Besides "crazy" I’ve been called lots of things for willingly leaving my job and traveling around the world for a year with my wife and two young boys. Adventurous, courageous, brave—even fortunate—were other adjectives used that I personally think better describe the situation. I prefer being labeled as an "explorer," "adventure seeker," or just plain old "world traveler" myself. The word "tourist" had never even entered the vocabulary. Well that’s exactly what we were transformed into the moment we arrived in Quebec City, staring blankly at a road atlas and asking directions in English in a French-speaking town.
Carol and I had been to Quebec City’s old town several years earlier for Winter Carnival, where the city becomes a sort of North Pole for revelers, complete with snow sculptures, ice climbing walls, dogsled rides, plenty of alcohol to warm the spirits, and a snow bath where the participants are dressed only in bathing suits. I did mention it was winter and there was alcohol involved, right? Well, needless to say, Carol and I didn’t pack the proper clothing for this event, so I think, like us, very few tourists took part. This time, we arrive in 80-degree temperatures, but still with plenty of people crowding the walled city for fun and amusement. It turns out 2008 marks Quebec’s 400th birthday, and much to our good fortune, this was the week the province celebrated with Festival d’Ete de Quebec—a music festival that culminated the weekend we arrived.
In hindsight, we seemed pretty lucky to get a B&B right smack in the middle of town and for only $100 a night to boot. That’s the payoff for having planned this itinerary well in advance! Room number six at the Hotel La Maison Demers fit all four of us, no problem, with two queen beds, although it gave us our first true taste of quality family time. No privacy in this joint! But no need to be indoors when there was so much going on.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the nicest weekend of weather in Quebec City all year. The warm temperatures and brilliant sunshine seemed to bring everyone out, locals and out-of-towners alike. For this reason, it didn’t feel so bad being a tourist; it was actually kind of fun. In fact, I think even the locals completely enjoyed the numerous street performers that entertained large crowds throughout the city both day and night. In our hometown of New York, we never would have considered stopping to watch break dancers doing their thing for money outside Central Park or paid much attention to the street musicians playing tunes to the city’s plethora of foreign visitors. Here, however, we actually sought them out, especially the kids, who particularly loved the moving human statues. Even the restaurants were filled with mostly French-speaking clientele, a signal that most people were probably from the area, coming to the city just for the day or long weekend.
For the ultimate tourist experience, we even took in a tour of La Citadelle de Quebec, a fortified military installation that’s still active today and hovers just outside the shadows of the famous Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. We did this for a chance to watch the changing of the guards, a formal ceremony performed daily at 10 a.m. that honors the province’s British military tradition. Since 1920 it has housed the Royal 22e Régiment, the only infantry unit of the regular forces to use French as its working language, and they take their heritage seriously. Although I don’t think there’s any serious threat of invasion—there's never been a battle fought here.
As we leave the province of Quebec and drive back towards the U.S., we’ve gotten the first taste of being outside the country (thanks mainly to the French language) and savored the notion of actually having fun being a tourist for a short time.