The Old World Charm of Montreal and Quebec
Driving down from Ontario, through Montreal to Quebec and back the same way gives you an experience of stepping into a quaint world of rich history, great food and artistic creativity on display. Enjoy the journey.
Living in Ontario, the neighbor province, it was long due that we visit Quebec the province and the city. That too, as visitors and tourists we have visited half the world already, then why not Quebec.
Through my employer, way back in 2008, I had visited Quebec city for a conference with an organised day tour for all us delegates. But my wife had not. Again, we had a wedding to attend in national capital, Ottawa in 1998 and had visited Montreal city for a couple of days then.
So here we go, I thought of giving it as a surprise gift to my better half and started with some planning. After my initial searches, I decided to stay one night in Montreal while going and again a night while returning.
As is my habit, I went off to the CAA to request a Triptick, a guide of maps and road conditions with alternatives. It is always of help. My total travel would be approximately 1520 kilometers, though we ended up with 1715 on my odometer. I must also mention, when my wife and I drive on tours, we take as many stops as we can on our way so that it is a relaxed drive.
I planned it to avoid the weekends to save some money and avoid traffic on roads. We thus set off on Monday morning leaving home just after 9 am. We stopped for lunch at Kingston, at a patio restaurant where food was just passé.
We reached Montreal by 3pm. I drove straight into the heart of the city through the downtown arteries, surrounded by some beautiful old town buildings and structures and conventional shops and cafes. I could easily recollect some parts that we had earlier visited almost a decade ago.
We made brief stops at some attractions and drove by a lot more. After parking nearby, a walk through the Sainte-Catherine Street, known as The Village was a must. The laid back life style, colorful surroundings, century old housing buildings, tons of bars and eateries, attractive shops and displays, and then the energy filled only pedestrian walk is an experience that stays permanently in ones memory.
Start near the Charles Campbell park and walk right up to the Marche Saint-Jacques, it truly is a great experience. Almost like the very heart beat of Montreal, in close resemblance to Europe in many ways.
We then stopped by the Atwater Marche for a pick of an excellent dinner, lavish serving of fresh fruits, some out of this world baguettes and finest choice of varied cheese with coffee at the end. For any tourist who is fond of fresh foods and quality cheese, a visit to Atwater Marche is a must.
Driving by The Planetarium, the Montreal Olympic Park and Tower, the famous Montreal prison, the banks of St. Lawrence river and stopping briefly at the Maisonneuve Park and Market is all great Montreal experience. By late evening we drove north west to our night rest place.
I had planned to spend a night and a few more hours in Montreal on return, but my desire to visit the Biodome de Montreal, the Montreal Insectarium and the Montreal Botanic Garden would be for another time. As all these demand more time and are best done at leisure. I left these as a cause for my return on a future date.
Tuesday morning, our host requested a complete one hour yoga session from my wife and we could thus depart for Quebec by 8am. There are three major highway routes to Quebec from Montreal, the interstate road 20, 30 and 40.
I decided to go via 40 and take the 20 on return. It was a good decision as we stopped at a gas and food station half way that had an information centre eager to provide any information and loads of some very helpful maps. They also sell some very cute nick-knacks that are locally made.
On entering the city of Quebec by 11.15 we searched out an Indian style restaurant for lunch. Located just south of Grande Allee and west of 73, I just cannot recollect the name; the restaurant did serve decent quality of food.
We drove straight into the heart of the city next. Finding a parking spot was a challenge, but we did park within walking distance of Chateau Frontenac, a landmark of old town Quebec. For rest of the day we explored all around on foot.
All road signs and guidelines are in French but I must admit it was not too difficult to understand. The city of old Quebec has an upper raised part, where we were, and a lower part that could be visible from the top. One can take the trolley, known as Funiculaire, to travel up and down from this spot. Then the imposing vast river of St. Lawrence and across is the old city part called, Levis.
We were booked to stay at Levis and planned to go only after the day was over. One had to take a steamer across or drive back to 73 to use the bridge, a 22 kilometer ride. In front of the Chateau, at the vast opening there is always a tourist crowd hanging around. A juggler, looked well over 70 years of age, started to perform some acts and gradually the crowd grew. The children in the crowd had a roaring time and the adults loved it too.
Once we rested, enjoying the acts of the juggler, we took to our foot again to exploit all around. We enjoyed every step we took. The beauty of the old structures, colorful window displays, attractive shops and food joints are memories to relish.
We walked across rue Des Jardins, Sainte Anne, Rue Garneau, Saint-Jean, de la Vieille Universite, Sainte Flavien, and many more upper downtown streets. We did shop a bit too, carefully buying things made only in the province of Quebec, mostly handcrafted. We picked up some excellent salads from an underground shop before we spent some leisure shopping time on Boulevard Rene Levesque.
The historical landmarks of this part of the city are impressive and imposing, they really work as memory identities that stays with one for lifetime. The Chateau, the Seminaire de Quebec, Edifice Place and Cathedral of Notre Dame are some such landmarks in the area. My Waze GPS system lead me to the ferry which carted vehicles across the river to Levis.
Levis is also a lovely part of the town. The old settlement has small pretty trendy shops and restaurants and the river side park and walk are simply beautiful. It also gives a pretty view of Quebec city and the Chateau.
Following morning we parked the car on Levis side and took the ferry across to exploit the lower city on foot. Just ahead from the point where ferry offloads is the Place Royale, the Marche Champlain and Dalhousie.
A walk able stretch from des Traversiers (the ferry point) to the corner of Dalhousie, all spread with old buildings and structures, authentic Quebecois shops and eateries.
With the Cathedral of Holy Trinity, the Notre Dame des Victories, The Museums of Place Royale and Civilization and a pillar post with the figure head of Louis the XIV. All of these are not something one can miss on a visit to Quebec.
The Place Royale was of keen interest for me as I remembered from my earlier visit. It was at the Notre Dame des Victories that Hitchcock had shot his celebrated film, I Confess, with Montgomery Clift. I could recollect the visual from the film and identify with the area.
The crowds grew and grew, the shops got busier and restaurants had long waiting queues. The small street Champlain down the stairs from Cote de La Montagne is probably the busiest part here and it deserves to be so.
Great food joints, coffee and ice cream parlours, cheese shops and authentic exclusive shops are on this street that are a delight for any tourist. This is one day spent in Quebec that will stay etched in my memory for long.
On Thursday, we decided to see the rest of the city, mostly western part from downtown, by driving through and stopping as and when we felt so.
Back in Montreal, we parked our car near the historical Victoria College and walked around, through the Montreal Eaton Centre, rue Sherbrook, the underground market places and the antique shops.
Thursday evening was my schedule to deliver a talk on Vedic values and Yoga to a small group of enthusiasts, with a session for questions and answers it went on till past 11 pm. Next morning, again after an hour of Yoga conducted by my wife, Preeti with our host, we started our journey back.
We took off from Highway 401 to drive on 1000 Island Parkway in Ontario from Brockville to Gananoque, a 50 km stretch that is extremely picturesque and exciting. Driving all along the lakeside till one reaches the small and pretty town of Gananoque.
The only regret that I was to have during this tour was waiting to be experienced in Kingston at lunch. We decided to visit the Curry Original restaurant at Ontario Street, heart of downtown Kingston. Not only was it really pricey, the food was just awfully bad and service even worst. Well, one thing though, it made me realise what a lovely tour we had had otherwise.
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