October 6, 2017
Quebec City was our last port of call before the end of the cruise and I was looking forward to seeing this historic French town. Our daughter loved it when she went there a year or so ago.
Since our tour wasn’t until the afternoon, we decided to get off the ship in the morning in order to get online and also thought of having lunch at the market nearby. Several people were sitting in the lounge on the second floor of the terminal to check their email, etc. We spent awhile doing that, then we took a walk.
It was a couple of blocks’ walk on Rue Dalhousie, which runs parallel to the dock, to get to the market Marché du Vieux-Port. Along the way, I saw two rather strange things, which I found out later were art installations. One was an array of white miniature canoes suspended over the water, and the other was a small trailer with what looked like a bomb on top!
We walked through the market – there was a lot of food and I particularly noticed the strawberries – amazing that they looked so ripe and delicious in October! Later I found out there are two strawberry growing periods here – one in May through early July and then another in Sept.-Oct.!
We looked for places where we could eat and finally came to a sort of food court. We ordered sandwiches and sat at a table outside, overlooking a pier full of yachts.
We had to be back at the terminal to meet our tour by 12:45. We got back at 12:35 and already the groups were assembling. We showed our tour tickets and were put into a relatively small group, around 16, with a red-haired tour guide named Sandrine, who joked that we could also call her “Sardine,” it didn’t matter!
Sandrine was very knowledgeable and funny. Her English was excellent but she did have a French accent. She asked us questions, to engage us, some of which had obvious answers, some didn’t. I tried to take notes but it would have been impossible to keep track of everything she told us.
What did rich people in the 18th century do if they had to relieve themselves during the night? An outhouse, more than one of us guessed. No – oh, yeah – a chamber pot! In the morning, a servant would collect the chamber pots, lean out the window and yell out a warning to those below, “Allô, …” before dumping the contents out onto the street below. Sandrine said that this was the origin of the word “hello,” which we got from the French allô. This is why we now greet people with this word – it was the first thing a servant emptying chamber pots in the morning yelled to passersby below! This is also why men wore capes – to protect from the pee being dumped out windows!
Quebec is the only city in North America with walls.
The city was founded by French explorer and navigator Samuel de Champlain in 1608. Sandrine showed us a street that showed the building of the city – it was marked by wavy lines with dates on the curb alongside.
The wavy lines indicated the water level of the St. Lawrence River on that date. In 1700 it was a good way down that street, but by 1800, the city had been built up and pushed back the water.
We stopped at Parc Montmorency, where Sandrine showed us a mural that occupied an entire wall. The mural was very realistic – it was a street scene, flanked by buildings and people leaning out of windows. Other people were on the street. It looked so real that one could easily imagine entering one of the doors depicted or walking up the street. Some of the people in the mural were famous; others were just ordinary people. Sandrine pointed out a few of them, including Jacques Cartier, who was leaning out of a window. Cartier was a Breton explorer who first laid claim to this area and named it using a native word, kanata, the Huron-Iroquois word for “settlement.” This is how Canada got its name.
Sandrine pointed out buildings made with yellow brick, which had been originally used for ballast and came from Scotland. Later, people used them to build their houses.
I noticed several buildings decorated for fall and Halloween, which is apparently becoming popular here! There were pumpkins (not carved) as well as scarecrows and straw. Fall flowers, like mums, added more color to these displays.
We took the funicular up to the upper Old Town, where the Château Frontenac, a huge hotel which dominated Quebec’s skyline, was located. While waiting, I watched the crowds of people coming down and going up a nearby stairway, which also leads up to the upper Old Town.
Quebec got its name from a native word kebec, which means “where the river narrows.” (I knew the answer to that one!) The correct pronunciation is KE-bec – the /u/ is silent, which is the norm in Romance languages when the /qu/ is followed by /i/ or /e/. So we Americans are pronouncing it incorrectly. I will try to say it properly, I told myself. Canadians pronounce it correctly.
The Château Frontenac is surrounded by a square; the side with the best view is a wide sort of deck. There is a statue of a man with a sword,
but far more interesting is a sculpture by Salvador Dali of an elephant hanging in the air attached to a wooden triangular pyramid.
I looked down into a gap in the floor with a window covering it. There was a man down there, looking at a painting.
Although we were going to have tea at the Château, we didn’t go in yet. We explored more of the Old Town. We saw but didn’t enter the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. This church was on one end of a large plaza, Place de l’Hotel-de-Ville. Some large buildings around it were government buildings, hotels, or apartment buildings. A long building surrounded by gardens was the Quebec Seminary.
We did go into the Basilica-Cathedral Notre-Dame de Quebec, where we learned about the holy door (only 6 of these in the world) that was opened on the 350th anniversary of the founding of the cathedral. There is also the burial place of St. Francoise de Laval, whose birth and death dates were given as 1623-1708. He was the first Roman Catholic bishop of Quebec.
See my previous post about the Basilica-Cathedral, with more of its history and photographs. I actually had expected this cathedral to be much more lavishly decorated, but it was rather subdued compared to some I’ve seen.
We returned to the Château and entered a large lobby, very elegantly decorated. Sandrine said it had recently been remodeled and she didn’t like it much – she didn’t like the blue ceilings, nor a “strange creature” painted alongside cherubs and such.
We were led downstairs to the Dufferin Room, where tables and place settings were set up for us. Everyone had a plate with six small pastries (all of which were delicious), a cup and saucer, and a tiny jar of honey. On the saucer was a packet of tea. When opened, the tea bag was triangular in shape. A woman came around and poured hot water into our cups. The tea was very good, especially with a little honey. We were told we could keep the jars of honey, so I wrapped Dale’s and mine with a tissue and stored them in my camera bag.
On our way back, Sandrine pointed out a tree next to a house and asked us if we noticed anything unusual about it. Yes, it was turning! It was another of the art installations; there were eight of these in all, spread around this part of the city.
You can tell which buildings were built by the British, because they usually had windows with larger panes; the French used smaller panes, which were all they could afford.
Some buildings had a post sticking out near the top, which had been used for pulleys to pull up goods delivered by wagons.
We walked back down to the lower Old Town on a street with a steep decline. We cut through the Musee de la civilisation to get back near the dock.