Are we in Canada or Europe?

Trip Start Oct 07, 2008
Trip End Dec 10, 2008

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Flag of Canada  , Quebec,
Monday, December 8, 2008

After a fantastic few days in New Hampshire, we bid a fond farewell to Eric and Christine, picked up our rental car, and headed for the border.  The drive through Vermont and up into Quebec took us most of the day, but the increasingly snowy scenery was beautiful and it was nice to be on the road, heading for home (well, our home country, at least!).

It was dark by the time we arrived in Quebec, and it didn't take us long to realise that the GPS which came with our car didn't take account of one-way streets.  That realization came soon after the realization that downtown Quebec city is composed almost entirely of one-way streets.  After several slightly hair-raising wrong turns, we finally made it to our hostel - only to discover that it appeared to be closed.  After repeated knocking and attempted phone calls, we gave up and went searching for a hotel instead.  Luckily for us, the Holiday Inn was only a few blocks away, still open, and had plenty of spare rooms - sometimes, it's nice to be able to count on the bigger hotels.  The only downside was the the hotel appeared to be filled mostly with American university students on a 'skiing' trip (i.e. a trip to Canada to take advantage of the lower drinking age), and at any given hour of the day the elevators and hallways seemed to be filled with intoxicated co-eds.  Luckily for us, the hotel staff had kindly given us a room on a separate floor so that we only had to brave the drunken masses on the way in and out.  Good times.

The next morning we got up bright and early to return the car, and were struck by the fact that we were definitely back in Canada in the wintertime - we woke up to snow flurries and -20C.  Luckily, Dan had been hauling Gabrielle's down jacket around in his backpack for the past two months for just such an occasion as this (really, what are husbands for?!) and we bundled up and set off.  After dropping off the rental car we wandered the streets for a while, stopping occasionally at cafes to warm up with a hot drink or popping into shops to check out the Christmas decorations.  We had to remind ourselves several times that we were back in Canada, not Europe - with the combination of beautiful old stone architecture, cathedrals, cafes, and the sound of French spoken everywhere, it was easy to forget that we were in North America.

The next morning, we met up with a friend of Dan's, Matthieu, who is the lead designer for the massive Quebec City winter festival, Carnaval de Quebec.  Since it was the weekend, he very kindly offered to give us a tour of his work, and of the city, and off we went.  Our first stop was his workshop, where we got a behind-the-scenes tour of the carnival floats, posters, toys and plans for the ice castle.  We had no idea it was so huge - apparently it is the biggest winter festival in the world, and attracts more than one million people for 17 days of celebrations beginning in the first week of January.  We decided that Matt has one of the coolest jobs in the world.

 Our next stop was to pick up Melissa, a friend of Matt's who works in the tourism industry in QC, and the two of them proceeded to give us a personalized tour of all the highlights of this beautiful city.  After a glass elevator ride in one of the big hotels to get a good view over the city, we walked into the historic quarter which was really like something out of a postcard with all the stone buildings decorated for Christmas and shoppers bundled up against the cold walking through the snowy streets with brightly wrapped packages.  We headed down to the river, with Melissa giving us a fantastic commentary about the history of the city, and stopped in at the famous hotel, Chateau de Frontenac, a stunning old building which is now a very expensive hotel.  We peeked in at the Christmas decorations before heading down to the river where a woman was selling traditional maple taffy, maple syrup boiled then poured over snow so that it hardens into a chewy, sweet, sticky treat.  Yup, we were definitely in Canada after all!

By the time we finished our tour through the rest of town it was late afternoon, so we said thanks and bid farewell to Melissa, and headed back to Matt's for dinner with his wife and very happy, drooly baby son.  

After thanks to Matt for all his efforts in showing us around, we headed home to pack up before flying out tomorrow.  A quick morning stop for poutine (for those of you who aren't Canadian, it's french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy, basically a heart attack in a bowl but ohhhhh so good, especially when it's freezing cold outside....), and then we're on our way to the airport!

 Once again, we have been overwhelmed by people's generosity and hospitality in sharing their home towns with us, and we definitely plan to come back to Quebec City - hopefully next time for Carnaval!

All our best from Quebec,

Dan and Gabes
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