Summer has been a busy time. We left Boston in June and headed for Quebec City. Leaving Boston we decided to stop in Gloucester, a one time fishing and whaling port. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like when men would head out to sea without modern day navigation and meteorological resources. Placed near the sea, the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial reads, “They that go down to the sea in ships. 1623 – 1923” In a semi-circle in front of the memorial are plaques with the names of those who set off but never returned.
We were struck by the number of men who have the same last name making us wonder were they brothers or fathers and sons? Further down the boulevard is a statue of a mother with two small children. Standing at the water’s edge and taking this all in on a beautiful spring day was a very moving experience.
From Gloucester we headed up through Maine and its beautiful scenery. We continued to keep our eyes peeled for moose but the closest we got was a huge statue.
The drive into Quebec itself was spectacular with the road following the St. Lawrence River. Our Airbnb was located right in the center of the old city with a gate that opened to a small walkway that led to a lovely apartment, old and quaint but updated with modern appliances and furniture, great wifi and even cable television with some English speaking channels. Our host was a lovely French Canadian who lucky for us, spoke English.
We had come, quite accidentally, at a time with lots of holidays: St. Jean the Baptiste Day, Canada Day and Quebec Day. There were bands, parades and locals handing out Quebec and Canadian flags. The Hotel Frontenac is a Quebec icon. I have a picture my dad took of my mother, my sister and me in front of the hotel back in 1954.
With the changes from the last half century it is difficult to determine exactly where the picture was taken. Because of the holidays during our stay this time, The Hotel Frontanac was decked out each evening in red and white lights. There was a small Salvador Dali exhibit at the hotel that we found very interesting. They were having a lottery for one of his paintings and I was convinced I was going to win but having not received a phone call I guess I didn’t.
We wandered down the Old Town’s narrow streets that are loaded with pretty sidewalk cafes and artists selling their paintings. From our apartment we could hear the constant clomp clomp clomp of the horse and buggy tours.
Quebec City has a real European feel to it. And while French is the official language we found, just as we have with our visits abroad, that most people, speak at least some English and are happy to do so. I generally tried a few (very few) French phrases and always tried to remember to thank the locals for speaking to me in English. As one young waiter pointed out there isn’t a big call for French unless one is in France or Quebec.
Hockey is Canada’s sport and Bob and I are big hockey fans. The finals of the Stanley Cup were playing during our first week in Quebec, with my favorite team, The Pittsburgh Penguins facing the Nashville Predators. We had watched playoff games all spring but this was game 6 of the finals with the Pens up 3 games to 2.
So Bob and I trekked off to a nearby bar for supper and the game. It was great fun to listen as the bar crowd cheered and sighed for goals and near goals. And I’ll never forget being able watch my team win in a country where just about everyone loves hockey.
We spent one day on the Ile d’Orleans located in the St. Lawrence river, a short drive from Quebec City. We visited Montmorency Falls on previous visits but still found the view of it from the islands lovely.
And the strawberries! Wow! Just as good as we remembered. The small French villages are reminiscent of a time long passed. I particularly love the laundry hanging on the lines.
We also stopped at the Basilica of Sainte Anne de Beaupre, a spectacularly beautiful church. Each year nearly half a million people make pilgrimages to the church which was originally built in the 1600s. It was initially built as a place of worship for early settlers.
And supposedly the man who was hired to build it was cured of his rheumatism while laying initial stones in the foundation. This made it a place where people began to visit in the hope of being cured of their illnesses. The church has been enlarged several times since then. And upon entering the church you see two columns filled with crutches and braces of those who were healed. The current basilica was constructed in the 1920’s.
We decided to take a side trip and spend a few days driving around the Gaspe Peninsula. The peninsula, known as “The cradle of French America” sticks out far into the Atlantic Ocean. It was here that Jacques Cartier first claimed the land, “New France,” in 1534. On the four hundredth anniversary of this date a 32 foot granite cross was constructed in the town of Gaspe. For centuries the area was an important fishing center, especially for cod. (When Jacques Cartier came to the area he found thousands of Basque fishermen already there. They had been fishing there for more than a century previous but kept the place as a well-guarded secret.)
