We set off on a four-hour trek on Hwy. 20 to Quebec City. Four. Hours. Flat country. Scrub forest. Occasional farmland. When I mentioned a bathroom break to Linda, she looked shocked that humans might need one. Thankfully there was an unexpected (and filthy!) Canadian rest stop 20 minutes further down the road.

Canada could take lessons in rest stops. I'm used to NC's system along I-40, where the stops are spaced an hour apart, the water is solar-heated, crews are ALWAYS on cleanup duty, you get a poster map telling you where you are, and there's never any wait for a stall.

The highway had signs as to how far Quebec City was, but of course they were in km and the left side of my brain REFUSED to kick in. Were we a half-hour away? Four hours? In the meantime Linda put some music on the bus sound system that BLASTED!!!! right through me. No one else seemed affected. I put in ear plugs, tried to wrap a pillow around my head, clamped my hands over my ears, and it still blared. It was the Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber, done on all kinds of improbable and unsavory instruments and vocals. Agony!!!

Saw a couple of red trees every now and then. Suddenly around Drummondville (the halfway point) we started to see a few more. (East of Quebec we'd see a swath of rust color on a distant mountain.)

Got to Quebec and the Clarion Hotel in St. Foy. The hotel ATM didn't work. The staff was about as un-helpful a staff as you could dream, kinda snarly that I'd even want to use an ATM in their presence. No, there were no other ATMs anywhere. Maybe none in the city. Go away, English-speaking American!

We went to a sugar shack for dinner. Ugh! Had a too-loud Mike Cross wannabe (otherwise he was okay. He could have done better than just playing that shack) whom the others had never seen the likes of. It was pure Appalachian fiddle, to which everyone said, no no, this is FRENCH CANADIAN, it can't be anything like US Southern culture.

Dinner was ham, fried pork rinds, white beans, horrid lumpy pea soup, new potatoes, slaw (which they called cabbage something or something cabbage), meatballs in glue sauce, beets... At least the ham, potatoes, slaw and bread were edible. Everything was supposed to be cooked in some fashion with maple sugar. For a minute I thought the Sweet n Low might be maple, too.

For dessert they brought plain crepes (which they called pancakes) with maple syrup, and afterwards they poured maple syrup on shaved ice for everyone to make lollypops. That was kind of cool, but we were rushed because another group was waiting to come in for their turn at the show and dinner. They gave out bitty maple candies and invited everyone to shop at their gift $hop.

I can see where a sugar shack would be great fun for friends and family in the dead of winter. The purpose is to get drunk, sing and clog dance, and I suppose that all the sugar helps you metabolize the alcohol. There were quite a few alcoholic drinks offered with maple sugar in them that most of the tour group imbibed in. The one name I remember was a "caribou."

When I got back I looked it up on the Net, and stole this from here. Theoretically, a caribou is a mix of red Port and alcohol that is drunk primarily at winter Festival and sugaring-offs. The name is Algonquin. A more commonly-used caribou consists of port and brandy always, with additions of sugar, honey, maple syrup and/or mineral water (regular or bubbly).

The theory is that Port is the "Englishman's wine," and brandy is French, so you get the French-English thing going, plus the Quebecois maple sugar.

Here's a recipe for a winter festival. I converted from drams to ounces:
Stir together in some sort of drinking vessel:
1 oz. (16 drams) Port (Ruby or Tawny, depending on the depths of one's taste and pocket book)
0.75 oz. (12 drams) Brandy (French or Greek, depending on the depths of one's taste, pocket book and national affiliation)
0.375 ounces (6 drams) Canada No. 1 Maple Syrup (no substitutions, please) Consume.
Go dance with whatever in your vicinity most resembles the Michelin Man.

PS: Tonight's hotel room paintings were the same as in the Montreal hotel. Nice, but repetitive. (I wonder how I can get in that market?)

