French fries is not exactly the kind of food I hanker for. Not unless I'm starving and desperate for anything to eat. When a friend suggested I try poutine, I wasn't overly enthusiastic. This Québécois specialty - french fries topped with cheese curds and thick brown gravy - looks like another way to choke my artery with fat. Or as others describe it, a heart attack on a bowl. But given this junk food's popularity among locals and visitors, I'm willing to give it a try.
Since Old Québec is made for walking, we're ambling around this UNESCO World Heritage site, sizing up its European architecture and vibe, admiring the greenery in its numerous parks, until hunger catches up with us past 1 PM. There are plenty of restaurants in Vieux-Québec's Upper Town and Lower Town districts. In one alley lined with shops selling works of local artists, we stumbled upon "La Nouvelle France" and decided to eat there after finding out they serve poutine.
Despite the restaurant's inviting patio dotted with boxed flowers, we found the weather too hot for comfort so we got a table inside. A cheerful waitstaff took our orders and in no time I was staring down at this calorific meal. The green salad accompanying my poutine couldn't really mask my guilt. I stabbed the fries with fork, finding the odd mixture of hot gravy and cheese curd has made it into a goopy mess. Hints of various spices were on the gravy while the cheese has this melted mozzarella texture. I can't honestly say I was singing hallelujah to this but at least my curiosity was fed well.
Our postprandial foray continues with the same slow walk, this time into the walls of Old Québec - a defining structure of the city dating back to its earliest years after French colonization. These ramparts, more than four kilometers long, makes Québec the only fortified city in the Americas north of Mexico and the Caribbean. When you add up the Citadel right to it, it's not surprising why people often refer to the city as the "Gibraltar of North America".
|Porte St. Louis: one of four surviving gates|
|Old Québec fortification|
As the capital of Québec province, it administers the various needs of about 8 million Québécois. Anything related to this rather boring function is hidden within the Parliament Building which is home to the National Assembly. Completed in 1886, this legislative institution has seen many debates but none more polarizing than the still simmering sovereignty movement. Twice there's been a referendum on Québec's independence from Canada and twice it got defeated - the last one narrowly so. Interestingly, the Québécois flag - not the Canadian flag we know - flies proudly atop the building's clock tower.
Across a small park from Québec City Hall is Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral. Erected since 1647 on the original site of the chapel built by Quebec founder Samuel de Champlain, this is considered the oldest parish church in North America. Through the centuries, it has been ravaged by wars and fires, now rebuilt and restored with a Neo-classic facade. Underneath is the Crypt where some 900 people are buried, including Québec's first bishop and several former governors of "New France". A guided tour was offered but my companions were spooked at the thought of being down there.
|Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral|
From Upper Town, walking down the steep Côte de la Montagne led us to Lower Town. There's actually a Funiculaire going up and down along the cliff. On the cobblestoned Place-Royale was where de Champlain landed after sailing on St. Lawrence River from its mouth in the Atlantic. The city of Québec was born here, a name derived from native Algonquin Kébec meaning "where the river narrows". Tourists mill about in the public square hemmed in by houses looking like they were miraculously snatched from France.
If there's one building that screams Gallic dominance on Québec's skyline, it's got to be the landmark Château Frontenac. It is so imposing it sits there like a huge crown on the head of Cap Diamant (Cape Diamond), its circular turrets and towers piercing the sky. Built in 1893 for the Canadian Pacific Railway following designs of an American architect, this luxury hotel embodies the Château-style inspired by the Châteaux of Loire Valley in France. Owing to its iconic stature, the hotel is designated as a National Historic Site of Canada.
As the afternoon heat tapers off a bit, we started heading back to the hotel for some much needed rest. Summer is the busiest season in Québec - and the crowd we saw was a testament to that - but the idea of a winter visit and experiencing its Winter Festival sounds promising to me. Even a serving of poutine - supposedly a winter comfort food - is guaranteed to keep me warm. Oh boy, does this mean I'm having a serving of gooey cholesterol one day again?