Quebec is one of the oldest European settlements in North America having been founded by French explorer, Samuel de Champlain in 1608 and is now often called the “Crown Jewel of French Canada”.  Quebec is a city of romantic winding medieval streets with classic European architecture and beautiful plazas with monuments and perfectly picturesque streetscapes.    Some beautiful streets in the Lower Town near the Place Royale. There are several large murals in this part of town.  Many depicting important local history. La Place Royale… a 400 year old plaza. The Notre Dame de Victories cathedral in the lower town. It’s summer at the moment so Quebecers have planted beautiful flowers everywhere.  Given the winter sees Quebec City covered in as much as 14 feet of snow and can snow as late as May… the town loves to take advantage of the warm weather and fill their planters with flowers for the summer months. The ‘Breakneck Steps’ leading up to the Old Town – Quebec’s Old Town was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.  Or you can take the Funicular. The world’s most photographed hotel, the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac. This world famous chateau was built in 1893 (celebrating their 125th anniversary this year) for the Count de Frontenac, a notable governor of New France.  The building was extended in 1924 with the impressive central tower.  This Dali clock was outside the hotel bearing a price tag of $189,000… which seemed odd as it is out in the public space.  Then again, Quebec is considered one of the safest cities in the world.The Dufferin Terrace stands on the site of the Fort Saint Louse built by Champlain in 1620. The terrace is named after a Lord Dufferin and gives wonderful views over the Lower Town, the Place Royale and the river. 

The Canadian souvenir shops on the east coast look very much like the souvenir shops on the west coast… lots of moose, red flannelette, hockey, and maple everything. The Notre-Dame de Quebec Basilica Cathedral.  Built in 1647 under the French regime, the cathedral has been expanded, bombarded, burnt to the ground, rebuilt in 1925 according to the original plans and finally designated as a national historic site for its architectural value and its lovely artistic interior. So much gorgeous timber – a confessional. As we stepped out of the cathedral, it started to pour down rain and we took refuge in a nearby shop – which turned out to be a year round Christmas shop called La Boutique de Noel.  A little weird, though probably less so when your town is under snow most of the year. If the rest of Canada makes as much fuss over Christmas as my Canadian relatives do… I can see how this store would be fine year round.

More beautiful French streets and alleyways. The US Consulate – no marines, and a very unassuming building beside a B&B. I love that mobile phones, keys and fast food seem a higher priority on the prohibited items list than firearms and explosives!  😛  View back towards Frontenac from the Citadelle.  The Citadelle is the largest active fortress in Canada and home to their famous 22nd Regiment. We inadvertently stumbled into one of Quebec’s most famous French restaurants ‘Aux Anciens Canadiens’ for lunch.  No doubt completely touristy, but delicious French cuisine.

Crab cakes ‘Aux Anciens Canadiens’ ;
Traditional poutine
Neptune’s Shell: Giant shrimp and scallop in white wine sauce, au gratin
Lac St-Jean meat pie with wild meats
Maple syrup creme brulee
Blueberry pie

The picturesque and very French looking streets of Quebec’s Old Town… you can really see that the people of Quebec are very proud of their French heritage and are working hard to keep the French flavour of the city – so much so, people say that Quebec is more French than most of France! Cathedral Holy Trinity – known for being the first Anglican cathedral built outside the British Isles in 1804. Frontenac with the World UNESCO monument in the foreground at the Place des Armes.

After this, we were walking down the street heading towards a small pub we had seen near the base of the funiculaire, and who do we run into, but the Nookies who were hightailing towards (of all things) an Irish pub!  So naturally we tagged along and off we went to find some pints.
Naturally the Nookies had already scouted out the nearest Irish pub and we found ourselves happily situation at the Pub St-Patrick with Guinness and Kilkennys and ciders (oh my!) before too long.

