Here goes the first of my holiday nostalgia posts. I’m reliving the magic of my North American break via blog post and I’m taking you guys with me! I tried to stay on top of posting while I was travelling, I really did. I even started this post on a train from Québec City to Montréal on December 27th. The one line I had drafted was “I am writing this while on the ViaRail train from Québec City to Montréal”.
I won’t tell you about the trains yet, though. Let’s talk about my magical week in Québec City. People don’t lie when they say Québec is a corner of Europe in North America. So much French! My rudimentary efforts at learning French on duolingo actually paid off a couple of times (“he wants to stop at the bank” dear taxi driver thank you for humouring me) but the rest of the time I was mostly disappointed that nobody wanted to talk about black cats and eating apples. Every person who asked us where we were from was scandalised that we’d chosen to leave the warmth of Australia for the bitter cold of Québec City. The grass is always greener!
It WAS bitterly cold, too. And we loved every second of it. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time out in it due to my broken ankle, but I made the most of it. I stared at the beautiful snowscapes just outside the window. I told myself that one day my ankle wouldn’t be broken any more and I’d come back to Québec City with two working legs so I could explore within the walls of the beautiful Vieux-Québec and take the boxy funiculaire down to the Rue du Petit Champlain, the beautiful shopping street that is shown in so many stunning wintry Christmas photos. It would have been near an impossible feat on crutches. Even without decent snow shoes, walking around Québec City was treacherous—as my sister in her Doc Martens could attest to!
I found the powdery snow the easiest to hop through, as my rubber-based crutches and my own solo Doc Marten would crunch down into the powder and it’d feel like fairly stable grounding. The worst was old snow that’d been crunched down into ice, and I was even wary of ground that didn’t have a powder covering. The good news was that it snowed often enough in Québec that there was usually powder everywhere! Still, having to go any further on crutches than 50m or so was fairly exhausting anyway, and with the added concentration, balance and mild panic from the new terrain I had no experience with meant I was very easily pooped out. My most terrifying crutches journey was downhill one short block on an icy sidewalk from a lunch spot to the ecolobus and is still seared into my memory a month later! I literally crawled onto the bus once I’d made it to the door. Being temporarily crippled means temporarily sacrificing a great deal of your dignity.
To be honest, the holiday was probably about as challenging as I’d expected it to be, so at least it wasn’t any worse?
And there were so many wonderful things about it, they far outweighed the negatives.
Here’s how our week in Québec panned out, skipping the first couple of days of travel because they got covered in my last post (despite the fact that I relived them again when drafting this post, having forgotten about said last post).
Sunday 22 December
CATASTROPHIC ICE STORM? Québec City avoided the worst of it but a lot of Québec and northern USA got slammed by this storm. Québec City was just kind of beautiful and white out our second floor apartment windows. We stayed inside all day just in case… (catastrophic ice storm).
Monday 23 December
Shopping adventure! We caught a cab to Laurier Québec to pick up some Christmas presents that were small enough to travel with us, ha! You have to have something to open on Christmas Day. Family rules. Laurier also had a free wheelchair hire which made getting around far easier than crutches (though mum and Fatboy did a fair amount of pushing for me because it wasn’t the most fluid of chairs). We hit up a lot of stores that don’t exist down in Australia—Old Navy, H&M and David’s Tea were on the list. I insisted on poutine for lunch—dirty, dirty poutine from Chez Ashton. It was incredible.
We also stopped in at the Marché du Vieux-Port on the way home to pick up a yule log cake mum had ordered (and for a couple more sneaky presents), but no wheelchair there meant I was very quickly and absolutely buggered. We took a cab home. The family went out for an evening stroll that night while I hung around at the apartment. No strolling for this li’l cripple!
Tuesday 24 December
MAGICAL WINTER WONDERLAND DAY OF DOG SLEDDING, KITTENS, AND SLEIGH RIDING. I’m dedicating a whole blog post to this ridiculous day so you’re just going to have to wait for that. Soon, I promise.
Wednesday 25 December
Christmas! We rolled out of bed and got dressed just in time to get up to Fairmont Le Château Frontenac for Christmas brunch banquet, which was glitzy and quite glamourous. After all our jokes about our Aussie-style Christmas brunches of cold seafood and sushi having to go by the wayside this year, we ended up with—yep! Cold seafood and sushi being part of the banquet! Though there were also delicious hot meats and really just way too much food. Also Père Noël.
we’d heard rumours of great views out of the Château’s river-facing windows, so as I couldn’t make it down to the promenade along the walls of the old town, after brunch we scouted through the halls of the Château for said windows. And we found them! It looked really nice out there. My sister snapped this pitiful photo of me.
