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volante: canada

Québec City: plus ça changeQuébec City: plus ça change

Québec City’s Lower Town

This year is a great time to rediscover Québec City on its 400th anniversary and experience its move into the 21st century, writes Elyse Glickman
photographed by the author


TWENTY YEARS AGO, “New France” truly was a new frontier for me. I was a sheltered midwestern girl unleashed for the first time in Québec City for the sole purpose of perfecting my French (at Université Laval’s Programme FNFfrançais pour les non francophones). Little did my parents know that outside the university, Québec in summer was a great place to be then, with the famed Festival d’éte music festival celebrating its 20th anniversary that year, oodles of “show” (live music) bars on Grand Allée and rue St-Jean, 22 hours of daylight and a legal drinking age of 18.
   Thank goodness they learned about this after the fact.
   After all, interaction with the locals and exchange students from Africa and Vietnam (and over a few cocktails) wound up being what enabled me to speak French conversationally and with confidence. Ultimately, what Québec offered me was a summer abroad without a passport or a huge expense for my parents.
   Times have indeed changed since 1988. The Canadian dollar is now worth more than the American dollar, and you now need a passport. When the opportunity came up to go revisit Québec for the famed winter carnival and some Franco–American culture, I couldn’t resist. I always wanted to experience a Québec winter at its peak (via the famed Winter Carnival), take a stroll down memory lane (by way of Rue St-Jean and the other cobblestone streets) and then experience the city’s more sophisticated, grown-up pleasures.
   Travelling with Karen Loftus (who offers a lovely and impressionistic look at her first trip to Québec City in the print edition of Lucire), the first days en ville were spent somewhat in memory-lane mode, showing Karen around the neighbourhood shopping I enjoyed back in the day and dining at my favourite local hangouts, Pizzeria d’Youville, Le Cochon Dingue
However, the raison d’être for our voyage was to experience the city in the flower of its 400th anniversary, from our réunion (meeting) with Bonhomme Carnival to historic buildings and sites polished up for the occasion

and Casse Crèpe Breton, both on the rue St-Jean just a couple of blocks from our outpost at the Québec Hilton. To my relief and her delight, Pizzeria d’Youville was still fantastic (we’re still talking about the to-die-for chorizo and caramelized onion pizza we ate on our first night). All that changed about the crêperie was that it doubled in size without losing its charm or great prices. Le Cochon Dingue had gone through a makeover, and expanded its menu, but for my money, still had the best croque-madame sandwich and steak frites anywhere.
   In the area of fine dining, the something old, something new flavour that spices up the city is also interesting. While Château Frontenac’s restaurant is stronger on history (perhaps eating the excellent cheap fare for three consecutive summers spoiled me), it is still a must with its elegant Victorian décor. Grand Allée Est (their quaint answer to Champs-Élysée), now as in then, is perfect one-stop-shop for food and drink. Auberge Louis-Herbert offered flawless salmon and soups for lunch, while La Crémaillère had amazing steaks, desserts and Parisian flavour at dinnertime. Voodoo Grill does global and trendy very effectively (albeit it with a fun local twist), while Chez Dagobert (my favourite college haunt) was still rocking after all those years.
   I also was relieved to know that my spoken French was still up to snuff, as the locals were as encouraging then as they were when I was 18 and still figuring out how to translate seven years of book French into real life. However, the raison d’être for our voyage was to experience the city in the flower of its 400th anniversary, from our réunion (meeting) with Bonhomme Carnival to historic buildings and sites polished up for the occasion to experiencing the artistry of the famed Ice Hotel, which this year, was dually inspired by the city’s landmark anniversary and the artistry of legendary architect Antoni Gaudi (with a splash of Austin Powers-inspired lighting).
   In terms of more permanent art and history, however, the landmark anniversary offers a variety of reasons to visit throughout the year. The Musée de Beaux Arts de Québec is filled with anniversary-focused exhibits as well as great one-off travelling exhibits (such as the Picasso exhibit that was wrapping when Karen and I visited). Musée de la Civilisation is a patchwork of galleries blending elements of science, natural history and culture museums to tell Québec’s story. Lower Québec, with its Quartier Petit Champlain (brimming with charming streets, must-shop artisan and antique stores and great bistros including le Cochon Dingue) now also has the distinction of being recognized as a UNESCO Heritage site.
   Even with the celebration of all things historic, however, Québec City also has its fair share of revitalized, trendy neighbourhoods outside the fortification walls. Quartier St Jean-Baptiste not only boasts the popular Choco-Musée Erico, but also some fun, funky women’s clothing stores and record shops as well as an amazing used and discount bookstore (Le Colisée de Livres, 175, rue St-Jean) still going strong after several decades. While our search for vintage shops I once enjoyed in the Quartier St-Roch was in vain, what replaced them were sparkling retail spots promoting international and local fashion designers. Karen and I were particularly smitten with Flirt Lingerie (525 rue St-Joseph Est) and the seductive Mademoiselle B (541 rue St-Joseph Est), where we splurged on of-the-moment chunky bangles from a local Québec designer and were tempted by some of the more expensive pieces from France.
   As the old adage goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. This holds true for Québec, which to us represented a modern mindset in a historic setting.



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Quartier St-Jean

Views from the Old City

Le Cochon Dingue

Place d’Youville

St Louis Gate

Québec City

Snow boys gone wild

Karen Loftus and the author at the Ice Hotel

Maple syrup candy vendor

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