restaurants can be reached on foot in a matter of minutes. The menu at the hotel's restaurant always looked good but with so many restaurants nearby, we never ate at the hotel. Youville Square (Place d'Youville) is located across the street from the hotel. During the winter months, Place d'Youville is an outdoor ice skating rink. Music is played over the rink's PA system during operating hours.


ice skating in front of our hotel; Old Quebec entrance through the arch

During our first stay, the view from our suite was not so great, it faced a high-rise office building. We could see people working in their cubicles. During our second stay, we had a corner suite with a much nicer view. We could see the ice skating rink and the stone arch leading to Old Quebec. We could hear the ice skating rink music but it was not loud enough to be distracting.

Parlez-vous français?

Quebec is the French-speaking province of Canada. This is immediately evident when arriving in Quebec City. The signs, menus, public announcements, and most of the television channels are in French. It was a strange experience the evening I caught an episode of the reality TV show Jersey Shore in which the voices were over-dubbed in French. There is no need to panic if you are a tourist and do not speak the language. Everyone we encountered in the tourist areas was fluent in English.


dinner at Café Au Bonnet d'Âne

As for me, I've been taking annual adult education French classes for years and studying the language on my own daily. This Quebec vacation presented a rare opportunity to use the language in practical situations. Whether at restaurants, the airport, shopping, or on the street, I used French as much as I could. It was always a thrill when I was able to complete a dialog without having to switch to English; however, I seemed to learn the most when the conversation did not go so smoothly. An example of this was the morning Traci sent me to the coffee shop in the office building next to our hotel to pick up breakfast. It was not an establishment frequented by tourists. I arrived during the morning rush when the place was packed with business people. In an effort to keep the line moving, the workers behind the counter were taking orders before the customers reached the cash registers. Having bought pastries from this shop the night before, I already knew the staff did not speak English. As the customers in front of me voiced their orders, I became more nervous. I was not close enough to the display case to point to what I wanted. Furthermore, Traci had given me specific instructions on how she wanted her food prepared. This was sure to generate questions from the staff. The last thing I wanted was to be the foreigner who was holding up the line. My turn arrived and I told my order to the lady behind the counter. As expected, I needed to respond to questions. I did not understand what I was being asked. Fortunately, the lady was patient with me. With a reassuring smile, she rephrased her questions until she used some French words I understood. As intimidating as this experience was, I learned several new phrases in that short exchange. I managed to leave the shop with the correct order - plus a slice of "humble" pie:(. I have so much respect for people who are able to communicate in more than one language. I've worked on learning French for many years and I still come across situations such as this one in which I struggle to communicate.

In Search of the "Quebec Experience"

I love doing the research to put a vacation together. Traci leaves this task to me. I used the internet and guide books to produce a very detailed sightseeing itinerary for our time in Quebec City. I had printed out maps, schedules, and confirmations. I had even gone so far as to use the Google Maps Street View feature to walk the streets of the city virtually before we arrived in Quebec City. This made it much easier for us to get around on foot because I recognized the landmarks I had seen online.

Despite all my preparation, our itinerary came crashing down during our first outing. I had planned for us to visit the Quebec Experience which was advertised as a 3-D multimedia presentation of Quebec’s 400-year history. This sounded to me like a great way to get an introduction to the city. I printed the show times and directions during the planning stage of the trip. We found our way there only to be greeted by a sign that said "Fermé" (Closed). What? How could this be? I was holding the printout in my hand that said the Quebec Experience closes at 5 PM daily. It was only 3:45. I decided to use the opportunity to practice speaking French by asking the waiters in the cafe next door if they knew what the deal was with the Quebec Experience. They told me it had been closed for a while. They suspected it had gone out of business. Well that experience taught me that I need to pick up the phone or send an email to confirm my travel itinerary. Web sites are not always kept up-to-date.

We encountered other situations such as the Quebec Experience during our stay. We had planned to do one of the guided tours of the Chateau Frontenac but when I arrived, I was told they no longer give tours as of three months ago. There were a couple of restaurants I had chosen as potential dining spots but they were closed for the month of January.

After finding out the Quebec Experience had apparently gone out-of-business, we decided to make our way the Quebec City tourism office to confirm our reservations for the City & Countryside tour I had booked online. At the time of booking, the website indicated we needed to choose our pick-up location from the three options presented. It was a good thing we stopped by the tourism office because the man at the Old Quebec City Tours desk told us that they pick their clients up at their various hotels. There would be no need for us to walk the city to get to the location I had chosen online. He made a phone call to get us squared away for our pick-up the next morning. We actually ran into him again later that week when we went to the Ice Hotel. He also works there.

That first outing not only taught me about confirming my itinerary but it also taught us we needed to dress appropriately for a Canadian winter. Walking the slushy sidewalks in tennis shoes and wearing only one layer under our winter jacket was not cutting it. The temperature never made it out of the single digits during the downtown portion of our trip. And when the wind blew - yeouch!!! After that first day, we knew we needed to dress like everyone else - boots, several layers, gloves, hats, ear muffs, and whatever else would keep us from going numb.


dressed for a Canadian winter

City and Countryside Tour

We combined two tours by booking the City and Countryside Tour. The City Tour took place in the morning while the Countryside Tour took place in the afternoon.

City Tour

As scheduled, we were picked up at our hotel at 9:30 AM. Our driver collected other passengers from hotels around the city. Before beginning our tour, he traveled 15 minutes outside the city to drop off the those who had signed up for the Ice Hotel tour. After that short deviation, he began narrating our re-entrance into the city.

Our small group consisted of people from around the world. Australians, Mexicans, and Brazilians were some of the people we met. Traci and I were the only ones from the U.S..

Quebec City is divided into two parts: Upper Town (Haute-Ville) and Lower Town (Basse-Ville). The Upper Town is surrounded by a wall that was first built by the French in 1720. After defeating the French in 1759, the British reconstructed and made improvements to this 3-mile fortification right up through the 1820's to protect the city from a U.S. invasion. Today Quebec City is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is North America's only walled city north of Mexico.

Over the next two hours, we were shown landmarks such as the Parliament Building, the Joan of Arc Statue, the Citadel, museums, the bars and nightclubs of Grande Allée, the grand mural in the Lower Town, and more but we did not enter any buildings. One of the more interesting sights we saw was a cannon ball left over from one of the wars. It was still lodged in the base of tree.


Parliament Building

We had some photo stops along the way in which we were given a few minutes to exit the bus and look around. One of these sites included the Plains of Abraham. Although there was not much to see other than a snow-covered field with cannons, this site has important historical significance. This is where the British defeated the French in 1759 thus making Quebec a British territory until Canada's independence in 1867. The generals from both sides were killed in this 30-minute battle. Despite the outcome of the battle, the British allowed Quebec to keep their French language and Roman Catholic religion. French is still the language of Quebec.

One of my favorites stops was the Lower Town stop where we were given a few minutes to walk the quaint streets. We came across a large stunning mural painted on the side of a building.

Lower Town

quaint street in the Lower Town


immersing myself in the mural

Our driver was a cool and knowledgeable dude. He could recite an encyclopedia's worth of information about Quebec City. He asked some trivia questions but only seemed to direct them to Traci and me, his 'friends from the U.S.'. I'm embarrassed to say I did not do so well on his quizzes. How was I supposed to know the U.S. was the last invader of Quebec City? It turns out, the invasion was led by generals Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold in 1775. The U.S. lost the battle. Benedict Arnold later left the U.S. military to join the British and the Loyalists to fight against the U.S.. continue...

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