If we had to choose the first moment in our journey, when instead of carefully planning every move we just let everything to come naturally, it would definitely be Quebec. We met wonderful people here and experienced some quite surprising adventures. And despite occasional doubts – “Are you sure it was a good decision?” – in the end each of them turned out to be an amazing experience and we have no regrets.
Fun fact to start with: Residents of Quebec province, and especially Quebec City, very often call themselves Quebecans. They refer to themselves as Canadians less often. Sometimes they can feel offended when someone asks them “Are you Canadian?” – “No, I’m Québécois!”.
Quebecans consider themselves a separate nation within united Canada and they really value their individuality. They express it especially by cultivating the tradition of speaking in French and the culture and history of French-speaking Canadians.
As far as our stop in Montreal was not planned, we really wanted to stay in Quebec City. The city charmed us completely the minute we arrived. Why? While Montreal has some places that make you feel like in an European city, Quebec City is a piece of Europe moved to Canada.
Belonging to UNESCO World Heritage List historic center is divided into two parts – upper (Upper Town) and lower (Lower Town). Upper Town is surrounded by city walls (which are the only walls on the continent north of Mexico). Due to its location this part had more important strategic value and that’s why the administrative and military facilities were located here. In addition to the very well-preserved city walls, one can here admire fortifications of the Citadel along with the museum held inside or the Parliament building. The most recognizable building of Quebec is located in the Upper Town, and at the same time it’s the most photographed hotel in the world – Château Frontenac. Rising over surrounding area, the hotel is one of the main tourist attractions.
To visit the most beautiful part of the city you don’t need a car. Only part of the street is authorized for traffic in both Upper and Lower Town. This is not an issue since the most pleasant way to explore the historic center of Quebec City is to go on foot. Buildings originating from the XVII, XVIII and XIX century create the amazing atmosphere of an European town. People interested in history certainly will see here the connection and mixing influences of both French and British culture.
The center of Quebec is not the only place in town worth recommending. Definitely worth mentioning is one of the most famous waterfalls on the East Coast of Canada – Montmorency Falls. Located only 12 km from the historic center the waterfall is around 30 meters higher than Niagara Falls. And although Quebec is a city where you can easily find a place to escape from the crowds of tourists, the waterfall and the surrounding park create a unique atmosphere that makes you want to stay there for longer.
Jacques-Cartier National Park
We mentioned at the beginning that we started to let things come naturally in Quebec City. A great inspiration came with the group of exceptional people that we met at our Couchsurfing host – Benoit, Mayra, Lena, Jean-François and Anass. An incredible mix of characters and cultures from different parts of the world that we got to know a bit while sharing many long and interesting conversations.
On our first day Benoit gave us the city map with hints on what’s really worth seeing and an invitation to go with him to the National Park near Quebec City the next day. The decision was really quick – he really didn’t have to persuade us 😉
Jacques-Cartier National Park is located less than 70 km from Quebec City. It’s the perfect place for a picnic or camping by the river. In summer you can take advantage of the many trekking trails or go canoeing – and in winter go skiing on prepared slopes.
Our all-day trip to the Park started with a picnic by the river, after which we went on a 3-hour route to reach the two viewpoints. However, neither picnic nor walking along the river and the views gave us such joy as did … a moose ;).
Finally, after more than 2 weeks in Canada, we got to see a moose! He walked between the bushes just 20 meters from the tourist path, and he didn’t pay attention to us watching him. After the meeting, Dawid had his frequent question – “Did you see a moose?” into the statement “We saw a moose!”.
Time to see whales
Seeing how much joy we had after seeing a moose, Benoit suggested us to go 200 kilometers northeast of Quebec City – to Tadoussac. The confluence of the two rivers – freshwater Saguenay and saltwater St. Lawrence – swarms with a large amount of krill, making Tadoussac and surroundings a place that whales visit often.
The second unexpected opportunity – this time we needed a day to think it through, before we decided to go. We booked carpooling and prepared for a longer (than seeing a moose) adventure. Just by a coincidence, a trip to see the whales led us towards much bigger of our dreams – meeting the indigenous people of Canada in their village hidden in the forest, far away from cities and civilization. However, more on that in the next blog post – here 😉
We arrived to Tadoussac area day later than we planned. There was also a moment when dark thoughts came to our minds that we will not get there from the “end of the world” in which we found ourselves (with indigenous people) the day before. However, we managed to make it. And it was all thanks to Jean and his wife – they picked us as we stood in the forest far from civilization, hitchhiking on the only road in the area, about a half hour before the sunset. Not only they gave us the lift and helped us to find and arrange camping for the night – they even gave us their sleeping bag, so we wouldn’t freeze in the middle of the night.
Although initially we wanted to buy a boat trip to see the whales, eventually we gave up the idea. We decided to try our luck and hoped that whales will swim in the “range” of our binoculars and camera.
The next day we woke up early in the morning and sat on the riverbank. From time to time we heard the characteristic sound of the air exhaled by whales, but we didn’t see anything. Finally they appeared and we sat there enchanted, just staring into the water. Several whales, one by one, emerged for few moments, just to dive back into deep waters of the river. Some were moving toward the river Saguenay other toward the ocean, some of them even got closer to the shore. And we could just spend the whole day, if we just didn’t have to get back to Quebec City. After we returned, we were more than happy, because our journey through Canada has brought us a lot more surprises than we expected.
- In central Quebec, there’s a historical funicular between the Upper and Lower Town. Single ticket costs 2.25 CAD (1.70 USD).
- The cost of renting a room for one night in the most famous hotel in Canada – Château Frontenac starts from 449 CAD (340 USD) + extras such as parking or meals. This price does not include taxes, of course.
- If you would like to see the panorama of Quebec City you can choose from two options: 1. Édifice Marie-Guyart, measuring 132 meters of height, the tallest building East from Montreal. There are two terraces – access to lower costs 10.25 CAD (8 USD), and access to the upper one costs 22.95 CAD (17 USD). 2. Go to the Hotel Le Concorde that is 91 meters tall. There’s revolving restaurant on the top floor that remarkable view over the city skyline from a height just slightly lower than Édifice Marie-Guyart. As for cost, it depends solely on you – a good beer costs about 6-7 CAD (4.5-5.5 USD) and glass of wine is 8-9 CAD (6-7 USD). You can check the prices in restaurant’s menu.
- Speaking of food – traditional Canadian dish/snack, originating from the province of Quebec, is poutine. It is a dish consisting of French fries and cheese, topped with gravy, and its price strongly depends on the place in which they are ordered. We managed to eat poutine for 4.50 CAD (3.50 USD), but at some restaurants prices reach up to 20 CAD (15 USD) per serving.
- There’s an entrance fee to the National Park Jacques-Cartier. Single, one-day ticket that can be purchased at the entrance to the Park, costs 8.50 CAD (6.5 USD).
- Just a reminder – an easy and fairly cheap way to travel around Canada is carpooling (sharing a place in the car and gas cost) – sample websites to look for: www.kijiji.ca www.kangaride.com or www.carpoolworld.com.