on roadtripping and québec city

The end of the road trip is always hard. I’m writing this post, about the final road trip day of the summer 2012 trip, on the day after my 2014 trip ended. So I’m feeling extra wistful about the peace that the road trip brings. Two years ago, just about to the day, I was heading home after a tour of the Gaspésie that included stops in Québec’s two major cities, Montréal and Québec City. On the final day of our trip (before the boring “get home as fast as possible” part), Christina, Jules, and I enjoyed a day in Québec City.

Québec City is the provincial capital, the heart of the proud québecois people and home to the most European part of all of North America. On the cobblestoned, winding streets in the old city, it’s easy to forget that I’m not actually thousands of miles across the Atlantic, eating croissants in a charming French town.

We started the day with a ferry ride across the St. Lawrence, from Lévis to Old Québec. It’s a nice way to avoid driving into the old city, especially when the bridge is under construction. It’s also a nice view!

We would spend most of the day wandering around the Château Frontenac, the old hotel and most recognizable landmark in the old city.

The old city is split into two parts, Lower Town and Upper Town. The Frontenac is in the Upper Town. It’s a bit of a hike, so we took the funicular up this time.

The hotel and surrounding area is a World Heritage Site!

Once we were in the Upper Town, we stayed there for the rest of the day, walking on picturesque streets, munching on French goodies, and taking a lot of photos.

From the research that Christina had done, we knew that we needed to eat lunch at Paillard. The lunches were exceptional, and the bread was out-of-this-world kinds of amazing. The bread was so good that we went back up to the counter and bought more bread when we were done. We were also so excited to buy a box of macarons, but we were so full of bread that we saved the macarons until later in the afternoon. When we took a break and found a shady spot to enjoy our macarons, we were dismayed to discover that they were pretty much terrible. The lemon one tasted like cleaning products smell, and we tossed it into a shrub. So don’t waste money on the macarons at Paillard, but absolutely buy a lot of bread.

After lunch, we climbed a little higher to walk on the walls. Old Québec was once a fortress, and most of the walls are still standing.

We were there during the Festival d’Été (Summer Festival), which meant that a good portion of the Plains of Abraham were blocked off for a concert. They were blocked off for an LMFAO concert, which meant that hordes of youths were running around the old city in the most ridiculous neon getups you can imagine. The whole thing felt a little wrong, so we vacated the wall and plains area after that and stuck to the old city.

We stopped at the provincial parliament building. The other side of the building was covered with scaffolding and a drapery, as opposed to when I last saw it two years earlier.

Parliament was much quieter, except for a couple of girls who were playing in the fountain, despite being much too old to play in a public fountain.

I decided to purchase this house. I think it’s a historical landmark, but whatevs.

We soon found ourselves back by the Frontenac for more photos and a break on the boardwalk.

An “entertainer” was doing some sort of act involving a bicycle and a Barbie doll. I think something was lost in translation.

After a nice time sitting outside the Frontenac, we decided to head back across the river a little early. We had greatly underestimated the amount of driving that would happen on this road trip, and as a result, we were pretty exhausted by the last day. And nothing sounded better to us than getting across the river before the LMFAO neon kids swarmed onto the boat, and while we still had enough time to go back to the ice cream place. Maybe we were starting to get old, but we were still making fantastic memories.

July 7, 2014 at 10:37 pm Leave a comment

the sun sets on quebec city

After our photo session with the “Grand Rassemblent” sculptures in Sainte-Flavie, we started to head back west.

Our last stop before Québec City was Notre-Dame-du-Portage, a small town on the St. Lawrence with a charming church. Jules and I had stopped here before, in 2010, and since then, we’ve fondly remembered the church as one of the loveliest that we’ve photographed. And we’ve photographed a lot of churches.

Notre-Dame-du-Portage is town of about 1200 people, about a 2-hour drive northeast from Quebec City. It’s just outside of Rivière-du-Loup, a city of about 20,000 people. The church was built in 1859 and is right on the seaway.

Cemetery next to the church, above, and view from the front steps, below.

