Thursday, 17 July 2014

Quebec City Outside the Walls (Part 2)

Last post, I embarked on a walk outside the famous walls of Quebec City, reaching the decorative Fontaine de Tourny. My stroll continues...

Another French connection is the parliament building itself, built in the lavish Second Empire style of the late 19th century.

Its facade is studded with statues and names of famous figures from Quebec’s history and culture.

It's a potent riposte to Governor-General Lord Durham’s 1839 comment that its inhabitants were “a people with no history, and no literature”.

As I get closer, I can see the explorer Jacques Cartier, Montreal’s founder Maissoneuve, Quebec City’s founder Champlain, and some Native American figures.

There’s also a surprising statue of Wolfe, the victorious British general in 1759, opposite his counterpart Montcalm. As both generals died at the battle, it may explain why they’re given such equivalence here.

I learn more at the nearby Plains of Abraham, nowadays known as Battlefields National Park.

It’s an attractive public space of gently rolling green parkland, divided up by paths and gardens, with clifftop walks accessible from the side above the St Lawrence River.

Back in 1759, however, it was the site of a crucial tussle between French defenders and a British army which had unexpectedly scaled the cliffs in the dead of night.

The battle is recounted entertainingly at the Discovery Pavilion (835 Avenue Laurier) on the edge of the park. Its audiovisual presentation, Odyssey, tells the story of Quebec and greater Canada from 1759 to the present day.

It’s surprisingly witty and engaging – in the first section, actors playing Wolfe and Montcalm are interviewed as if by modern media, with miniature microphones stuck in their ears.

Later sections present a series of Monty Pythonesque animated historical paintings, and a TV newsroom reporting on the sped-up creation of Canada.

Leaving, I wander across the park and inspect a lone defensive tower, set up in anticipation of a 19th century American attack which never came.

Then along the park’s edge, past expensive-looking houses, to the monument which marks the exact spot where Wolfe died, carried from the battlefield by his soldiers.

From here, I head north toward the district of St Jean Baptiste, west of the city walls.

Rather than a collection of sights, this is a cosy, everyday neighbourhood of residential streets and shops, less trodden by tourists and with an authentic local flavour.

On Rue St Jean is chocolatier Erico (634 Rue St Jean). It’s spread across two shopfronts, one side set up as a chocolate museum.

This is packed with display cases of vintage chocolate tins, along with details of chocolate production next to models of the cacao pod. There are also some eccentric artworks, such as clothing made out of chocolate.

Stepping into the retail area, I ask the assistant what her favourite chocolates are; and walk out with both coffee-flavoured and maple syrup-flavoured chocs.

For lunch, the shop assistant’s colleague has suggested a long-lived restaurant further along the street with the unlikely name of Le Hobbit (700 Rue St Jean); presumably named in the 1970s when The Lord of the Rings was previously in fashion.

It turns out to be a smart bistro with exposed stone walls, modern décor and a surprisingly affordable menu.

There are French classics such as steak frites on offer, and unconventional choices such as bison ravioli. I go for the marinated chicken burger and a glass of Portuguese white wine.

I’m sitting on the narrow terrace beneath an awning as rain starts falling softly on Rue St Jean.

The air is pleasantly balmy, my feet are tingling from all that walking, and a promising lunch is on the way. If this is what life is like “Outside the Walls”, I’m all for it.

Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission.