At breakfast we ran into another Belgian couple, this time from Antwerp. They were on a tour of Ontario and Québec. They were quite excited about a free outdoor performance of the Cirque de Soleil. Sophie, who made us breakfast, also told us about the Moulin de l’Images, which was some sort of projection. We’d have to check both of them out.
We escaped from warm and muggy Boston to somewhat warm and muggy Québec. But having sat in the car for 7.5 hours yesterday, we were ready for a walk. The walking route took us through the commercial thoroughfare of St. Roch. On Blvd Charest, the highway underpass has some really interesting murals. We’d visit them again. Vieux-Québec, the only walled town in North America, sits high on a cliff. We climbed a long staircase up to the ramparts. There are many such staircases along the wall in addition to a few steep streets, providing foot access to the old town. Inside we found a warren of narrow, winding lanes and alleys, typical of a walled city.
Québec was the site of a definitive battle between Britain and France during the Seven Years’ War (the French and Indian War to Americans). By the end of the war the victorious British had conquered most of the territories of New France. There are many sites in and around the city related to the battle that took place in 1759.
First stop was the Notre-Dame de Québec cathedral. It was razed by the British after they conquered the city following the siege of Québec and subsequently rebuilt.
The most striking structure in town is the Chateau Frontenac, a turn-of-the-century hotel built to resemble a castle. It’s ringed by the Dufferin Terrace, a boardwalk that overlooks the St. Lawrence river. This wide walkway is tremendously popular with street performers, vendors and tourists. Not surprisingly, it was already packed with more people continuing to pour in. We decided to escape the crowds and take the La Promenade des Gouverneurs, a series of stairs that runs up the cliff from the terrace to the so-called Plain of Abraham.
The plain is the site of the Battle of Québec. In 1759, having unsuccessfully landed downriver at Montmorency Falls, British troops led by General James Wolfe made a daring landing here. The invaders made their way up the cliffs and surprised the small garrison. The battle was joined when French forces led by Marquis de Montcalm arrived on the scene. Both sides sustained roughly equal losses. Both commanders, Wolfe and de Montcalm, died from wounds received during the battle. After the battle, the French retreated, ceding Québec to the British. Nowadays the scene of the bloody battle is a park with wide-open meadows interspersed with wooded areas. Numerous species of birds are known to frequent the areas. Gentle footpaths through the woods provide respite from the sun.
Next stop was the Martello towers. They were built by the British to guard against possible attacks by the Americans during the years leading to the War of 1812, though they never saw action. There are 4 of them defending the heights. The first Martello tower is a small museum ($5CAD to enter). It consists of 3 level: powder room, living quarters and roof/cannon platform. Over the years, the Martello towers have served in various capacities, including as a water tower and a home! The museum isn’t very remarkable except for an old photo showing the thickness of the wall facing would-be attackers.
It was too hot to tour the Citadelle, so we headed back down to the Quartier Petit Champlain. This ancient commercial district, nestled between the river and the foot of the cliff, is now a bustling tourist area. Imagine Boston’s Newbury Street packed into an area half the size. There is a trompe-l’œil mural at the end of the street (as does Newbury Street). We had lunch at Le Cochon Dingue (the Crazy Pig).
Next stop was the Musée de Amérique Française. This place is quite interesting. The museum is on the grounds of a seminary, which it also shares with the Centre de la Francophonie des Amérique. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising because Séminaire de Québec has been an important religious and social institution since the early days of the city. Fittingly, the chapel hosts not only the sarcophagus of Bishop de Laval, the first bishop of New France, but also secular events such as meetings and concerts. The museum is very nicely done but small, like most things here. The first floor houses religious artifacts, the second the history of the Augustinian Sisters and the third artifacts from French immigrants across the Americas. For me the most important thing was the air conditioning, which made the place perfect for a small nap.
Our route became pretty desultory by this time. We headed back to the Basse-Ville with its gigantic trompe-l’œil mural, to Place-Royal—site of the church of Notre-Dame des Victoires, to the waterfront, then up to the star-shaped Citadelle via the busy Rue St-Louis. This road passes through one of the main entrances in the walls of the old city. It was packed with restaurants and shops. Traffic included horse-drawn carriages.
One side of the Citadelle is fenced so you can’t come to the edge of the “moat”, which is perhaps a good thing. The other side is an an open-lawn where you can get a good view of the Chateau Frontenac and the river. We ambled down to the old city wall and walked to Rue St-Jean, another main entry through the wall. Through the ramparts of an old watch tower, we could see Rue St-Jean below, which was packed with pedestrians because it was closed to traffic.
After an excellent veal dinner at where else but Le Veau d’Or, we headed down to the vicinity of the old port for the Cirque de Soleil show, Les Chemins Invisibles. It took place inside a fenced off area below highway overpasses. This was only 6-7 blocks from our B&B, so we definitely lucked out on the location. The place was packed, though not as much as you’d think for a free performance by the troupe. There were some trapeze and acrobatic acts and some other acts accompanied by a pounding soundtrack. I wasn’t really a fan before and I wasn’t gonna start now. We headed off to the Vieux-Port to see the Moulin de l’Images. The Vieux-Port was practically next door. Again staying near the center of the city paid off. Turned out the spectacle was projected movie clips and images on the wall of a 20-story warehouse/ factory on the riverfront. I though the images were annoyingly fuzzy until Kate pointed out it was 3-D. Silly me! 3-D was useless without glasses, not to mention the content was meaningless to us without some context. We called it a day, a productive one at that. We were quite impressed that there were so many events that made such a attractive city even more appealing.