Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Quebec Photo Diary; Trek America Canadian Roadtrip Day 23

So you're going to have to bear with me, there are a lot of photos in this post. I would say make yourself a cup of tea and snuggle down but I really don't think this is the kind of blog to keep audiences enthralled by the photos for the duration of an entire cuppa - unless you drink yours pretty fast?

In any case, I hope you enjoy having a flick through these pictures from Quebec and that they help you to get a feel for the place if you've never been. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the city (except for the impressive Chateau Frontenac which features quite heavily in these photos) so our time there was more of a pensive wandering rather than an organised march. We stumbled across some beautiful sights around the city though and particularly loved the walk around the old city wall. 

In fact, I'd say that Quebec was one of my favourite parts of our Trek America Canadian Roadtrip (I know, I've said this - or at least thought it - a lot, namely about Jasper, Banff, the Athabasca Glacier and Toronto). It had a beautiful, old world charm that kept us enthralled throughout the day and bloomin' good food at Le Clocher Penche where we stopped for lunch (pretty much the only planned part of the day, of course it revolved around food).

Talking of how my life revolves around food, today I got the happy news that my MSc thesis study won't be a gigantic flop - the experiment involves getting kids to play a simple computer game (that may or may not encourage healthier eating, we shall see) followed by choosing from some snacks (if you're interested in finding out more about this research which I have described terribly here, check out this paper written by my supervisor). And today I got the go ahead from two schools - yippee! It probably doesn't sound like a big deal but after months of agonising over participant recruitment, I am finally on a roll. Touch wood.


Back to Canada and Quebec and Trek America and all that jazz.

We started out with a casual stroll near the hostel, passing Parliament Hill and heading up to visit J.A Moisan, one of the oldest grocery stores on the continent.

This brought us nicely to the neighbourhood where Le Cloche Penche can be found - we had their very decently priced lunch menu and for the life of me I cannot remember what we ate (I had given up writing a travel diary by then and this was August last year so I'm afraid your guess is as good as mine when it comes to what's in these pictures - bad blogger!) On the other hand, I remember that it was good and that we left very well fed and very happy and that's all that matters - you should go.

It was very chic and very French. Which reminds me - that's something I don't feel I was adequately prepared for when visiting Quebec. When people say they speak French in Canada, they ain't talking about second languages. No, no, no. We're talking full-on this-is-a-French-language-environment/you-may-as-well-be-in-France.

I do not speak French. I managed a few basic questions and stuff. Of course most people also speak English. But it was a big shock for a massively uneducated person like myself. Take a phrasebook.

We made our way back to the old walled city, conveniently passing a chocolaterie that sold icecream cookie sundae things, and climbed up onto the walls to take a stroll around towards Chateau Frontenac which we had seen glaring down at us from the river the night before.

We tried and failed to get a decent photo in front of the Chateau. This was the nicest one of us (below) but you can't really see the iconic structure too much so... we'll just roll with a combination of that pic and the others which actually show the hotel..

After that, we spent our last hour wandering slowly through the old city, looking at the streets we'd seen in the darkness during our ghost tour on the previous evening.

And then we sat on benches and watched the squirrels chasing each other around the trees, resting before going back to our hostel to get ready for dinner and preparing for the last full day of our Canadian Roadtrip adventure with Trek America!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Arriving in Ghostly Quebec: Trek America Canadian Roadtrip Day 22

We left Montreal in the pouring rain and made our way onwards towards the historic city of Quebec. The sky was so stubbornly grey, it leached the life and colour out of the landscape as we sped on down the motorway.

Spirits on the bus were pretty low too; as we'd pulled away from our (relatively) cushy hostel in Montreal, we'd waved goodbye to James and Rachel, the honeymooning couple of the group. It had only been three weeks since we'd first been thrown into the van together but as with all roadtrips, our group had become a family. Moreover, their absence signalled the impending culmination of our journey.

(Which isn't too horrendous when your final destination is NYC but you know what I mean).

Our first stop of the day was Montmorency Falls where we unloaded for a picnic, huddled beneath dripping shelters. The plastic ponchos came out in force that day as we battled against the odds to stay dry. Clare in particular rocked the used condom look...

The falls looked dark and menacing as we crossed those flimsy planks of wood that separated us from a tumble into cold oblivion. The rain slicked the ground, sending us slipping in all directions as we made our way to the viewpoint. Whilst I had laughed at the others in their odd combinations of ponchos and flip flops, I came to realise that my own outfit of a rather ineffectual raincoat and old, holey Converse was much, much worse. Within minutes, I was absolutely soaked and freezing cold to boot. By the time we squelched back to the base, I was so wet our fellow trekmates burst out laughing at the sight of me!

The prospect of having to sit in the van for another couple of hours and then try and dry myself off in a tent resulted in a full-on toddler-style strop. I'm not the kind of person who can grin and bear it when I feel like a soggy pile of shit and much moaning was done at that point, I'm sorry to say. But happily everyone felt the same way so Chad organised it so we put our spare food budget towards hostel dorms in Quebec and everyone was instantly super happy again!

And then there was Quebec itself...

It was absolutely beautiful.

Our evening activity was a ghost tour around the old city. I'm a huge sucker for a good ghost story, even if they scare the living daylights out of me. There's nothing better than an eerie mystery, linked to a tragic tale with just the tiniest suggestion of danger.

We grabbed beavertails from, um, Beavertails (this time I went for the cinnamon and sugar classic which was much more manageable than the glorious Oreo beavertail I'd attempted earlier in the week) and waited around for our guide.

Who suddenly appeared with a swish of his cape and a tip of his hat!

I've been on a fair few ghost tours before and let's be honest, they're not exactly scary are they? They tend to be pretty kid friendly and leave you chuckling rather than trembling by the end.

This was not one of those ghost tours.

Some of the tales were suitably eerie; tragedies on the river, premonitions and witches. But some were absolutely terrifying (for me at least).

As we stood overlooking the city, we were told of the pair of red eyes that would come at people in the dark in one old house near the very spot where we were stood. A number of murders had occurred in that house as a result; family members and spouses driven to despair and killing one another - by mistake, as they defended themselves against the red eyes.

And then the bone-chilling tale of the shadowy woman seen in one old church.

Made all the frickin scarier by the fact that he told us this story inside the pitch black church, lit only be a very dim handheld lantern! My lord, I thought I was going to die.

He told us of her, the numerous sightings and the countless theories as to who she was. Perhaps she was the mourning mother who had lost her child and came to ask forgiveness in this holy building? Or was she the woman who, in the absence of her husband, had had a fit of narcolepsy and been mistaken for dead and buried in the churchyard... alive? Upon his return he had realised their mistake and disinterred her (now dead) body and her coffin, complete with scratch marks all up the inside of the lid...

Needless to say, the Quebec ghost tour experience is pretty damn creepy and worth every penny. We scarpered to the pub and drank (and ate) our fears away!