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  • Writer's pictureMark Lewis

Castles, Cobblestones, Cannons & the Door to Nirvana

There are seemingly endless places to travel throughout the world and like many of you I want to see as much of it as I possibly can. When I was younger with less responsibility, it was much easier to be spontaneous and take a trip as I only had to be concerned with myself. Now, traveling with a family especially with a young child, there are many more aspects to consider as part of the travel experience. I'm just one child deep but let me say kudos to all of you out there with multiple children, pets etc.... to factor in when you travel. Up until this point we had not taken a long flight with our daughter and weren't sure how she would travel. I was not trying to be that parent on a long-haul flight with a screaming child, so we decided to travel somewhere within 1.5 to two hours from the NYC area. That still left a lot of options out there and to further filter down the list we also thought about going international as my daughter got her passport a few months prior. My wife Susanna came up with several options, both domestic and international but what stuck out was Quebec City, Canada. In addition to meeting the above requirements, the official language of Quebec is French and that would also give us a feeling of traveling further outside of the United States without actually having to do so. Susanna speaks fluent French while the extent of my French is limited to "Parlez-vous Anglais?" Needless to say, my thought was to let her lead in the conversations upon arrival as past experience has taught me that you get a better experience when you speak the language.

There's nothing really worth noting about booking flights other than we were flying out of Newark Airport. Before this trip I took another trip to Nashville with some friends, and I flew out of LaGuardia Airport. As a side note, I wrote a blog post for that excursion which you can access here. Anyone familiar with LaGuardia can attest to the fact that it was one of the worst airports in the past. However, that airport has been transformed over the past couple of years and I can say it's vastly improved. But, back to Newark. I was expecting a challenging experience but overall, it was a smooth process. We had an early flight and checked in the day before so all we had to do was check in bags, and then head to the gate. Oh, and we do have Global Entry because I'm all about efficiency and saving time whenever possible. It's money well spent so if you don't have it, I would recommend you apply to get it unless you prefer waiting on that security line with everyone else. This can get awkward when a couple is traveling and one person has it and the other doesn't but that's a story for another day.

As part of the boarding process, I was looking forward to taking advantage of boarding the plane in the initial wave. I've heard that line many times in the past that families with small children can board first. However, on this flight the message was families with kids younger than 2 can board first. I thought to myself, wait, what... I've waited all this time for the small children exception and then they changed the policy! I had a quick chat with Susanna and we laughed, along with another customer who happened to be listening.

Flight time to Quebec City was about 1.5 hours in the air and when we landed, the airport in Quebec City was as quiet as a library. No lines anywhere. We got our luggage and caught a taxi to our Airbnb which was located right in the historical area of the city also named Old Quebec. We had a couple of hours to kill until we could check in so we found a restaurant to relax at. We ordered some food and I looked around taking in the energy of my surroundings. Eventually, I took out my camera to take a few photos.

Over the next several days I took over 4,500 photos. Of that amount I edited only about 10%. I've posted a few of them below along with some words to help provide additional context. I'll start with the fact that Quebec City is very walkable, but it is filled with hills and stairs so anyone with mobility issues may have a challenge. Many of the streets in the historical area are cobblestone and the area is full of restaurants, galleries and historical buildings. It made the city easy to photograph. On some days I was up and out of the apartment by 6am when most everyone else was still asleep.

One of the most famous photographed places in Quebec City is the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac This hotel sits atop of Cape Diamond and overlooks the St. Lawrence River. It was was initially built in 1893 with several additions made since that time. There are many vantage points in which to capture images. I decided to photograph it early in the morning when the light was best and few people were around. Additionally, other images were captured over the course of several days at different times during the day and evening.

It was also great to photograph other areas of the city.

In addition to the chateau and the cobblestone streets, what's also evident as you walk around the city is that there are lots of cannons. These are remnants based on wars mostly between the British and French at different times in history. It's also interesting to note that prior to European arrival, there were several indigenous societies spread throughout Quebec. More information about the history of Quebec can be accessed here. The following photos capture the cannons and cobblestone streets primarily in black and white.

