Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Canada 2012 Day 8

We took off by 8 am, much to the delight of Annie, who wanted to see me eat my words. I stand humbled, particularly since I wasted some of the new time getting a bit lost. It was a good getting loss, however, because we ended cutting across the hydroelectric project that provides Quebec with a good portion of their power. It is called Chutes de la Chaudiere, and is basically a dam that rises the level of the Chaudiere by 10 m, but still lets most of the water to cascade over the dam and over the natural obstacle formed by an upstream-dipping sequence of sandstones and limestones (they take some of the water and feed it to the hydroelectric turbines through a penstock, but most of the operation is underground). The result is a magnificent set of waterfalls, so we were happy with the detour.

We still had to bike a good 15 km on the opposite shore of the St. Lawrence River before we got to the ferry, directly opposite of the Vieux Quebec. This old part of the city has a striking and unforgettable aspect, with its fortifications, the Chateau Frontenac with its many turrets, and other copper-roofed buildings tightly clustered against the Chateau. The Chateau was never the residence of a distinguished personage. Rather, it was built in the late 1800’s by the railroad company, as a luxury hotel to attract tourism to this branch of the line (it worked very nicely, as plans go).

The Old Quebec is divided in two levels. The lower level is basically part of the flood plain of the St. Laurence, whereas the upper level is the top of the bluff that overlooks the river at this point (Quebec is a First Nations word for “the place where the river narrows”). From the standpoint of us cyclists this implied that we had to push the bikes up a very steep access to the ramparts, so by the time we came to the hostel at noon, we were very hot and sweaty. Once again we lucked out, and got a small Parisian flat on the third floor as our abode. Everything is cute about it: the fireplace, the wood floors, and the old fashion windows looking down two streets of Vieux Quebec.

After a quick shower we took off to enjoy our few ours as simple pedestrians, walking without fixed goals through this delightful and very European city. True, many streets are heavily geared toward pleasing the tourist, but the big hordes are not due for at least another two weeks, so we could window shop and gawk at our leisure. Slowly we made our way up to the battlefields and the fortifications of the Citadel, but decided to leave the serious business of visiting museums for tomorrow. Instead we enjoyed the park, ate ice cream, took photos, and eventually went back to the center of old town through the Promenade des Governeurs. This promenade is an impressive walkway, built hanging from the edge of the bluff, where you can get glorious views of the St. Lawrence, plus a lot of exercise going up and down the stairs.

Following Robin’s advice Annie decided to splurge in a good dinner, but we had to face the challenge of dozens fine restaurants to chose from. Finally we settled for Aux Ancienes Canadiens, a restaurant housed on a 1600’s old building (later we found out that it is included in most travel guides as a place to enjoy good Quebecois fare). The service was fantastic, and we enjoyed a “wild game” meat pie that is supposed to be a signature dish of old Quebec (the pie had bison, elk, boar, and something else meat, but of course you cannot tell the difference). I had a maple syrup pie for dessert that was absolutely delicious. We definitely recommend the place!

We went back to the hotel around 7 pm, to take a siesta, but promised we were going to get up at 8 am, to go for a walk and see the night lights. To our mild disappointment, when we got up (harder than we thought) it was raining. It was a mild rain to be sure, and a couple of pedestrians had nothing to fear from it, but to our other personas (the cyclists) it brought some concern. Hopefully the squall will be gone by tomorrow, because we have to bike a good 10 km to the train station in Cherny, where we will take the night train to Moncton. In any case, the night walk was pleasant, but the rain had scared away most of the people, so we missed on the zest of nighttime Quebec.

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