Tonight, I am dreaming of Quebec. For some bizarre reason, Quebec has my heart. I am a Russian, who has settled in the south of the United States, so my passion for Quebec does appear strange, but the first time I set my nomadic foot in Montreal, I knew that I was in love. Just like in all matters of the heart, love - for the most part - cannot be explained. It's chemistry, and you just roll with it.
So I did. In August of 2013 I knew that we had to visit Quebec again. When fall is in the air, that sweet gnawing feeling accompanied by the spicy memories of maple-leaf aroma inevitably comes back to me - and I know - the time has come. Plus, my husband Chris told me that Supertramp was playing a show in Montreal in October, and the family council ruled, "We are heading to Quebec!"
I had been playing around with an idea of swapping homes for quite a while. We live in the south, on a golf course, nestled between Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida, and the pristine Georgia beaches are just a breezy 30-minute drive from our house. I knew that finding a home-swap partner would not be difficult. As a matter of fact, I believe that many of us can do it, but we are just a little bit too cautious about the whole thing. What? Letting strangers come to my house, sleep in my bed and pee in my toilet? Well, yeah, home swapping does involve all of the above, but it can also save you a lot of money. Plus, you will feel as if you actually lived in the place for some time. You will drive or walk to local stores, you will cook food in somebody else's kitchen, you will take your kids to nearby playgrounds to run around with neighbors' kids. In other words, you will get to live in somebody else's shoes for a few magical moments. If you are like me, and it makes your heart beat in ever-growing excitement, read on.
We joined www.homeexchange.com, and our experience was fantastic. The site does charge you 150 USD for annual membership, but if you are planning to travel at least once a year, it will save you a big chunk of change on accommodation. The site administration also vets all their members - that way you can rest assured that no scammers are involved in the whole process. When we found our "perfect couple" - Quebecois husband and wife who were willing to swap homes with us for 3 weeks in October, we were beyond happy. After meeting them on Skype and discussing details, we signed the contract that we had downloaded from the website and started packing!
On an unusually chilly for October Georgia morning, we threw our suitcases into our car and drove off into the adventure land. (Yes, we did drive from Georgia to Quebec for reasons that are too boring to mention here).
If you ever do find yourself driving this route, I would certainly recommend stopping at Lake George and Fort Ticonderoga. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Resort at Lake George, and the view of the crystal-clear lake that unfolds in front of your eyes when you wake up is so breathtaking, the air is so crisp and invigorating, you feel as if you are born again. The burgundy splashes of fall foliage contrasting the cool turquois skies will live in my heart forever - especially considering that our baby Max took his first timid steps in the room of that hotel!
After a long and exhausting 3-day drive, we finally arrived at our destination - a beautiful ski villa in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, a quaint charming town in the foothills of Laurentian Mountains, about 22 miles north-east of Quebec City. Since we were coming into town late and our phones were not roaming, we - obviously - got absolutely lost. After having circled the magnificent and a touch scary - when in the dark - Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré a few times, we luckily managed to catch some stranded Wi-Fi signal and made our way to the house that we would proudly call home for the next three weeks.
The villa was truly amazing. In fact, it was so amazing that we had to follow our kids literally wherever they went to make sure it stayed that way. The only mishap that I can recall - and perhaps it may help some of you - is that my iPhone was set up to automatically upload my pictures to Dropbox whenever it was connected to Wi-Fi. Well, we got so used to the fact that we had unlimited streaming at our home, we didn't realize that our hosts did have the limit. And we hit that limit the next morning after we had arrived! Calling our lovely Canadian home-swap partners and explaining the situation to them was quite embarrassing. So here is the tip for you - check with your hosts before you go and verify the Wi-Fi connection details. The Internet has become such an essential part of our lives these days, you simply cannot ignore this aspect of traveling anymore.
So, if you ever find yourself in this beautiful part of the world, here is what you should do:
1. Have a cup of steaming cappuccino in one of the quirky outdoor cafes by Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.
2. Take a drive around Île d'Orléans (Island of Orleans), which, according to Wikipedia has been described as the "microcosm of traditional Quebec and as the birthplace of francophones in North America." And rightly so! Because once you do find yourself on the island, you will immediately immerse yourselves into the unforgettable peacefulness of the serene countryside - with cattle grazing in the vast fields, mouth-watering fromagerie and winery signs popping up about every two minutes and the magnitude of nature filling your lungs up with freedom and harmony. I bought a bottle of local wine and some famous Le Paillasson de l'Isle d'Orléans - semi-soft cheese that is sautéed and eaten hot. My husband Chris didn't like it. But I did! So I had to eat all of it :). Needless to say, it was delicious!
3. Visit Canyon Sainte-Anne, which is a spectacular, steep-sided gorge, carved by the Sainte-Anne-du-Nord River, 6 km east of Beaupré, Quebec. The park offers some truly breathtaking waterfall views and - for those who cherish an adrenaline rush every now and then - a zipline over the gorge. I was too much of a chicken to go for it, but our friend Neda did it and she said it was a blast!
4. Walk the romantic cobbled streets of Quebec City, have some ice-cream by Château Frontenac and eat at one of many exquisite Quebec restaurants. And yes, do have poutine! Some might disagree with me - but I think you have not been to Quebec unless you tried some savoury poutine, at least once!
5. Check out Montmorency Falls. Chute Montmorency (this is what they are called in French) are the highest falls in the province of Quebec and 98 meters higher than Niagara Falls. The area has so many amazing falls that we almost didn't go there! I am extremely happy that we did, since the view from the suspended bridge was one of the most breathtaking - literally - in my life. I did hang on to my four-year-old to dear life - just in case!!!
6. Go to a Quebecois grocery store. Seriously! This is an adventure in itself. :) The stores are so artistically well done - full of variety of wines and cheeses, dotted with multi-colored fruit and vegetables - they are somehow very different from grocery stores in the States. And you will have to speak French! Which I found difficult, but fun :).
7. If you have a bit more time on your hands, like we did, do visit Montreal. It is a 3-hour drive, but it will definitely be worth it. We stayed at my husband's friend's house (Chris lived in Montreal for 3 years - lucky!!! - and does have a couple of really good friends there) and went to see Supertramp perform at Place des Arts. The evening could not have been more perfect. As a matter of fact, it was so perfect, that it made me... well, a bit jealous I could not experience that every day of my life.
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