Closing our time in Quebec

I am combining our last 2 days into a single post. A lot of the town was closed, so we used this time to enjoy some peace and quiet and relax before returning to work.  On January 1 we slept in and enjoyed the morning.  We made our way down to the promenade by Château Frontenac and got inline for the toboggan.  Samer was in front and I held on to him.   Clearly, our sled was much heavier than the 2 families next to us and we were the first down the hill and we made it all the way to the end.  It’s very fun.

We had lunch at a place called Chez Boulay, Bistro boréal.  It was very good.   They were only serving the brunch menu, but I had a wonderful steak with a side of poutine.  This was the only poutine I ate on the trip and it was clearly an upscale version of it.    It was a lovely lunch. Afterward, we split a piece of galette des rois from the bakery called Paillard.   It’s a very good frangipane pastry.    Ours had a thin layer of strawberry jam that made it all the more delicious.

We didn’t really do anything else that day.  Sam did some book shopping at one of the few open stores and I took a nap. We had dinner at a bar called Laurentien Buvette Gourmande.   The food was good, but not particularly memorable.  I had a great beer from a brewery called Oshlag.  I really enjoyed it and would love to get my hands on another.  It was this evening that Samer found his new favorite youtube cook, La Petite Belle. She’s a funny youtube chef who teaches a lot of Quebecois recipes.   I don’t speak french and can follow along, so check it out.

On our final day, we spent the morning packing and then went for a coffee at Maelstrøm Saint-Roch. The bakeries were closed, so there was no bread to enjoy. I rather like that commitment to serving fresh bread and pastry.  We have it or we don’t, that’s what we serve.

We had lunch at a place called The Billig.   They serve very good ciders.  I had a great crepe and soup.     Samer did not care for his crepe but loved the french onion soup.  I thought the waiter was a nice guy and he recommended some great ciders. We meandered through the city one last time before it was time to go. We walked through the big city park called The Plains of Abraham and found the entrance to the boardwalk that ends at Chateau Frontenac.   We walked along that, said goodbye to the wonderful city of Quebec and made our way back to the apartment to grab our bags and fly home.

I loved this trip and I love Quebec.   I am noticing that with every birthday my appreciation of relaxation grows.  Quebec was this really nice place to explore something new, relax and not feel like I am missing something.  The people were nice, the food was good, and the city is beautiful.   I completely recommend visiting Quebec and I really want to visit during the warmer months.

December 31 in QBC

We had a quiet day on December 31, because we knew that we’d be up late for the new years’ festivities. It was wonderful to wake up to a fresh snowfall.   It made the city look lovely. It was picturesque.

We went to a bakery called Croquembouche near the house.   It is a very famous bakery in Quebec.   I think I ordered wrong.  I had something that looked like a cinnamon roll that was covered in caramel.   It was a bit too sweet for me.  I should have just ordered a croissant.  The caramel was a proper caramel (and not a frosting), so it was a bit tough to get through.   It was a lovely dessert that I did not want to eat at 9 am.

We made our way to Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.  This is the province’s 3 building art museum.  We were probably not in the mood to enjoy the museum, so please accept my forthcoming criticism with a grain of salt.   We started in the Contemporary Art pavilion.   Very little in this building was of interest to me.  The top floor did have one gallery reserved for Inuit art, which I enjoyed very much.

The modern art building is in an old jail which is pretty cool.   Our guide from the day before told us that when he first arrived in Quebec many years ago it had been a hostel and he stayed in it.   There are still cells.  Each floor is given to 2 famous Quebecois artists.  Every gallery was specific to male artists. There was not a one featured female artist in this building. Come on Quebec.  Do better.   You do not have one female artist that you are proud of?   Yikes.   I did like the work of Jean Paul Lemieux.

We had an uninteresting bite to eat at the museum and made our way home to read and relax before dinner.  I am reading Howards End, because of just seeing The Inheritance.  I was happy to enjoy a beer on the couch while reading it.

We had dinner at Tanière³.   This is quite the experience.  This is a fine dining restaurant in a 400-year-old wine cellar (Can we call this buttigieging?) At times, it feels quite gimmicky, but somehow it all works together.    This was a 12-course meal, focused on the ingredients from the Quebec province.   I did not have very high expectations for the place.  I thought it was going to expensive and cliche.   It was indeed expensive, but the food lived up to it.  Some highlights indued: bison tartar, mussels & leeks, a wonderful oyster, & elk served 2 ways.

