Experiencing Quebec City and Carnaval de Quebec

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Hilltop views of St. Lawrence River, adjacent to Quebec City

As with other travelers, a pre-Valentine’s Day snowstorm changed my plans to fly up to Quebec. Originally I was to visit both Montreal and Quebec City, but I ended up getting to Canada a day late but still with enough time to see Quebec City. I was there for Carnaval de Quebec, also known in Quebec Winter Carnival, an annual festival celebrating the season.

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Quebec City has had on and off variations of a winter carnival since 1894. Carnaval de Quebec, its contemporary version, began in 1955. Taking place from late January through early February, Carnaval de Quebec features parades, children’s activities, an ice sculpted palace, and parties. There are culinary offerings like caribou, a warm alcoholic beverage, and the opportunity to enjoy maple taffy, a syrupy treat freshly made upon a large ice block.

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Carnaval de Quebec even has an official mascot. It’s a snowman looking creature named Bonhomme Carnavale, a friendly fellow with a red hat and a red tuque and arrow sash (a winter scarf/belt). The carnival opens with Bonhomme Carnavale being presented with the key to the city, making Bonhomme king of the festivities and overall public representative.

While Carnaval de Quebec is a great time to visit Quebec City, this destination has much to offer in all seasons. Founded as a French settlement in 1608, Quebec City has sections that still hold onto an Old World feeling, while also having trending districts. I spent much of my time exploring Quebec City’s Old Quebec area.

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Certified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Old Quebec is said to have the only remaining city wall fortifications in North America, north of Mexico. It’s divided into two sections: Lower Town (also known as Basse-Ville, where the original Quebec City settlement once stood) and Upper Town (also known as Haute-Ville, with views of the St. Lawrence River). You’re able to pass through the ramparts of this fortified section, with 4.6 kilometers (or roughly 2.86 miles) of walls, and walk along cobblestone streets and modern shops housed inside centuries-old buildings. Here’s what I saw and recommend you head to.

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Château Frontenac
A key landmark here is Château Frontenac, a grand hotel facing the St. Lawrence River that has had quite the guest list of celebrities and world leaders (think Charles Lindbergh and Ronald Reagan). Technically called Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, this circa 19th-century luxury property can both be stayed in and/or seen on public tours. Or take a stroll along its surrounding Terrasse Dufferin.

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Citadelle of Quebec
An active military installation for Canada’s Royal 22e Régiment, this three-century-old fortress contains a ton of history. Those walking up the long and steady way to reach this hilltop area will be rewarded with photo-taking views of the St. Lawrence River and Quebec City. Take the time to go on a guided tour of the vicinity, around the outside and a bit happening indoors. Inside the visitor’s center, there are display exhibits relating to the history of the Royal 22e Régiment. During June through September, catch a daily morning changing of the guard.

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Petit Champlain & Place-Royale
These two areas have their ties to Quebec City’s beginnings. Place-Royale is referred to as where the city’s founder, Samuel de Champlain, marked its roots. Nowadays, shops are found in this plaza as well as an impressive building surface mural called Fresque des Québécois. Located on Côte de la Montagne, this mural displays Quebec City’s history with inclusions of prominent references and visual nods to its fortifications. Petit Champlain is a narrow cobblestone street district with period homes holding cafes, boutiques, and galleries where a nice treat or souvenir can be bought. You’ll also want to have your camera ready, as you’ll find the street scene to be postcard picturesque.

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Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
This small Anglican church has some lovely stained glass windows and is also known for its two members – a donkey named Aldo and his companion, Holly. Holly came on the scene in August 2015 and stays with Aldo in the garden of the Bishop, next to the Cathedral. You can spot the twosome outside at times.

Old Quebec Funicular
What visitors will notice about Old Quebec is that there are staircases for getting to certain sections between Lower Town and Upper Town. There’s another option. Since 1879, this Old Quebec Funicular provides an easier and efficient way to get between these sections without having to walk up flights of steps. This funicular railway travels up and down between Quartier Petit Champlain and Dufferin Terrace near up to Le Château Frontenac. Buy a ticket and step inside one of these box-shaped cabins to go up.

As for eats, you’ll find a good mix of options from fine dining to more casual fare. If you appreciate something sweet or filling, go to Café Boulangerie Paillard. On Rue Saint-Jean, this eatery has eye-catching and even mouth-watering pastries, breads, soups, and sandwiches. Try their Gallette de Rois, a pastry with an almond creme filling. Yum!

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