Saturday, July 01, 2006


Sketches of Quebec City (Part One)

I'm never going to get around to writing the epic post that sums up our sojourn in la Belle Province, so I've decided to cover it in a series of vignettes instead. I'll try to post them over the course of the next couple of days.

We made, I decided in the end, a tactical error in choosing a Holiday Inn in downtown Quebec City over a more picturesque inn in the old city. For those of you who have never been there, the old city is an 18th century walled city perched atop an escarpment, looking down on the St Lawrence river. Our hotel is in the commercial district, a twenty minute walk from the old city. Twenty minutes seemed entirely accessible when making the booking through the Quebec tourism website, but a lot less so when Simon, Tristan and I set off on a wander shortly after arriving in Quebec City. Beloved, here to do research for his upcoming course in Quebec Art, has set off in the other direction toward the Musee des Augustins de l'Hopital General.

We are in no particular hurry, and set off without a specific destination in mind. Many of the tiny streets are only wide enough for a single car to pass, and the buildings crowd the street on either side. We wander down what seems to be a main street, and my stomach is tense trying to herd my wandering nomads through the pedestrians and away from the heavy traffic. Quebec has just passed a bylaw similar to the one that prohibits smoking in public spaces in Ontario, and the sidewalks are thick with cigarette smoke and loitering displaced smokers. The skies are heavy and threatening rain, and I'm not incredibly impressed with this first taste of a city that everybody raved enthusiastically about before our departure.

Then again, it could be that I'm a little cranky from the long drive (we sat on the highway for more than an hour while an accident was cleared away less than 700 metres ahead of us) or from the greasy lunch of pogos and french fries at the Bigfoot Madrid gas station, buffet, monster truck zone and plastic dinosaur exhibition (talk about brand confusion) a few hours ago.

I'm idly hoping to stumble across a mall, or a department store, where we can find - of all things - a magic wand for Simon. He found a piece of black tubing broken off another toy at Nancy's place, and has fixated on it as his 'magic wand'. Unfortunately, the treasured magic wand went missing somewhere in transit and Simon the Magnificent is apparently powerless without it.

We walk a scant two blocks from the hotel, and I'm beginning to realize we're never going to make it as far as the old city, when I see a shop window with a lovely display of toys in it. We walk along, and the next two windows are similarly decorated. Hardly able to believe our luck, we pull open the doors to the largest, nicest toy store I've ever seen. Not only do we find magic wands, but we find - gasp! - train tables, and a full-sized train that is sadly only run on weekends. Simon busies himself with a doll house, Tristan settles in at the train table, and I stand guard nearby, gazing about with wonderous relief.

Dinner an hour later is a comedy of preschool shenanigans, funny to the few young men sitting at the bar in the otherwise empty (thankfully) small restaurant we have chosen to subject to the boys' antics. The hotel guide recommended it for pizza, paninis and burgers, which seemed a perfect family-style combination. In retrospect, the raised eyebrows of the welcoming server when I ask for a table for two adults and two children should have served as a more clear warning that this is not a child-friendly establishment. It is not unfriendly, exactly, but moreso unprepared for the hurricane that is my boys.

They refuse to sit still, slipping in and out of their seats and under the table. They tug the tablecloth and rattle the silverware. Simon insists on holding his own glass tumbler, and while Beloved and I focus our attention on him, Tristan elbows his own full glass all over the table. After carefully mopping up the ensuing puddle, with a look between amusement and pity the server brings over a box of pencil crayons and markers and earns a tip half the price of the meal. The young guys watching with amusement at the bar chuckle when I reach across the table and gulp half of Beloved's pint in one weary pull.

The boys refuse to eat, so I eat half of their incredible club sandwich (made with real turkey - exquisite!) after downing my own sicilian pizza. Beloved raves about his reuben panini and the belgian sauce (garlic mayonnaise) that accompanies his home-cut french fries. It is a delicious meal, what I taste of it in my hurry to swallow it down and get the hell out of there, and I am grateful to the patient kindness of the server and his cronies.

By the time we make it back to the hotel, the boys are clamouring for a swim in the hotel pool. I am disappointed to find that it is so deep in the shallow end that Tristan can barely touch bottom, and I have to hold Simon in my arms. By the time we make it back upstairs, I am overtired, overfull, and rather cranky. We all fall asleep to Regis Philbon and America's Got Talent, having never even made it near the old city.

Continue reading Sketches of Quebec City with Part Two.