A Dubsmash version of an extended tour synced to 3 three language lyrics, Mandarin, English and Cantonese, and tyre music as we squeaked past surface splendors of Quebec, Ottawa, Kingston, Montreal and Thousand Islands.
Day 1….Our first stop is Thousand Islands (according to our Guide there are actually 1864) sprouting out of St. Lawrence River and shared between USA and Canada and stretching for about 50 miles downstream from Kingston, Ontario towards New York State. Gloomy clouds and flurries did not dampen our enthusiasm as we drove in to the Ivy Lea marina for a zigzagging cruise around the different sized Islands for a closer view of bungalows, chalets, single residences draped in Autumn hues. The famous residences are ‘The Towers’ or Singer Castle on Dark Island and the neglected Boldt Castle on Heart Island. The castle has been left unfinished for over 75 years due to the untimely death of Boldt’s wife.
The largest, the Wolfe Island, is located entirely in Ontario while the Carleton, site of ruined Fort Haldimand built-in 1779 during the American revolutionary War, is American. Three American soldiers captured this island in the 1812 war and the Island remains part of the United States today. The Island Bridge connects the two countries and our Guide rattled out figures of crossings in a day.
Our guess that the Thousand Island Salad Dressing was named after the Islands was confirmed by checking the Internet. Though there are conflicting stories about its origin. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thousand_Island_dressing)
One can spend a week/month/ year in this aqua-sanctum, skimming the waters, admiring the coves, gardens, parks, the famous residences by day or night in luxurious double-decker river liners, high-speed catamarans, private boats, yachts or on foot or car. The nearby Rideau Canal Locks and Rideau Heritage Routes are an added attraction. The locks are said to be ‘examples of Canadian ingenuity’ and I wonder what that means.
Back on bus for a five-hour ride to Quebec City on same day.
Quebec, an 18th century French connectivity hanging onto architectural facades of an era gone by, is a vibrant metropolis of rustic allurements. We entered the city late evening and made straight for Old Quebec through the Saint Louis gate and into a locale leafed out of a French painting book. The fusion of evening colours with the vapourish glow of streetlights glossed up the antiquity of stone veneers.
With 1 hour deadline and before our Cinderella moments turned to stone, we traipsed the narrow cobbled lanes flanked by 17th and 18th century houses, classic bistros, stores with modern fare, past cafés till we realized it was 7.25 pm. Restaurant Wong, on 19 Rue De Buade, beckoned with its cozy settings and smiling staff though I fail to understand why Chinese restaurants resort to all Chinese décor of reds, dragons and similar accessories. The prompt service, said we had to be on bus within 45 minutes, the steaming hot and sour soup and brown fried rice negated the formulaic setting. It had to be vegetarian fare due to the nine-day Hindu festive period (Navratri). There is no dearth of choices and on any other day would have preferred the Musee Du Fort.
Satiated and satisfied, headed back to the bus in the winter quietness broken by clopping horses. No time for a buggy ride as we had to return to our hotel Le Concorde (1225 Cours du General-de-Montcalm) for an end to a long tiring day.
Day 2, 7 am: Herded to Lower Town, moving through a city still in slumber, for a 2-hour stop in Le Quartier Petit Champlain, one of the most beautiful sites of Old Quebec. Grumpiness was soon forgotten with the magical morning winter weather highlighting the burnt siennas, burnt umbers and grey-blue surrounding the majestic Chateau Frontenac atop the Dufferin Terrace.
The centre de l’attention of our visit to Quebec was the Old Town, split between the Old Upper Town (Haute Ville) perched above the St Lawrence River on the Cap Diamant cliffs with museums, mansard-roofed houses and cobblestone streets (partly visited night before) and the Old Lower Town (Basse Ville), established by Samuel de Champlain in 1608. Quebec, based on the banks of St. Lawrence River, gets it name from the Algonquin word ‘Kebec’ or where the river narrows. It is in the Cap- Diamant (Cape Diamond) and Levis that the river thins out.
The river is visible from the between the alleys as we walk the Old Lower Town or Basse Ville, said to be the only fortified city walls remaining in North America. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985, the city retains its historic flavor through its landmarks the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. (built-in 1893) and the old fortress La Citadelle.
Le Quartier Petit Champlain is one of the oldest commercial districts of North America and our brief stroll on the main street Rue du Petit-Champlain and the narrow cobblestone lanes flaunting unscreened windows, wrought iron staircases, brightly painted doors and window frames, was dunked in French accents. The visually prominent 900 ft. mural, painted on the side of the house at 102, rue du Petit-Champlain, focuses on famous personalities and history of the district, the fight for the region, the fires and landslides, the ordinary lifestyles, as the French settled in this part of the world.
Close by are the Breakneck Stairs or Breakneck Steps, the oldest stairs of Quebec named because of the steepness of its 59 steps. Built in 1635 the Stairs were originally ‘Champlain Stairs’, the ‘Beggars’ Stairs’, or the Lower Town stairs with the current name given in mid-19th century. Equally fascinating is the memorial to the people killed in 1841 landslide with boundaries and plaques and brief descriptions of residents.
The distinguishing feature, beyond the eye-catching histrionics, is the emphasis on local culture in a tourist-heavy site. Our fellow travelers were surprised not finding Starbucks or McDonald’s and had to quench their thirst and hunger at the only open (8 am) French bakery. The shops were shuttered and I had to satisfy myself with window displays of the art and crafts stores, art galleries and boutiques.
We bid adieu to Quebec and I promised myself to return again, to soak in the sights and sounds of a city of which we had sampled a microscopic part.
Meantime, I must brush up my college French to be able to say merci or En anglais s’il vous plait without a blip.
(to be continued)
*Tai Pan Tours, http://www.taipantours.com/Travel/Details/Canada-East-3-Days-Tour: The tour was a referral and reasonable as you get to see 4 cities including the Islands in 3 days. The minus points was the droning three language announcements (English, Mandarin, Cantonese), mandatory tipping (per person) and collection of payments beforehand for food and monument visiting. We preferred to search for our own lunch and dinner though it was a tough choice as tour restaurants were in China Towns of the cities visited.