A Trek Through Quebec

     A month ago, I flew to Quebec to take some time for myself.  I do this about once a year so that I can focus on photography, writing, and generally outlining my future.  I always leave my husband and kids at home and spend every day thinking it's selfish, but I really do come back refreshed and with a better grasp of who I am.  This time was the hardest though; as your kids get older, they actually become far more interesting and fun to be around.  Between my oldest daughter now aspiring to be an astronaut or astrophysicist and my youngest beginning to express an interest, and talent, in constructing complex buildings out of pretty much anything you give her, I genuinely enjoy helping them grow and having actual conversations with them about their thoughts.

     So it was with a somewhat heavy heart, and tired eyes, that I left for Dallas at 5 in the morning and arrived at the airport almost 4 hours later.  My first flight did not go well.  I knew that I would be on a small commuter jet and was aware that those aircrafts are often short on carry-on luggage space, so I was listening the entire time prior to boarding whether they needed some people to check their bags (and was prepared to do so).  No such announcement was made, even though all the flights around us were asking for volunteers.

     As they started boarding, I chose to wait until the end of my zone's line slowly lurched forward before presenting my ticket.  It wasn't a full flight, so I thought everything would be fine.  Nevertheless, by the time I got on and found my seat, there were no more overhead bins available and while my luggage fit under the seat in front of me, my neighbor complained that it encroached upon his foot space by *literally* two inches.  The flight attendant gave me a nasty look and offered no aid or advice, so I had to go to the front of the plane and request that they reopen the hatch to check my bag.  No one was happy, and I learned that it is worth it to stand in line with all of your luggage prior to boarding.

     After landing in Montreal, I went through customs and was interrogated by a border patrol agent.  He was not impressed that I was traveling by myself with no purpose other than to write and take pictures, and he let me know that he thought I was foolish.  I pointed out that my final destination is considered one of the safest cities in the world, but he just glared at me for so long I was starting to get concerned that he may be able to prevent me from going further in my journey.  Finally, with a swish of his hand and a shake of his head, he sent me on my way.  By this point, I was starting to doubt my preconceived notion that Canadians were a friendly lot.

     However, I was then ushered to another counter behind which was a jovial man eager to help me in whatever way he could.  I explained the carry-on-turned-checked-baggage situation and his face fell; he was convinced it was lost.  "I am so very sorry, Amanda Jean, but I don't see a record of your bag on this list."  All I could think was, "well at least I have my camera gear, journal, books, and a jacket."  Thankfully, one of his coworkers came to the rescue and pulled up a different roster...lo and behold, my bag had been transferred as expected!  By this point, I was so ready to get to my apartment and sleep that I hardly remember the last flight.

    Once I was in the unexpectedly small Quebec airport, I grabbed my bags and was funneled into a taxi line to drive me downtown.  It was at this point that I realized English is not particularly prevalent in the Quebec province.  Now, I studied French for 8 years and minored in it.  I pursued translation studies, was the top in my class in classical French pronunciation, and even passed the hardest class of my college years: Analyzing Medieval Tales in Middle French (it's essentially like trying to read Shakespeare in Olde English, but in your second language), in which no English was permitted throughout the semester.  But that "Quebecois" dialect is a whole other beast...the driver turned to me and spoke, and I caught not a word of it.

     Thankfully, my reading comprehension is intact and I inadvertently managed to fool a number of shopkeepers into believing that I was Parisienne.  It's always shocking to foreigners that an American can speak another language without sounding like a hick.  On my second full day there though, it took me awhile to figure out why the locals would immediately respond to me in English even when I had addressed them in French.  I finally caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and realized that I was wearing my NASA shirt.  Whoops.  The next day went back to normal and I could self-consciously converse in halting classical French again.

     The sun would rise very early there, and my biology has always woken me up with those first rays, regardless of where I am in the world.  So that first day, I was up before 5 AM and in desperate need of coffee.  I stumbled down to a Starbucks on the corner (very millennial American, I know...) to get my bearings and plan out my stay.  My loft did not have WIFI, so this became a morning ritual, although I switched up the coffee shops.  The first day was a bit drizzly and quite chilly, so I hung around the area where I was staying, St. Roch.  It was moreso a business district, but they still had some gems of architecture and delicious food.

     My place was also conveniently located right next door to the province's largest toy store, Benjo.  During one of the heavier drizzles of that first day, I ducked in to peruse the store.  It was filled with every childhood delight imaginable: building toys, candy, clothes, science kits, dolls, books, etc.  I spent close to an hour looking around trying to pick something out for the girls.  When the rain finally  let up and I was ready to head back out, I went to the back exit and promptly walked right into one of my most embarrassing moments in years...

     You see, I was walking towards an entrance/exit I hadn't used before, so I thought nothing of a ramp with guardrails that I found myself descending.  I remembered that our local Toys R Us store employed the same method, so I tried to inconspicuously duck out.  However, I noticed with growing concern that the door in front of me was far smaller than it had looked at the top of the ramp.  I knew by this point that this door was not intended for full-grown adults, but pride and mortification prevented me from backtracking to the snickers I could hear behind me.  So, I crawled out of the double, pint-sized doors, on all fours.  I thought the shame was over, but unfortunately for me, this lovely Benjo store has a frog as a mascot with a giant statue of him sitting out front of these doors, facing the street.  He happily croaked the news of my departure to a very busy sidewalk crowd, who then all turned to stare at this bumbling tourist still in cow position on the pavement.  Oh, and yes, there were two full-size doors, intended for adults, on either side of the children's entrance.

     The next morning found me in Vieux Quebec, and the architecture was just stunning.  I've always been enamored with Europe, so this city was the perfect choice for me to bathe in its influence while avoiding jet lag (and much greater expense).  I was not prepared for just how many stairs are in the city.  I know that sounds silly, but I truly was caught off guard.  I even took a number of wrong turns which led to innumerable unnecessary steps to climb.  Luckily I'm in decent shape, but I was averaging 8-10 miles per day with about half of that being uphill.  I was wiped out by the end of each day.  It was worth it though; I just took some breaks and strolled along.

     The pictures will hopefully do justice to the beauty of the town.  It was so fun to explore those hidden secrets that are found in all cities.  From tiny kittens peaking out of windows to old steeples jutting up into the sky, Quebec was gorgeous.  I was pleased to find that the locals are indeed quite friendly, and I tasted my first true macaron...I can sadly never go back to the ones found in the States.  I also sampled the famous local cuisine called "poutine" and I cannot recommend it.  It consisted of french fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds.  It was disgusting to me and I couldn't finish it, but I know that many people love it.

     So without further yammering, here's a sample of images that I love.  You can see that it was spring while I was there and I must've caught the blooms perfectly.  Everywhere I looked were these magnificent explosions of pinks and purples.  I took a total of only 138 frames, and 100 of them were "keepers."  By comparison, I took over 1,000 in Iceland with my digital camera and came away with about 100 good images; film just makes you slow down and nail a scene the first time.  These were all shot on Portra 400 with my Leica M6 or Fuji 400H with my Mamiya 645.