Quebec, Oui! (had a ‘whale’ of a time!)

IMG_2404An invitation to a family wedding in Canada, mid-September, provided not only a welcome opportunity to catch up with dear relatives but a new adventure too including a chance to re-discover Montreal, a city we’d last visited more than thirty years ago, shortly after it had hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics and, before that, Expo 67, the world trade fair. I was happy to see the futuristic architecture of those days had remained intact; from the innovative, award-winning, concrete apartment blocks:

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IMG_2515to the exhibition stands:IMG_2501including the olympic stadium (now Montreal’s state run casino)IMG_2500

Spread over a series of islands in the St Lawrence river, an impressive skyline has risen up in our absence and today, from a distance, downtown Montreal looks much like any other prosperous north American city:IMG_2127

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where old classical buildings stand dwarfed by the tall new shiny glass and steel tower blocks:

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and monuments stand loyal to the memory of a once glorious British colonial past:

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IMG_1408But that’s where any similarity ends. For Montreal is very much a french city and a continental influence is apparent on every corner, not only in the spoken word and on every street sign but in its cultural heritage

IMG_1372 its Arts

IMG_1505and seat of learning; McGill universityIMG_1398 and nowhere is it more strongly apparent than in the old quarter of the city (despite Lord Nelson presiding over all)

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where the old stone buildings, cobbled streets and horse-drawn fiacres:

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serve as a reminder of the days when pioneer explorer, Jacques Cartier, landed upon these shores and established Montreal as an important trading post and port.

IMG_2521Many of the colourful old warehouses, paper mills and grain stores of bygone days remain, some as is but many now converted into slick city loft apartments:

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IMG_1409Today, Montreal enjoys a broad cultural mix and this is reflected in the wide variety of food, from all around the globe, that is readily available.The famous Atwater market

IMG_2482 offers the traditional Canadian fare of fresh lobsters:

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Crab legs:

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oysters:

IMG_2143 fresh produce including pumpkins of every size and description:

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delicious french cheeses, chocolates and patisserie:IMG_2478

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Canada’s famous ‘Ice wine’

IMG_2811and of course EVERYTHING maple, from butter and fudge to cookies and syrup:

IMG_2807We also enjoyed food with an international flavour. Fresh sushi:

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IMG_2204IMG_2193 salt beef sandwiches:

IMG_2461and a Montreal speciality ‘Poutine’ (french fries with gravy and melted cheese!)

IMG_2460After days of pure indulgence, a fabulous wedding

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(and yes, I wore a hat!)

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and after seeing the lovely young couple off on their Italian honeymoon,

IMG_2308together, with our wonderful hosts, we planned to venture further afield and explore some more of the Quebec Province from the pretty countryside setting of the town of Hudson, on the banks of the Lake of Two Mountains, where the wedding reception had been held.

Hudson, nestling among the trees has both old farmhouses and traditional rustic barns

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IMG_2337 interspersed with picturesque homes and brightly painted wooden holiday cottages:

IMG_2353IMG_2357It is technically a suburb of Montreal – a popular weekend escape for city dwellers. We’d stayed overnight at the quaint ‘Willow Inn’:

IMG_2293a comfortable and peaceful waterside retreat complete with wrap-around veranda

IMG_2298 delightful gardens

IMG_2317and far reaching views across the lake:

IMG_2283As this old church shows, there is definitely more of an english influence here.

IMG_2382 From Hudson, our Quebec adventure began as we crossed over the lake to the town of Oka

IMG_2406and visited a popular apple farm where ‘pick your own’ was the order of the day:

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IMG_2420IMG_2440Horse-drawn carts led us through the apple and plum orchards IMG_2431and the farm shop offered all kinds of fresh produce

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IMG_2455Next day, we travelled further north, alongside the St Lawrence river to Old Quebec city, entering the walled fortress through the ancient stone gate:

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to find Frontenac Castle standing tall and proud:

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a fortress situated high above the the river and the maze of colourful cobbled streets of the old town below:

IMG_2580IMG_2609IMG_2608IMG_2590IMG_2601IMG_2588where there was much evidence of Quebec’s indigenous, ‘First Nation’, inhabitants; Mi’kmaq and Iroquoians and, from further north, the Inuit tribes.

IMG_1406IMG_2614 IMG_2592IMG_2615 IMG_2616and those who fought the battle for independence from the Crown IMG_2576After a delicious al fresco lunch, basking in glorious sunshine and entertained by a variety of colourful street performers:

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it was time to head north yet again, once more following the river.

We visited the  Montmorency Falls (taller than Niagra!):

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IMG_2632IMG_1465and found the end of the rainbowIMG_2636on our way to the quaint artist colony of Baie St Paul, where we spent the afternoon visiting the many art galleries filled with traditional and contemporary art by some of Canada’s leading painters past and present.

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We stopped for the night at the picturesque town of La MalBaie, arriving at the beautiful ‘Auberge les Falaises’ inn just before sundown

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A spectacular sunset was seen from our room with a glorious view:IMG_1472 Next morning we set off bright and early for our final destination, the Sanguenay Marine park, excited at the prospect of some serious whale-spotting. We journeyed on up through the wild terrain of lakes and pine forests

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before, finally, reaching the end of the road (literally!) we made the crossing over the Fjord du Saguenay to Baie St. Catherine and the tiny village of Tadoussec.

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Sadly, the boats that had left at dawn’s first light were forced to return back early, due to the sudden high winds and choppy seas further north and, much to our dismay, we were informed all further whale-spotting expeditions that day, were cancelled.
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We made up for our disappointment with a visit to the local whale museum instead,
IMG_2750 IMG_2752  a stroll around the pretty, sleepy townIMG_2753IMG_2718 IMG_2738 IMG_2740IMG_2739and a leisurely walk around the boardwalk of the rocky headland, IMG_2755IMG_2763well stocked with tourist information boards
IMG_2757 IMG_2765IMG_2764Back in the port, another highlight was meeting a beautiful young Husky called Shana:
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That afternoon we retraced our steps back across the fjord and headed back to St. Simeon, in time to catch the ferry across the St Lawrence to Riviere du Loup on the eastern shore, where we would join the motorway than would eventually lead us home to Montreal.
IMG_2800 As luck would have it, no sooner had we embarked on the 1 & 12 hour crossing, when a huge whale rose up majestically through the waves alongside us – but disappeared back into the icy depths before I could get to my camera. Our journey had not been wasted after all!IMG_2801 With such a busy week there was little time for sketching but I have more than enough inspiration to begin a whole new series of paintings  – and I did treat myself to a beautiful water colour print of Montreal:
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a souvenir of a beautiful, colourful country, steeped in history and natural beauty and its wonderfully diverse, hospitable people – not least our wonderful Canadian cousins:
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Alain & Maureen who, gave us such wonderful memories to treasure for many years to come…….Merci Beaucoup! A Bientot!
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and, until the next time….Au Revoir Quebec!
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6 thoughts on “Quebec, Oui! (had a ‘whale’ of a time!)

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