After dinner, we made out way to the parliament building.  It was snowing and there was a stage with a guy doing a bunch of cover music.   The french music was fun and people danced a lot to it.   American rock covers made me laugh.  Clearly, an American rock hit after 1985 has been unable to permeate the Quebec borders.   Listening to a man with a pretty heaving Quebecois accent singing Cotton Eye Joe to a crowd of a 1000 people in the snow was a delightfully unique experience.

The Quebecois have a unique love of circus feats. Cirque du Soleil was born in Quebec and we ascertained that our Airbnb apartment was owned by a Cirque du Soleil performer. During the New Years’ shows, the lead of the cover band took off his shirt, strapped his fighter jet shaped guitar to a stand and then did a single-handed handstand while using the other hand to play the theme from Top Gun. The stand raised him at least 20 feet above the stage and then smoke came out of the guitar simulated a takeoff. WILD. The crowd loved it.

When we got to midnight, there were enough fireworks to make it look like noon. We were completed surrounded by fireworks and the launchpads were fairly close to us. It was fantastic. After that, we walked up to the competing EDM festival. We stopped in for a few minutes. Another 1000 people were out for that festival and the 2 parties were only a few blocks from one another.

The entire night was filled with people of all ages.   There were kids running around both festivals.   Tourists mixing with locals and people enjoying their night.   Every time we slipped on the ice there was someone close by to lend a hand.    The people were really nice. We slipped and slid our way back to the house and fell asleep at a reasonable time for New Year’s Eve.

Follow up on pâté chinois

I was thinking about the pâté chinois I ate at la Buche on Saturday night.  It’s basically a KFC bowl, with better ingredients and no chicken.  The meal was not super impressive and the name got under my skin. Pâté chinois translates to Chinese paste. hmm? Nothing seems like it comes from Chinese cuisine. Why not just call it hachis parmentier or (heaven forbid) shepherd’s pie?

Either way, Patton Oswalt said it best, this is not the way an adult eats.

It’s snowing in Québec

I am home for the night and I thought I’d make a few notes about the last two days. Yesterday, we went on a tour with a local named Yves. (It’s pronounced Eves, you silly Philistine.) Yves is a semi-retired economist who now runs a community organization called Bien Vivre à Saint-Roch.  He was a great guide who taught us a lot about Quebec history and he ended the tour at the farmers’ market I wanted to visit the day before. He served us a nice lunch of local cheeses, bread, salad, cider, and Christmas cake.   It was really nice.

The market is called Grand Marché de Québec and it is nowhere near the place we walked to yesterday.  While we were there we tasted a lot of ciders, ice ciders, locals wines, and even a whiskey.  This left us a little tipsy and we ended up buying 7 or 8 bottles of local alcohol. Buying while drinking is never a good idea, but the liquor shelf back in Philadelphia will appreciate it.

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We ended Sunday with a very nice dinner at a place called Chez Rioux & Pettigrew. It was really good. I had a perfect piece of salmon, and Samer had a halibut appetizer that was delightful. I thought my fried bread pudding dessert was amazing and I want more of it while I am typing out the memory. So good.

Today, we went dog sledding at Mont Saint-Anne. We went with a company called Les Secrets Nordiques.  It’s a 2-hour excursion and it is really fun, though you are probably on the sleds for an hour.   We started out with me riding and Samer driving, and then we switched.   The guides didn’t tell us when we hit the halfway point, so I rode for about 2/3 of the trip and drove for about 1/3.  Our start was a little shaky.   Our dogs surged forward and then started fighting with another team of dogs.  One of our dogs broke free and started to run away!   It was kind of intense, but we pulled it together and hit the trails.

After the dog sledding, we went to a spa for lunch and relaxation. It was called Le Nordique spa Mont Ste-Anne and it was lovely. There are outdoor hot baths and saunas.   You do something hot (a bath, a sauna, or something) and then you are supposed to do something cold.   There is a freezing cold waterfall, a cold rain shower, and you can even jump in the frozen lake!  I barely touched the cold water stuff.  The air was freezing when I would leave the pool and that seemed sufficient to complete the hot and cold cycle. There was one old québécois lady who did jump in the frozen lake. I was impressed, but deep down I judged her for being insane. We went to relax in a yurt with a fireplace after a bit.

For dinner, we split a great charcuterie platter at a local brewery in Quebec called Noctem Artisans Brasseurs. The québécois know meats and cheeses and I love them for it.

YUL & Québec City

We are in transit to Québec City for a short vacation. We can’t use the lounge because it is on the international side of airport security, and we can’t get to it because we are on the domestic side of Montreal Airport.

Because of this unfortunate discovery, we find ourselves in an airport restaurant with a lot of game on the wall. This restaurant has this super good hot sauce called La Pimenterie. It was surprisingly hot. I assumed the Quebecois steered clear of spice, but I was wrong.

