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CANADA Summer 2000 (2)

QUEBEC CITY (1)

It's about 250 kilometers (150 miles) from Montreal to Quebec City. We took highway #20 that runs on the south side of the Saint-Laurent River. Linda and I have lived in Canada for about thirty years and are sorry to say this was our first visit to this marvelous city, a visit we had been looking forward to for a long time.

The name Quebec (Kebec) comes from the Algonquin language and means where the river narrows. For many years Quebec City was considered to be the gateway to the continent. In 1690 the Comte de Frontenac repelled the English forces and fortified the city. In 1759, the English took the city in the battle of the Plains of Abraham and France ceded the colony to England. The Americans failed to take the city in 1775, which ended the military action in the region. The English completed the fortifications, which today make Quebec unique as the only walled city north of Mexico. UNESCO has declared the city, with its historic district, a world heritage site. Only one other city in North America has that distinction. Quebec City became the capital of the Province of Quebec in 1867 at the time of confederation.

After crossing the river and arriving at the upper town, we took Grande Allee and passed from the newer city to the newer/older city and finally entered Vieux Quebec through Port Sainte-Louis onto rue Saint-Louis then went straight ahead to Le Chateau Frontenac, our home for the next three days. As we drove along Grand Allee we were impressed by the huge, green expanse of the Plains of Abraham, Parliament Hill and our first sightings of the glorious towers, dormers and steep copper roofs of Le Chateau. As we passed through the beautifully preserved old walls onto rue Saint-Louis we were transported to another time, one that we are accustomed to seeing in our travels through Europe.

It is easy to see why Le Chateau Frontenac is the graphic symbol for Quebec City. Fashioned as a majestic, medieval fortress and perched on a cliff overlooking the river, it is an imposing sight to behold. The Scottish brick lightened by the rich, gray Lachevrotiere stone of its foundation walls, turrets and cornices complements the beauty of the asymmetrical design.

The first wing, called the Riverview, was inaugurated on December 20, 1893. Over the years, many expansions lead to the creation of the hotel as it is today with 605 rooms and an 18-story central tower. The Citadelle wing was built in 1899, the Mont-Carmel wing in 1908 and the Saint-Louis wing and the Tour Centrale in 1920 and 1924 respectively. The Claude-Pratte wing offers guests a wonderful indoor pool, fitness center and gorgeous outdoor terrace. The history of this hotel is integrated with the history of Quebec and Canada and is worth reading when you have the good fortune to visit.

We were particularly awestruck by the impact of the entrance hall and it came as no surprise to discover it has been recognized as one of the most wonderful in North America. The next thing that impressed us was the quality of service at reception. The young women were not only well groomed and cheerful, but exceptionally committed to welcoming us and were ready to take whatever time and energy required to satisfy our needs. We found the same exceptional attitude at the concierge station and with the chambermaids. We came to find out that this does not happen by accident. The hotel runs a program called colleague for a day, where a member of the hotel management participates, observes, listens and learns about the functioning and constraints of a job which differs from his or her own.

As you might imagine, the 605 rooms come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and all come with whatever amenities you might desire. Paula and Warren had an extremely open large area serving as their bedroom and living area along with a round dining table in a turret that adjoined the room; on the 16th floor, with windows all around, they had terrific views of the city. Ours was on the 4th floor overlooking the green park at the front and consisted of a huge living room with steps leading through French doors to the very small, by comparison, bedroom. go to top of page

The old town, within the fortifications, is comprised of an upper and lower town connected for easy access by stairways and a funicular. The hotel, in the upper town, is the heart of the old town. When you walk out the front door of the hotel you begin an excursion through the narrow streets lined with delightful renovated and restored buildings that have maintained their historic character while integrating some newer design features. We found this to be consistent throughout the old city; the old with some new touches blended beautifully. The city has mandated that all restoration and new construction must meet specific design standards and all plans must be submitted for approval.

Behind the hotel is a wide pedestrian walkway named Dufferin Terrace that leads to Promenade des Gouverneurs, the Citadelle and the Battlefields Park, known as the Plains of Abraham. The views from Dufferin Terrace of the Saint-Laurent River, Petit-Champlain (lower town quarter) and the old port are breathtaking. The Citadel of Quebec along with the walls is the largest fortification still in use in North America. We were just in time to see the changing of the guard inside the walls of the fort.

Battlefields Park is a place of history, nature, leisure and culture. At the Discovery Pavilion, 835 Wilfrid-Laurier Avenue, a worthwhile multimedia show on the great historical battles and the creation of the park is shown in the Interpretation Center (in the vault of Quebec's old prison). The park is a huge gorgeous expanse, wonderful for all outdoor activities. If you want some fun physical activity, you can visit the fort, walk atop the city walls and finish with a trip through the park at your own pace. Next trip!

Just outside the walls on Grande Allee, the Parliament building sits majestically with its eloquent architecture offering a history of Quebec. The front of the building is decorated with 22 bronze statues in tribute to the women and men who are an integral part of the history of the province. Just past the Parliament, going west on Grande Allee, are a few blocks lined with cafes and restaurants, housed in old stone buildings and newer restorations with sidewalk patio seating, jam-packed at all times. The whole scene is deliciously inviting.

Next to the hotel is Place d'Armes, where the funicular and stairway to the lower town are located. The glass-enclosed funicular offered great views as we quickly descended into the Petit-Champlain Quarter, the oldest commercial district in North America. This quaint area is a jewel. On one side a shop-lined stairway and on the other side and straight ahead pedestrian streets filled with cozy cafes, restaurants, charming boutiques and everywhere we strolled one stunning building after the other. We noticed that there were ladders on many of the roofs and learned that historically fires had been prevalent and the ladders were there to aid in extinguishing the fires in the smoke stacks. Masons are taught how the stonework was done in earlier times so that the renovated buildings retain their old look. This city takes its heritage so seriously that one might say that no stone is left unturned.

As we continued our journey, we fell in love with this enclave of times past and its position on the bank of the river. Each street (rue) and alleyway has a distinct character and we had to leave plenty for next time.

In the Place Royale, we were awestruck by a huge 3-D mural painted on the Maison Soumande. It is 420 square meters and features many important people in Quebec's history and highlights of the city's architecture. Linda could not stop clicking away.

Rounding out our adoration of the old/new world charm was the excitement of the Quebec City Summer Festival. The whole city was one gigantic open-air stage, with 800 performers from over 20 countries on 15 indoor and outdoor stages within easy walking distance of each other. This place was rocking with every kind of music you could dream of plus the best street performers making it an incredibly entertaining extravaganza.

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