by Sherrie Bakshi
Although I have known French for nearly twenty years, I have never been to France or truly experienced la vie française. But this past June, while on holiday in Montreal and Quebec City, I was finally was able to immerse myself in the language I have studied since high school. And although my French was rusty, my trip to French Canada was an experience I will cherish always.
I traveled to Montreal with two of my closest girlfriends and favorite travel buddies. After leaving our luggage at the hotel, we ventured off to Le Vieux Montréal (Old Montreal), passing through Chinatown (a mini version of San Francisco and New York’s Chinatowns) and parts of the downtown area.
Carriage men whistled at us, calling out, “Mademoiselles, arretez-vous! Ride with us and we’ll take you on an unforgettable journey through the city!” Although tempted, we decided to enjoy a late lunch instead at Le Jardin Nelson, located in the heart of Old Montreal.
We sat outside in the restaurant’s courtyard, enjoying the sounds of jazz music, sipping sangrias, and indulging in authentic French cuisine—crêpes. Being the Diva that I am, I enjoyed the Diva Crêpe, stuffed with Brie, broccoli, and chicken. For dessert, we split a crêpe smothered in chocolate and fresh fruit.
Our first evening ended early, as we were planning a road trip to Quebec City—the place that I had been dreaming of since I was a teenager. We rented a car in Montreal and began our drive on Route 138. Cruising along the St. Lawrence River and listening to French music, we enjoyed the beautiful, refreshing scenery: pastures filled with cows, rolling hills, unique homes, and—of course—eye-catching views of the infamous river itself.
For breakfast, we stopped at a small café along the way, La Soupiere, which first opened in 1903. Since I was the only one out of my friends who spoke French, I ordered food for everyone, and we enjoyed a luscious breakfast. I enjoyed chocolate crêpes avec un café.
As we made our journey to Quebec City, we stopped to take photographs. It was Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, one of the region’s most celebrated holidays. Towns and homes were decorated in festive colors, lights, and flags. We stopped in one of the region’s larger cities, Les Trois Rivieres (The Three Rivers), and took a few photos. With all the signs in French, it almost felt like we were in France.
After five hours, we arrived in Quebec City. Quebec City, also known as New France, is considered the first significant settlement in Canada. The old city was built between grand stone walls, and buildings date as far back as the late 1600s. Entering the gates is like stepping back in time.
The streets of Quebec City were crowded with people and cafés. If Paris is the most romantic city in the world, I am sure Quebec City comes a close second—everyone there seems to be in love. We saw couples canoodling on every corner—young and old, staring into each other’s eyes, sipping coffee or sharing a small dessert.
We took the Funicular to the lower part of the city and strolled through the cobblestone streets, making stops at a number of galleries and shops. We dined at the Le Lapin Sautee, where we enjoyed several pitchers of sangria along with our scrumptious meal in the restaurant’s courtyard. A group of youngsters sitting in the adjacent petit parc entertained us with French renditions of popular Western songs.
The Jean-Baptiste celebration continued in Quebec, where we saw people were draped in Quebec flags, faces painted blue and white. One-man shows could be spotted on every block. Alas, our celebration had to end. At our final stop, La Nouvelle France, my friends enjoyed more chocolate. We returned to Montreal that night, sorry to leave.
My final day in Montreal began with a massage at our hotel, The Marriott, in downtown Montreal. After an amazing massage, we ventured out again into Le Vieux Montreal to the Basilique Notre Dame. Designed in 1924 by James O’Donnell, an Irish-American from New York, the interior’s details leave you in awe. The blue lighting surrounding the alter adds to the church’s ambience.
We spent the rest of the day shopping on Rue de St. Catherine, exploring the downtown area, and walking along Montreal’s port. Finally, we stopped at Newtown for a light snack. Located on Crescent Street, the center of the city’s nightlife, Newtown offers a delectable array of delights. I highly recommend the assorted cheese plate accompanied with fresh fruits and breads.
Our trip did not end without us experiencing the city’s nightlife. We journeyed to Sir Winston Churchill, a popular club, finally returning to Newtown for another drink.
Our journey to la Nouvelle France ended early Sunday morning—but I hope to return one day soon.
June is the perfect time of year to travel to Quebec. The weather is warm yet refreshing, the people are extremely friendly, and you can always find yourself in the middle of a festival.
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Sherrie Bakshi is a freelance writer and publicist. In 2004, she founded STYLEE Public Relations with fellow writer and publicist Vladia Jurcova in Charleston, South Carolina.