Canada Trip #5 – Streets of Quebec

Our first destination in Canada was Quebec City so we headed directly there after departing Burlington.  We had rented a lovely apartment in the old city, near the port, to be our abode for a few nights.  Except for a bit of a fankle over parking and an exceedingly narrow entry staircase, the accommodation was completely perfect for our needs.  We were within easy walking distance of everything we wanted to do in the city, with all its hustle and bustle, yet our street was calm and quiet in the evenings.  It was also a relaxing place to chill in the evenings and early mornings.


Once we had organized ourselves in the apartment, we headed out for a late afternoon stroll.  My husband and I had stayed in Quebec in 2001 – in the red roofed inn you can see in the background of the photo of Mr Pict – and had absolutely loved our time there.  Our visit back then had coincided with a celebration of Quebec’s colonial history so we had engaged with all sorts of festivities around the old city and, therefore, had not done much in the way of touristy things.  We had, however, come away pretty smitten with Quebec and were hopeful that we were correct and that we would all be just as impressed this time.  We wandered up the Cote de la Montagne with the aim of showing the boys the Chateau Frontenac.





The Chateau Frontenac is a historic railway hotel that dominates the skyline of Quebec’s upper city.  Built in the 1890s, it was designated a National Historic Site in the 1980s, and I read that it is the most photographed hotel in the world.  I am probably responsible for a few hundred of those photographs.  What appeals to me about its architecture is that it makes me think of the wonky castles I have drawn as either fairytale or spooky buildings.  I especially love its asymmetry and its turrets and towers.  The interior is as swish as you might expect, with lots of marble and dark wood and sparkling glass.  I imagine it must be a pretty swanky experience to stay as a guest there.




We walked the kids through the hotel’s ground floor and popped out on the Terrasse Dufferin.  This functions a bit like a wide promenade or a beachless boardwalk and it had a really buzzy atmosphere.  We could take in the view across to Levis, look through glass at some of the archaeological dig sites beneath our feet, and watch some of the street performers.


After walking up to the Parc du Bastion de la Reine to take in the spectacular views over the city, everyone was getting really hungry so we went off in search of a place that sold traditional Quebecois food.  Mr Pict had eaten a meat pie back in 2001, the memory of which has made him drool ever since, so his objective for our evening meal was to find a place selling meat pies.  We found plenty of places selling Quebecois fare but they were either way out of our budget or really not appropriate for dining with children.  Finally we found the perfect place.  The younger kids ordered pizza and pasta, I ordered poutine (I love poutine), and Mr Pict and our oldest son ordered a Quebecois feast.  This started with pea soup and ended with a maple syrup tart and the entree included the very meat pie Mr Pict has been reminiscing about for almost two decades.  Obviously not the exact same meat pie because a) he ate that one and b) that would be gross and fatal, but one that was apparently identical to the fondly remembered pie.  Mission accomplished.


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We strolled back through the streets to head back to our apartment but we stopped off first at the riverfront where there were water features blasting water and venting steam for the boys to play among.  They got absolutely soaking wet but thankfully the apartment was just a very short walk away so they could walk back through the streets barefoot and dripping.











Caribbean Cruise – San Juan, Puerto Rico

Our next port of call, on Boxing Day, was San Juan, the capital city of Puerto Rico.  Our ship was one of several cruise ships in port that day so the place was bustling with tourists.  It was quite funny to see these absolutely massive boats moored up next to a replica of one of Columbus’ ships.  Incidentally, it felt like I was being haunted by the malevolent spirit of Christopher Columbus for the entire vacation.  References to him abounded everywhere we went.  For so many reasons, it would be great if history could reframe his “discovery” of the Americas by placing it in a more appropriate and accurate context.  But I digress …


We were disgorged from the ship in the old city which was convenient as that was the area of San Juan we most wanted to see.  We immediately headed up to Castillo de San Cristóbal, hoping that it might be open despite the government shutdown.  For once, we were in luck, thanks to the wonderful employees of the National Parks System who were willing to work without pay in order to keep historic sites open to the public.  One of three forts on Puerto Rico, this particular fort is the largest that the Spanish built in the New World.  It was in continuous use from Spanish colonial times all the way through to World War Two so has a long and varied history.


Mr Pict likes military history more than I do so he and his father took more time reading the information boards while the kids and I enjoyed exploring the fascinating architecture, poking around in all the nooks and crannies, and taking in the amazing views across the city.  I had read that Puerto Rico has more iguanas than humans so the younger two boys had their fingers crossed for an iguana encounter.  Thankfully we did indeed meet an iguana who was not too skittish and allowed us to get up close.  Our 9 year old decided its name was Tim.  No idea why.











After we left the fort, we had a wander through the streets of old San Juan.  I loved all of the architectural details, the diversity of building styles, and the bold colours.  We strolled some streets that retained their blue cobblestones from Spanish colonial times.  I was really quite taken with San Juan and – since the cruise could only ever give us a brief taster of each location – I found myself being left thirsty for more.  Of all the places we visited on our vacation, I am most eager to return to Puerto Rico and take in more of not just San Juan but the whole island.