Once we were home again, it was time for holiday presents. I also got to take my fibreglass cast off on Christmas day—my best Christmas present. It had already been split for the long-haul flights, so it just needed the velcro straps removed and a couple of scissor-nicks at the edges, and I was free! The first thing I did was have a bath with a Lush bath bomb I’d bought on the 23rd. It was freaking glorious. The second thing I did was suit up in the CAM boot I’d brought over with me, as per doctor’s orders. Still another week of no weight bearing to look forward to, but I was free of the cast!
We finished the day with Skype calls back home to Australia to wish a merry Christmas to brother Dudley and his girlfriend and also our dad, and then a viewing of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. It’s our family Christmas movie, and this year couldn’t have been more appropriate.
Thursday 26 December
Aquarium du Québec day! Also, snow day! Which made travelling around the largely outdoor aquarium kind of hilarious. Another wheelchair for hire but up and down snowy hills? Many giggles and a great deal of mum-power! Well, she wanted to stay fit while she was travelling…
The arctic fox was the thing that blew me away. Not really a standard aquarium creature… but maybe that’s part of the reason I was blown away—I wasn’t expecting him at all! What a ridiculously stunning animal.
After the aquarium we caught a cab to Le Chic Shack on my request for ridiculous poutine, burgers and shakes. After lunch was my treacherous crutch-journey downhill, mentioned above. This whole trip was quite roundabout… in order to get as close as possible via public transport to our apartment, we had to catch the ecolobus right down to the port, and then catch it back up into Old Québec to the end of our street. One-way loops! It did allow me to see a bit more of the city though, and that’s why I wanted to do it. It did make for a lot of scary snow-crutching though.
Friday 27 December
Time to leave our winter wonderland behind. We packed up and shipped out, down to Gare du Palais train station to catch the ViaRail to Montréal for the night. The train ride was great—we had a four-seater booth to ourselves with a table to set up our wifi devices on, and beautiful white scenery to take in out the windows.
Once we got to Montréal the evening took a nosedive, as our Airbnb accommodation wasn’t suitable for my broken ankle (see: a flight of steel stairs outside, heavy snow everywhere). We found alternative accommodation quickly, back at the place mum and stepdad had stayed for a night on their way to Québec City a week earlier. I was pretty out of sorts from having to change our plans (I felt like it was All My Fault because it was my dumb broken ankle and I had also made the Airbnb booking) and with no wheelchair, I wouldn’t be cavorting around and exploring with the one evening in Montréal I had, so I stayed holed up in the hotel feeling pretty blue. But then my family brought me a ridiculously enormous smoked meat sandwich (the one thing I desperately wanted to eat in Montréal) and things got better.
Saturday 28 December
Back to Montreal’s Gare Centrale to board the Amtrak Adirondack to Penn Station, New York City.
I was in a pretty good mood for more trains after the ViaRail trip the day before, but we went from an excellent allocated-four-seats-and-table trip on ViaRail to an unallocated, dingy and feral (i.e. the toilets clogged around halfway through the twelve-hour journey) trip on Amtrak. We couldn’t even get a four-seat arrangement, all seats were facing forward. So no great table in the middle either. For accessibility reasons, I sat in the first seat nearest the door—but this seat was also right next to The Bag Stack. Amtrak don’t check any bags in, see, so you personally have to stack your bags in the front of each carriage. This can lead to pile-ups and tumbles and I can tell you, bag tumbles happened on multiple occasions.
It was amusing (sorry, ‘amusing’) because we were expecting this beautiful day-long picturesque trip—I blame my google mind, because I stumbled across a quote a few months ago that said “the National Geographic Traveler magazine called the Adirondack one of the world’s top ten railroad trips” and that got my hopes up—instead it was like travelling on a freight train. Well ok, it was probably a little better than a freight train, but after twelve hours you go a little stir crazy. Still, as the sun set, the snow slowly disappeared from the landscape just outside the window, and soon enough the great Hudson river was racing us toward Manhattan.
And thus concludes this blog post. It really should have ended at the 1.5hrs the train spent stopped at the Canada-USA border (and how often my phone jumped back and forth from welcoming me to the USA and welcoming me to Canada during those 1.5hrs) but I wanted to get the bad train taste out of my mouth in time for my next blog post.