Holland America Line’s Maasdam begins cruising to and from Quebec on May 8 (from Fort Lauderdale to Quebec City). She’ll do a series of Canada/New England cruises through the early summer before being joined by Eurodam in August and September. Quebec City, Montreal and Saguenay are extremely charming destinations that you’ll appreciate no matter if you’re staying only for a few hours or a few days, pre- or post-cruise. The stories that follow (today and throughout this month) are designed to enhance your time in Quebec.
A bartender at Quebec City’s fashionable L’EChaude restaurant expresses mock indignation when a visitor asks how Quebec’s capital compares with the province’s largest city, Montreal. “They are not truly French,” the bartender says, conveniently overlooking the fact that as a Canadian, neither is he. “In Montreal, people speak French 50, maybe 55, percent of the time.” He steps back from the bar and folds his arms to proclaim, “Here, we speak French 95 percent of the time.”
Welcome to Quebec, the only Canadian province whose sole official language is French, only a short hop from the U.S. border, yet culturally worlds way. Indeed, the language and the lifestyle in this Eastern Canadian province are reminiscent of the motherland across the Atlantic. There is an authenticity of experience here that fools travelers into thinking they’re traveling not in Canada but in France itself.
It’s no faux French either. English does not even rank as an official language in Quebec, and though English is spoken with fluency in the big cities, things can get more challenging in the province’s hinterlands. A waiter in the village of La Bai apparently must have owned a French-English dictionary too heavy for him to heft, because each time we asked the English equivalent of a menu item, he trotted off to the kitchen and returned with the translation. The fact that he did so gladly was a clear indication that we were not in France.
Snobbery (that unfortunate French attribute) is conspicuously absent in Quebec; friendly people and genuine hospitality are not. Even locals who struggle with English are happy to give directions and advice.
Extending the spirit of generosity to their bottom lines, many Montreal restaurants even invite patrons to “apportez votre vin,” or “bring your own bottle of wine,” making the cost of meals with wine ridiculously inexpensive when compared to what you would pay for similar meals with wine elsewhere.
Nearly 400 years after the French explorer Champlain sailed along the St. Lawrence River to pitch camp at what would become Quebec City, French Canadians still hold France in high esteem. Today, 82 percent of the population speaks French in this North American crossroads between America and Europe.
Cruise “turn arounds” provide a great opportunity to spend time in the area before or after your cruise. Combine Montreal with a three-hour train journey to or from Quebec City, then rent a car to drive to Saguenay.
Seldom will U.S. travelers have the opportunity of being so close to a place that seems so far. It’s like having France in the backyard.