Thursday, June 14, 2012

Canada 2012 Day 9

We woke up to the sound of heavy rain falling on the eves of our little flat. This could put a serious cramp on our style! But being savvy travelers we rolled with the punch, and took the opportunity to stay for an extra hour in bed. It was the right thing to do, because after we had finished breakfast the storm had abated, and by the time we made it to the Naval Museum the sun was shining. The museum was fine, though nothing extraordinary, but the view of Quebec from the shore was brilliant (the rain had washed down whatever particulate matter that was on the air, and the atmosphere was crystal clear).

After visiting the museum we meandered through the lower Vieux Quebec, stopping at shops and taking many photographs. In one of the shops Annie saw fudge sausages hanging from the ceiling and we fell easy prey to the temptations of the candy store.

By this time the tourists were pouring out of their buses, so we haughtily turned our noses toward the upper Vieux Quebec, and concentrated our efforts in discovering new beautiful spots in the city that by now feels like home: The Convent of the Ursulines, the old buildings of the Leval University, the Anglican Cathedral, and the Museum of French-speaking America, to name but a few. Now and then we would turn a corner and come into a mob of school children, for many schools take advantage of the end of the school year to organize end-of-term trips to the provincial capital.

By noon time we were getting a bit tired, so we bought sandwiches, beer, and cider from a grocer, and came back to the hostel to have our lunch. At 1 pm we joined a tour led by one of the girls who worked at the hostel, to go see the citadel that keeps guard over the city. The French governor of Quebec had been pushing for construction of this fort for a long time, but the French king didn’t want to foot the bill, so when the big 1760 battle took place in the Plains of Abraham, adjacent to Quebec, the French lost to the British the Canadian coastal provinces. The Brits discussed the need for a fort, but nothing was done about it and the city was attacked by the Americans in 1778, as one of the military skirmishes of the Revolutionary War. More than ever the need for a fort became clear, but the treasury had no funds, and the city was once again attacked in 1812, during the American-English war. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and after that the fort was built (and Quebec was never again at risk, so the construction of the fort was completely superfluous; go figure).

Afterward we visited the Museum of French-speaking America, which is a bit weird in that to get to it you have to cross the chapel of Leval University. The chapel has been decommissioned (who has ever heard of a church being decommissioned?), so with altar in place, and sacred paintings and martyr relicts still hanging from the walls, it is now used for political events, marriage celebrations, or prom dances. It was really weird to see a set of musicians setting their instruments and speakers around the altar, ready to entertain a convention of heavy equipment manufacturers. But getting back to the museum, the displays were pretty good, but the poor Francophiles can do little more than pine for the loss of the French speaking populations in many parts of Canada and most of the United States (did you know that Detroit and Saint Louis were dominantly French-speaking in their early years?).

By this time I was sleepy and Annie was hungry. We compromised and went into a small restaurant where she could have a bowl (yes, a bowl rather than a cup) of hot chocolate with tons of mini-marshmallows and whipped cream, and some crepes with maple syrup, while I had a beer. On a nearby table were a woman and her young daughter, having a raclette early dinner. They attracted our attention on two counts. First, the 15 year old girl had the biggest beehive hairdo I have ever seen. Second was the fact that they were having raclette, which I assumed was unknown in the Americas. Consulting the menu I saw that it is an expensive dish, varying between 25 and 30 dollars per person, and they don’t even give you tortillas!

Having exhausted the touristic potential of this beautiful city, Annie and I prepared for our departure. We had to get on the bikes, go down to the ferry terminal, cross the St. Lawrence river, and then pedal 10 km to the train station in Charny. Well, we had a bit of a delay at the start, because we got separated. Fortunately we both think alike and met again on the way to the ferry. But then the ferry took forever to depart, and all of a sudden we were on a panic, thinking that we might miss our train. We landed at 7:45 pm on the Levis side of the river, and assuming two hours to get to the station that would be cutting it to close to the departure time of 9:55 pm. So we convinced ourselves that we had to pedal like bats out of hell, without breaks or photo stops. Well, by 8:30 pm we were in Charny, stopped for 10 minutes to buy munchies for the train, and by 9 pm we were at the train station, sweating profusely but on time!

We are now on the train, headed for the second part of our trip, in Prince Edward Island.

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