A Year Older and Wiser

Trip Start Jun 12, 2012
Trip End Oct 18, 2012

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Flag of Canada  , Quebec,
Saturday, August 25, 2012

Howdy folks,

Well today is my 29th Birthday, Yay! Certainly the furthest away from home I've been and the second time that I’ve celebrated a Summer Birthday. No BBQ Picnic by Casade Ponds this year, it was the same continental breakfast at the hostel although I wasn’t complaining. I received a nice green Puma shirt from Steffie with a matching cap from Steffi, any guesses for my favourite colour? We were a bit unsure about how to spend the day because it was a bit up in the air as far as our accommodation went. We had been trying to get couch surfing in Quebec City because the hotels were more than $120 and we couldn’t stay another night in Montreal because they were booked up. It was still a 260km drive to get there so we decided to go and visit the islands before heading off.

Montreal is on a large island, but it also has a number of smaller ones namely Île Notre-Dame which has the Grand Prix circuit and Île Sainte-Hélène which has La Ronde Amusement Park and the Biosphere. We drove over Pont Jacques-Cartier over the Saint Lawrence River and abruptly missed our turn onto Île Sainte-Hélène and had to circle back from the other side. I really disliked how they had set up the bridges and turns on these two islands and when we took the bridge to the Grand Prix Circuit we couldn’t find a way to get to the Casino in the middle. After doing two circuits of the world famous and short track, I had to ask for directions and was told that we had to drive off and back via a different bridge!

I wanted to go to the Montreal Casino for lunch because they’re normally pretty cheap and I wanted to see what it was like. It was a giant beehive like structure with a maze of car parks underneath. I got checked for ID which doesn’t seem to matter even with a 7 week untrimmed beard. Most of the floors were set up for slot machines and I had never gambled before in any casino. However because it was my birthday I decided to buy $25 of roulette chips and sit down at a $2.50 table. Needless to say it was gone in 10 minutes, but it was cool to play for a change instead of just watching. There were a lot more high stakes people betting on roulette than me with half of them putting down 10 chips or more at any given spin. As with anything though, it just comes down to chance. We had a quick drink in the bar and some poutine for lunch and were on our way.

It was just as hectic getting back off the islands to downtown and then we found the expressway east. We stopped at Trois Rivières to grab an ice coffee, gas and food for dinner. We had planned to stop there as a halfway point, but we continued driving to save a day. Unfortunately there are no campgrounds near Quebec City so we had to drive 15kms out to Beauport to the municipal campground which actually turned out to be really nice. It was stir fry for birthday dinner before we drove back into town.

Every night over the summer they have a sound and light show in downtown Quebec. Like in Ottawa, the projection is against a building, this time being the silos on the wharf and it told the roundabout story of the history of the region with pictures instead of words. The sound effects weren’t great and it was hard to follow the storyline, but the way they used the silos as candles, piano keys, guitar frets and ammunition was well done. It was a bit tricky navigating the small, cobblestone streets, but we eventually made it back out.

This morning we got up after 8am and I had to walk back to the gate to get the car. After doing the domestics of laundry, we wanted to have a relaxing morning at the campground knowing that it would be a long afternoon exploring the old town. After lunch we drove into downtown and spent 30 minutes driving through the narrow, steep streets trying to find a park, but had to settle on a parking lot instead. It didn’t take us long to walk up inside the Vieux Quebec City Walls. The city has a long history compared to the rest of Canada being first occupied by the French and then under British Rule before finally joining Confederation as one of the first provinces. Two centuries ago, the British who had taken over the joint decided to build a fortification to ward off any American attacks. As a result there is also an old citadel and many cannons on display.

We walked up the main pedestrian street and up to the first gate which gave us a good view of the stone buildings. Up at the next gate was a marching band parade which showcased a number of military bands from Quebec, Chile and the USA. We watched the tail end of the parade before heading outside the walls to take a look at the Quebec National Assembly, but it was undergoing renovations and we didn’t want to take a tour. There was also a marathon being run and a few Pro-Separatist Quebecois protesting outside the front so it was abuzz with activity.

Next we walked up the cliff to take a look inside the citadel, but it wasn’t clearly signposted so we weren’t sure if we could go all the way inside. It was at this point that the stresses of travel overcame me and quite frankly I threw a hissy fit and decided that I needed a few hours to myself. So I plugged in my iPod and spent the next few hours walking around and having a look at the other sights in Old Town including the boardwalk, Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, Notre Dame and the university.

Eventually I met up with the girls again lining up at the free Cirque du Soleil show at 8pm. It was located under two highway bridges in an open arena and seemed like an odd outdoor setup. There was an amassing crowd and we waited for 30 minutes before the doors opened and we all rushed into get a vantage point. It was another 30 minutes for the show to start and it lasted an hour so we were pretty sore from standing for 2 hours. The show was good although the story line wasn’t so cohesive, but the acrobatics were cool and the performers are pretty amazing. If I get the chance to see another one I would definitely do it. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get a good ride home as all the traffic from the show left at the same time and it took us 30 minutes just to get out of the parking lot.
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