Quebec City Christmas, Day 1
Quebec City, Day 1
My husband and I face the same trouble that millions of thirty and forty something married couples face...how to spend the holidays. Compounding it...or making it easier...depending on how you look at it, are that our parents live almost 1,000 miles from one another. Living in Boston, his Maine family is closer than my Ohio one. This may make things easier because there is no way to visit them both on the same day, thus we avoid the exhaustive rushing from house to house so many of my friends deal with, however this means that we also have to designate how we spend holidays in advance. And the holidays are hard to figure out - like all couples, we have different traditions and events and foods that we deem necessary to creating the perfect Christmas. We also felt it was important not to lose ourselves in the holiday of everyone else...being DINKs we know we can travel to others easier than they can come to us but we didn’t want to spend every Christmas beholden to someone else’s timetable. We decided on a rotation...one year in Maine, one year in Ohio and one year on our own. I can truly say, without hesitation, this has been one of the best decisions we have ever made. Our families know when we will be coming and we can plan our travels in advance. It also gives us the opportunity to travel at Christmas, which I have found to be wonderful! A few years ago we went to Paris, which seemed like an entirely different city than when I have visited during the summer, and this past Christmas we headed to Quebec City.
I had never been to Quebec City and had heard about how charming it was...one of my friends described visiting as ‘driving to Europe’. It really was. It lived up to all the hype I had read about. After a snowy drive through New Hampshire, including a stop for an early breakfast at the incomparable Polly’s Pancake Parlor where we began our quest to consume every maple product we saw, we arrived on December 23rd just in time for all the festivities. Driving through the Porte Saint Louis into the Haute-Ville (Upper Town) I could barely contain my excitement about the quaintness of everything. It was like a small southern French village, albeit one in a blizzard, but it frozen charm was evident.
After checking in to our adorable boutique hotel, the Chateau Fleur de Lys (which my husband chose on his own!) we headed off into the snowstorm. And I mean snowstorm - it snowed all day and the wind whipped through the narrow, cobbled streets. The weather did not deter the Quebecois who just headed out in a uniform of Canada Goose coats and snow pants to partake in the Christmas celebrations. The Old Upper Town proved to be as Europeanesque as I expected. Lovely hundreds of years old brick and stone buildings, covered with snow, fresh evergreen boughs and christmas lights mixed with art deco brick facades and winding, steep streets filled with artisan and Canadian shops. I heard French, English, German and a myriad of other languages - just like in Europe.
We started at the German Christmas Market at the Hotel d’Ville in the Upper Town. It was the final day for it and it was still going strong. A traditional German band played while we visited all of the little wooden huts filled with local delicacies and smiling Canadians. I have never seen people who are so cold be so happy. As someone who does not like any weather below 40 degrees, their cheery attitude was impressive. I attribute it to all the sugary maple products that are readily available - I know they helped me stay cozy. I loved the fact that there were no chains to be found at the market - everything was local. The people who made the goods were selling them. We bought terrines, cheese (the Quebecois get it - they stuff fondue into a baguette to eat on the go) and of course, freshly made donuts coated in maple syrup. Because maple syrup + fried dough = heaven. To keep warm, maple shooters were also available.
We headed to lunch at Chic Shack, a casual hamburger restaurant I had read about who claimed to have some of the best poutine in the city. They were not kidding. Having a French Canadian descended husband, we have had our fair share of poutine and I can say with all confidence this was the best poutine we have had. Chic Shack used very crispy roasted potatoes instead of french fries as their base and it worked wonderfully with the gravy and curds. We would have tried on of their amazing looking milkshakes but could not bring ourselves to drink something frigid when so much cold outside awaited us.
We then continued stumbling and sliding around town, eventually making our way out of the old town where we stopped to warm ourselves up La Ninkasi, a very laid back bar with a huge selection of Quebecois beer on tap. Our next stops were the oldest grocery store in North America (and an addition to my favorite foodie venues ever list), J.A Moison and Erico chocolate shop, where we shared a mini hot chocolate, or chocolat chaud as the French say, and some decadent, rich chocolates.
Dinner was at the creperie, Le Billig. Very casual and friendly, they have an extensive list of local ciders. Both of us loved our very generous plates of rich duck confit and oozy camembert crepes and the casual, dark atmosphere (I would highly recommend reservations). Also, unlike Europe, make sure to tip 15%! After dinner we stopped for one last drink at Les 3 Brasseurs, a huge brewery and restaurant a few blocks from our hotel. Here, I had an incredible beer cocktail, the Sugar Shack, composed of white beer, maple syrup and maple Canadian Whisky. Because obviously I needed to consume more things maple. We were hoping to make it to Inox brewery but we were just too cold from being windblown all day.
As we turned in for the night on the 3rd floor of our hotel we could hear the snow and wind slamming against our windows. Completely exhausted from our snowy drive, our windy adventures in the Haute Ville and our sugar crash from excessive maple consumption, we slept like rocks, only imagining what Quebec City had in store for us on Christmas Eve!