After a two-hour plane ride, I felt like I was in a small town in Europe.
Last week, Adam and I traveled to Canada to visit two places to which neither of us had ever been: Montreal and Quebec City. We both really enjoyed Montreal, but we truly fell in love with Quebec City.
I couldn’t believe that nobody had told me about the magic of Quebec City. I almost felt cheated that there was this secret town I hadn’t heard about until just now.
Montreal and Quebec City are cities in the province of Quebec in Canada — our friendly neighbor to the north. In both cities, the number one language spoken is French, and both are full of French culture and French food.
Montreal is a major metropolitan city with skyscrapers in the central business district and plenty of funky neighborhoods surrounding it, as well as a touristy Old Montreal area.
Quebec City is straight out of a fairy tale. The streets are lined with stone European-style buildings of all shapes and colors, and street musicians are everywhere. The upper level of the city is home to the majestic Chateau Frontenac hotel, as well as many shops, restaurants, and churches. As you travel the hundreds of stairs to the lower level (or the glass elevator called the “Funiculaire”), the Chateau Frontenac becomes a charming site in the backdrop of the shops and homes.
I’ll write more next week about the sites, smells, and tastes of each city. But for now, here are some general observations.
I have never in my life seen so many pay phones. Not only were there pay phones on every street and in every public place, but I actually saw people using them. Real people were standing at real pay phones making real phone calls. And these weren’t leftover relics from 1980s John Hughes movies — they were modernized to accept credit cards, as well as coins. Did these people’s cell phones run out of power? Did they leave their cell phones at home? Are they calling collect, waiting for their mom to pick them up at the mall? I almost tapped a pay phone user on the shoulder to ask her these questions, but I wasn’t entirely sure she was actually a human.
I definitely learned some French while in Quebec. Aside from the common words like sortie (exit), entrée (entrance), and toilette (restroom), the majority of the words I picked up were related to food. I learned that I enjoy chocolate chaud (hot chocolate), chocolatines (chocolate croissants), oeufs (eggs), and pommes (apples). But most importantly, I learned all of the flavors of French macarons (I don’t think I need to tell you how many of these I ate over the course of the week): vanille (vanilla), chocolat (chocolate), fraise (strawberry), framboise (raspberry), caramel de sel de mer (sea salt caramel), chocolat à la menthe (mint chocolate), and érable (maple). These are LIFE SKILLS that I’ve learned here, I’m telling you.
Canada — and specifically French Canada — is my culinary match made in heaven. Don’t tell my diet, but in addition to all of the framboise macarons, chocolatines, and chocolat chaud, I loved the pizza, crepes, baguettes, eggs, crepes, desserts, breakfast food, and, oh, did I mention crepes?
I hate it when people play right into their stereotypes, but boy, these Canadians were so NICE! Any time we looked at a map for more than a few seconds, or sat at a restaurant, or spoke in English, or asked for directions, the locals were downright wonderful to us. They loved to give directions, recommend their favorite places, or just chit chat about how they’ve never been to Chicago but heard it’s nice (and even some people knew the real reason we’re called the Windy City is because of our politicians). When we climbed Mount Royal, the central mountain (though it’s really just a large hill) for which Montreal is named, every passerby was helpful in pointing us towards the top and then towards the bottom. I can’t recall a time I’ve encountered so many nice strangers.
So why haven’t more people traveled there?
Is Quebec just not a vacation spot that people visit these days? Is it just a well-kept secret that there’s a magical town with crepes, castles, and churches just a direct two-hour flight to the north? If people do go there, why don’t they talk about it? Well, friends, I’m here to tell you: Go there. Maybe skip the winter months (though I hear they have a great winter carnival), but take a trip to this wonderful place. And stay tuned next week for our list of the favorite things we did there.