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. 

Hockey Night in Canada

Okay, not really Hockey Night in Canada… more Hockey Afternoon in Langley – which for the record IS in Canada, but only barely! 😛  Once upon a time, a long long long time ago, Mr K lived on Vancouver Island and worked at a Wendy’s.  Now at that Wendy’s Mr K used to work with Peter and Scott.  Scott still lives in Victoria and he manages a veterinary clinic, but Peter is living here in Vancouver and works as a firefighter in Langley.  As it turns out, Peter has a young son who he regularly takes out on a Friday afternoon ‘stick ‘n’ puck’; which is a casual open ice hockey session for friends to get together and just slap the puck around for an hour or two… and Mr K and the Teenager signed up to have a go!Getting ready to hit the ice…And they’re off and running… err, skating.  Bit wobbly at first, but they both gained in confidence really quickly.Peter’s son – looking quite the pro in his Canuck’s jersey.  He told us all about his favourite players and the number of points, goals and assists they had made so far this season.  This kid is awesome, cute as a button, intelligent and polite, and really into his hockey.  🙂  I was taking photos (obviously) and trying really hard to crop other people’s kids out of these pics, but there were about 24 people on the ice at any point in time and another five in rotation skating in whenever anyone came off.  It was pretty hectic, and I swear there were four-year-olds out there who could skate rings around Mr K. The team from Down Under… making that shit look good fellas!  😛  Turns out playing ice hockey is not like riding a bike… Intense! Look at that grin – I think he likes ice hockey even more than snowboarding.  Dad and the Teenager all hot and sweaty but totally exhilarated.  Grandpa would be proud!  🙂 After ice hockey, seeing we were in the area, we took the opportunity to go and have a sticky beak around Pete’s work.  Peter has been working as a firefighter for eight years now, but was volunteering and working part-time long before that.  He strikes me as one of those fortunate people who have always known what they wanted to do in life, and he went out, worked hard, and got it done. The fire station was really interesting – as you can imagine, these guys respond to way more situations than just fires and their trucks seem well equipped for most situations.

Showing the boys the ropes. Thanks Pete, what a great day – coffees, hockey trivia with your Small Child, some stick ‘n’ puck ice hockey for Mr K and the Teenager, followed by a tour of the fire station.  I hope you make it to Australia one day so we can show you and the family around Brisbane.

Vancouver Aquarium and the Capilano Bridge

Back down the mountain and into the city and it feels a little bit, ‘back to reality’ really… traffic, shops, malls, office buildings, sirens, buses. NOISE!  I’m missing the Aspens on the mountainside already.

Nevermind, we have beautiful Vancouver to explore before the forecast rain sets in for the week and then we will be driven to indoor pursuits.  So the first cab off the rank is Stanley Park and the Vancouver Aquarium (you know, mostly for the otters).

The Vancouver Aquarium is divided into several zones – the Tropics, the Amazon, the Pacific Coastal (and they don’t mean the South Pacific), the Frog exhibitions, the outdoor Marine animals and of course the obligatory and unusually extensive gift shop zone… We started off in the Tropics and had a feeling we would move through this area pretty quickly. I could not count the number of people who seemed to be here just to see the Nemo Fish.  Poor little things will never be known as Clown Fish ever again…  “Look at the Nemo Fish, Jackson. Isn’t he cute?”  Thanks, Disney. Last time I was here there was a surprising display of a wobbegong shark.. he doens’t seem to live here anymore. After whipping through all the familiar Tropical displays we went for a wander through the Amazon rainforest area.  Which is a huge greenhouse of trees, flowers, birds, boa constrictors, alligators, frogs, and even a resident, (though somewhat camera shy), sloth.