Something I always look forward to during my travels is food. We ate at a few restaurants during our trip and for the most part the food was average. I didn't plan that much beforehand and I admit that most of the places we ate at were in the tourist areas of the city. I think a lot of those restaurants cater to the masses, similar to what you might find near Times Square in New York City. I was disappointed because there were so many restaurants to choose from on the fly. However, towards the end of the trip I did eat at one of the best restaurants I've ever gone to anywhere in the world. And that brings me to the "Door to Nirvana" part of the blog title.

Although I didn't do any research prior to the trip, Susanna did. She found one restaurant that she thought we'd both enjoy. The restaurant is called J Jacques. They specialize in seafood, which includes an oyster bar and also serve up delicious cocktails. In spite of the food we had until then, we were looking forward to trying this one out. The restaurant is outside of the historic area and the walk time was about 30 minutes from where we were staying. My daughter remained behind with family and off we went using Google maps as the guide. Upon arrival we couldn't tell it was a restaurant. There's no sign, no windows, no queue, just a door to nirvana. We actually mistakenly rang the doorbell of the place next door and they directed us to the correct location. We rang the correct doorbell and the host came out within a few seconds. He checked our reservation time and brought us into the restaurant. We passed through a curtain and then the space opened up into a restaurant.

The lighting was low key and we luckily had two seats at the bar which overlook the kitchen. We took our seats and both got the impression this was going to be a great experience. Our reservations were on the early side as that was all that was available but the place filled up over the next hour.

The Sommelier / manager was extremely knowledgeable about all of the wines and helped Susanna choose a wine and I began with a local beer. Over the course of the night I moved on and sampled their Japanese whisky and got a recommendation from our very good bartender, Frederique. Their food menu was impressive. We initially ordered up a seafood tower, which had a combination of oysters, razor clams, ceviche, shrimp and lobster. I've tried a lot of raw bars from NYC to Portland Maine to British Columbia and this was hands down the best seafood tower I've ever had. The oysters were from Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick so that translated into short travel time. In addition, the flavors and sauces the restaurant used for their ceviche and razor clams were absolutely amazing.

Still thinking about the seafood tower we wondered if we should order more from the raw bar or go with dinner. We opted for the latter. I ordered the fried fish and Susanna got the scallops. The fish was also a culinary delight. It came out whole and in such a way that we could filet the fish while it was upright, rarely coming into the contact with the bones. Adding on to the seafood tower this was some of the best fish I've ever had.

At this point we are several drinks in and having a wonderful time. Our meal would not be complete without dessert and we ordered up the berries with cream. This was absolutely delicious. Just the right amount of flavor with nothing overpowering and a wonderful way to end our dining experience. The restaurant owners and staff put so much effort into the food as well as creating the ultimate experience for their patrons.

It's been a few weeks since that trip and I'm still talking about this place. If I ever get back to Quebec City I will definitely go back to JJacques! Over the next couple of days we went to Montmorency Falls and my brother and I went mountain biking at Mont Sainte-Anne.

Mont Sainte Anne is only about a 20-to-30-minute drive from Quebec City and has a combination of downhill riding as well as cross country. We opted for the cross-country trails and the one day we did ride did not disappoint. The trails are well marked and offer different skill levels, with some of the most technical trails being further away from base camp. Eric and I eventually made our way to La Penelope, one of the most technical trails at the mountain and the furthest away from the base. Lots of rocks and roots but it was a little bit wet as it rained a couple of days prior and that brought on some additional challenges to the ride. By the end we had ridden just over 19 miles with 2400 feet of elevation! The photos below were taken by my brother.

This was truly a great trip and I wouldn't hesitate to go back, but there are other adventures to experience. For those of you wanting more Quebec photos I've posted several in the Scapes section of my site in both color and black and white. Until next time.

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