Our final destination that evening was Lévis, the city across the St. Lawrence from Québec City. We decided to stay there so we could take advantage of cheaper accommodations and a picturesque ferry ride to the old city the next day. After checking into our hotel, we were delighted to find a St-Hubert just up the street, so we got in one more chicken-and-cole-slaw fix for this trip.

Afterwards, we ventured further into Lévis, following a couple of recommendations from a photographer friend of mine. Stéphane had told us about Les Chocolats Favoris, a terrific chocolate and ice cream shop, as well a great spot to watch the sun set, with views of the river and the old city.

The ice cream and sorbets were legendary, as were the views! From the ice cream shop, we walked a few blocks and found a lovely spot with benches facing the river. A few other people joined us, and once we finished our ice cream, I started setting up my tripod. The people were chuckling a little, and they finally told us that they thought I was unfolding a fishing rod and wanted to fish in the river (we were a couple of blocks inland, though it was still a clear view over the ferry building). We all laughed about that and they stayed a while longer. The girls and I were in it for the long haul, though, and my series of photos from that night is a little Monet variations-of-light-on-the-haystacks-esque. I’ll share a few of my favourites!

Photography is a fascinating medium…the two photos above were taken within minutes of each other, but the top photo is a single exposure, and the bottom, is a three-exposure HDR merge.

The Château Frontenac is allegedly the world’s most-photographed hotel!

After the sun sank behind the hills in the distance, the underside of the clouds lit up for a few minutes. Gorgeous!

Yes, I even brought a flash in anticipation of a tripod timer photo!

This is another HDR image. None of the single exposures were this blue, but when I merged the three together, all of this colour erupted!

It’s hard to show off a panorama in blog size, so click here to see it bigger.

By the end of the evening, I was up to 2.5-second exposures. Such a pretty city!

May 30, 2014 at 4:31 pm Leave a comment

that time i almost fell into a river

Christina, Jules, and I left Campbellton, New Brunswick, after having breakfast at our B&B (Dans Les Draps de Morphée) and taking a quick tour of the town’s sights. I should add that Nicole, our host, was very accommodating and pleasant, and the house was great. Being able to add a foldout bed to our room was a big help in keeping this trip on budget and being able to stay somewhere convenient. And I should add that by “town’s sights,” I mean sculptures of salmon. More than one salmon-themed sculpture.

First, I should mention that we were staying a block down the street from the Campbellton Curling Club. The girls and I have a longstanding joke (only it’s not a complete joke) that we’re someday going to go to the Olympics for curling.

The weather wasn’t so great, but we enjoyed the view of Campbellton’s leaping salmon fountain…

…and the stylish fisherman catching a salmon.

The salmon industry has long been crucial to the city of Campbellton, and they even hold a festival for the salmon every summer. Sadly, we just missed it in 2012. The girls and I are quite fond of salmon and would have loved to celebrate it. After our quick driving tour of the waterfront and its fish statues, we were back on the road for another long day in the car. There’s a quicker way to get to Québec City, but in order to complete our circle tour of the Gaspé, we drove north, back to Matane, our starting point for the Gaspésie portion of the trip.

Not too far into our day’s journey, we stopped at a particularly pretty spot where Route 132 crossed a rive, probably the Matapédia, since Route 132 follows it and crosses it a few times.

Pretty enough for a self-po moment!

We stopped at a rest area (I think?) that had a fantastic surprise, just a little while later. Routhierville, QC, boasts a covered bridge spanning the Matapédia River! Serious photo op. I learned later that Québec has quite a lot of covered bridges and that they’re often called “ponts rouges (red bridges)” because of their usual colour, but at the time, the covered bridge was an unplanned bonus.

We took some photos leaning through some trees, and we naturally wanted better angles. Jules had the brilliant idea of walking down the road towards the bridge, as she figured there must be some access point to it, right? I, on the other hand, was desperate for a shot of the majestic red bridge spanning the river, so I started creeping down the steep riverbank. In flip-flops. Holding my camera.

