France in our own Backyard
By Kathryn Marchi
How would you like to travel to France without crossing the big pond? Quebec City, Canada, is just the place to go to enjoy that international “feel” and immerse yourself in the French culture — right in your own backyard. Of course, you can fly into Lasage International Airport west of Quebec City if you choose or take a drive in your car or RV. Amtrak provides service via its “Adirondack” that makes daily runs from New York City. From our area, it might take you two to three days by auto, depending upon how many stops you might want to make along the way. Before heading into Canada, some folks report that they stop by the Lake George area in the New York Adirondacks to take in the beauty of mountains, water and the rich history of that area.
To enter Canada, you must have a current passport (www.travel.state.gov). You’ll also want to check on the exchange rate between the American and Canadian dollars so you can decide where to do the exchange.
Though folks in Quebec Province speak French, there is no need to be concerned about communicating with the locals. Most do speak English and are eager to help with any translating you may need.
Before you visit Quebec City, you might appreciate a bit of history and some suggestions on places to visit in the area:
Four hundred years old, Quebec City is the capital of the Canadian Province of Quebec, located along an escarpment that overlooks the St. Lawrence River. Inside fortress walls covering a few square blocks is the “Old City” where most tourists gather. The town is basically divided into Upper Town, on the escarpment, and Lower Town, along the riverfront below. Walking along the narrow cobblestone streets with cozy sidewalk cafes and quaint shops gives one a feeling of being in Old Europe.
There are many charming places to stay in Upper Town, but we found that the Clarendon Hotel, built in 1870, is not only quaint but centrally located for all the sights and activities. Of course, the most popular hotel is the Chateau Frontenac Hotel, situated on the eastern parapets above the St. Lawrence River (www.hotelfrontenac.com). Views from this point are breathtaking. With a broad boardwalk and funicular leading down to Lower Town, you are minutes away from artisan shops featuring handcrafted goods, boutiques, cafes and a boat tour on the river.
While in the Lower Town, the farmer’s market is worth the short walk along the river. Taste fresh strawberries or have a cafe lait and fresh croissant for your trouble. The displays of vegetables and fruits, wines, breads and cheeses are pleasing to the eye. On the way back to the funicular to Upper Town, walk along St. Paul Street and browse in the many antique shops.
For eating out, it’s not necessary to travel to France for the famous French cuisine. There are sidewalk cafes scattered everywhere and especially on St. Jean Street, where there are many excellent restaurants. Paillard, in particular, is reputed to serve the best croissants in the area and petit déjeuner (breakfast) there is a must. A favorite dinner venue is “Boulay,” an epicurean delight for sure.
The European “feel” of old Quebec is also found in the many museums, horse-drawn carriages, musicians and thespians performing in parks and along the narrow streets. There are city bus or walking tours, and country tours to take. It has been said that the areas are all safe to walk around day and night and most places are within a comfortable walking distance. Of course, there are busses and taxis if you prefer.
Since Quebec is a Catholic state, there are several beautiful cathedrals in the city that are not to be missed. One is the 350-year-old Cathedral-Basilica of Notre Dame, the mother parish of all other Catholic parishes in Canada and the United States. This year the papacy designated this church to have the “holy door” into a small chapel at the side. This is the only one in North America and is said to uplift the spiritual life of each entrant, no matter the denomination.
Another must is the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, built in 1800. It is the first Anglican parish to be sanctioned by the Church of England and built in North America. It has been noted that this church is the focal point of Upper Town, because for a time its spire was the tallest structure in Quebec City.
Of course, there are other sites in Quebec City and surrounding areas that are interesting to tourists. Go to http://wikitravel.org/en/quebec_city for more information. Isn’t it wonderful to know that a tiny part of France is located so close?
Kathryn and her husband enjoy traveling throughout the United States and Canada in their RV. She can be reached at email@example.com