***Time Jump***

We’ve settled into Quebec City.   It’s pretty and a bit sleepy, which is perfect for a vacation designed around exploration and relaxation.  We started out by taking a walk to the Market Old Port of Quebec, because we thought an indoor market could be a great place to find lunch, and buy some supplies for our apartment. I was pretty hungry when we arrived at the market’s address. News flash. There is no market, it is currently being demolished.

Annoyed about not knowing the state of the market, we wandered into old Quebec.  We stopped for a hot chocolate and slowly walked back home. Close to our house is a great cafe called Maelstrøm Saint-Roch. We stopped in for a beer and made our way to rest.

For dinner, we went to a pretty famous Quebecois place called La Buche. I am glad we made a reservation because it was very busy. We started by ordering barbecued rabbit legs (ailes de lapin) and a salad.  The rabbit was pretty good, but they were drowning in a far too sweet barbecue sauce.   It really masked the meat.

For my entree, I ordered something called pâté chinois. The restaurant describes it as a Quebec shepherds pie with “Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes, Creamy Corn, Bacon, Red-Wine-Braised Beef and Fruit Ketchup”. Samer ordered sausages (saucisses “ils en fument du bon” et sauce aux 3 moutardes). The portions were way too big, but both dishes were good.  This restaurant is fine, but nothing fantastic.

I did try something akin to a cold mulled wine called Kariboo.  The menu described it like this:

Legend has it that this emblematic drink was invented by the coureurs des bois. It’s said that they drank caribou blood, but mixed it with alcohol to make the taste more palatable. Today, you’ll be happy to know that we’ve ditched the blood for a mix of alcohol, wine, and spices.

I liked it and will order another.  After dinner, we decided to walk the 25 minutes home to burn a few of the calories.

Middle East 2019 – Conclusion

I keep this blog in defiance of the great Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, who wrote:

Travel and tell no one,
live a true love story and tell no one,
live happily and tell no one,
people ruin beautiful things.

I write to tell everyone who can find this blog how much I love traveling.  It’s probably my very American identity that aligns the spirit of this blog with Mark Twain, who wrote:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

I travel because I love visiting new places, meeting people, and trying new foods.  I love being gobsmacked at how little I know about the world.   There is no amount of reading the newspaper or watching documentaries that can ever tell me what the lemonade at Petra tastes like or how quiet the desert in Wadi Rum is at midnight. I guess that is why I always loved the line from Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams’ character says, “I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel.”

This trip was great and quite different for me.   We traveled with a lot more people than I am accustomed to and I had to get used to that.   When Spencer, Samer, Holly, and I travel we each have a role and one never feels too much burden.  This time, Samer and I both were definitely the leads of at least half of the trip.  There was some stress with that identity, but nothing I didn’t overcome.   “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” I guess.  Samer had the added responsibility of being the translator.

With all of that being said, this was an excellent trip that I enjoyed.   I think 2 weeks is a great way to see Jordan and Lebanon.   Jordan and Lebanon could not be more different.  Jordan is an Arab country with a fairly cohesive identity to a westerner. Lebanon is an Arab country with a grab bag of identities from all over in it.   When you are in Jordan, the language of the country is obviously Arabic.   When you are in Lebanon, you never really know what language to choose.   Signs are in Arabic, French, and English.   Hell, in the right neighborhood you’ll also see Armenian.

An unexpected outcome of this trip was about my career.   It’s no shocker, that I have not loved my work for the last couple of years.   I left the trip wondering if I could make a business at being a modern-day travel agent.   I’d happily research and design an untested itinerary for a trip and sell it to you.   I love reading about places, chatting with locals online about unrecorded opportunities, and making a plan for others to follow.  Honestly, I think I am pretty good at it. This is not a tenable business plan, but I have fantasized about it since I left.  It’s more evidence that it may be time to do something different with my profession.

In order to coordinate everything, we used apps like tripit, travefy, and splitwise.  I am sad to see travefy is disappearing.  It was a great app to create itineraries.     I thought Royal Jordanian was a good airline.   I would like to visit Jordan again and explore Amman.   I could see myself doing 3 days there before a trip to Lebanon. I will return to Lebanon.  There is more to see, more food to try, and more wine to taste.

Everyone should go to these 2 countries.  I am not sure I would do anything different.  I enjoyed myself at every stop. I really enjoy the Middle East.  I struggle to make sure that I am not patronizing or fetishizing the Middle East.  I do not understand it, I do not fancy myself an expert in it, but I will continue to humble myself to its people and cultures.  It is only then, that I (maybe we) can begin to learn about the Middle East.

Josh