Visiting beautiful Quebec, and (sort of) learning a little French
Quebec is a truly beautiful province. But I’m being reminded of just how little French I know while travelling here. I do know enough to get by. I can say:
“Do you speak English?”
“I don’t speak French”
“My name is”
Don’t ask me to write any of that, though… I have no idea how. One day I’ll learn proper French, but for now I have to get by with the very little I can say.
It feels a little like when I first moved to the US… when I knew even less than that in English. However, after having been in Quebec for about 5 days, I feel like I’m already starting to pick up a bit more. There are a number of words that are similar to Portuguese, which helps.
I am loving experiencing a completely different part of Canada than what I’m used to. Although I’ve never been to Europe, if I go by pictures I’ve seen, Quebec feels very European. I love listening to French being spoken, and I love that everyone says “Bonjour” as you pass them by, at least in the towns we’ve visited so far.
We left Cornwall on Friday, August 31st, and headed to Quebec City. We made several stops along the way. Shortly after crossing into Quebec, we stopped at the Visitor’s Centre. There’s a really nice little playground for the kids, and the building was very clean. We spent quite a bit of time there. The kids enjoyed themselves.
After a full day of driving (which included a break at a beautiful rest stop), we finally arrived in Quebec City at around 7:00 p.m. on Friday. We got comfy at the Walmart parking lot after trying—and miserably failing—to ask in French if we could spend the night. Luckily, the customer service representative also spoke English, and enthusiastically said we were welcome to park at the back.
There were a tonne of other RVs parked there also. In the morning, I went for a walk, and on the way back I counted over 45 campers and RVs, plus cars where people were obviously car camping (managing pillows, etc, as they got out of the parking lot).
I went into the Walmart to make some purchases, and it took me a while to find things, as all signs are obviously in French. But with a bit of guessing, I found everything I was looking for. All staff were very nice and understanding when they tried to speak to me and I said I didn’t speak French. I think people are very happy when you at least make the effort to say a few words in their language, before switching to English.
Saturday, September 1st, 2018
We spent Saturday exploring Quebec City. It’s a very charming place, with gorgeous flowers, trees, and ornate stairways everywhere. We parked the RV for free at Parc Victoria and took a looooooooooooong walk from there to the Musée de la Civilisation. The walk was beautiful, but I didn’t wear my knee braces, and by the end of the day, my knees and hips were giving out (and very, very sore).
I was recently prescribed knee braces to hold my knees in place (I have hypermobility that causes my joints to not stay in place, and this condition is getting worse as I get older. The braces help my knees to stay put so they don’t give out from under me, which is starting to happen more frequently). I don’t have to wear them all the time, just on long walks and hikes. Lesson learned, put on the braces if you’re walking, because you don’t know how far you’ll need to walk (we walked for an hour and a half on Saturday).
Anyway! On our way to the Museum, we found the Bibliothèque Gabrielle-Roy (Gabrielle-Roy Library), and went in to use the washrooms. When we were finished, we noticed the kids’ area was right at the entrance of the library. So we went in, and the kids had a lot of fun playing with the magnet toys and puzzles.
There was also a chalk wall, and a very large collection of both classic books as well as comics—most of them in French, of course. But we did find a small multilingual section, with a full shelf of books in English. K-girl, my oldest (and a real bookworm), found a book and sat herself down for quite a bit while the little ones played with the magnets.
At the entrace of the library, I also noticed a little cinema, and it looks like they show kids’ movies there. There was a listing of different movies and how long they were, and the area was very pretty. The library was very clean and well-organized, and we enjoyed our time there.
After a while at the library, we started walking towards the museum again. We spotted some other awesome things, including beautiful stairways, a gorgeous garden, and an awesome artificial waterfall.
The Musée de la Civilisation was wonderful. It’s free for kids 11 and under, and it’s $22 for full admission for the adults. We thought it was well worth the price. The London exhibit was pretty neat, and we got to pretend to be The Beatles:
There was a fun exhibit called “Observer,” which was meant to help you use all your senses to find clues and keys in a sort of maze with different rooms. The kids loved this exhibit and finding the keys, and were especially happy to play the game at the end of the exhibit, where they have to match the keys to the rooms on a sort of tablet.
