on February 27, 2012
This was the first of the two excursions combined in the City and Countryside Tour package offered by Old Quebec Tours. We were picked up at our hotel at 9:30 AM. Our driver collected other passengers from hotels around the city. Before beginning our tour, he traveled 15 minutes outside the city to drop off those who had signed up for the Ice Hotel tour. After that short deviation, he began narrating our re-entrance into the city.Quebec City is divided into two parts: Upper Town (Haute-Ville) and Lower Town (Basse-Ville). Pedestrians who don’t want to climb steps and hilly sidewalks can travel between the two sections by riding the funicular. The Upper Town is surrounded by a wall that was first built by the French in 1720. After defeating the French in 1759, the British reconstructed and made improvements to this 3-mile fortification up through the 1820's to protect the city from a U.S. invasion. Today Quebec City is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is North America's only walled city north of Mexico.Over the next two hours, we were shown landmarks such as the Parliament Building, the Joan of Arc Statue, the Citadel, museums, the bars and nightclubs of Grande Allée, the grand mural in the Lower Town, and more but we did not enter any buildings. One of the more interesting sights we saw was a cannon ball left over from one of the wars. It was still lodged in the base of tree.We had some photo stops along the way in which we were given a few minutes to exit the bus and look around. One of these sites included the Plains of Abraham. Although there was not much to see other than a snow-covered field with cannons, this site has important historical significance. This is where the British defeated the French in 1759 thus making Quebec a British territory until 1867. The generals from both sides were killed in this 30-minute battle. Despite the outcome of the battle, the British allowed Quebec to keep their French language and Roman Catholic religion.To this day, Quebec is the French-speaking province of Canada. This is immediately evident when arriving in Quebec City. The signs, menus, public announcements, and most of the television channels are in French. There is no need to panic if you are a tourist and do not speak the language. Everyone we encountered in the tourist areas was fluent in English. As for me, this vacation was a rare opportunity to put all those years of French classes to use in practical situations.On our tour bus were people from around the world. Australians, Mexicans, and Brazilians were some of the people we met. My wife and I were the only ones from the U.S.. Our driver was a cool and knowledgeable dude. He could recite an encyclopedia's worth of information about Quebec City. He asked some trivia questions but only seemed to direct them to my wife and me, his 'friends from the U.S.'. I'm embarrassed to say I did not do so well on his quizzes. I had no idea that the U.S. was the last invader of Quebec City. It turns out, the invasion was led by generals Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold in 1775. The U.S. lost the battle. Benedict Arnold later left the U.S. military to join the British and the Loyalists to fight against the U.S..Our tour ended at noon in front of Chateau Frontenac. This city icon was constructed in 1893 as a railroad hotel. Today, this luxury hotel is owned by the Fairmont hotel chain. It is said to be the most photographed hotel in the world. As majestic as it looks on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, I could see why. It is gorgeous.My wife and I had an hour before we needed to board the shuttle for our afternoon Countryside Tour. To kill some time, we took a quick look at the restaurants and shops on the bottom floor of Chateau Frontenac and then decided to head down the street to enjoy a fabulous lunch at Cafe Buade.Although the City Tour was informative, I would not rate it as a must-do activity. Old Quebec City is small enough to visit most of the major attractions on foot. If you decide to book this tour, make sure you contact (phone, email, etc.) Old Quebec Tours to confirm your reservation. I booked through their website but it was not until I actually visited their desk at the Quebec City tourism office the day before our tour that I found out we could actually be picked up at our hotel instead of at one of the three locations listed on their website. Finally, make sure you have some of the local currency so that you can tip your guide.
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