Christina stayed with me, probably because she knew that I was likely to injure myself. It’s a good thing she did, because when I lost my footing and shot down towards the river, I was able to grab onto some plants to keep myself from falling in, but I never would have made it back up that incline with my camera in tact, if she hadn’t been there to take my camera. And since I never would have relinquished the camera, I know that I was just a flimsy branch-footing away from shooting all the way into the river and floating downstream. Which would have totally ruined my camera. Also I don’t know how deep that river is.

But at least I got the shot, right?

Once I was hoisted back to steady ground, C and I found Jules at the entrance to the bridge and we took some more photos there.

And once I recovered from the near-camera-death experience, I skipped back to the car.

One of the other reasons why we’d chosen to take Route 132 north before heading back west for Québec was to go back to Sainte-Flavie (just west of Matane) in daylight. It had been late when we’d arrived in Matane a few days earlier, and we had missed seeing the “Grand Rassemblent,” an installation of slightly creepy wooden sculptures emerging from the St. Lawrence.

And we really did not want to miss this!!

The sculptures are by Marcel Gagnon, and they are outside of the Centre d’Art Marcel Gagnon, where various members of Marcel’s family do various artistic things. There’s also a restaurant and an inn. We browsed in the shop for a bit, but we were mostly there for the “Grand Rassemblent.”

Really cool, slightly creepy, and totally worth backtracking! The overcast weather was actually the perfect backdrop for these photos. Normally I prefer a blue sky with puffy white clouds, but I think that would have looked a little out of place here!

We still had a few hours to go en route to Lévis, across the river from Québec City, and with another stop planned, we had to get back in the car and keep on moving if we wanted to make it to Lévis in time for St-Hubert and ice cream. Which, obviously, we did.

May 26, 2014 at 11:44 pm 2 comments

perfect morning in percé

One of the advantages of staying in the town of Percé was the opportunity to set an alarm for a few minutes before sunrise, roll out of bed when it went off, throw on a sweatshirt, and wander a few steps to the beach for photos of the rock.

Except it was foggy. Really foggy. This way, I got a sliver of sunrise colours, but the view down the beach the other way (in the direction of the rock) was basically just grey fog. I had dreams of finding the right angle to catch the sun coming up through the hole in the rock. I even had an idea of where to go, but it was so foggy, that the only place I went was straight back to bed for a few hours. Props to Christina and Jules for getting up and trotting down to the beach with me, though!

The girls had an early morning boat ride for whale viewing and close-ups of the rock, so we didn’t stay asleep too long. Finances prevented me from joining them, but I had a great morning on my own in Percé. Most of the fog had cleared by the time we ventured out, so I walked down towards the edge of town and crouched on rocks with a tripod for a while, working on different angles of the rock.

 

I also had a delightful French breakfast (croissant and café au lait) at a cheery café along the main road through town.

 

I still had a ton of time after that, so I decided to talk a walk a few blocks inland to scope out the church and the road up the mountain.

St-Michel was stunning, especially on a morning with such a great sky. The church was slightly uphill from the shore, and behind the church is a road that goes up, up, up! I was on foot at the point, so I didn’t venture any further. Plus, I knew the girls would be up for an aerial view once they got off the boat.

I walked back to the main part of town and poked in some of the shops. The night before, I’d really loved the Wazo boutique, so I went back to that shop, and then wandered in some of the more traditional souvenir shops. Before too long, I was welcoming the girls ashore.

Our next task was a bite, and somehow, we ended up going to a bakery in someone’s basement. It was a legit house on a legit neighbourhood street, and I guess we found the address online or something, but the bakery was in the basement. Great baguette, and yummy treats! We went back to our little beach at the hotel for a picnic and planned the rest of the day.

The rest of the day began with a drive up the mountain to take in Percé from above. We didn’t even go as high as we could have, because the dirt road that went straight up and the sign recommending that only 4-wheel-drive vehicles continue deterred us, but we were high enough! What a gorgeous day for a stunning view!

Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to Percé after that, since we still had a long drive planned for the day. Thanks for a wonderful time, Percé!

The southern part of the Gaspé peninsula is not as picturesque as the northern part, and the weather turned sour fairly quickly into the drive. I think this was the day that we had a hard time locating an ATM and, later, a washroom of any sort. We ended up being the least picky we have ever been and pulling into a very rustic, mosquito-riddled rest area late in the evening. Note to self: don’t drink a large iced coffee from T. Ho’s on a route that lacks modern facilities at regular intervals.