After our fabulous luncheon consisting of fine French cuisine, we weren’t hungry, but the Nookies order some lunch and Ms Sandra ordered ‘La Poutine Poulet Buffalo’, which was ‘Homemade french fries, with Perron cheese curds, poutine sauce, chunks of crispy chicken with Buffalo sauce and blue cheese ranch dressing’ – which I tried and have to say was easily the best poutine we have tried so far.  So after our investigations both here and on the Canadian west coast (where the best poutine we tried was some marvellously creative Butter Chicken poutine at the Kove Kitchen in Richmond in Vancouver!) I have come to the sad realisation that we don’t really like poutine at all … but absolutely love weird hipster versions of it.  😀  

A few pints later and the stumble back to the ship got a little more relaxed and err… interesting.

Stumble, stumble, crawl, crawl, as we head to the Lower Town back towards the ship… Past some civic art (no idea what this is).Back on board and we were waiting a few hours (and a few more drinks) until it got dark.  This was the view back toward the city at night from the ship – no tripod unfortunately…
And because it is summer and we have extraordinary good timing – our ship was in town for a local summer festival that included lots of lovely fireworks at about 10pm.  So here, I am going to bore you with my hand held fireworks photos, and (because I uploaded them while still very squiffy!) I am completely unapologetic at how many I decided to add in here. So the TL;DR…?  We <3 Quebec and will totally be back one day to see the city and the area properly.

Sageunay – Quebec

Saguenay (Sag-a-nay) is town only recently created in 2002 when several little municipalities joined together to create one bigger city.  The area was originally settled in the 1840s and on the Saguenay River as a natural trade route for the First National peoples who lived in the area.  Then in the 1600s the French established a colony here that was primarily involved in the fur trade and subsequently lumber and paper pulp industries.  It has more recently become a major tourist destination with it’s proximity to the Saguenay Fjord National Park full of glaciers, dramatic scenery and varied marine life, including four species of whales which live in the area.
Our ship received a lively welcome to the area by a group of acrobats, jugglers and performers on stilts who were whooping it up and posing for photos on the port. It seems Saguenay is known for it’s hospitable welcome to cruise ship passengers and they make a bit of a festival of it for visitors.
Mermaid statue near the Musee de Fjords on the Baie des Ha ha.  ‘Ha ha’ in this case doesn’t relate something funny but rather means ‘an obstacle’.  The bay freezes over for several months of the year so it becomes quite the challenge to enter or leave the port.  Once the ice is 30cm thick, the locals all set up little ‘streets’ across the entire bay and put down their ice fishing huts, create an ice rink and other entertainments out on the bay.  The whole area can see snow 2-3m deep every winter and yet today while we are here, it is 29C and about 90%+ humidity.  Not far from the Musee de Fjord is the Touverre Glassblowing and Gemstone cutting economuseum.  It is the workshop of a local glass artist, Guiseppe Benedetto who does glassblowing demonstrations and creates plenty of glass art pieces for sale.  Lots of whales, marine animals, some large colourful plates and drinking vessels etc.  We had a quick look through on our way to the Ha-Ha Pyrimide. Bumblebees! In 1996, a major rain depression event resulted in 260 mm of rain falling over only a 48 hour period across the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region. The ground was apparently already oversaturated after an unusually rainy few weeks and none of the excessive rainfall could be absorbed by surrounding areas completely overwhelming the Saguenay River basin.  This resulted in a disastrous flood which has been commemorated by this art piece created of over 3000 reflective yield (give way) signs, called the ‘Ha Ha Pyrimide’.  It’s very striking and distinctive, but stands out like dogs balls among all the historic buildings and more traditional monuments in the area. Like this near by war monument:   After we left the Baie de Ha-Ha area we headed towards Chicoutimi, another of the seven municipalities that has been rolled into the city now known as Saguenay.  Chicoutimi was once a fur trading post and would later be primarily known as a pulp and paper manufacturing town.

The neo-classical Saint Alphonse-de-Ligouri Church
The 145 year old gothic revival/Romanesque, St Dominic church in the Jonquiere area. Saguenay City HallWhile in town we stopped for some lunch at a nice French bistron called Summum to suck down some free wifi, some delicious Mystique ciders and of course, to try some more poutine!  This serve was completely different to the last one – the fries were maybe a bit overcooked or something, and the curds in lumps so big, they squeaked on your teeth like halloumi 😀 but the gravy was a definite improvement on yesterday.  I guess we will just have to keep hunting.
After lunch a little more sight seeing on the way back to the port.