There is much less English spoken in the Gaspe villages. Bob needed a beard trim so when we came upon a barbershop as we were wandering down the main street of a quaint village it seemed like the time was right. The woman barber spoke very little English and we speak no French so once again we were using a lot of hand gestures and smiling and laughing. It did strike us odd having just returned a few weeks earlier from Cuba that on the wall over the barber’s chair was a picture of Che Gueverra, the ubiquitous Cuban hero!
We had read that the Redford Gardens (Also known as Les Jardins de Metis) was a lovely spot so we spent a couple of hours wandering through the English garden of the estate and enjoying the variety of flowers. Elsie Redford had originally built a fishing camp on the site that she converted into a garden in the 1920’s. She was a rugged early settler who during her recovery following surgery followed her doctor’s suggestion that she take up gardening.
This lovely garden is the result. Because of its location near the St. Lawrence River which tempers the climate, plants grow here that are unable to grow elsewhere in Canada. I was struck once again, just like I was in Boston at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the role that gardens played in the estates of the very wealthy back in the day and how lucky we are that many have been maintained and are now open to the public.
I have some random memories of the Gaspe from when I visited with my family back in 1950’s. In particular I remember following a dirt road that connected fishing villages. I still have a small carved boat that my parents purchased for me at a roadside stand. Boy, has that changed. The drive, now a totally paved road while still beautiful, has become far more touristy. But the natural beauty is still there. This time we spent a night in a hotel that looked out on Perce Rock, a huge monolith with a natural archway that protrudes from the Atlantic Ocean not far from the road. I remember my sister, a teenager in 1954, commenting, “We drove all this way just to see a rock!”
The Gaspe also has its share of unusual sites: Given the proximity to the sea, the Gaspe is a huge source of wind power and we, of course, had to drive through Le Nordais Windmill Park where there are more than130 windmills. The park claims to be one of the largest in North America. While the huge vertical windmill is no longer in use, the village of Cap Chat started giving tours of it in 1987 and continue to do so. The windmill is considered by the locals to be a static sculpture. Near the town of Sainte-Flavie we came upon a sculpture garden by Maurice Gagnon. There the artist has created a gathering of people on the beach standing out into the water. We found the display very odd, but extremely interesting. And of course, I made Bob stop in Rimouski, one of the biggest towns along the peninsula so I could visit the L’Oceanic Ice Colisee, where Sydney Crosby played junior hockey.
Coming upon a covered bridge or passing a home with a thatched roof or seeing a phone booth on the side of the street made us often feel like we were traveling in a previous time.
But perhaps among the most unique were the sculptures of the fish and the man with the moose antlers.
But our favorite part was the spectacular views that seemed to be around every bend. And to top it off we had wonderful sunny weather to enjoy the jaw-dropping scenery for the entire four days (which we understand from locals is very unusual).
After a fabulous month of being surrounded by everything French we were headed back to spend a couple of weeks with our son Kris, and his family in Big Rapids. But we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop in Fairport, New York to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of our daughter-in-law, Sadie’s grandmother. We don’t know many people who get to celebrate that special day! And it was great fun!
We hadn’t been “home” in Big Rapids since last November. And Kris and his wife, Andria, went out of their way to make our visit special. We played euchre, and as they are both great chefs of course we ate amazing meals. We learned a new yard game, Kubb, went on a boat ride with good friends, Ken and Ginny. Andria even made arrangements for us to visit her sister’s family in Manistee so we could spend time on the Lake Michigan beach, which we consider among the nicest in the world. We also got to celebrate our oldest grandchild’s sixteenth birthday. It was a wonderful two weeks that passed by far too quickly.
We’re now getting ready to head to Rome to watch Cary defend her dissertation and then on new cities and new adventures! What lucky people we are!