In the afternoon, we stopped at an Acadian Museum in Bonaventure, where I bought an Acadia coffee mug and fulfilled one of my souvenir goals for the trip. We also stopped at a farm where they advertised strawberry wine. It was sweet, but in a good way for summer.

Mount St-Joseph looms over Carleton-sur-Mer, and it is home to the Oratoire Notre Dame du Mont St-Joseph. Its breathtaking view was lauded in the guidebook, so we drove up the mountain. It was already getting late, and after a grueling uphill drive, we were shocked by the “tollbooth” style admission. Since we weren’t there in time to see the church anyway, instead of paying for the view, we turned around, found a scenic view from the road, and pulled over for some photos.

Not bad, but I don’t think that being a few feet higher would be worth $18 either, so I think we made the right choice.

Our final destination that evening was Campbellton, just over the border in New Brunswick. In searching for reasonable accommodations for that leg of the trip, we’d settled on a B&B in Campbellton. The purple house was huge and the hosts were friendly, but when we pulled up and went inside to check in, two older couples sat on the porch and stared at us. It was all very judgey, without anyone saying a word. Instead of lugging our suitcases upstairs, we unpacked what we needed in the driveway and transferred things to our room in handfuls and purses. And instead of hanging around and socializing on the porch, our host directed us to a pub a few blocks away. We ate, we drank, we listened to a band, and I’m sure the older foursome was relieved that we weren’t around the rest of the evening!

May 26, 2014 at 12:36 am Leave a comment

percé: finally!

Well, it has been almost a year since I last posted on this blog. I guess I’ve been busy. I’ve had a lot of adventures since Gaspé 2012, so in the interest of getting to those adventures eventually, I’ll pick up where I left off. To recap, in July 2012, I took a week-long road trip with the usual suspects, Jules and Christina. We explored a good chunk of Québec, including the Gaspé Peninsula. In my last entry, we were just beginning our circle tour of the peninsula and were bowled over by the beautiful landscapes, and we still had half the day to go.

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Our next stop was the classic lighthouse at Cap des Rosiers. Unfortunately, this lighthouse was surrounded by a fence and required admission to get into the little park. Since we were only making a quick stop, and since none of the other lighthouses on the peninsula appeared to require an admission fee just to view them, we decided not to go in. This was taken from a few steps outside the fence.

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No admission was required at the little beach near the lighthouse, though, and we took a few minutes to enjoy the view and the sea.

After Cap-des-Rosiers, Highway 132 curves into Forillon National Park. We kind of wanted to stop in the park and take in the view from the end of the big peninsula, but we had trouble finding the right road, so we decided to keep going in the interest of making it to Percé in time to check in to our hotel. After a stunning drive around the bay, we were in Gaspé, the capital of the region.

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And we needed coffee! Christina had a recommendation for Café des Artistes, and it was just perfect. Great coffeehouse atmosphere and great coffee.


Here’s a true story: I like drinking coffee out of bowls.

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After coffee, we walked a little bit and poked into a couple of shops in the area, but they were just about to close for the evening. Despite it being a holiday week, downtown Gaspé felt fairly quiet and peaceful. Soon, we were back on the road for the short drive to Percé, where we were stopping for the night.

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Along the way, we stopped for photos when we crossed a charming little brook, and Jules schooled us in skipping rocks, as usual.

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We made a quick stop to photograph St. Luke’s Anglican Church, a picturesque country church along Highway 132.

And before long, we were driving down a mountain into Percé! The view was fantastic, but I took better “above” shots of the town the next day, so I’m saving those for the next post. We checked in at Auberge Les Trois Soeurs, just west of the main stretch of town. It was far enough from town that it was quiet and we had our own beach, but close enough to leave the car and walk into town.

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We snapped a few photos of the view, which included the famous Rocher Percé (Pierced Rock). The western view doesn’t show the hole in the rock, but it’s still quite impressive!

