Well, this is a report that's long overdue. (And I've got another one or two that are even longer overdue!) This was the third in our semi-annual Mystery Trips where my wife and I pick up our daughter and two grandsons and take them to a destination with no advance information other than how long we'll be gone, what they might need to pack, and whether they'll need passports.
Day 1: The trip got off to an entertaining start as we had told our grandsons, as their major hint, that when we got to Tucson airport (our departure point), the check-in agent would put a tag on their bags that said 'Yuma Luggage'. As I was at the counter, I let the agent see the 'book' we prepare for such trips titled "Mystery Trip III". He went along, and pointed out to the boys the bags were indeed tagged YUL - and when our older grandson noted that it also said DFW, Dallas, he claimed that was because all the direct flights from Tucson to Yuma were booked. It didn't take long for the boys to get on their I-pads and figure out that YUL was Trudeau International in Montréal. After an hour and a half delay in Dallas, which just let us have a very leisurely lunch, we finally arrived in Montréal, picked up our rental car and drove the rest of the way to our home for the next week in the little town of Château-Richer.
Day 2: We had arrived quite late the previous evening due to the flight delay and the three hour time change, and so just slept in a bit this morning before heading up the road a bit to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré to get groceries and other sundries to stock our larder. As we were leaving we got to the corner and there was a gentleman there directing traffic away from the main highway, so we went on a bit, made a U-turn and followed the little side road that our house was on up to Ste. Anne. It was on the return, on the same little back road, that we realized that something was very wrong. We could occasionally see the main road and there was no traffic on it at all, while our little road was bumper to bumper and just inching along. It took us close to an hour to return the few miles from Ste. Anne and we were very thankful when we could just pull off into our front yard. It turned out that there had been a major accident between a truck and a bus on the highway, blocking it completely for most of the day. All we knew at the time was that we were not going to leave 'home' while traffic was in the state it was in - which turned out to be all day. We spent the day walking around the neighborhood which included a small stream that ran down to the St. Lawrence, introducing ourselves to our hosts who also ran a B&B next door, watching a movie, reading and relaxing.
Day 3: So, our first day of local travel starts off with a tour of one of the unique aspects of the Québec area, namely the large island which sits in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, Ile d'Orleans. Although the surrounding area is heavily urbanized, Ile d'Orleans has maintained its rural charm.
In fact we start the day by picking our own fresh strawberries. Next up is a tour of the small but intimately charming Parc maritime de Saint-Laurent. We learn a bit about the boat building history of the island while also watching commercial, pleasure, and naval vessels work their way up and down the river. We also have lunch on the deck of a river-front restaurant, climb an observation tower to get a birds-eye view of the St. Lawrence, and visit an old rectory that is now a garden and museum. As we crossed back onto the mainland, we made a stop at Montmorency Falls. We went to the top of the falls, just off a small city street, and made the short hike to falls. Our daughter and grandsons made the hike down the stairs to the bottom, but the grandparents simply returned to the cafe at the top, had a couple of beers, and waited their return. All in all, a very interesting day.
Day 4: On Tuesday we went into the city of Québec. This particular Tuesday was actually the 'national' holiday of Quebec province, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day.
We had been warned to expect crowds in the city, but just the opposite was true. When we drove in this morning, the roads and the city were virtually empty. Since it was a rainy morning we simply parked near the Museum of Civilization and spent our first few hours there. It had a wide range of exhibits - I enjoyed those explaining the history of Québec while the two young boys had a great time in the animation exhibit, making stop action movies. Again, since we had the museum largely to ourselves, they could do this to their heart's content. As it got on toward noon the rain had stopped so we walked some of the narrow streets of the lower town, had lunch, and then returned to the museum. After a couple of more hours the museum started to fill up so we headed out of town and back to our home down river.
Day 5: Wednesday we returned to Québec for the morning, this time mostly just walking the streets of the old upper city. The boys in particular had a great time manning the wall's fortifications, and didn't even seem to mind so much when the adults wanted to visit the odd cathedral, shop, or historic site. When we later were trying to find a bakery, they were great scouts, checking out various side streets at a rate we certainly couldn't have done on our own. There are really no other cities like Québec in North America, and everyone had a great time just soaking in the atmosphere. We were actually fortunate to be visiting around Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, since all the crowds and festivities were in the evening. Having learned this lesson the previous day, we departed Québec in the early afternoon and headed down river to Canyon Sainte-Anne, a privately owned chasm and waterfall with trails and one of the highest pedestrian suspension bridges in Canada giving great views of the 273 foot waterfall.
We also made one final stop on our way back home for the evening, this was at the shrine of Sainte Anne de Beaupré in the town that bears her name. Churches are, in fact, usually the dominant structure in each of the small french/Catholic towns along the river in this area. and the shrine of Sainte Anne de Beaupré in particular is well-known and credited with several miraculous cures.
Day 6: This was Grandpa's day of rest. Mom and Granny took the boys to the nearby Valcartier Water Park for the day. From what I hear (and see from Granny's pictures) everyone had a great time. One of the slides, the Himalaya, is billed as the tallest in Canada, but what most impressed everyone was how clean and well-run the park was, and how friendly the staff was. This was reinforced a few seeks later when the boys, visiting another set of grandparents in Florida, went to a similar water park and found the water green and the attendants surly.
Day 7: Our final day in Québec was spent on a leisurely drive from the Québec City area upriver to Montréal where our plane would leave the next morning. We made a stop in Trois-Rivières to see both the Musée Québécois de Culture Populaire and the Old Prison of Trois-Rivières. These were packaged as a twofer and made for a nice relaxed mid-day break (with another, final lunch along the St. Lawrence) on the modest drive to our final stop, a simple pair of motel rooms near Trudeau International for our early flight in the morning.