Thursday, September 29, 2016

Montmorency Falls & Ile d'Orleans

There's more to Quebec than just the cities, of course!  We weren't renting a car, but we also wanted to take in the area just outside of Quebec City, particularly Montmorency Falls & Ile d'Orleans.  We checked out options via Tours Voir Quebec, and due to our travel schedule we decided on a private tour.  We had a guide, Jocelyne, as well as a driver, who met us at our hotel.  We hit the road first to the falls, taking in the scenery along the way.

We started out at the top of the falls, walking across the bridge above.  Montmorency Falls (Chute Montmorency in French) are taller than Niagara Falls, but not as wide.  The view from up high was breathtaking!  Just as pretty as the falls themselves.

We paid to take this cool cable car down to the bottom, which was kind of fun!  It's a quick trip, and you get to soak in a 360-degree view of the area.

You don't have to spend a ton of time at the falls to enjoy them, and they're definitely worth seeing!  Not too far from the city at all.

After the falls, we headed to the Ile d'Orleans, also know as the "garden" of Quebec.  Our first stop was Cassis Monna & Filles, where they produce products from black currants.  DELICIOUS!

We ended up taking home a few products, including their creme de cassis and a mustard (Dan LOVES mustard) that was a beautiful purple from the currants.  Seriously, so good.   I didn't think I'd like the sweet stuff, but it was awesome!

Our next stop was a winery, Ile de Bacchus.  We were there especially to check out their ice wines.  The grounds were stunning, and given the cold winters in Quebec, they make a good ice wine!

Our last stop was Cidrerie Bilodeau, an apple orchard and cidery.  They made so many products, not just hard cider... mustards, jams, compotes, and more.  ALL THE TASTING!  Tastings at all of these locations were add-ons to our tour, but I felt they were well worth it.  We took home cider and also apply syrup.  It's great on pancakes!

I would recommend checking out Ile d'Orleans as well as the falls.  We could have rented a car and explored on our own, but we learned from our honeymoon in Peru that nothing beats a guide.  Private guides, if you can spring for them, give you a completely personalized experience.  You take in so much more of what you see with historical and local knowledge/context.  I know a lot of people like to eschew tours and try to blend vs. be a tourist... for us, we've learned that a blend of the two are kind of perfect when you're visiting a new place, especially another country!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Quebec City Broue-Tours

As the wife of a brewer, I wanted to be sure there were plenty of things that he enjoyed on our trip.  When I found Broue-Tours on my search, I booked their beer & food pairing tour in Old Quebec.  It promised six beer tastings with info on the city's brewing history, with three stops: the first microbrewery in Quebec, and two great restaurants.

Our guide, Pierre, met us at the tourist info center.  There were supposed to be four other people attending the tour, but they didn't show... so we basically got a private tour with Pierre!  Once he and Dan discovered their mutual love and understanding of brewing, Pierre knew he could get really technical with us, as well as add to our knowledge by adding the city's history to the mix.  He walked us all over town and it seemed like every corner had more history to share, including the story of its beer.

Site of the first inn, and the first reputed brewpub, near the cathedral

The first food & drink stop on our tour was at Chez Boulay Bistro Boreal.  We had some delicious venison on toast, and we also sampled two different Boréale beers.

We also had a shrimp appetizer that was kind of like a shrimp hush puppy.  Very good!  The restaurant was one of the best in the city per reviews, and we loved in the interior.  The food was beautiful and tasty.

We then walked to the city's Artillery Park, to look over the walls and see where the city's first official brewery once stood, centuries ago.  Apparently, they weren't very good at making beer at first, but it was something that had to be made because those contracted to come to the city were owed it as payment.  It was probably pretty nasty!

Pierre and Dan, talking beer

From there, we walked to Inox, where Pierre helped start the first microbrewery in Quebec City outside the old walls.  Along the way, we passed a beautiful fountain (installed to celebrate the city's 400th anniversary) and their parliament building.

Inox was a cool brewery, and we got to taste their beers and delicious stuffed hot dogs.  We even got a chance to head downstairs and see the equipment, which Dan and Pierre enjoyed discussing.  It's located closer to where more locals live, in the newer part of the city on a gorgeous street full of bars and restaurants.

After a good stop at Inox, we walked to La Buche.  We'd actually eaten there on a previous evening, and the server recognized us... but we liked coming back for more!  It's a really hip, modern restaurant with a lumberjack aesthetic, and their spin on traditional Quebecois food.  They offered up oreilles de crisse, which are pork rinds/jowls fried and served with a maple syrup.  I think we tried beer from Le Cheval Blanc and another Quebec brewery.

