Last Friday, I was stepping out of a taxi — one of the few taxis I’ve ever been in — and into the heart of French culture in North America. I suppose sometimes I’m too easily enamored with anywhere that’s foreign, but it’s hard not to be with somewhere as charming as Quebec City. My family and I had come to explore the old part of the city over a long weekend. And, honestly, there’s so much that I want to share that it’ll definitely require another blog post. (And that post will mostly be dedicated to food — namely poutine — and must-see places.)
Our little hotel sits between the St. Lawrence River and the fortifications that still surround most of old Quebec City. Winding hallways lead to beautiful rooms that combined a sleek, modern style with stone walls built by the French in the 1700’s. And, as icing on the cake, there is even a small kitchen with a cook top (which came in handy every evening).
Cafés, shops, and hotels are nestled together throughout the old part of the city. Most cafés are small — a cluster of tables outside and as many as can fit inside — and sometimes it’s hard to know where one ends and the next begins, but all of the ones we tried were filled with friendly people and incredible food.
From our hotel, we walked everywhere. It’s easy to do since the area is only a few miles, though there’s plenty of walking uphill and on rough cobblestones. But none of us minded since there’s something new to see around every corner and the cobblestones are charming (even if you trip on them once or twice, like me).
There are three major historical sites: la Citadelle, le Chateau Frontenac, and Parliament. Each of them are old (though most of their structures are from Quebec’s time under British control — the only exception are two buildings in la Citadelle) and have quite a history behind them. More on that later, though. But one of them is hard for any visitor to miss: le Chateau Frontenac — the huge hotel atop the hill — is visible from everywhere in the city. For that reason alone, we have countless pictures of it.
Among its many claims to fame, this hotel was a meeting place for Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and W.L. MacKenzie King (the Canadian prime minister) during WWII.
My favorite part, though: speaking and listening to French. After two years of it in college, I haven’t kept up with it nearly as much as I should have, but I was impressed by how much I remembered (even though some of the Québecois vocabulary is a little different from proper France French). Most of the signage and people are bilingual, but there’s something wonderful about overhearing conversations or reading plaques in another language and understanding the gist. It certainly rekindled my love of the language. Needless to say, I plan on adding reading French into my weekly routines.
There’s also something special about immersion in a culture that’s part of your heritage. My French Heugonaut ancestors came to America in the 1700’s for religious freedom. They lived on the frontier, were killed in raids, and fought in the Revolutionary War. Since Quebec City is the heart of French culture on this continent, it’s a little piece of that part of my heritage.
Have you visited a place related to your heritage? Have you been to Quebec before?