There was an absolutely gorgeous exhibit of indigenous peoples, and I was both surprised and pleased to watch a short documentary about an Anishinabe person who visited the indigenous people of Mato Grosso, Brazil, to reconnect with indigenous roots. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the film, but if you’re interested in more indigenous films, you should check out this website. I learned a bit about a culture within my own home country that I never knew about.
I recently learned that part of my ancestral roots come from Brazil’s indigenous people, but our history was never preserved, so I don’t know which tribe we came from, which saddens me. For anyone curious, I’m a 5th-generation Brazilian, but I’m a bit of a mutt in terms of ancestry: my family came from Portugal, Italy, Lebanon, and Brazil itself. I know a little about our family history, but I do wish I knew more. I’m now also Canadian (and have been for the last 14 years), as are my children. But we’ll always be Brazilian too (all my kids are dual citizens). Back to the tour though 🙂
After we’d spent quite a bit of time at the museum, the kids (and me) were pretty much done walking. We decided to take the city bus back to where we had parked the RV, so we asked for some information and headed to the bus stop, hurrying to get there before we missed the bus. We arrived in time, but the bus passed the stop and kept on going, ignoring us and the 5 other people waiting. I was very puzzled, and looked closer at the sign posted on the bus stop. With my very limited French (read: almost non-existing), I couldn’t quite make it out, but I think it said that “this bus stop is out of service.”
After missing the bus and being quite apprehensive about walking another hour and a half to Parc Victoria with whiny kids, Dan had a great idea. Earlier in the day, we had been stopped by sales reps for a Toyota Corolla promotion. They were looking for people to test drive the Corollas, and you could drive yourself to anywhere in the city. So Dan arranged for us to test drive two Toyota Corollas all the way back to Parc Victoria, which was super convenient. I enjoyed the little car—it’d been a long time since I drove something small, as we’ve been driving minivans for the last 4 years. We were happy to have a “ride” back to the RV, and the sales people were very friendly.
After we got back to Parc Victoria, we stopped at a free dumping/water fill station, and then returned to the Walmart to spend the night. I did a little research, and found a Catholic church that serves the English-speaking population of Quebec. So we had part of our Sunday planned out.
Sunday, September 2nd, 2018
St. Peter’s was a lovely church and everyone we met was really nice. They had a children’s liturgy and coffee and treats after mass. We sang happy birthday to the mom of the children’s liturgy teacher—she was turning 91.
We had a really nice chat with the choir director and one of the trustees. At the end of mass, the priest encouraged everyone to look through some books that were donated and were on display, and free for anyone to take, so we took some books with us: one on Divine Mercy and one on meditations for children. We also got a small children’s book.
After mass, we had planned on visiting the Plains of Abrahham, but it started raining pretty heavily, so we decided to head out on the road to Rivière du Loup. The drive there was lovely, and the campground we decided on was even lovelier.
We stayed at Camping Municipal de La Pointe. The grounds were beautiful and well-kept, and the location right at the St. Lawrence river was just wonderful. Staff was super friendly and spoke both French and English. There were very well-kept washrooms and showers (free to use for campers), and a laundry room. Laundry cost $1.25 per machine, and they worked very well also. There was a very nice small playground, which the kids enjoyed. A full hookup site cost only $37, which in comparison to Ontario prices, was a breath of fresh air.
After getting settled in, playing a bit at the playground, and getting some laundry done, we headed down to the water to watch the sunset. I don’t doubt those who say Rivière du Loup provides some of the best sunsets in the world:
Unique rock formations and a beautiful landscape gave kids great entertainment. They loved jumping from rock to rock, and the variety of rocks here is a sight to see. My favourite were the ones with the white streaks. The variety and size of rocks provided an opportunity to discuss the rock cycle, which is pretty awesome.
After a lovely day and a half in Rivière du Loup, we headed out again, this time for Matane, Quebec.
Monday, September 3rd, 2018
Another lovely drive by the St. Lawrence River, which we’re really enjoying. There are mountains and pine trees everywhere, and the scenery is absolutely gorgeous. The St. Lawrence River is truly beautiful, and it smells like the sea. Quebec is a beautiful destination, and if you haven’t been here yet, I definitely recommend it.
We stopped in Port-au-Père to see the Onondaga, a decommissioned submarine that now functions as a museum. I’m mildly claustrophobic, but I was perfectly fine in the submarine. I believe the excellent audio tour distracted me enough that I wasn’t too worried about where I was. I think I learned more about submarines during this tour than I ever knew during my seven years in the Navy.
