2001: A Hotel Odyssey
We got on the road a little before noon after sleeping in a little bit. Leaving Fredericton was much easier than getting in - just a few merges and we were on the Trans-Canada Highway, first westbound and then northbound to Québec.
We crossed many small brooks and paralleled the St. John River all the way up. We were never more than a few miles from the border with Maine, and made excellent time up the highway.
We pulled into a gas station in Woodstock, which was, to our surprise, full-service. We got some drinks and snacks, topped off gas and oil, and - most interestingly - purchased some lobster-flavored potato chips, which were okay. They had a more general fish flavor, which got gross after three bites.
Around 1:30 we saw a female moose on the side of the road. Aside from a few designated areas (so as to not interfere with migration patterns), the major routes through New Brunswick have specialized moose fences that lead them away from the highway if they get on the wrong side. This particular moose was on the other side of the fence, which was a good sign - the fences are doing their job.
Around the Grand Falls area, signs - which are provincially mandated to be bilingual - began featuring French much more prominently, with the French words first and the English words second and usually smaller. We kept on rolling up the road to Edmundston, the only town of any considerable size before the Québec border. There, the French language was everywhere - most places, there was no sign in English.
Though the town was kind of dirty, reminding us of Elko, Nevada - and nothing about the parts of Elko that we saw was redeeming, except the fact that there were roads out - we had to have some lunch, so we got Subway. It was the most mediocre Subway sandwich I've ever eaten, and that's the nicest thing I can say aside from the fact that it didn't make me sick.
A few kilometers up the road and we entered Québec, the ninth province I've ever been in. It was then that the little English that we saw completely ran out, although we've learned enough through our Rosetta Stone lessons and from observing the bilingual signs in New Brunswick to get by.
We stopped in at the welcome center and talked to the young lady at the desk. We tried out our French phrases, finding that we're not nearly as bad as we though we were. Since most everyone has become bilingual, it wasn't that far removed from our experiences in Chéticamp.
It was in Québec that we crossed back over into Eastern Time, gaining an hour by going from 3:00 back to 2:00. The road also got worse, but the ruts and potholes were welcome, and although the brake was neither hot nor odd-smelling any time we checked it, it's still advisable to give them a good jostling every now and then.
In addition to the obligatory Useless Road Work, the roads after the border featured the most absurd hills, wherein the speed limit would switch from 110 km/h to 70 km/h, which is pretty much impossible when you have a car carrying our kind of weight - not to mention our current brake situation. The few policemen we saw didn't seem to care even when Québécois flew past going much faster than us.
A little after 3:00 we passed the village of St-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, notable for being the only place name in the world to have not one, but two exclamation marks in its name. There are conflicting theories as to how this name came to be, and even the girl at the welcome center admitted to having no idea why the name is like it is.
We got our first glimpse of the St. Lawrence Seaway at around 3:45, turning westbound and paralleling it for the rest of the day as we approached Québec City. The road flattened, although mountains of considerable size were visible on the other side of the St. Lawrence. Most interestingly was the boardwalk between the highway and the Seaway, which saw use mostly from bicyclists.
At 5:30 we crossed over the bridge into Québec City, which was where the fun began. Traffic was backed up coming out of the city for a considerable distance, and we thought that we'd been able to avoid such a rush hour by coming into the city. But we got stuck in traffic, often boxed in by exceptionally tall trucks in front and Québécois who wanted to get to their respective destinations seemingly as much as we did.
The brakes got tested, but they came through as we inched our way through the heart of the congested city to our hotel. Dad wheeled and dealed his way through a snafu at the front desk and entertained the valet drivers outside. The result: two days in the same room at a cheaper price, with access to the executive lounge.
From our perch, we had a view of the Old City - a walled, fort-like, European-esque city that hugged the shore of the St. Lawrence Seaway, often said to be one of the most beautiful cities in North America. The people looked like ants from our altitude, so it was a good overview of the city.
After eating, we walked across the street to the Québec Parliament Building, modeled after the Louvre and extremely intricate and detailed. Statues and gardens abound outside of the building itself, and the statues that could be Yoderized were Yoderized.
We tried our best to avoid the school groups, but there were too many of them, and we kept lagging behind and catching up to a few of them. We walked down into the Old City, passing under the sally port into the heart of Old Québec.
It's basically like walking under a bridge in Canada and coming out in Europe. The difference is striking, as every building is unique, architecturally interesting, and old. Horse-drawn carriages clopped up and down the streets, and everything was just really interesting to look at. Nothing is boring in the Old City.
While somewhat long, it's not a wide city, and we were able to walk from the sally port to an area fairly close to the water in not a long time at all. We passed extraordinarily intricate statues and overly elaborate fountains, but for all its gaudiness, it fits together. It feels like you're actually in France as opposed to Québec.
After scoping out the sites we want to see tomorrow - including a funicular that takes folks right down the steep slope to the waterfront itself for only a nominal fee - we went back up the way we came. It was then that one of the most bizarre things happened: my dad greeted a maître d'hôtel outside a restaurant with a wave and a jovial "bon soir!" only to have her put out her hand out and give him an enthusiastic high-five. With her hand still held out, I received a high-five as well.
I'm still not sure why that happened, but she seemed happy enough, so we just sort of went with it.
We walked around back up to the sally port, only this time we walked up the steps and on top of the walls, which still are traversable around the city. We took the wall around and made it back to the hotel as the sun set, sampling the coffee maker in the lounge. It was good, but mine was quite tart, requiring four sugar packets of reasonable size to make it palatable. We even had an entire conversation in French, asking the friendly fellow who was in charge of closing the lounge down what time breakfast began and ended. It was short and likely not grammatically correct, but it was successful.
Tomorrow: a day on the town, with a thorough tour of Old Québec.