I would have been frantic about missing half of Gilmore Girls, a "fresh" episode, but had discovered earlier in the day that even though the hotel had all the major US non-cable networks, including (I believe) PAX, it didn't carry the WB. Darn! At this writing the ep has yet to be rerun.

28 September

So many TV stations don't sign on until 6 AM! I saw one beautiful sign-on animation of the country set to "Oh, Canada." Another station had a longer live-action version with gorgeous images — wild horses pounding across mountain streams, hawks flying over vast plains, children playing in lovely parks — and right in the middle was a quick flash of a guy madly hacking away at the ice on his windshield as a snowstorm raged. Hee!

Watched a bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in French. This was the episode where Anya goes vengeance demon again and faces a punishment of death from the Slayer. Willow's voice was spot-on. Xander is suddenly "Alex." During Anya's song reprise I noted that they'd rewritten it with French lyrics that seemed to say the same as the original.

Saw the Simpsons, where their song was kept in English. Bart, Lisa and Marge were perfect. Homer? Eh. As for Dora l'exploratrice, I couldn't say as I didn't stay around for her, though I was curious if they kept her Spanish intact.

I said that by packing a month early I could include everything I needed, right? Well, I forgot to make sure that the sunglasses were actually in the suitcase and hadn't fallen to the side on the couch. Also to save space I packed some Dove sure-hold hair stuff, which turned out not so sure of itself. As soon as any breeze reached me, my hair would suddenly go SPROIIIING!!!! and revert to a mass of Brillo. Darn that my usual Elmer's Industrial-Strength Instant Nails and Curl Hold Glue was too big to pack! Next time I'll save room for it.

The hotel had a covered loading zone that noted roof height in feet and inches. Sometimes Canadian measurements are metric and sometimes they aren't. People blame the disorganization on the US. If the US went metric, then Canada would do so 100%. Seems to me that Canada should set a good example, no? I mean, eh?

Quebec is gorgeous!!! There are so many picturesque streets in both the upper and lower cities. There was an art gallery where the featured painter used large painting knives only — such bright colors! Such beautifully simplified compositions! He swashed across passages for grass and massed in autumnal foliage with just a few deft knife strokes. (The clouds didn't work well in the style, but... Well, I think it was something one had to get used to. Brushed-in clouds would have looked weird. Maybe it was the flat sky they sat on that was the problem. Maybe it wasn't a problem at all. I want to see it again to make up my mind. [scratches head])

When we first got off the bus in lower Quebec, it was to start with a camera moment looking up at the famous Hotel Frontenac. Spectacular! And my camera refused to work. We walked through gorgeous antique streets and I couldn't take pictures! Arrrgh! Though the camera had never given me a "low battery" message, I prayed that was all it was.

Our guide pointed out a hideous "gift from France" sculpture in the lower town. He said that when the cloth was lifted from it at its dedication, people laughed to see that the sculpture was still in a box. Surprise! The ultra-modern, too-simplistic box WAS the sculpture for this oldest of towns. How long did the French think about THAT gift? (I tried to find a pic on the Web and couldn't, sorry.)

mural of quebecersSaw a SPECTACULAR trompe l'oeil mural. Read more about this here. It's absolutely amazing, even up close. Take a look: that's a FLAT WALL. No indentations, no butting sections. The central portion portrays the four seasons, starting at the bottom: spring through winter. Tourists pose next to Samuel de Champlain, that guy standing front-and-center, who is lifesize.

A musician was playing crystal glasses (!) nearby. How beautiful! He had a boombox for accompaniment and sold CDs. Shoulda got one.

Saw "the World" from afar, a cruise ship made of condos that start at $1.5 million that cruises the world. The QE II rolled into dock the day we left the city.

Went off on a tour outside the city. Saw a coppersmith's shop - lots of religious panels there. A woodcutter's shop: he did religious stuff and Canadian legend pictures. A lady acted out the stories shown on a room-wide panel of Canadian legends. She was delightful, quite OTT and her actions explained what her heavy French accent did not.

