MLW needed 1800 miles to maintain her gold status, so we went looking for some small trip that would be interesting, but not on the grand scale of crossing an ocean. Ideally somewhere that would deliver the miles, be interesting enough and not require an epic amount of detailed planning. Problem was, there are few interesting 1 or 2-hops from Albuquerque, and I just wasn’t moved by any of the domestic cities on offer and most of the international options were simply too far away and costly to merit serious consideration. But after a lot of scheming, I finally found the perfect solution – Québec City – a little bit of France within a day’s travel from home.
I had been there twice previously, first as part of my high school’s Christmas break French Class trip (never mind I was taking Spanish) and that one ended with all of us being kicked out of the Chateau Frontenac Hotel for conduct unbecoming civilized young men. The second time was post-college when I steered my pickup truck across the Adirondacks and up along the St. Lawrence River to the Gaspé Peninsula, which at the time seemed to me like a bit of Normandy dropped down on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Obviously, the memories of those trips were long ago lost to the sands of time, so we figured it was time to make some new ones. I found us some flights and booked a hotel and we sat back and waited for departure day.
Which came very early.
I haven’t had a 7:00AM flight out of town since the days of China travel. I’d completely forgotten what it was like to lie awake for the only 5 hours of sleep I was going to get, and to rush around in a daze to get out of the house by 5:30. It’s kind of weird driving around at that time of day when you haven’t done it in almost 10 years between the commuter traffic and the street lights they’ve added to places you didn’t know needed one. But we made it to the airport and through security quickly despite a genuine crush of early morning travelers, arriving with only about 15 minutes left before boarding.
Everything was going swimmingly until they called the first boarding group, and everyone started to rush for that coveted first place in line. MLW and I had been standing close to the gate and she made it up to the second position without having to body check anyone. I was not so fortunate; some guy stepped right in between us and blocked my forward progress. I was okay with this transgression – who cares about one place, except that instead of continuing forward, he kept stopping and turning around and calling to his wife who had missed the break. “Sweetie, sweetie” he said. “Come here.”
I tolerated four or five stops before finally making my way around him, to his left. He didn’t like that one bit and said, “Sir, where do you think you’re going.” I told him I was simply trying to figure out what he was doing instead of moving along with the line and he responded that he was waiting for his wife. I suppose you could make a case for stopping and waiting for someone in a moving line, but I’m not sure what it would be, so I said, “Well, my wife is right there.” He waved me past.
The flight out of town was quite extraordinary, the sun was just coming up over the Manzanos and the sky was a bright, bright orange. The plane made a turn to the west, flying over our little house before turning east and passing through the gap between the Sandias and the San Pedro Mountains. Once out on the plains, we flew over clouds that were like a giant cotton hodgepodge of crazy vertical shapes, for lack of a better description like a sky-born version of the chimneys of an old Victorian city, turned golden by the rising sun.
Crossing the plains and then the Midwest reminds you of just how different the central part of the country is compared to where we live. Every inch of space is divided into one kind of farm or another, lakes are abundant, and the farmland mosaic is broken here and there by rivers, growing in width as they approach their terminus at the Missouri or Mississippi. We crossed the latter where what appeared to be a giant flood, expanding the width of the river miles in both directions. A short time after that, Lake Michigan came into view and then we were on the ground in Chicago. Where we waited a long time for a parking space for our plane before finally arriving at our gate and unloading.
MLW left me with her bag and went into the ladies and while I was waiting, the guy from the boarding fracas came up to me and apologized for our little incident. I told him it was no big deal, and that I’d only been trying to figure out what he was doing. He laughed and said apparently, he’d been trying to figure that out too. I asked him where they were heading, and he said “home,” that they’d been celebrating their anniversary in Taos and Santa Fe which they had enjoyed immensely. His wife appeared and off they went, leaving me with a reminder that manners still exist in our modern world and that momentary travel friendships can appear when you least expect them.
Failing to gain admittance to the American lounge (it turns out that American Airlines thinks that Canada is not an international destination,) we had a nice lunch and caught our next flight an hour later.
We took off out across Lake Michigan, curving to the northeast across Michigan proper. It clouded up quickly so I couldn’t get a firm understanding of where we were heading, so I spent some time reading and napping. About one hour into the flight, the skies cleared, and I could see that we were flying parallel to the St. Lawrence River. A few cargo ships dotted the water, separated by a mile here and there. We must have passed over Montreal while still in the clouds, because the scene below was now completely rural with long rectangular farm lots running perpendicular to the river. The Captain came on and said we were about 40 minutes out, and just about then the land changed again – big uncut woodlots at peak autumn foliage – yellow, orange, gold and red, a color palette I haven’t seen in the 30 years I’ve been in New Mexico. Not since the old days of driving home down I290 in Massachusetts have I seen colors like this.
We landed a bit early. The airport was modern, and nicely appointed and almost entirely abandoned – I guess they don’t get a lot of flights in and out of here. Customs was completely automated with kiosks and helpful agents to get you back on your way. We caught a cab into the city, chatting a bit in French with the driver, laughing at one point about some dummy in a hot-rod Dodge Challenger who was trying to make as much noise as possible while stuck in traffic. I told the cabbie he made me feel at home.
Hotel 71 is our domicile for the next few days, opting this time to do this instead of our typical apartment rental. Three night didn’t seem worth the bother, and we have no need of laundry. Nice place, a conversion of the former Bank of Quebec building. Spacious, nicely decorated rooms and a free breakfast. Located in the center of the Old City.
Dinner was had at Echaude, a French-inspired brasserie just around the block from the hotel. MLW had a sumptuous duck breast, I had a stuffed saddle of rabbit. Truly French cuisine and a great waiter with whom to talk about food, language and history.