I had first read about the Rocher Percé in a French textbook in high school, and visiting Percé had been on my travel list for over a decade. This trip was Jules’ pick, but I was just excited as she was to finally make it to Percé.

We ventured into town and walked around a bit, checking out the shops and comparing prices for boat tours that offered a close-up view of the rock and possible whale sightings. I had done the whale thing a couple of years earlier in Newfoundland with my mom, but Jules and Christina hadn’t. They decided to book a tour for the following morning, but I was already veering over budget, so I decided to sit this one out.

Before long, it was “blue hour,” the perfect time for a walk down the main pier for views of the town, the rock, and a children’s group singing “Achy Breaky Heart” in French.

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We finally saw the legendary “percé” part of the rock!

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And a dreamy view of the town of Percé!

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And the moon over Bonaventure Island!

After a bit of photo time, we had dinner in a big touristy barn-type place, because we figured that the seafood would be great, no matter where we went. We were right!

Perhaps one of my favourite non-photographed memories of the trip was sitting out on the beach by our hotel that evening, sharing a bottle of wine and talking for hours with two of the best friends a girl could ask for. We finally went to bed, later than planned, and set the alarm for just a few hours later. I had big dreams of getting up to photograph the sunrise, preferably as seen right through the hole in the rock. Fortunately, my friends will usually allow me one day of crazy early alarm clock per road trip, in the interest of travel photography.

March 30, 2014 at 1:55 pm 2 comments

on the gaspé!

When we left on day 3 of our road trip, we were finally in the Gaspésie region, which comprises all of the Gaspé peninsula. It’s a common vacation spot for québecois families, but less well-known in other parts of the continent. I know approximately zero people in Chicago who didn’t need a geography lesson when I told them that I was road tripping the Gaspé.

And I wouldn’t want that any other way. Because it’s pretty gorgeous and you never have to stand in line to see the deep blue sea!


Careful not to get eaten by any stray whales, though!


We took an opening self-po at our impromptu stop outside of Matane at the giant whale souvenir shop, and then got on the road! On the itinerary for day 3 was the drive from Matane to Percé, at the end of the peninsula. It’s about a 5-hour drive if you go straight through, but we knew that we would stop. We knew that we would stop a lot. Fortunately, we had awesome weather with a crazy blue sky…even better for the landscape shots!

We’d picked up the official Gaspésie guide for the summer, which has a detailed map. It’s a big help for the road trip, especially when towns get further apart. The map has icons to denote which towns have food, fuel, and public restrooms. Most of the towns are really, really small, so having this information ahead of time is essential.

The guide also helped a little with planning our stops, but most of our photo op stops originated from one of us going, “Ooo, pretty church!” or “Lighthouse ahead!”


This lovely church was one of our first stops, in Grosses-Roches. I loved the classic white church against the sky and the sea!


I mentioned before that we love anchors, so we were thrilled to see this scenic spot at Les Méchins.


This picturesque view was near Tourelle, I believe.


The cheery red lighthouse at La Martre was an awesome stop. It’s up on a hill over Route 132, and it has a great view.


The view at Cap Madeleine was pretty awesome, but better still was the playground next to the lighthouse.




There weren’t any kids around, so we didn’t feel too bad monopolizing the fun. There weren’t any adults around either, so we didn’t feel too embarrassed acting like kids!

We still had a ways to go before we got to Percé, but we were already smitten with La Gaspésie!

May 30, 2013 at 11:20 pm Leave a comment

macaron detour and magic hour in the park

On day 2 of our Québec road trip, Jules, Christina, and I discovered the Star Académie tour bus in the parking lot of our hotel. Guess we weren’t the only ones who found the Groupon. (Star Académie = Québec’s version of American Idol)

After a quick bite of the hotel’s continental breakfast and subpar coffee, we hit the road, heading northeast off of the island on highway 40. We had never taken the northern route east out of Montréal; highway 20 is the more common link between Montréal and Québec City. But we had stops to make on the northern side of the St-Lawrence, including a quick visit to Charlemagne, home of Québec’s ultimate songstress, Ms. Céline Dion. I was sort of (really) hoping for a giant Céline statue right off the highway or something, but all we got was a street sign as we exited the parking lot of the supermarket. Nice supermarket, though.

