After 2 days of gray skies, rain, and wind it was very nice to pull back the curtains and see a beautiful blue sky framed by the bright yellow leaves of the trees along the escarpment. Our hotel was only a block away from the cliffs that made Québec City a military stronghold and the view from our 7thfloor window of the trees in their early autumn finery providing a front-piece to the historical sites on the plains up above, greeted us each morning.
One last breakfast in the hotel restaurant and we were back out on the cobblestones heading for a morning up above. Having a late flight (5:00PM) and arranging for a late check-out allowed us a lot of flexibility to visit the upper town – Haute Vieux Québec – it was almost like having another day. We followed our now well-worn path back to Place Royal, past that most amazing trompe l’oeil ever, and once more by the Sun King in the snow globe. The biggest difference on this morning was that the streets were mobbed with people, no doubt due to the weather, the cruise liner that had docked overnight and the long line of tour buses parked along the river. Popular place this time of year, mainly due to the changing leaves.
Rather than crawl back up the steep streets we opted this morning to take the Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec that runs from Rue du Petit Champlain up to the Place d’Armes next to the Chateau Frontenac. Built in 1879 and rising 195 feet, it cuts out a twisty street and a lot of slippery iron stairs, $2.50 well spent to save our old knees. Being early, there was no line – we paid, stepped forward and up we went.
With no particular place in mind, we headed down Rue St. Louis, thinking we’d browse the shops and restaurants. I was still harboring the notion that I wanted to visit the Citadel fort, but its location way up high on a hill was daunting, particularly from the boardwalk below. But now we were a bit higher up, so we took a turn and wandered into the neighborhoods between the Hotel Frontenac and the fort thinking we might be able to more easily address the incline by cutting cross-country. But every time we turned a corner, we were faced with yet another street that looked like it was perpendicular to where we were standing. So instead, we turned and went up a short dead-end past some beautiful brick row houses and into Parc du Cavalier du Moulin, a small shady park that stood atop a fortified hill guarding one of the flanks of the Citadel. A couple of small brass cannons, a nice view of the rooftops and amazingly two small groups of schoolchildren well-managed by their teachers. Quite a bit different than the hordes at the Musée and perhaps demonstrating hope for the future.
Down some stairs and back out into the streets. We crossed Place d’Armes a second time and found our way to the post office to mail a postcard. We try to do this wherever we go simply because it’s one of those tiny adventures that add color to a morning out exploring. This one was, once we took the hardest way into the building – up stairs, down stairs, up stairs – only to discover once our transaction was complete that we walked right past the door on grade. Ah well, like I said, tiny adventures.
Now in full tourist mode we went back around the corner and found Rue du Trésor, a tiny alleyway dedicated to local artists. We stopped at the first stall and had a nice chat with the woman about her art – quaint scenes of the city and quite a few of the local birds, one of which I had to have. We talked at length about hummingbirds, we me wowing her with tales of our species and feeders. The street was mostly in the
shade, and so quite wintry. She told us the first frost had been the previous evening. A bit further down we stopped and acquired another small piece, a beautiful water-colored pen and ink of a location in the lower town. She told us that the spot was in the Rue Cul de Sac, behind one of the most historic homes in the lower town, the Maison Jean-Baptiste-Chevalier, a 1752 home faithfully restored to its original design and furnishings. More importantly though, Rue Cul de Sac is famous in a more modern way – the street has a ceiling made of umbrellas. I’d seen a photo of this, and filed the thought away, and had promptly forgotten it. Good news, one thing to fill the hour between hotel check-out and our departure time.
The night before we’d passed an interesting scene in the little park behind the Hôtel de Ville (city hall) and so went back that way to try and find it. Turned out to be a celebration of harvest and Halloween with multi-colored pumpkins and a giant spider. More interesting though was a 6-foot tall Richard Mille Chronograph watch tucked into the corner of the park. Mille is famous for his timepieces which range typically between $150,000 and $1,000,000 (yes, you read that right.) You often see them (they’re unmistakable) on the wrists of famous athletes. Mark Cavendish, professional cyclist and Odell Beckham Jr., famous football player, are often seen competing in them. (Wouldn’t it be nice to be the groundskeeper who finds the one Beckham loses in a game?) It was a real treat for me being a watch aficionado and wholly unexpected. Constructed of the same materials and enlarged pieces and parts as a wrist-sized version, this one had a 40-lb. counterweight to provide the winding since it’s not moving around on someone’s wrist. It also had dual time scales, one for its location, and one for Jura, Switzerland, from whence it came.