Ste. Anne de Beaupre Stopped at Ste. Anne de Beaupré, a big cathedral associated with miracles. I figured what the hey as I spotted a drug store nearby and split from the group. Drug stores usually offer extra cash with purchase, right? On the way I saw a sign with a logo made of several swashes. It looked banklike. Or maybe farm machine-like. I rounded the corner: Desjardins. Isn't that a bank? I knew it was a major stop on the Underground City. Inside it certainly looked like a bank.

"Est-ce que vous parlez l'anglais?" I asked, and one clerk said, "Un peu." An overstatement. Through pantomime we got the ATM to work!!! Miracle!

Then I decided to try that drug store. (Turned out I couldn't have gotten extra $$ there after all.) I held up the camera battery. "Avez-vous—" and I brandished it with a wave matching my fluent French. After a bit of a search we found the battery!!! Miracle!

The clerk held the old one in the air with a question on her face. "Bye-bye," I waved at it. She laughed and so did the clerk next to her as she tossed it in the trash.

Outside I tried the battery in the camera. It worked!!! Miracle!

On the way back we took the oldest road? highway? in Canada or North America to see said woodworker and a country bakery (zzz). Saw a second of a GORGEOUS shot: quaint silo, horse pasture, rolling hills, and river. I wanted to scream to the bus driver to stop so I could take some pictures. Oh well.

The terrain there is flat along the river, then suddenly you're in the foothills. It's often literally the difference between a front and back yard, with the bottom of a very steep, large demi-mountain bearing down on people's back doors. Hope they have good drainage systems! To the south of the St. Lawrence the mountains are the Appalachians. To the north, they're the Laurentians.

Montmorency Falls Bus driver Vic did slow and stop ON THE REAL FOUR-LANE HIGHWAY at Montmorency Falls so I could get some shots through the window. How sad! They built practically up to the falls and left very little natural around it. Montmorency is more than 100 feet higher than Niagara, but doesn't look too high from these pics, does it?

For its importance in Canadian history, the Plains of Abraham was disappointing. It had one view platform that didn't show you much (though it was quite crowded up there and there might have been signs I didn't see), the bathrooms were small and dirty, it had one souvenir stand, and NO tour guides. Hundreds of people strolled about looking rather lost, if you ask me. I don't recall any informational signs.

I know I was wandering around asking, "Plains of what?" Our own guide said something about General Wolfe or somebody being at Montmorency Falls when he found out that the English (was Wolfe one of theirs?) had doubled back and were trying to get into Quebec. "Who won?" I wondered. I thought that Wolfe guy was somebody important because of Benedict Arnold. I must have heard Wolfe mentioned concerning Arnold's attack attempt on Quebec (Arnold's opponent had served under Wolfe), which happened 16 years after the Wolfe battle. Ignorant American! (Don't worry; I'm reading a Canadian history book now.)

Went back to Old Quebec upper city this time. We were dropped off for 3 hours. The sun was going down, but I got a few good street shots before then. The lower city was all in shadow and would have made crappy shots. I found out later that the sorta outside elevator Funicular (funiculee! funiculah!) stopped at 6 PM. I would have been stranded down there unless I wanted to climb 200+ stairs on the Casse-Cou/BreakYourNeck stairway.

I got a question answered from my first brief visit to the city. The big building to the right of the train station is some kind of income tax place.

The steep streets of Old Quebec are VERY narrow. Our local guide pointed out one squeezed-in one-lane street and said that until a few years ago, it was actually two lanes. Then he pointed out another street that seemed to descend at about ninety degrees, ending at a stop sign at a cross street. "Imagine winter," he said. "Oh! La la!"

Auberge du TeresorAfter carefully comparing price and menus, I stopped at the Conti Cafe on Rue St.-Louis for some SUPERB chicken cordon bleu. It was "only" $30 — cheap considering how close to the Hotel F it was — but again I had an "every bite is yummy!" experience!

