Saturday, September 12, 2015

Beautiful Québec

The Fairmont Chateau Frontenac and the St. Lawrence River
I like traveling to and in Canada. Every time I have been to the great White North I have collected beautiful memories that continue to make me happy, whenever I think of them. Not even counting the several weeks on the tandem from Prince George all the way through the Okanagan down to the US back in 1983, the list is probably topped by the two trips that Judy and I took, one out to Banff, the other into Ontario, including Niagara Falls. (Oh, I almost forgot our time on Victoria Island.) There were those three times in Penticton, BC, when I chiefed Ironman Canada. At Hardwood Hills I broke my clavicle while pre-riding the UCI mountain bike course as PCP. Baie-St-Paul, Saguenay, Mont Ste Anne—all great memories. And now I have finally spent some time in Québec city as well as Montréal.
Part of the old city wall
Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Québec
One of hundreds of canons that defended Québec
As I am writing this I am four days into an almost week-long trip to francophone Canada. I spent the first days in the quaint old capital of the province, Québec. As you can guess, this is another cycling-related sojourn. Because of the race schedule and some of my duties I did have a little bit of time to walk around Québec in beautiful weather, taking in the old-world atmosphere that this former European outpost still exudes. The streets in Old Town are narrow and often cobbled, the storefronts and restaurant look positively French, and city walls, moats, and turrets remind one of the military past of this city.
Old Town just below the Frontenac, steps from the cruise piers
No wonder the bats go there at night!
The entire race entourage was housed in the swank Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, a Disneyesque-yet-historic relic of the centuries. This was the first time that I ever slept in a chateau, and had it not been for a bat that decided to take flying lessons in my room in the middle of the night (no worries, I batted the thing to the ground with a bat(h)towel and had the bellboy remove the Ziploc-bagged remnants—really!) it would have been perfect. But it sure makes for a good story!
Without photographic proof nobody would believe me
During my strolls through town I marveled at the old fortification on Cap Diamant, the ingeniously located fort that controlled the St. Lawrence River for more than two centuries. No wonder this place was hotly fought over. The views from the hill are magnificent, and I was reminded of the Bosphorus in Istanbul. Man, I do get around.
Looking toward the Atlantic—just around the corner, almost
Colorful buoys languishing ashore
Small meets large
It's not as if Québec really needed the exposure that a World Tour event such as the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec brings with it, but a $35M shot of overall economic impact into the region (as estimated by the organizers) can't hurt, either. Bringing the world's cycling elite via charter plane from Europe to the Americas is a big endeavor, and thus the race is coupled with the GP Cycliste de Montréal, which will take place tomorrow. The fact that both events are happening 10 days before this year's road World Championship in Richmond, VA, is rather convenient as well. (However, both GPs are established events that have been ongoing for years, without the WC looming a few hundred miles to the south.)
They're all here, including former (Boonen, far left) and current (Kwiatkowski) world champions
Bell lap, and everyone is "on the rivet," strung out single file
Quite a spectacular backdrop for the race
For the race in Québec the weather showed itself from the very best side—pleasant temps, nothing but sunshine, hardly any wind. It was a perfect day for racing, and the spectators loved it. And then, when I woke up this morning in Montréal after our transfer last night, it was gray, raining, and cool. Yuk. Tomorrow's forecast isn't much better, but that's professional cycling: The show must go on. My mostly off-day thus didn't yield the fun sightseeing that I had envisioned, but that's OK. Montréal is totally different from Québec, a large city with skyscrapers, a huge downtown shopping district, and massive museums galore. The contrast couldn't be more stark. From what I saw today there is a lot going on, culturally. I'd like to spend some time here in the summer or during the time of the jazz festival. Ah, so many things to do, so little time left.
On this trip I finally learned about the Québecois delicacy poutine
Downtown Montréal on a rainy Saturday morning
What frites are to Belgium, poutines are to Québec (and Canada)
Tomorrow will be another race day, and on Monday morning I'll fly back home to a place where people don't speak Québecois but Texan. Properly used by old-timers, neither is intelligible to the casual speaker of French or English. Québec and Texas probably have other similarities: conservative, frontier roots, not averse to secession. I don't share any of these traits, but I feel comfortable in either place.

Another good trip, for sure.


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