La Petite Maison Blanche (The Little White House), is renowned as the only home to survive when the Chicoutimi River overflowed it’s banks and flooded the region in 1996.  This humble little house is built into the rock and survived the torrential floods, giving hope to the residents as they rebuilt the town.  It has become a symbol of perseverance… completely understandable when you look at the geography of where it stands and the unlikelihood that it would survive.
The Chicoutimi River and Spillway Back at the port once again.  Saguenay is a lovely area and surrounded by what we believe are amazingly beautiful national parks.  Being barely 180 miles from Quebec, I definitely think we will be back here one day to do a land tour to see more of the area. Sail away down the Saguenay Fjord, the weather had come in considerably and it was raining quite heavily in patches, but gave a gorgeous impression of the rugged countryside nonetheless.

Corner Brook – Newfoundland

So today we were going to be in port in Corner Brook, Newfoundland and we came to shore with fairly underwhelming expectations… probably something to do with the ship’s ‘shore expert’, Hutch starting off his talk with… “Well, our next port is Corner Brook.  Where are my shoppers? Shoppers? Ah, there you are – you’ll be glad to know that Corner Brook has a Walmart.” … followed by detailed directions on how to get from the cruise ship terminal to Walmart.  *insert eye rolling here*

Needless to say we had to do a bit of our own poking around to find out what this little town might hold for us to see.  Corner Brook is at the mouth of the Humber River in Newfoundland’s Bay of Islands on the western coast.  It’s only a small town of about 20,000 people with about another 20,000 or so people living in surrounding communities.  So it’s a small and relatively remote town in the Appalachian mountain range and is apparently a jumping off point for people interested in camping and hiking in the glacier/fjordlands of the Gros Morne National Park.

Being mostly known for it’s wonderfully lush forrest location (apparently it is an amazing place to come when the leaves are all turning in the autumn), unfortunately, downtown Corner Brook has very few points of interest to recommend it – a small cultural museum, a war memorial, some historic houses and several shops and restaurants.   We went for a bit of a wander around town to see what there was to see.

Corner Brook apparently has no snakes, no deer, no groundhogs or any small critters.  Squirrels were introduced to Newfoundland (no idea whether that was deliberate or not) in the 60s and now over run the place… so I was hoping to see them everywhere, but was disappointed not to see a single squirrel running about.  Moose were also introduced to Newfoundland and thrived in the conditions here – but there were none of them around town either… not even on local menus.  😛  The town centre was fairly colourful with some cool rainbow pedestrian crossings and some colourful hockey related murals.  We also did some pottering through a small market set up by local artisans and I saw these very creative pictures of fairies and pixies made out of pressed flower petals.  Gorgeous work.

We also saw these mysterious Newfies depicted around the place with white hoods on… with my limited internet access, I have no idea what these are about!  But they seem a bit odd to say the least. We say white hooded Newfie ornaments, paintings, postcards etc., it’s obviously a bit of a local ‘thing’ but we couldn’t find any info on them*.

Update:  Apparently the white hood things is called ‘mummering’ and it is an old Christmas custom from England and Ireland. A ‘mummer’ is basically a masked or costumed merrymaker, especially at a festival. Mummering involves dressing in hoods and visiting neighbours to entertain in the day leading up to Christimas – its modern form can be traced back in Newfoundland into the 19th century. Although it is unclear precisely when this tradition was brought to Newfoundland by the English and Irish, the earliest record dates back to 1819.  Okay, so that is explained a little – but still odd, yeah?!

