the magic of quebec

Growing up in southern New Jersey certainly had its perks.  Frequent trips to the ‘jersey shore’ were typical …my most vivid memories are of our family vacations in Ocean City, NJ.  Sometimes we would get crazy and venture out to spend some time in nearby Wildwood.  Good times.

Every so often, when time and money permitted, my folks would plan a road excursion.  Our family trip to Canada is one of those adventures that stands out for me …pretty amazing since I was only three years old at the time!  Of course, I can grab a hold of only a few bits and pieces of it but it’s still there.

When our children were small, we continued the tradition of the shore rental vacations.  When they were older, we added Williamsburg and Orlando to the mix …always loading up the car (or, in our case, the conversion van) convincing ourselves that the journey was part of the fun.  It was certainly the most economic decision considering we had three kids in tow.  As they grew, we joined the vast majority of vacationers by flying to our destination whenever possible.

Now that our kids are grown and we have way more flexibility in our schedule, we decided it was time to relive my fond memory of travel to Canada by car.  Turns out that road trips can be totally liberating.  Who knew?  You can pack as much as you want without fear of going over that dreaded weight limit on your baggage.  You can throw (or carefully place) your favorite bottles of wine in the trunk for those celebratory toasts once you reach your destination.  There’s no worry over how you’ll get home with those extra bags …the irresistible treasures you found along the way that you just had to have.  Then there’s the freedom of time.  We do prefer to have hotel reservations in place prior to leaving home.  We limit our free-spiritedness to just short of that point where you have no idea where you’ll be sleeping that night.  But there’s no reason we have to check in by 3pm.  If that roadside cafe with the beautiful view calls to you, go ahead and stop for a visit.  You can always arrive at your hotel at five or six.

Quebec City is one of those magical places where you feel as though you have arrived on the backlot of an extravagant movie set.  Actually, it’s hard to believe you’re not in a quaint European village with the winding cobblestone streets and inviting storefronts.  Since we were feeling nostalgic, the decision to stay at the historic Le Château Frontenac was an easy one.  The hotel is centrally located inside the walls of Old Quebec.  If you’ve found your way there by car, park it and get out your walking shoes.  That way you won’t miss any of the magic along the way.

I strongly believe that no matter how much research you do before visiting a new destination, your first time there is special and you must be the typical tourist.  Go on that boat ride, see the sights with a tour guide, visit the most iconic spots.  Take it all in, especially the first day or two.  We decided to check it all out on the double decker bus.  On the top level, of course.  An excellent decision.

Being there in May was helpful since the daily temp hovered around 60 degrees F.  Be sure to take a stroll along the Terrace Dufferin, with its sweeping views of the St. Lawrence River.  Then, perhaps, head over to take a ride on the funicular to the Old Lower Town.

We enjoyed several meals at Bistro Le Sam, located at our hotel.  Wish I had pictures to post of our meals there …will be sure to take some photos next time.  Oh, there will be a next time!  After several wonderful days in Quebec City, it was time to head south to Montréal.  The folks in the province of Quebec speak French for the most part, but are so happy to speak to you in English.  And if you let them know that you’re trying to speak their language, they appreciate the effort.  The only time we really felt the difference at all was while driving.  Seeing the roadside signs printed in French using the metric system took some getting used to.  Arriving in Montréal, we felt that we were brought back to current day reality …in a good way.  The city is bustling and beautiful.  And, once again, the locals were welcoming and friendly.  Even the train stations are spectacular!

Our hotel, the W Montréal, was ideally located in the historic Banque du Canada building, just steps from Vieux-Montréal …also know as Old Montréal.  We exited our hotel, walked several blocks toward the river and voilà!  We were transported back in time to the most amazing setting.  Charming cobblestone streets invited us to take a stroll.  Before we knew it we arrived at Place Jacques-Cartier, the historic marketplace that is now a bustling tourist area.  Lined with outdoor cafés; filled with artists’ wares and street performers …you feel the need to stay a while.

Back at our hotel, we checked in with our friendly concierge.  We were looking for a recommendation for a nice Italian dinner spot.  Without hesitation, she had us set up with a reservation at Restaurant Da Emma …a favorite with the locals.  We never would have found this place without the help of our seasoned taxi driver.  It is located on the western edge of Old Montréal in the basement of a 19th century building that was once a women’s prison.  The feel of the space is enchanting, with low-beamed ceilings and stone walls.  The extensive menu is presented on a rustic chalkboard.  And cordially translated, if need be.

Ahhh.  This soup.  We totally enjoyed our dinner experience.  The wine was outstanding …the food delicious.  But this minestrone!  It was so basic yet had so many levels of flavor.  Crazy, huh?  I tried to find the recipe online with no success.  Bring on the challenge.  Let the games begin. I will believe I did recreate this in my own kitchen!

Note: My apologies for the lack of food photos and poor image quality.  They were taken on my iPhone prior to the birth of my blog.  Guess we need to go back and redo this getaway!

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