Picture of unesco_marker Quebec City is the oldest city in Canada, with the site discovered in 1535 by Jacques Cartier and the city founded in 1608 by Samuel Champlain. It is the only walled city in Canada or the United States, every guidebook will inevitably call it the 'most European' city in North America and it is one of the most visited sites in Canada. UNESCO has designated it a World Heritage Site as a good example of a fortified colonial city. It is in fact the only fortified French colonial city in North America.

Picture of parliament We started our walking tour of the city outside the walls at the national legislature building. An odd title for a provincial capital. We stayed about a half-mile from the gates to the old city which seemed like a good economical choice at the time. It's also a good way to discover just how mind-numbingly cold a half-mile walk can be, at least in January.

Picture of chateau All of the most recognizable pictures of Quebec City feature the Chateau Frontenac. It is a very impressive building but it is sort of unusual that a city's defining landmark happens to be a hotel. It was built in 1893 by the Canadian Pacific Railway company who seem to be responsible for a good percentage of all the truly recognizeable buildings in Canada.

Picture of city_gate Old Quebec is split into upper and lower town and all the connotations that go with those two words apply here. The upper town is higher being built on a plateau. It was also the wealthy, refined section of town, and the part that is protected by the fortifications. From the modern downtown section (also on the plateau), there are several gates that lead into the city. This is the Porte St. Louis.

Picture of frontenac The streets of the upper town are a maze of narrow alleys. With a few exceptions, there are not all that many souvenir shops. Rue St. Jean and the area around the Chateau are what you might expect, but it is easy to wander off into quieter areas of the city which are still largely residential. The one exception seems to be restaurants which are scattered randomly across the city and are a good way to get inside a cross-section of historical homes and buildings.

Picture of street Speaking of food, Quebec City is a great place for French cuisine (with a bit of a Canadian influence). Compared to the rest of North America at least, it is quite reasonable to eat an elaborate multi-course meal here. At lunch it seems to be cheaper to get the three-course 'table of the day' at most restaurants. This tended to be soup, a choice of entrees, and desert. We tried a couple local specialities including tortiere, which is basically a meat stew in puff pastry and maple pie which is one of the sweetest substances on the planet.

Picture of flags We also spent a fair amount of time in bars and pubs. This is largely David's fault because he doesn't drink coffee so whenever it became just too cold we stopped in for a beer somewhere. Quebec is a goldmine for beer lovers. They import a wide variety of Belgian beers regularly and there are a healthy number of local Quebec varieties as well. We recommend the Pub St. Alexandre on Rue St. Jean for the beer selection, and the first floor bar in the back of the Chateau Frontenac for the view.

Picture of dufferin_terrace Terrasse Dufferin is a long elevated walkway on the edge of the plateau. It has great views of the lower city, the St. Lawrence river and the eastern suburbs of Quebec City.

Picture of frontenac2 The terrace area features quite a few things to do in the winter. Just to the left of this picture is an outdoor ice-skating rink, although if you can't find a place to ice skate in Quebec in January you aren't trying very hard. The foreground is the end of a sledding run (more on that later) and there are various other activites going on at any time.

Picture of maple_snow For instance, one vendor pours hot maple syrup onto snow where it freezes almost instantly. The resulting taffy-like goo is rolled up on a stick and eaten, resulting almost certainly in a severe sugar overdose.

Picture of riverview During our visit, the St. Lawrence was only frozen in selected bays and inlets. Large chunks of ice did not seem to deter normal boat traffic, including ferries to Levis, the city across the river in this photo.

Picture of port The terrace runs from the Chateau Frontenac to the far side of La Citadelle. La Citadelle is a massive star-shaped fortress which protects the eastern side of the city. Eventually the terrace gives way to the Promenade of Governours which is a precariously balanced elevated walkway just below the walls of La Citadelle. Far below is a more modern section of the port of Quebec.

Picture of sledding As mentioned, there is a rather antique looking sledding run just outside the chateau. For a couple dollars per run (or by the hour), you can drag a heavy wooden sled up to the top of this ramp (see stairs on the right side). There is a release system that allows you to mount the sled in safety. Once everyone is set, they hit the release and off you go. Kind of slow and rickety at first it eventually builds up quite an alarming amount of speed. There's not much to hold on to and you should definately do your best to keep arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times as those little ice walls are hard.

Picture of citadel Here is Melanie (and a good percentage of all the winter clothing she owns) in front of the upper side of La Citadelle. It doesn't look too impressive from this view because you can't see the wide and deep moat (now a service road) between the snow drifts and the fort walls.

Picture of abraham_plains The area along this side of La Citadelle is known as the Plains of Abraham. This was the site of perhaps The decisive battle in Canadian history where the English forces defeated the French in 1759. Nearly everyone of any importance seems to have died in the battle and has a statue somewhere in the vicinity. Nowadays it is a sprawling park with sledding, cross-country skiing and ice skating (of course) in the winter.

Picture of place_royale We haven't said much about the lower town yet, mostly because we didn't spend too much time there. This was once the red light district, so to speak, of colonial Quebec. It's a good walk down from the upper town. There's a funicular near the Chateau once you've seen enough stairs. The lower town has some interesting architecture but it's harder to escape the crowds here. The area around the funicular in particular was extra dense. This is the Place Royale, the oldest section of this oldest city. We're told there are street performers galore here in nicer weather but only one musician was willing to brave the cold on this day.

Picture of montmorency Just a few miles up the St. Lawrence river is the suburb of Beauport, best known as the site of Montmorency Falls. These are invariably billed as 'higher than Niagara', which they are. They aren't nearly as impressive as Niagara of course but they are quite scenic and most surprising is how close to the autoroute they are. Literally you drive right past the base of these falls on your way into Quebec City from the east. We have no doubt this is one big tourist trap in warmer months. The parking prices are exorbitant, as are the trips on the cable car which takes you to the top. In the winter, everything is free (everything that isn't closed that is). The next picture is a view from the top looking down at a section of the falls.

Picture of ice_and_water

Picture of falls_view From the top you can hike to an overlook on either side of the falls, connected by the footbridge you can see here. From the bottom (about a 5 minute drive away) you can spend a really long time trying to carefully balance your camera in the snow because you have no dexterity left in your frozen fingers. Or, if you prefer, you can hike around the right side of the falls (as this picture goes) up to the platforms at the top (stairs galore). If you're lazier and wealthier you can take the cable car which is just off to the left of this picture. Unfortunately you can't see the ice-climbers in this picture but it is quite impressive that they hadn't either fallen or frozen yet.

Picture of skyline Quebec City's skyline as seen from Montmorency falls. The Chateau Frontenac is on the far left. The central section is the more modern business district. Incidentally, we don't recommend trying to find a bank in Beauport. There are a few zillion in Quebec City proper, so get money before you range out on side trips or you may end up trapped in the same mall parking lot we were in.


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