We also had smoked salmon tartare, another beautiful bite of Quebec!  We loved the hours we spent on this tour, learning more about the city we'd already wandered, as well as its beer.

As I sidenote, I was super bummed I couldn't buy us some "Je bois local" (I drink local) t-shirts like our guide wore!  We had a ball.  Thanks Pierre for a great tour!  If we come back, we'll definitely head outside the old city to take the brewery tour they offer in the St-Roch neighborhood.

I definitely recommend a trek with Broue-Tours if you're a beer lover visiting Quebec City!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Old Quebec City

We absolutely fell in love with Old Quebec!  Also know as Vieux-Québec, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site divided into two sections, the upper town (Haute-Ville) and lower town (Basse-Ville).  Our hotel in the upper part of Old Quebec was a literal stone's throw from everything, adjacent to their city hall.  With Google Maps on our phones and our guidebook, we spent our first day in town exploring.

We ended up at the Citadelle of the city, a working military base with a fascinating history.  We enjoyed the museum and then joined for a guided tour, offered in either English or French.

The Citadelle history is great, but one of the main reasons to visit is the fantastic view of the city!  You can see both the upper and lower parts of town from there, as well as the river.  In September and October, there are often cruise ships in port, which add to the tourist numbers in the fall.

Tourism is Quebec's #2 industry, so the locals are happy to help you with directions and recommendations.  Super friendly!  Another beautiful building in town is the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral.  It is free to enter, and during our visit we were able to enter through a Holy Door (one of eight in the world!), since it was during the Catholic church's Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.  I'm not Catholic, so I don't know what it all means, but I felt compelled to enter through the door even if it was just for a bit of good luck!

The most imposing sight in Old Quebec is definitely the Château Frontenac hotel, built along with a series of other hotels to attract visitors along the Canadian Pacific Railway.  It's commonly thought to be the most photographed hotel in the world.  We walked along the huge Terrasse Dufferin, the deck adjacent to the hotel, and inside the hotel a little bit.  It's beautiful and luxurious... and it has a Starbucks!

To get to Basse-Ville, you can walk down stairs or take a ride on the Funiculaire that is near the hotel.  We walked, because it's too pretty not to!  Basse-Ville is the original city, before the big walls, and it has retained some beautiful, historic charm.

My favorite area was the Quartier Petit Champlain, a couple of adorable little streets full of historic buildings.  They are pedestrian areas, since the buildings predate cars, and there are cute shops and tons of restaurants too.  You don't want to miss this sweet neighborhood, which reminds me of an adorable Epcot destination, but real.

Vieux-Québec was hands-down my favorite "experience" of our Quebec trip.  I really could have spent an entire week there, or imagine living there, though most residents of the city live outside the walls near practical things like grocery stores.  It was perfection, and we really loved everything about the city!

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!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Budgeting Bloggers: September 2016

Publishing this month on the early side, since I'm traveling again soon and not shopping anymore due to budget constraints and vacation recovery!  :)  I got my first payout (after literally like a year, #smallblogproblems) from affiliate links at Shopstyle Collective, which meant $100 towards my budget, plus a couple of Poshmark sales.  That was good news since I didn't have any budget remaining at the last month.  I've been on a bikini kick (we've still been having pool weather in TN) but also buying pants for fall.

  1. INC Curvy-Fit Skinny Pants in Port (originally $60, paid $40 on sale):  I ordered these in three colors because they are amazing ponte pants (so comfy) only to discover that they're more bootcut than skinny.  I loves the Port color (kind of like oxblood, remember that color trend?) so I kept one pair.
  2. Swim Sexy The Charlatan Bikini (originally $82, paid $46 with sale):  I returned a swimsuit last month for credit with Swimsuits for All, and I ended up using it plus some cash for two more suits.  The Charlatan is a sassy suit with some see-through panels, which I think are kind of sexy while covering up.  I haven't had a bikini in years, and now I'm really pleased to have the ones I do.  I know it seems like a weird time (to the rest of the country) to buy swimsuits, but August 31st I was in the pool at NIGHT because it was so hot here in Nashvegas.
  3. Shore Club Seascape Flyaway Underwire Tankini Top + Black Ruched Brief (originally $54 and $22, paid $32 and $13): I ordered a black ruched brief to go with another top I already had in the closet, and then I saw this flyaway tankini top. I like having that to be a little more covered up when I want.

$131 spent -  $122 earned/sold = $9 total spent in September

Quarter Budget: $500 - $196 in July - $311 in August - $9 in September = $16 OVER BUDGET

Overall, I was happy to stay within my budget (okay, SLIGHTLY over) while getting a lot of things that I'm already wearing multiple times.

What did you add to your closet this month?

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