It was an early morning for us (after days of sleeping in late), as we had a 9 am train to catch to Quebec City. Thankfully, we were packed and ready to go, so it wasn’t long before we were headed for the metro with the rest of the morning commuters. After following a labyrinth of underground tunnels, we made it to the train station in good time. We stopped for a McDonald’s breakfast and then waited for out train. The “platform” where we waited was marked by the track number and a set of seats surrounding a staircase leading below the station. It was clever to have designed it such that the trains were below the station and that passengers could wait in the relative warmth of the terminal before being ushered downstairs and right onto the train.
It was super warm in the cabin, so we shed layers and stowed them in overhead compartments (which were nice to have). We also thankfully had WiFi, so I quickly settled in and got to working on photos and other Internetty things. It wasn’t long before we were whizzing along, frozen streams and snow-encrusted trees flying by us. David napped for a good chunk of the journey, disturbed only by a somewhat obnoxiously loud lady on her phone, who spent a fairly long while talking business. Headphones are your friend. Otherwise, the ride was comfortable and efficient, and just 3 hours later, we were rolling into Québec. After a bit of confusion trying to find the bus stop and where to actually buy bus tickets, we hopped onto a bus and headed off to the AirBnB apartment where we’d be staying. This bus, thankfully, had a little screen informing us of which stops were coming up, so we were able to get to our stop painlessly. It was just a short walk to the apartment, and our host (who lives across the street) came out and greeted us.
The apartment, though not large, was beautifully setup–clean and well-organized. The front room, which doubled as both the living room and bedroom, was equipped with a Murphy bed that folded down from the wall over the sofa. With heated floors in the bathroom and a full kitchen with an espresso machine for David, it was just perfect. We munched on some of the food stuffs we’d brought with us from Montreal and got ourselves settled and rested before heading out to explore the town. We walked down to Grand Allée to catch a bus to Old Town, which was only a short ride away. We were soon inside the stone walls of the old city (one of the oldest in North America). While Montreal had a fun, gritty vibe to it, this is the kind of architecture that I love–beautiful and ornate stone buildings and cobblestone streets. It definitely reminded me a bit of some of the old French towns we’d been to in France, such as St-Emilion or Brantôme.
It wasn’t long before we came across the city’s big party piece: Château Frontenac. Built in 1893, it is considered to be the most photographed hotel in the world, and we did our part to add to that count. It was absolutely massive and somewhat Hogwartsian, with its soaring turrets and fairytale feel, so we spent a fair bit of a time gaping up at it. We walked down to the Terasse Dufferin, a terrace that overlooks the St. Lawrence River and the lower part of old town. I had read that the 1608 Wine & Cheese bar in the Château Frontenac (which is now a Fairmont hotel) also had a beautiful view of the river and made a decent cocktail, so we headed inside to give it a try.
The interiors of the hotel were appropriately sumptuous, but the bar itself was quite something. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the river surrounded a magnificent bar. As all the window seats were taken, unsurprisingly, we pulled up chairs at the bar. We perused the cocktail list and decided on a “Winter in St-Laurent” for me (gin, lemon juice and vanilla bean paste) and a “Smoked Southside” for David (gin, lemon juice, mint and a splash of peaty Scotch). Sitting at the bar is always an entertaining time, as you get to watch the goings-on “behind the scenes” as well as do a bit people-watching while enjoying a drink. And enjoy our drinks we did! My cocktail was perhaps one of the best I’d ever had–not too sweet, but with a wonderful round, complex flavour. I also quite enjoyed David’s cocktail–minty and refreshing but with a touch of smokiness on the back end. We cheered to our successes thus far on our trip and enjoyed a bit of pre-dinner dessert in the form of a tasty créme brûlée, along with another round of cocktails.
Warm and happy, we went in search of the “Breakneck Stairs” that leads into the lower part of Old Town. We came across what looked to be the appropriately-located staircase, though amusingly didn’t appear to be that neck-breaking. As dusk fell, we wandered through the surprisingly empty streets, a bit of unsure of where everybody was but pleased to have the place largely to ourselves. We passed through the tiny square where I’m almost certain they filmed Catch Me If You Can (the scene where the French police arrest Frank Abgnale) and found the restaurant I’d picked out for dinner, L’Échaudé. Despite being 7 pm, there weren’t any patrons yet; however, we were not deterred! We were seated by the window and perused the menu. We planned to do the “Table d’hôte”, where you basically added $18 to the price of your main course and got an appetizer and dessert and coffee.
David started with rabbit kidney and liver stew, while I, shockingly, went with the truffle-shaped foie gras. Both were absolutely delicious. I spent my time savoring every morsel of my foie gras, loving that was paired with crispy bread slices (I like the juxtaposition of crispiness in the bread with the creaminess of the foie gras). I ordered the Icelandic cod with a clam sauce and bacon crumble, and David had braised pork cheek with leek and a creamy bean purée, which were also super tasty. The restaurant had begun to fill up so we weren’t the only ones enjoying a good meal. We capped off the evening with a pair of desserts, an éclair with almond and coffee pastry cream and a fried pineapple roll. Fattened up for the night, full of deliciousness, we headed back to upper old town in search of a bus home. Strangely enough, the buses appeared to stop running (at least into old town) around 5 pm. Resigned to walking back to the apartment, we made our way outside of the old city walls to the main road. We spotted the bus that we rode on earlier in the day from the train station and headed over to the bus stop, which seemed to service all of the buses along with, thankfully, the one that we wanted to take. A short wait and a short ride later, and we were back in the comfort of our home away from home.