We have a tendency to travel based on pretty pictures. After making a very quick decision one evening that we wanted to spend Christmas at a destination, we did a Google image search on “picturesque Christmas destinations”. We quickly saw this picture, and knew immediately where we were going:
We really knew nothing about Quebec City other than the fact that it was primarily French speaking. What better place to spend Christmas than where it is snowy and actually looks like winter? Add to the fact that it basically looks like Europe without having to spend 10 hours on a plane over the holidays. Flights were booked that very evening, and soon thereafter I found an amazing apartment right in the heart of the old town.
About a week before our scheduled departure, it became obvious that a rather nasty storm was imminent for the entire eastern seaboard of North America, and it wasn’t exactly a snowy storm either. Much rain was expected, which was going to wipe out within a matter of hours all of the snow that had previously fallen in the area. Bummer. When we arrived in QC, the storm was just beginning and as we walked out of the airport to the taxi, the snow literally changed to rain within seconds. Not to be deterred, we were blown away with the charm of the city, weather be damned.
We headed directly to the apartment and were definitely impressed with the place.
Despite the rain, the air was remarkably colder than that which we are accustomed, so we bundled up and set out to recreate the picture which drew us to QC in the first place before all the snow melted. We were a little late for the snow, but I still think it turned out pretty nice!
I was struck by how few people were out and about in the area. It was very quiet, calm, peaceful, and quite drizzly, with little bursts of flurries here and there.
We had heard about taking the Levis ferry across the river at night for the best view of the city, so right after taking this photo, we crossed the street and boarded the ferry. We were maybe one of 10 passengers aboard. Made for a really nice, relaxed vibe.
The following day we set out to explore the city in the daylight. It really does feel like you are in Europe with the very old (by North American Standards) architecture. Today was Christmas Eve, and the city was even more deserted than it was on our arrival day!
Quebec City is divided into an upper town (Haute Ville) and lower town (Basse Ville). The Basse Ville was settled first and contains the oldest architecture in the city. It is home to the old town, with some amazing cobblestone streets and a fantastic antiques district, where we bought some wooden skis from 1910 for a great price. Getting them home was another story – they were about 12 feet long, and Air Canada lost them somewhere in Toronto on the way back (tracked them down eventually!). Here is a view of the upper town:
After a day exploring the city, we had a fantastic meal at a lovely restaurant on Rue St. Jean called Le Patriarche. They were so accommodating of our vegetarian needs and presented us with a full vegetarian 7 course meal. I can not recommend this restaurant enough – definitely will need reservations! After dinner we headed back to the apartment to get in our xmas eve pajamas and Skype with the family back in Texas for our annual gift exchange.
Joyeaux Noel! Christmas morning, we exchanged our gifts to one another and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the town. We started with a decadent Christmas brunch at the restaurant within Chateau Frontenac, and were visited by Father Christmas himself! After brunch, and with not much open, we decided to try our hand at ice skating. We had a debate to decide who would bust their ass the hardest that day, but despite a few close calls, we remained on our feet for the whole experience!
December 26th was more exploration of the city, we visited the Musee de la Civilisation. Today, everyone finally came out of the woodwork in droves, and the city finally had a human presence! After visiting the museum, we drove out to the beautiful and serene Parc National de la Jacques Cartier.
We quite enjoyed our peaceful and very unchallenging hike through the Canadian wilderness. We had the place to ourselves. In the distance we frequently heard wolves howling.
December 27th was my birthday, and I’m always up for some kind of adventure. We had originally booked some sledding on Le Massif, the local mountain, but the rain had erased too much of the snow and they called to cancel. We instead chose to go snowshoeing near Mont Ste. Michele. After much initial frustration at having no freaking idea how snow shoes worked, we finally figured it out, and hit the trails. This unexpectedly became a highlight of the trip after a very trying start.
I really enjoyed the experience of visiting a city of which I had no knowledge or expectations. I was very impressed with the vibe of the city, and every local we encountered were friendly and welcoming. Language was not much of a barrier – the primary language was French, but most were able to communicate rather easily in English. We always try and learn at least a few pleasantries in the local language of any place we visit, which I think is a good idea to give a good impression to the locals, and might make them a bit more open to having a positive exchange with you. We did encounter an older gentleman manning the booth of the parking lot in which we kept our rental car that spoke no English. It was quite a game of charades we had to play in order to communicate our plans, but it all worked out in the end. Quebec City is a great choice for the Christmas holiday, and I would love to come back and see the city in the summer.