Friday, September 23, 2016

Quebec: Getting There and Getting Around

When I write a series of travel posts on a recent destination, I sometimes do one of these relatively un-sexy ones about the practical side of things.  I feel like they answer a lot of questions that I get or anticipate, like, "How did you get from Montreal to Quebec City?"  I decided to do this post first, then get into the fun stuff later!

We decided to take our vacation to Quebec after considering a few other options in North America.  Zika virus fears were in full swing, so we ruled out an all-inclusive or cruise in Mexico/Caribbean.  We also pondered Key West, western Michigan, and Napa, but  thought it might be nice to dust off the passports and seek out some respite from the hot Tennessee summer.  Quebec sounded like the perfect destination!  I'd been on to Montreal a couple of times, so I really wanted to take in Quebec City too.  Both were new to Dan, so he was excited.  I picked up a book (I love travel guides) to inspire me for planning.   Usually for a particular city, I love the Frommer's Day-by-Day books, but this Fodor's book was fantastic and included everything we needed for both cities.  You know a travel guide is good when you go to a great restaurant and then realize they also happen to be listed in the book.

Loved this book!

We booked a flight to Montreal's international airport.  I had frequent flyer miles, so we basically flew for free!  We decided that it would be best to do our "long haul" travel day up front, so we would fly into Montreal and then go straight to Quebec City, then head back to Montreal mid-way through the week.  We decided against renting a car, because we'd be staying in the old historic area of both cities, where driving and parking are more challenging.  A lot of people drive to these places (especially via New York) no issue, and it can be handy to have a car.

From Montreal to Quebec City, we took the Orleans Express bus from the airport.  We'd missed the train, so this was an economical and efficient option.  They are nice, coach-style buses.  There were a couple of stops, but we stayed on the same bus the whole way.  Then we took a cab to our hotel from the station.

For the trip back to Montreal from Quebec City, we splurged on business class train tickets on VIA Rail.  Coach class is great, but since we took the bus, we figured we'd go for the drink service.  We had access to a private business lounge while waiting for the train, and we boarded first.  We were served constant drinks, a meal, snacks, and had on-board outlets for charging and free wifi.  It was really posh, and we kind of loved it!

For our hotel in Quebec City, we booked one of the thirteen rooms at Hotel Marie Rollet.  While it had a couple of steep stairs, I loved the room I selected for us.  There's a range of rooms in this old Victorian house, so we made sure to get the one that suited us.  There are a lot of small, old hotels in the historic part of the city, and we were a five-minute walk to so many sights and restaurants.  It was location, location, location!  I definitely recommend staying within the historic old city.  If you are swimming in cash, you can stay at the incredible Chateau Frontenac.

For our stay in Montreal, we used Airbnb.  There were a ton of Airbnb listings in the Old Montreal/Old Port area for less than the cost of a hotel room.  Just be sure to read reviews, and understand how Airbnb works ahead of time.  It can be a little nerve-wracking if you're used the smooth service at hotel check-in.  We found a place (a loft in an 1800s building) right by the Basilique Notre Dame and Metro!

FYI.  I assume you've heard that Quebec is "French Canada", but I would still say some of you (like other tourists we encountered) might be surprised at just how much the French language is a part of the place, because we're used to this generalized, South Park-addled idea of Canadian people.  (Tangent: South Park has a catchy song that sings, "There's no Canada like French Canada. It's the best Canada in the land."  It was kind of my anthem of the trip.)  As in, you WILL meet people who aren't so comfortable with English, as they were raised and educated in French, so please start every encounter off by being polite and saying "Bonjour" before anything else.  It's more like visiting Paris than visiting Toronto, in that regard!  I was a French major, so it was super fun for me to exercise my rusty francophone skills...  I was eating up every minute, and everyone was SO wonderfully nice.  After my Nova Scotia adventures, I'm pretty convinced Canada is one of the nicest countries ever.

I'd say my advice for visiting Quebec would be...  spend as much time in Quebec City and its environs as possible, and save a couple of days for the neighborhoods and fantastic food in Montreal.  We really, really loved Quebec (you'll see why) and found it really easy to get around via flights, trains, buses, and taxis, so you're not left out in the cold just because you didn't bring a car.

So now that this post is out of the way... the even better stuff is to be published soon!

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