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Reports

Saturday, 19 April 2003
Verdun Montreal --> Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

Let's leave Montreal, I have been here already very long and there are another few places in the Quebec province where I am invited too. Today I am heading to Quebec City.


And with Quebec City as my next destination, it gave my hostess Ann Guy and her sister a good reason to visit their aunt nearby Quebec- and to go shopping there! That meant I had a lift!

We left early this morning, at 9.30am we were already on the highway north east. Along the highway suburban areas changed into bare brown farmland, which looked ready to get green any moment now.

After a few hours driving we arrived at the farm of Ann's sister. It was just outside St-Antoine de Tilly. The youngest sister of Ann runs a leisure farm with her husband and I enjoyed playing around with the two young lambs, chasing chicken and petting the big rabbits they were having in the warm shed. Around the property there were still big piles of dirty snow, melting away as I looked at it.

And just after 1.30pm we crossed the St-Lawrence River from the south shore to the north shore and entered suburban Quebec City.

They say Quebec City is Canada's most beautifully located and most historic city. Vieux-Quebec (Old Quebec), surrounded by solid fortifications, is the only walled city in North America.

I was immediately struck by the differences between the province's main two main cities. Montreal is international, dynamic and very cultural. Quebec City seemed to be more a glooming provincial town, bound up with a very visible military and religious past.

Some quick history of Quebec City…
Quebec City originates as a fur trading post almost 400 years ago. Then the city was under French rule between 1608 and 1759. The colony's first Catholic missionaries arrived in 1615. In 1759, the famous battle of the Plains of Abraham would alter the course of the colony's history that had been, until then, relatively uneventful. The English won the battle and took control of the city, then later the colony. The following year, France signed the Treaty of Paris, thus transferring ownership of New France to England and putting an end to the Seven Year War.

In 1775-1776, American troops tried, and failed, to capture Québec City. Over a period of a few years, different Canadian cities played the role of national capital, including Québec City. Even today, Québec City is still referred to in French as the
Old Capital
. Following the adoption of the British North America Act in 1867, Québec City became the capital of the province of Québec.

Anybody who has ever been to Quebec City will know the statue in Samuel de Champlain at the Place d'Armes.

I guess this because that is where bus loads of tourists were dropped every five minutes. There aren't many places in Quebec where the majority of the people on such a small patch in a city speak Japanese either!

With the fascinating Hotel Chateau Frontenac (Canada's most photographed building) as a backdrop and the St. Lawrence River as my lookout, I contacted my only hostess in this city to let her know I had arrived.

Lucie Bruneau picked me up with her white Nissan some fifteen minutes later.

She drives me through narrow brick stone streets that go up and down, drive through gates and suddenly we are at the river shore of what seemed to be called Petit-Chamberlain. If the car Lucie drove was an Aston Martin I would have been James Bond!

Lucie immediately started off with the tourist tour through the city, starting at the Lower Town, between the fortification walls and the river where the over-touristy Rue de Petit-Champlain is located. We actually had a quick walk through this area, because it wasn't more than a tourist attraction with arty souvenir shops, historic souvenir shops and a few souvenir book shops, however all located in interesting a style of houses I have not seen in North America so far.

I you would drop me here without me knowing where I was, I would first guess I was in Europe.

Lucie shows me the oldest church of North America, the Notre-Dame des-Victoires (1608), and as we drive along grand historic buildings she quickly mentions it is the post office or a government building.

My hostess used to work at the ministry of international affairs. "I was a hostess," she told me as she buys us a ticket to get on the ferry over the St-Lawrence River. "You have to see the city from the river, it's beautiful!"

On the ferry I enjoyed the panorama I was offered, but tried to know my francophone hostess a bit more, which cropped up very difficult. As she searched for the right words in English, I tried to understand the sentence she was trying to construct.

She told me she used to take out foreign minister's wife when they would visit the city and the minister had to do business. "I would take them around and show them everything," she said. "But some only wanted to go shopping all day!"