A few more streets and a few more photos and we found ourselves almost on the level of the long-forgotten Citadel. But time was running short, so it was back down to the funicular and lower town. Our earlier timing had been exquisite – there was now a line out the funicular office and well down Rue Sous le Fort.
We checked out of the hotel, gave our bags to the concierge and went back out looking for the umbrellas and some lunch. Both were easy to find, and I was quite surprised that we had not been to that spot earlier in the week – we’d walked right past the turn that would have taken us there. We took some photos and had lunch in a little restaurant just beneath the brollies – wood smoke, waiters in checked flannel shirts, local menu.
Leaving there we thought we’d take a spin back up Petit-Champlain one last time. A young woman pantomimed asking me to take her photo, which I did, and to which she responded “Grácias.” Leaving no opportunity unrealized I asked if she was from Mexico, and indeed she was – Puebla to be exact. Ice broken, we had a nice conversation in Spanish on the main street in the oldest Francophone city in North America about mole, San Carlos, and visiting Québec. Once again, small world.
The hotel called a taxi for us and within minutes we were on our way to the airport. This trip was via a much nicer route, along a quick and scenic parkway that hugged the St, Lawrence. Far better than the ride in, which was through malls and light industrial and pretty much everytown. While the airport is quite a bit out into the country, we were there and to our gate within 40 minutes.
And now it was time to focus on the matter at hand – getting home.
When I booked these tickets, I must have been in a bit of a fog because if there is one thing I do well with airline tickets it’s planning our layovers intelligently. This time, not so well. I guess it didn’t occur to me that Québec was an international destination, because I left us a mere 90-minutes to make our transfer. Normally I allow about 3 hours, maybe a hair less, but never less than two. So now I had something to stew about for the next 4 hours. Additionally, while I’ve connected through O’Hare internationally (Ireland) in the past, I had only a vague memory of how to get from the international terminal back to domestic. Some kind of people-moving train was what I recalled. Having some time on my hands and a decent Wi-Fi connection, I went to the airport web page and looked it up. There in bold red writing was an announcement informing me that the people-moving train was out of service for upgrades and expansion and that the airport authorities had instituted a shuttle bus service to “safely and efficiently meet the needs of travelers requiring inter-terminal transfers.” Wonderful, another thing to stew about for the next 4 hours.
Our plane left on time, soaring up and over stands of trees now in even brighter autumn colors. The flight made good time and the view out the window was good right up until dark. First the reds and yellows and oranges of Québec and then a layer of clouds, rendered golden by the setting sun. Looking at my watch, my spirits soared along with the plane – we were on schedule to arrive 20-minutes early, thus moving my transfer buffer into the green zone.
Landing to a sunset that was worthy of the beach in Mexico, we taxied along and came to a complete stop in the runway. The captain informed us that there were “5 or 10 planes ahead of us” and so we’d be sitting there for a while. The “while” turned out to be the 20-minutes we’d gained so there we were right back on schedule.
Immigration and Customs were choked, but they didn’t present much of a problem as we are proud users of the Mobile Passport app that allows us to skip every line. At the end of the long-haul from the airplane, a young woman asked if I had the app and opened a new lane just for us. We were through there in 3-minutes and on our way to Customs. Where there were lines. But while standing there I noticed an empty line to our left and squinting my eyes I saw it was dedicated to users of our little app and so we waved goodbye to all the people waiting and cleared that last hurdle in a minute or two. Looking at my watch, we had hope.
The “efficient and safe” shuttlebus solution turned out to be neither. Poorly marked, terribly planned, sporting incompetent drivers and crappy buses, it was a nightmare. Crowded, hot and mis-managed. No announcements at stops, doors that wouldn’t open, employees that stared at you blankly, I could go on and on, however, we made through the traffic, off the bus, back through security and to our gate with exactly 30-minutes to spare. The funny thing is, the O’Hare web page predicted 51 minutes travel time, and it had taken us precisely 50.
As it turned out, the rush wasn’t important – our plane was delayed 20-minutes. And then it was delayed 30. Then following an announcement to the effect of “There is something wrong with the engine,” another 20. But we got on the plane and flew home, arriving only about 2 hours late.
But what a trip, Québec turned out to be just the perfect little getaway. And excellent hotel, friendly people, a beautiful city, great cuisine, clean, no smokers, easy to get around. Just delightful, and on our list for a return trip with a few more days next time around.