Predictably enough we met up with the Nookies at a local pub called the Crown and Moose (completely false advertising there was no moose!) and managed to have a cracker of an afternoon in a pub that was apparently not expecting an influx of Aussie tourists.  The staff were absolutely run off their feet, calling in reinforcements and trying to cater to an unexpected full house.
Mr K’s paddle of local beers, and below Ms Sandra’s very impressive taco salad.Given we were in eastern Canadia for a few days, we decided we would try and hunt down the best poutine we could find.  Today’s offering was quite nice in the fries department and nice politely portioned curds, but the gravy was lacking a bit of body.  Definitely not made to Mom’s homemade gravy recipe.  Never fear though,we have several more stops to find some Good Poutine.After a few more ciders and stouts we did what we were told and all made our way up to Walmart to stock up on well… mostly shit we didn’t need, but when in Rome (ie: Corner Brook in this case), before rolling ourselves back to the ship.  A nice day a shore, but a little on the quiet side. 

Nanortalik – Place of Polar Bears

Today in Nanortalik I learned that if the ice mass that covers 85% of Greenland were to melt, it would raise sea levels by approximately 20 feet and that would see most coastal cities (including Brisbane) pretty much pooched.  Cheerful thought indeed.

Nanortalik means Polar Bear Country or Place of Polar Bears but we were duly warned not to expect to see any polar bears, the most likely sightings of polar bears would be a rare sighting of one floating past on an ice berg.  It is a town of barely 1500 people with another 1200 living in surrounding nearby villages and seems to consists of a school, a couple of supermarkets, a tourist information centre, a very rocky cemetery, a fishing factory, a small museum, a church and of course a couple of pubs.  Today it is sunny, cool (about 6-9C) and quiet here… like eerily quiet.  It’s summer holidays yet with the cruise ship having attracted a handful of children that were playing up to the tourists, we couldn’t hear any children playing in the streets as we walked through town.  There were cars going past and one random ambulance driver (who seemed to be cracking laps looking for an incident to attend), but once those vehicle noises faded away, walking through the middle of town the only noise that could be heard was the crunch of our own boots on the gravel underfoot.

In the local market – hair products, throat lozenges, fungus cream and CCI standard. Above the local church.  Below some Polar Bear claws for sale as souvenirs (about $300 each). Brightly coloured houses, perhaps to stand out against the snow during the winter. It must be a very hard life here with the Inuit people having survived here for as many as 5000 Arctic winters – it’s cold enough here for me in the middle of summer.  They lived on hunting for seals, musk ox, polar bear, arctic hares and whales; working together as a community to gather food and whale oil and blubber for fuel.  Living in small collaborative village communities, warfare is almost completely unknown to the Inuit people here and communal assistance is guaranteed from their fellow villagers – this is how they have always survived, by helping each other.  Many people even now rely on communal water stations as they have no plumbing to their houses and we couldn’t imagine what it must be like in the dead of winter having to go outside with your 5 gallon jerry can to collect water from the town’s communal water stations.

In the local market – hair products, throat lozenges, fungus cream and CCI standard.

The people are quite friendly and we are told that Greenlanders firmly believe that they live in the most beautiful place in the world and that we, the outsiders, are the less fortunate ones.

Greenland is really beautiful – the landscapes are dramatic, the light here has a truly lovely quality, the towns are colourful and the people are friendly.  On top of that we have been blessed with truly fortunate weather so much so the Maitre D’ is convinced the Captain has a remote control for the weather.  Having said that, unless I was heading for the Artic, I’m not sure that I would come back… which is really unusual.  Cruise travel tends to give you a taste for a place which usually leaves you wanting to come back and see a place ‘properly’.

Qaqartoq in Greenland

We spent two days at sea in the Arctic Ocean shrouded by pea soup fog in every direction heading for Greenland from Iceland.  Every now and again, a peep of blue skies would appear out our window or a glimpse of the horizon would temporarily appear in the distance, but for the most part we glided quietly and calmly through the ocean with nothing but the predictable consistent lowing of the fog horn keeping us company.  It would have been an eerie and maybe even spooky sort of environment to traverse in a creaky old sailing ship back in the day… but in our modern ocean cruise ship with it’s lively bars, restaurants and entertainments it was barely any different than crossing the Pacific in bright blue skies with the wind behind us.

