1997: Europe 2004: Canada/UK

Quebec City

Wednesday 26 May, train ride to Quebec City

Another long train ride. Time for some more reading…

Something else which I discovered on this second overnight ride to Quebec City. I was very curious as to how the train conductors remembered, for overnight trains, who to wake up and at which stop? They didn’t seem to be using any electronic gadgets nor a list of passenger particular and, plus, depending on availability of seats, they don’t seem to mind if passengers changed to a different seat.

Curiouser and curiouser…

Well, it turned out there was a very simple and low-tech solution. The conductors simply used a post-it note which they stick on the luggage compartment above each person! This was done immediately after they have verified that you have a valid ticket. May not be elegant but definitely straightforward and simple to implement!!

Thursday 27 May

Reached Quebec very early – around 6am. Naturally was still quite sleepy because there was shuttle transfer (in a mini-van) at Charny first, which was about 45 mins away by car. The transfer shuttle dropped me off at the main train station. This was still a good 15 mins and long climb away from the bed-and-breakfast place I had reserved. Since there was extra charge involved to ask the mini-van driver to drop me off at the B&B and the fact that the reception at the B&B was not open till 8am anyway, I elected to sit it out at the train station. This, I suppose, was as close as I had ever gotten to experiencing sleeping at an airport/train station while waiting for a delayed flight/train!?

My very first impression of Quebec City was a slight dampness in the chilled air, slightly foggy, and a medieval-looking city – due to the obvious looking Ch�teau Fountenac. The main river flowing through the city also gave me the strange feeling of going back in time, like those French “period” movies. Amidst all this, I was fighting to stay awake!

Had lunch at the Restaurant Le Relais, which is inside the old city and just across the road from the picturesque Ch�teau Fountenac. The decision for choosing a place was actually not an easy one, with many places along the same road, and all bustling with people – mainly tourists, and not necessarily foreigners like me, but many Canadians as well. In the end, settled on a place with smiling waitresses that was a little quieter and with a reasonably-priced menu. :-)

Did not intend to have a heavy lunch, but felt ravenous after smelling the food from tables around me… I chose a corner table with a streetside view and ordered pasta. I must say, the bread that was served was very, very nice indeed.

I am to happy to say that the mystery of the “cracker with the soup” was solved. Normally (as in from my previous experiences), bread is served together with the soup. However, since arriving in Canada, on quite a few occasions, crackers were served with the soup. Probably a French-Canadian speciality!? Anyway, I was more concerned on how did the locals eat the cracker-with-the soup?? Well, it seemed that I had the same style as the waitress’ father: throw the cracker into the soup until it is slightly softened. I hope that does not say anything about me…

The afternoon became very sunny and warm. I joined a walking tour of the old city, which lasted about 3 hours. By the way, this is something I do highly recommend because the old city, also known as the Citadel, is not very big and you do see and learn more by walking and seeing things up close. An example is the canon ball buried in the roots of a tree on the roadside – very easily missed. Or the opportunity to have afternoon tea in an old-fashioned house.

Had a very late dinner that night. In fact, I was already the last customers in the pizzeria and I was initially a little worried that they would not accept another customer.

I had a table by the streetside again, facing the main thoroughfare Rue St Jean. Sitting, while having my meal, I felt a little like James Stewart in Rear Window (directed by Alfred Hitchcock). Why? Because the window presented a kaleidoscope of people going about their daily business, heading to their final appointments for the day, or simply rushing home to loved ones.

There were the casual strollers, fast walkers, on bicycles, or in cars. They were totally oblivious of me, of course. There were satisfied customers coming out of the gelato shop (very nice by the way because I had tried it earlier…) at the corner. Then there were the surprises. Two groups of people meeting in the street and then, for some unknown reason, started dancing together! There were two girls dressed in totally black and white only, with their faces painted the same colour! Heading to or from a costume party, perhaps? Finally there was a couple walking their dog – a dachshund, just like the one I used to have.

Friday 28 May

The day started ominously, with dark clouds and a light drizzle. The drizzle did in fact turn to a heavy and windy downpour. I was a bit sorry to be leaving so soon, but after all, I still have a plane to catch (from Montreal) that evening!

However, despite the wet weather, still managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the Ursuline Chapel. This chapel is essentially a 2-in-1 chapel. There is one section which is open for public worshipping and another section – the cloister area – which is at right angles to the public section. The cloister is cordoned off (but still visible) and restricted to the Ursuline Sisters.

It was rather fantastic on the inside. Much of the artwork on display in the chapel are actually priceless antique treasures, like the altarpiece, or many of the paintings brought to Canada during the Catholic-Protestant conflicts in Europe for preservation. And, just to imagine, in the height of the Order, there were some 450 Sisters singing hymns together in the cloister area. What a sight to behold!

There are apparently only about 62 Sisters left, according to the lady at the door. The rows of empty seats perhaps reflect a little of the fallacy of the ideology of building a religious empire!? Perhaps the learning and perfecting of religion in solitude is not the way? Christianity is supposed to be practiced and lived by? However, the Ursulines were responsible for much of the education in the New France (as Canada was known) and Quebec.

After the chapel, I went a little further down the alley to the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. There was a local guide who told me some fascinating history about this church. Apparently, the pews used to have doors for keeping out unwanted family members; another practical use is to keep in the warmth in the harsh Quebec winters. The seat of the bishop was made from the Treaty Tree, which was an oak tree around which the native Indians used to congregate and held meetings. A treaty with the French was also signed under the same tree. To me it seems religion (at least Catholicism) was less political than back in Europe, which was part of the reason for the influx of migrants to the new land, I suppose? North America did succeed in providing a safe haven to those who were under religious prosecution.

Why the fascination with churches you may ask? For the tranquillity, perhaps!? Also, I believe at one stage in the history of mankind, the church (or religious institutions) was the main benefactor who sponsored much of the artistic expressions and creations. What it boils down to, an atmosphere for contemplation to marvel at the artistic creations of past masters. And, quite often, the acoustics are quite fantastic (as I heard at the Madeleine in Paris in 2003). I am quite certain that if I had more opportunities for travelling in Asia then I would make the point of visiting various historical Budhist temples, although I might be a bit put off by the hustle and bustle of the really popular temples. I do prefer some peace and quiet, even if it is out of the way.

On to London now!

Photos of Quebec City (opens a new window)

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