There was a great twilight view from the Frontenac. Never found the picturesque lobby that everyone said to be sure to see. Prices were sky-high everywhere.

A wonderful saxophonist and vocalist played in the dusk next to a few fresh-air cafes next to InfoTouriste. The horse-drawn carriages didn't take credit cards ($75/hour).

29 September

Breakfast at the hotel was so-so, had to fight all the Asian tourists (almost literally. One pushed me out of her way as she barreled through, breaking the serving line. The lady behind her gave me an apologetic smile, though). There were three million tourists in the hotel, all wanting to eat at the same time. The staff handled it expertly. They were nice, unlike the people upstairs in the lobby.

On the road — terrible wind! The news when we first arrived in QC had talked about the worst flooding in Quebec history and I'd thought that was the dregs of Hurricane Rita coming through, but this day was probably Rita. We drove through terrible downpours. The bus was literally blown onto the side of the road several times. Vic looked worried.

Before booking the tour I'd made sure we were going to come back on I-40, which follows the St. Lawrence closely (hah! Didn't see it except at Quebec City and Cap de la Madeleine) and goes through Trois Rivieres, which was potentially so important to my fantasy series. I needed a mountain near Trois Rivieres for Our Heroes to build their interstellar headquarters upon.

Well, it's flat. Flat, flat, flat. But it does have nice rivers. I think they go like this:
Three Rivers symbol because there were a lot of signs with that kind of graphic on them. So it's kind of a delta, I guess, and SHOULD be flat. Possibly I'll move Three Worlds up above Montreal instead. FYI: Trois Rivieres has the only bridge that spans the St. Lawrence between Montreal and Quebec.

I don't recall if it was before 3Rivers or after that we went down to Cap de la Madeleine, but suddenly here we were on the river's edge, all alone in this huge bus parking lot. There was a big cathedral up on a little hill or rise, and a much smaller stone chapel a little ways away from it. It had a nice park you could stroll through, with a pseudo-suspension walking bridge that they'd put blobs on the wiring so it looked like a rosary. Unfortunately they also strung it with those big outdoor Christmas lightbulbs, which might have looked charming at night but during the day just looked like someone had hit Wal-Mart on the day after Christmas sale and brought home every ugly light they had left. A monastery or nunnery provided a boundary to the little park.

Cap de la Madeleine
At the base of the cathedral was a cafeteria with vending machines and bathrooms. I mean, washrooms. One lady squealed, "I've never SEEN so many toilets!" By the time we left, the parking lot was overflowing with tour buses and the bathrooms were thankfully NOT overflowing with the standing(or sitting)-room-only crowd. Many of the tourists admired our bus's lovely side mural, a copy of a real wall-sized mural that is in some Canadian town whose name I didn't catch. It's done beautifully, and apparently all of Canada or some large group of regular people voted as to what scenes around the country it should represent. I'm sorry my photo doesn't do it any kind of justice at all:

our bus

Interestingly enough, Rita eased up just long enough for us to get off the bus, have our look around, and get back on. Of course I dropped my flyer for the place and had to sign onto the Net when I got back to ask, "Where was I?" to get the name. I decided to use my reference photos for Sean Dye's painting knife workshop at Raleigh's 2005 "Art of the Carolinas" event. It didn't turn out half-bad, considering it was my first time since 1973 with a painting knife. Oh yeah, the medium is also new to me: water-soluble oils. That sucker's going to take a year to dry!

We stopped in Montreal for lunch. All I wanted was soup & salad, but could only find a grilled chicken salad — and it turned out it came with soup. Unfortunately it also came with BBQ sauce, ick. It was much too big of a serving, plus they included a mountain of various breads.

Passed a lake just outside the city to the north and then — nothing. Flat. All the way (2+ hours) to Ottawa. Mostly scrub forest to either side of the highway, but every now and then there'd be a ruddy red leaf amidst the greenery.