The next stop was Île-Dupas, hometown of Ms. Joannie Rochette, where we also saw her street sign. We took time to drive through the town there, and like nearly every small town in Québec, it boasts a lovely church.

Further northeast on highway 40, we crossed the St-Lawrence at Trois-Rivières and stopped at the QC tourist info centre. The one near Trois-Rivières is very nice, with a picnic and play area, and very helpful staff who compliment you when you do your best to speak French with them! We bought a map there and also took goofy photos on a giant Acadian adirondack chair, along with this really cute one, which I had bust out my tripod for.

As we were heading south on highway 55, heading towards highway 40, Jules said something like, “Hey…how far are we from Drummondville?” I looked at the map and explained that it was back the opposite way, towards Montréal, but not terribly far. “Because I remember on the Maison du Macaron website, they had a location in Drummondville…”

And decision made. So we drove about 35 kilometres in the wrong direction to get to Drummondville. At the time, I was the only one of us with a smartphone, and I wasn’t using data in Canada. So we pulled into the parking lot of a McDonald’s, but discovered that the wifi wasn’t strong enough in the parking lot. I went inside with my laptop and quickly pulled up the Maison du Macaron website and found the address, which ended up being a kitchen boutique in downtown Drummondville. We awkwardly walked around the store, thinking that we’d made a mistake, until one of us got the nerve to ask if this was the right place for macarons.

“Of course! We have them in the back!”

Sweet. Since we’d gone out of our way for them and thought they’d be our last, we sprung for a box of 12.


They were frozen, so the worst part was that I had to hold them in the backseat, waiting patiently for them to thaw out. But once they thawed, we started passing them around. The mojito remained my favourite, although the lemon got some serious praise as well. Macarons: the perfect road trip food!

We spent quite a bit of time stopping at scenic churches, which was easier to do once the autoroute ends, just after Rivière-du-Loup. Although you can’t beat the autoroute when you want to get somewhere faster, I was glad that the Gaspé portion of our road was done on old-fashioned roads. An autoroute is being built on the peninsula, which will almost certainly dramatically change the region, so I’m glad that we got to see it pre-highway.


Most of the churches are of the fancier cathedral type, so this white country church stood out to me. Of course, I failed to write down its location and now have no idea where it was.


We saw more rainbows on this trip than I have ever seen in my life. Here’s another!

One of the surprises of Day 2 was Parc National du Bic, located on St-Lawrence, just west of Rimouski. We saw pieces of it from the car as we were driving by and quickly decided to stop. It was late in the day when we arrived, so we had a lovely magic hour at the park.

The park offers guided tours with a focus on wildlife, and I’m sure that those would have been interesting, but with limited time, we just drove in the general direction of the water until we found a place to park with a great view. I learned afterwards that Bic is home to a lot of seals, but we didn’t see any. I’m wondering now if we weren’t looking hard enough. We did enjoy the awesome light, the rocky shoreline, and the views of the swamp/marsh.

After some time in the park, we got back in the car to head to our final stop of the day, Rimouski. Rimouski is one of the largest cities east of Québec City, and we were pretty sure it would be our best bet for a St-Hubert, a chain restaurant in Québec that we all really love, especially for the cole slaw. Random, I know. Christina grew up eating at St-Hubert and Jules and I have adopted a love for it as well. The problem was that we couldn’t find Hubie. We expected it to be on the edge of town with the other restaurants and hotels, or downtown by the water, but no luck. So we finally borrowed a wifi signal from a hotel and found the St-Hubert on the outskirts of town, but heading north out of town, instead of on the approach from the south. Success!

And on our tour of Rimouski, we (of course) found (and photographed) its big church:

After dinner, we headed to our hotel, the Riotel in Matane, which is actually comprised of several buildings. The main building is very nice. We were in an auxiliary building across a gravel parking lot that was more of an afterthought motel, but it was clean and just fine for the night. We were on the second floor, and the balcony faced the water, so we were able to relax and fall asleep to the sweet sound of waves on the shore.

May 20, 2013 at 11:01 pm 3 comments

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