"I love to be outside all day, instead of being confined to an office all day. I would hate it if I have to raise my hand to go to the bathroom!" And she stirred up angry as she spoke.

While having a coffee on the ferry as it heads back from the other side of the river to the city centre, Lucie told me what happened to her last year. With theatrical gestures with her hands and all details about what exactly happened I could conclude she suddenly had a brain stroke one evening. She ended up at the intensive care where she was treated for three days. When they let her leave the hospital, she suffered amnesia and could not walk properly anymore.

"I was crazy at that time," she tells me, "very crazy! But I am doing much better now. You see I am still a bit crazy, but not much any more. Look! I am walking without a walking stick since one week now!" I noticed she expressed the joy of a teenager.

She once heard about me through a friend of hers and was fascinated. "I have travelled too, but with little money. When I was a young student I used to paint wooden pearls and made necklaces of them. I sold them to stores and that's how I made my money to travel."

Lucie has lived in Quebec City most of her life. She grew up in Montreal, but her father took the family out of there because he did not like the city anymore.

As she told me her life stories, Lucie the Tour Guide also continued, and we drove through the higher part of town again. "Quebec is Iroquois for 'where the river is narrow'," she said and more facts followed every minute. "Lot of land around Quebec is owned by religious congregations." And "The schools in Quebec are mostly run by priests."

With her brain stroke she lost the ability to work at the ministry of international affairs. "I am still recovering. I can barely concentrate. I can not read any books any more." Lucie told me that she can't even listen to 'music with words' any more, so in the car we listened to old cassette tapes with classical music on loud as she hummed along.

"A friend of mine is an attorney with clients who haven't paid their bills yet. That friend offered me a job to make some money, because I am not making much at the moment. It only means that I will have to chase mostly criminals to get money from them. I don't know if I can really do that, you know."

Lucie lives in an area just fifteen minutes away from the city centre. When we arrive she right away complained about her landlord who lives below here. As soon as I enter her apartment on the second floor with all my bags, her phone rings. It is the landlord complaining about the noise we make with our shoes on the stairs. This made Lucie very angry at the man as I can understand from the French language she spoke. "Damn! We are not even inside for three minutes!" she said.

My hostess lives in a small apartment, but big enough for her, Lucie said. I am given a guest room where Lucie makes a bed of a futon. My bed for the night. She pours me some 7Up and starts up her computer to check her email.

I end up having a quiet snooze on her couch. The sounds of classical music from her stereo in her small living room really made me relaxed. "Hey Ramon, why don't you take a ot bath?" Lucie asked me (I write ot, because francophones actually can't say the h, just a fact I needed to share). "It will wash away all your tiredness." I am glad to be offered a good bath and anything is allowed to take away any drowsiness of me at any time!

After having this great really ot bath I got back into the living room and saw that Lucie had already prepared the dining table. A big pan of oil was boiling in the middle and I was invited to join in with dinner. Nice, my first fondue in Canada! Now that's something different! "I like doing fondues," Lucie said, "I don't have to stand in the kitchen a lot and now you cook at the table."

Lucie was using peanut oil on a little burner and one half a potato was swimming around in the hot oil to keep it from cooking over. The only inconvenience to this potato was that when the potato was burned totally black, the entire room we were sitting in was blue of smoke. And of course this made the fire alarm go off. It was just hysterically amusing to see Lucie hit the fire alarm on the ceiling with the stick of a broom and hoping that the landlord wouldn't call to complain about the noise. It actually helped by opening a few balcony doors and throwing the rest of the potato in the oil.

Right after dinner, Lucie had a bath herself and pretty soon announced that she was going to bed. "I sleep very bad," she told me, "sometimes I can't sleep, sometimes I sleep until 4 in the morning and the other time I wake up 12 hours later." We said good night to each other and when Lucie got to bed I installed my laptop on her kitchen table and spent the rest of the early night typing away while Kitaro was playing instrumental songs in the cassette player.

As Lucie is the only hostess in Quebec City, I will be staying with her another day tomorrow, before heading out northeast again.

Good night Quebec City!

Ramon