What the hell just happened? We were just driving along in North America just one second ago then suddenly I felt all French for some reason, it just came over me and I started getting the urge to eat snails, drink wine for breakfast and then yell at an English person.. what the hell just happened?!? Oh wait a minute; we just crossed over into Quebec didn’t we?
Yes, it’s as simple as that, a short drive over an invisible line and suddenly everything’s French!
French speaking Quebec has to be one of the more interesting places to find yourself accidentally. I imagine something like this happens to Canadians living close to the Quebec border: 2 beers turn into 4, turn into 8, turn into… and suddenly it all goes black.. and you literally wake up in France.
Quebec City, the capital of the province is one of those rare places that successfully pull you back in time. One second you’re in the 21st century the next second you’ve been shot back 400 years wishing you had actually been listening during French class at school.
Quebec, the province home of both Quebec City and the larger and more famous Montreal is also home to 8 million French-Canadians who, as it turns out, love their cheese and wine just as much as the more geographically ‘traditional’ French across the North Atlantic. (CHECK)
So what makes Quebec City worth seeing?
Founded in 1608 Old Quebec City boasts the only still standing fortified walls in North America, while not continuous they do give you a fantastic idea of what living in a fortified city would have been like back in the day. The famous Porte St. Jean gate, originally built in 1694 is a good place to start on an exploration of the walls/ramparts and makes for a nice Kodak moment with your camera too.
Old Quebec City was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985 and a national heritage site of Canada if 1948 which officially made it awesome on paper as well as in person. The skyline is dominated by the picturesque Chateau Frontenac which keeps in theme with Old Quebec in that it’s basically a castle (and so also commands princely sums of money for a ‘chamber’ for the night).
The Chateau overlooks the lower part of the historic area of Vienux-Quebec (Old Quebec), a distinctly European area of the city built over cobbled streets and with tight winding lanes and ancient stone buildings. Both lower and upper Old Quebec make for a fantastic place to stroll (no other form of walking should be allowed on cobbled streets except perhaps to ‘waltz’), taking in the quaint shops, bakeries, coffee houses and laneways, which is basically in my opinion the best thing you can do here.
Stroll the cobbled streets feeling all historic while practicing your ‘Bonjours’ and ‘Mercis’ so as to not butcher the French language to such an extent that Napoleon rolls in his grave…
In order to get down to the lower area of Old Quebec from the upper (with the Chateau) you can choose to face almost certain death by climbing down the steepest, most slippery stairs on the planet. I’m not joking they are actually called the ‘Breakneck Stairs’. Thousands of people have been killed making this trip (ok that’s more than a slight exaggeration) but in my defence they are pretty damn steep, so be careful…
So you’re tired of trying not to die on the stairs, you’ve walked the lanes, said ‘bonjour’ to more people than you ever knew spoke French in North America, climbed the old walls and got a pretty good grasp on the place, now what?
Time to hit the town, here’s your itinerary for the night:
1) Poutine it up at Chez-Ashton. Not sure what Poutine is and/or are feeling slightly offended at my crude language? Read this post on Canada.
2) Start at Bar Les Voutes Napoleon for a spot of beer tasting. They stock many local beers from the surrounding micro-breweries.
3) After a few pints, head to Bar Saint-Laurent for some breathtaking views of the old city and the surrounding areas as you sip a glass or 2 of French wine.
4) Crossed that line in the sand between 6 drinks and passing out? Head to Le Drague Cabaret Club. They do ‘memorable’ shows on Thursday and Friday nights.. Something just slightly off about the chic dancing onstage? Maybe her hands are too big or perhaps it’s her giant, muscular arms.. either way you’ve just walked into the only gar bar in Quebec City, however it welcomes personages of all sexual persuasions and the shows are an absolute hoot to watch so get involved.
The Quebec locals are distinctly different from the Canadians we met in other parts of the country, no less pleasant, simply more (unsurprisingly) French. Having been actually warned by numerous people that we would have a hard time getting past the language barrier – a particularly high one in the case of the French if you’ve ever been to Europe.. we didn’t really have any big issues communicating. Most language barriers in my experience are easy enough to circumnavigate by going ‘cave man’ (grunts, pointing and a friendly smile). However learning a few basic French words, greetings or phrases will put you in far better standing with locals and is something I would recommend.
The Quebec City experience is one I highly recommend to fellow travellers, especially for local North Americans as it’s literally on your doorstep and it’s an amazing contrast next to the relatively close more modern cities of Montreal, Toronto and New York. It’s not France, it’s not Belgium or Germany but it’s the closest you’re ever going to get without actually flying to continental Europe or Photoshopping yourself into that photo of a castle you found on Google.