The tour was really neat, and while G-boy and M-girl weren’t patient enough to listen to the whole thing, K-girl and I enjoyed the entire tour and learned all about the different compartments, life in a submarine, and even heard a funny story about one of the missions.
I highly recommend a stop in Port-au-Père to see the submarine, even if you have no interest in military operations. It’s quite something to be able to go into a submarine and see how submariners live.
After seeing the submarine and jumping on some more rocks, we hopped on the road again, and made another stop to see some really neat concrete and wooden sculptures about to set sail on the St. Lawrence River.
This was at Centre D’art Marcel Gagnon in St. Flavie, Quebec. The kids enjoyed jumping on yet more rocks, and we even saw some tiny shrimp swimming around in the little pools of water that accumulated between the rocks. It smells like the sea there, and the sky was so beautiful, even though it had been a cloudy day.
We finally arrived in Matane later in the evening, had some dinner, and called it a night. Cooking in the RV is pretty easy, and I’m not (yet) missing my big kitchen. We parked the RV at a Walmart in Matane. You can park in the parking lot, but you’d have to leave by 6:00 a.m. Since our kids have been sleeping in later than they do at home, we parked off to the side of the parking lot, on a small gravel section where you’re allowed to stay for as long as you want.
Tuesday, September 4th, 2018
On Tuesday I went for a morning walk and found a beautiful walking trail through a forest, just behind the Walmart where we were staying. It was very nice to walk through the woods, and it was only a little muddy from the rain the night before. It was pretty windy and a little chilly, but I really enjoyed my walk:
We made our way through Gaspé Bay Peninsula to Gaspé, Quebec, on Tuesday. Before we headed out on the road, we stopped at a poissonnerie (fish store) to buy some famous crevette de Matane to cook for dinner. M-girl was curious, but not too impressed by the live lobsters. Later that day, she said she does not want to take care of a lobster, because that would be “disgrossting.” I think I found my new favourite word :p
K-girl insisted she wanted to try a clam, so we bought a handful to cook in the evening as well. That girl is braver than me…
After getting our fish, we headed out on the road. This drive is absolutely gorgeous, although very, very hilly, so we took our time. Everywhere you look, there are gorgeous mountains covered in pine trees, and the majestic St. Lawrence always at your side. On several mountains, you can see different rock layers, which makes for gorgeous patterns. We are all really enjoying the view.
We also found a super cool playground, which offered a much needed spot to stretch our legs and give Dan a break from the hilly drive. The playground had two obstacle courses, an awesome rock climbing wall, a big jungle gym, three spots for swings, a life-size play boat, and a super cool pirate ship. The kids really enjoyed it there.
After a long day of hilly driving, we decided to stop by for the night in Riviére-au-Renard, Quebec, on a gravel spot by the St. Lawrence. We weren’t sure if we were allowed to park overnight, so I went looking for someone to ask in the nearby shops, but everything was closed. I asked two people who passed by whether I could park here overnight, and they said it should be no problem. Before settling in for the night, we cooked up our shrimp (and clams).
The picture doesn’t look like much (this is cooking in real life, after all), but it was sooooo good. I fried half of the shrimp with a tiny bit of garlic powder and salt (in a lot of butter), and the other half I breaded before frying. I breaded it the way I learned from watching my grandma (Vó Zilah): soak the food in a bit of egg, and then roll it in flour. I fried it in butter and voilá, a delicious fish dinner.
We all enjoyed the food (except for G-boy, who does justice to his Italian name by gorging on anything pasta and not much else…) The girls even tried clams, which is more than I can say for myself, and enjoyed them. And although M-girl things lobsters are “disgrossting,” she asked to go back to a fish store to see lobsters again today.
I’m happy we chose to spend the night here, because this was my view when I woke up this morning (Wednesday, September 5th):
I took a walk this morning, and it was a great way to warm up on this chilly day. Ups and downs in the hills makes for a great workout 🙂 And yes, I’m wearing my braces on my morning walks.
We are really enjoying our trip so far, and Quebec is absolutely gorgeous. I love the friendliness of everyone we meet, and it’s so wonderful to experience French Canada first hand. One day, when the kids are older, I think I’ll return here and learn French by the same method I learned English: sink or swim, totally immersed in the culture and language that I want to learn.