This morning we were set to arrive at 7am in Nanortalik, a small town on an island of the same name just off the southern tip of Greenland.  But the weather had different plans for us.  An early announcement by the Captain let us know that there was very high winds and terrible weather conditions in the Nanortalik area that they were not going to be able to operate the ship’s tender service safely and for a brief moment we all thought we were going to have our shore day cancelled and we would miss the port entirely (which happens on a semi regular basis when cruising, the Captain and the ships company can’t control the weather and if conditions are not conducive to safely making port, then all bets are off).  Instead the Captain informed us that conditions were considerably better in our next stop of Qaqartoq (Kwak-kwat-ock) which was barely a few hours away and we would be making out way there hoping to port at 9:30am and if conditions permitted, we would double back to Nanortalik tomorrow. So we had a more leisurely start to the day than anticipated.

We had been told to expect 5C outside and possibly wind and afternoon scattered showers and all rugged up and went to shore by tender in merino under layers, beanies, jackets the works.  Only to find ourselves ashore in beautiful sunny skies and within walking 100m from the tender jetty, desperately stripping off layers of clothing as we overheated in the beautiful sunshine. 

Greenland is another one of those places I never thought I’d travel to – it’s incredibly remote and for a large part of the year incredibly hostile as far as the weather is concerned.  It is the worlds largest island and at 873,000 square miles is nearly the size of Alaska yet has only about 57,000 permanent residents.  

Given that about 85% of Greenland is covered with a permanent ice cap which is several miles thick in some areas, the crazy people who choose to live here are a sturdy, practical sort of people.  The population is predominant Inuit, though there were some small periods around 900AD where Danish and Norwegian vikings inhabited the area when Erick the Red landed in souther Greenland in 982 and decided to found a settlement.  At the height of the viking settlement, there were perhaps was many as 5000 inhabitants living in over 300 farms but they did not mix with the Inuit or learn their survival skills for Greenland’s conditions which were infinitely harsher than Norway or Denmark, and so the viking populations died out at various points (though it seems debatable if this was due to plague or a mini ice age drove them away).

Today Qaqortoq is a small seaside town of about 3000 residents (roughly the same as the number of people on our ship if you count the crew), who concentrate on farming, folk arts including stone carving, commerce, education and a little bit of tourism.  

We started off our day heading for a fur tannery and saw lots of interesting clothing made from seal skins, local sheepskins and even a polar bear skin rug  😐  Yes… not sure how I feel about that.  But I can tell you that polar bears are nowhere near as soft and fluffy as they look and their fur is coarse and bristly.

After the tannery, we made our way into the little town via a walkway scattered with rock sculptures carved into a cliff face.  

At the end of this artistic walk way was a town square with a small gravity fed water fountain with a nearby fish market.  Only once we got there, I didn’t actually see any fish – only whale meat for sale, which we heard was massive chunks of minke and pilot whale.  The Greenland Inuit people are not engaged in commercial whaling operations, however they appear to rely on whale meat to supplement their diet of reindeer meat.  I could be wrong about that – but they are definitely not hunting whale for mass export. Having spent many days earlier this year watching whales frolicking close to our zodiacs in Antartica just last March, it was a bit confronting to see these huge chunks of whale meat hacked up on tables for sale in the market.  Those beautiful majestic animals…  :/  The meat is a dark, dark ox blood red compared to the bright red we are accustomed to seeing in beef and it looks heavy and dense somehow, and no, we did not consume any whale meat and I’m not sure I would had it been offered to me.

After the fish market we wandered over to the local church and had a poke around the town.  It’s a very picturesque little place nestled on the edge of a rather rugged looking circular bay.  A lovely little creek runs through the town to the bay and has glacially cold fresh water running through the town.  We walked and pottered about checking out the local shops and talking to some of the locals before eventually heading back to the ship.  

Once back on board we decided to head to B750 for a wee sail away party to see if we could spot any icebergs as we left Qaqortoq.