I arrive at Quebec City airport in the afternoon. “Parlez-vous Anglais?” Jacques, my taxi driver, apologetically shakes his head. Soon, with a bit of effort on both sides, we’re chatting happily in fluent Franglais!

Three cruise-ships overwhelm the riverbank spewing out 4000 passengers into the harried hands of flag waving tour guides.

The city is divided into two distinct parts – Upper and lower – They are joined by a staircase, for those hoping to make it onto the downhill ski team, and a funicular for anyone with $1.75 in their jeans and a sense of self preservation!

We weave our way through the city walls and up the steep hill to “haute-ville.”

I am getting excited. The Place d’Armes – The main square - is packed. A man plays his flute in mittens. The older couple, all bundled up in scarves and fleece against the chill of a late September afternoon, lock hands and listen, enrapt.

Three calesh drivers hope to snag customers for an early evening trot up Rue Saint-Louis, past a line of welcoming little restaurants, through the city gates, to Parliament Hill.

The Chateau Frontenac, with 700 rooms, is overwhelming in size and grandeur. Sir Paul McCartney and the gang were billeted here for his controversial “bury the musket and love me” concert, delivered on The Plains of Abraham on July 20th. Over 200,000 obeyed, leaving a few “grognons” (grumps) muttering about a Wolfe in sheep’s clothing!

Couples stretch-out on park benches whispering salacious sweet nothings, oblivious to the flashes of digital cameras and political billboards which come and go on the sides of buses. We are high enough to pour boiling oil on unwanted invaders and to get mesmerizing views across The St Lawrence River.

Artists fill a narrow side street with their creations, hoping to pry open the purses of meandering cruise ship passengers who will sail at dawn.

“Monsieur – Nous avons arrive,” announces Jacques, pointing to a narrow doorway above an outdoor patio filled with early imbibers.

I am staying in a small Auberge which has recently added the failed Madame Tussauds Wax Museum to its roster of rooms! I unpack and rush back outside to absorb what is left of the day.

Pretty young waitresses are touting dinner business. “Twenty per cent off tonight monsieur?”

I settle for The Café de Paris. Was it her smile or the menu? Perhaps the flickering candles against inviting red walls?

There are two types of energy in the place. A group of old friends has gathered for a birthday or an anniversary. Laughter is already ricocheting around the room.

Smaller tables are occupied by young couples immersed in their own romantic world.

I observe my neighbours with just a hint of jealously. A handsome young man with intense blue eyes and a ponytail is teasing an oyster directly from the half shell into her partially opened mouth.

Their conversation becomes more animated………………………and!

Oh well! I am sadly alone in one of the world’s most romantic cities and about as significant to them as a wax model of Einstein!

Next morning, I get an early start. I like to watch the day unfold. An aroma of freshly baked bread wafts through the early morning air. Waiters sweep yesterday’s crumbs from outdoor patios. Tabletops are given a final wipe in readiness for the breakfast crowd.

A line of cars snakes slowly into the narrow alley. Mothers are dropping off their daughters at L’ecole Ursuline. A daily habit that has repeated itself since 1641 when the longest running girls school in North America was founded. Today there are still 56 nuns living in the monastery but their average age is 90 with no novitiates joining the order.

Rue St Jean is a great street for ambling. Small cafes are filled with earnest students from Laval University. Intellectual bookshops display scholarly tomes. Why not buy aunt Nellie a chess set with Wolfe versus Montcalm as opposing pieces?!

A sign above Epicerie J.A.Moisan proudly announces “Depuis 1871” Within these hallowed walls, a serious French foodie, (That’s everyone in this town!), can: Choose from 100 virgin olive oils; Buy quails eggs for that special someone; Source a jar of “must-have” Ketchup aux Asclepiades – Milkweed Pod Ketchup - an ideal accompaniment for steak tatare?

I surreptitiously photograph a display stuffed with every conceivable shape, colour and size of dried pasta. “Monsieur monsieur” cautions a worried voice. Whoops I’ve been spotted! I go into apology mode! “I walked past when you took the picture,” explains the anxious young lady. “You should take it again!”

“I love your city,” I announce to Denis Tremblay while thumbing through a bunch of his clothes at Le Roquet, the coolest t-shirt shop in Petit Champlain, if not the world.

“I love walking up ancient alleys where old houses with mansard roofs are being restored; Meandering through antique shops and fabulous art galleries; Watching a carver at work on the sidewalk to catch the afternoon sun.

I love the restaurants. Eating rabbit and apple sausages; Steak tatare; Seal pate. I love the people who are “tres gentil,” helpful and always willing to give English a try. Not at all what I expected. I love all that……….French energy.”

“But I am a writer,” I explain, “and I want to share my feelings with the world. How would you describe your city?”

He thought for a moment. “Mon ami it is simple. In Quebec City there is nothing to do. With nothing to do there is no guilt – No stress. No need to rush to this museum or that historic site for fear of missing out. These can all be achieved in a morning.

We have customers who come from New York, London, Paris. They come once, twice, some even three times a year. Busy people. They come with a special novel to read, a canvas to fill, a new direction to contemplate.

They come here because the people are friendly and relaxed. The streets are safe, interesting and old. They like our good food and our culture.”

Here we have time. Ask your lover out for dinner and she will spend the whole day deciding what to wear. The restaurant, the food, are inconsequential.

Do you understand?”

“Yes. I think I do!”



Bear in mind that staying in the heart of the Old City (haute-ville at the top of the funicular) is convenient for evening/early morning strolls.

Petit Champlain, (at the base of the funicular), is a wondrous labyrinth of pedestrian alleys and cobbled squares filled with trendy boutiques cafes and mature minstrels! Fine galleries and antique shops are a pitcher’s toss away.

I stayed on “the square” at 3-Star Auberge Place d’Armes – Comfortable. Good value starting at around $140 s/d includes continental breakfast – No elevator - Good kitchen.

(Rooms at The Chateau Frontenac start at $249 incl breakfast).


WHEN TO GO: Winter Carnival runs from Jan 30th to Feb 13th. I visited in late September – A lovely mellow time of year!

FOOD: Be prepared for 3 course “prix-fixe” mouth-watering lunches and dinners at reasonable prices. Check displayed menus and follow the crowd. Dining out here is a cultural experience worth a splurge!

AROUND QUEBEC CITY: Rent a car and visit nearby Ile d’Orleans. With a history going back to the 17th century this 32-kilometre long island supplies the city with fresh produce and weekend retreats. Take a cable car over Montmorency Falls on the way!



Copyright © 2009 Andrew G.P. Renton All rights reserved.