Piranhas… look pretty harmless, maybe they just have a bad reputation.  These ones also look pretty meaty – I wonder if piranha is tasty?Tiny poisonous frog… highly advise against eating these. From there we meandered into the Pacific Coast area – which is nothing like the Pacific Coast area we are used to.  Anemones in a multitude of colours (thank fuck for Grammarly – I’m still half asleep and can’t spell right now, which probably means I should put off writing until later, but I’m not gonna so bad spelling and typos ahoy!).  I particularly love the bright green and strawberry coloured northern Pacific anemones.They have some seriously impressive jellyfish display – this aquarium has some of the best jellyfish displays I’ve ever seen, they’re so serene, I could watch them for hours.  In fact, I’d love to have a huge wall of jellyfish at home.  Today the Teenager learned that the collective noun for jellyfish is a ‘smack’.  He told me this very proudly, to which I responded off-handedly, ‘Yes, I know.’ Which caused a slightly disappointed expression… sorry kiddo, it’s hard to teach your mum new words*, you can take it home and dazzle your English teacher though.
(*Qualifier: unless they’re made up, bullshit words from the Internet.) Strawberry anemones… my favourite – this photo does not do them justice at all.Laid-back and cruisey looking starfish that I swear would speak like Alison Janney if it could, you know, talk. Outside to the Marine animals area – dirty big seal. Lesser dirty big seal – Northern Fur Seal if anyone is actually interested. (Complete with annoying lens aberration that I am going to have to investigate when I return home. Grrr.).   Sea otters.  I won’t bore you with the multitude of bad otter photos and videos I took in the poor lighting conditions today… but this guy picking his nose was a highlight.
I must have watched them for half an hour while the guys took advantage of the free wi-fi. I hate it when my phone is taking better photos than the camera… sometimes it’s just way more forgiving of crappy lighting conditions. Then around the corner to see some endangered South African Penguins. These little guys weren’t very animated and I felt sorry for them living in this enclosure – the penguins we saw in the Falklands seemed much happier, huddling, and nesting and hatching and waddling across the sand.  

Anyhow, onwards and outwards via the gift shop – someone in their t-shirt ordering department has a cute sense of humour… We seriously don’t need it, but I was really close to buying this fishy cribbage board for Mr K, made by a local artist named Andrew Riddle.

After the Aquarium, we drove around to the Stanley Pub to meet up with Jay-Cuz ( 😉 yeah, that’s your new nickname) who lives in Vancouver.  We were off to see the Capilano Suspension Bridge gets all lit up for the holidays.  I came here in mid-summer about five years ago, so I was keen to explore the place again, only this time at night.  I was surprised, being local, that Jay-Cuz would want to come with – but apparently, she’s never been to the Capilano Suspension Bridge before, so it would be a new adventure for most of us.
The suspension bridge has a huge long history that I probably wrote about last time I was here, but in case I didn’t and in case you’re interested, here’s the Wiki-link.  The most interesting thing to note about it is that it is 140m long and 70m above the canyon floor and 800,000 people walk across it every year!  Mr K was not so keen, being wary of heights, but we made it across.  🙂  On the other side is the tree top walks in among the enormous fir trees. Half arsed selfies seemed to be the order of the day.  Among the tree tops. As it got darker, my photography got wonkier! A little cabin near a pond… where’s my tripod.  :'(  Further into the Adventure Walk was a lovely area that was filled with these large lighted globes of varying sizes that had been artfully arranged throughout the trees.  It created a wonderful fantastical space that was heightened by it all being reflected in a still pond. We had timed our visit so that it would be fully dark by the time we were walking back (all of 4:30-5:00pm) and the bridge all lit up looked very cool. The canyon floor – shot handheld, at night from a rocking suspension bridge!  😛  I love these fuzzy night photos.  🙂

The Capilano Bridge complex has a pretty nifty gift shop too – full of outdoor wear, local crafts, jewellery, toys and souvenirs. And the whole places smells like maple fudge, and maple cookies, and maple butter, and maple flavoured goodness in general.  Naturally, we acquired some fudge, a souvenir pin, and a small gift for Gran (no, we didn’t buy her the bristly fox). AND – very excited – I finally found myself a fantastic Woolrich lumberjack flannelette shirt.  Last time we were here, I searched high and low for one, but maybe they just don’t sell well in the summer season?!  Very happy with my wash.

Once we left the bridge, we decided to take Jay-Cuz home to Richmond, which she warned us was quite the long drive from North Vancouver, but we got to have fun conversation in the car, and she had promised to take us to dinner somewhere that was NOT more burgers or pizza! (So sick of bad food – after a week of fatnastic sushi in Tokyo!)  So, we ended up in her local village, a really cute seaside area called Stevenson at a restaurant called the Kove Kitchen.  We had a delicious meal (they have fantastic seafood chowder!), which was a wonderful end to a huge day.