Holland America Veendam cruised down the St. Lawrence river to Quebec City, where the ship spent a night before disembarkation. It was nice to have a port stop with no concerns over hurrying back to the ship before it left port. People could come and go as they pleased, going out for the morning, afternoon, evening, nightlife, or all day if they wished. People wanting to venture beyond the city could take excursions to see things outside the immediate area like a waterfall and large cathedral. The Veendam docked in the old town area so passengers didn’t even have to leave the ship for a great view of historical buildings and one of the town’s most famous landmarks – Le Chateau Frontenac.
From the ship passengers could walk right to the lower section of the old town, with buildings and narrow cobblestone streets reminiscent of old European towns. Le Chateau Frontenac dominates the landscape, perched at the edge of the upper area of old town. The hotel did not start out so gigantic, but rather got that way in several additions over time.
We walked through the lower town for awhile, finding an old church at the edge of a public square. People could go inside the church, where they had signs posted about the church’s history and how the townspeople had twice prayed to be saved from invading forces which were turned back both times whether by defense or by weather. The church got the name Notre Dame des Victoires because of this.
Down the road a ways we found a gift shop housing the entrance to the funiculaire, which brings people up the hillside to the upper level of town. At the top you exit through another giftshop onto Dufferin terrace which was built over the ruins of the original fort that eventually grew into governor’s homes.
Le Chateue Frontenac rises imposingly above the terrace. The nearest door enters into a Starbucks. Around the other side of the building the front doors enter into the impressive lobby of the immense hotel. Seeking to avoid wind and rain we went in to explore the hotel. Most people headed down the hallway pointing to bars and restaurants, but we headed down a stairway instead hoping to find an uncrowded restroom, which we did.
Beyond that we found another hallway. Along the sides of that hallway a number of glass cases held museum like exhibits of artifacts and historical information on the various renditions of a fort and subsequent governor’s house that once stood on the edge of the city wall. Each fort got larger than the last.
The second governor’s house built on the foundations of the first burned down one cold winter when all the firehoses were frozen and unable to fight a chimney fire. The earlier governors came from France, the later ones from England after France lost Quebec to England in a war. By the time we finished going through the museum area the wind had died down and the rain stopped.
After the fire the remains of the home were razed and the terrace built. In 2005 during restoration work on the terrace the old remains were found and excavation began, lasting until 2007. They found much of the cellar intact. Walking around on Dufferin Terrace in front of the hotel we noticed a couple glass bubble areas where you could look down into the cellar. At one spot we saw a stairway going down to the cellar with a parks department person guarding it.
In one of the bubbles we could see someone walking around down below. On the other end of the terrace we saw a parks dept building of sorts so we went in and found that we could get tickets to go down below for less than $4 each. They also had historic style chocolate bars for sale for $1 so we tried those too. Harder, crunchier, and not as sweet as modern chocolate bars, but good.
We had to walk back to where we’d seen the parks dept person at the stairway to find the entrance to the cellar as the one next to the ticket building was locked and marked as the exit. Signs and interactive video kiosks explained each area of the cellar and each case of artifacts. It’s worth the minimal cost to see this exhibit. I’ve definitely learned more history and geography through traveling than I ever did in school.
Pretty much anywhere you walk around the old town area, whether upper or lower, you can find charming historic buildings. Like the lower level, many buildings in the upper town house shops and restaurants geared to the tourist crowd.
On our way back to the ship we stopped to take a look around the Geomania gemstones shop in the lower town across the square from the old church. This unique jewelry store has a whole room dedicated to Canadian gemstones. Each display has a different stone. A sign on top the case gives the name of the stone and tells a bit about where in Canada they find it.
This store is worth a visit just to look around and see how many different stones you probably never heard of that are found in various places around Canada. They make most of their jewelry right there in the shop. While not expensive compared to a lot of jewelry, most of the items in the cases cost more than I cared to spend that day. They did have some single stone on chain necklaces for a lot less on some small shelves on the wall. I found a labradorite there and since I rather liked that stone I got one of those – with a 10% discount for having a cruise ship card from the Veendam.
There’s plenty to see in Quebec City within walking distance of the ship, and when spending a night there as ours did there’s also plenty of time for people venture out farther.
In early colonial times the lower area was mainly for poor people like merchants, sailors and artisans while upper town was for those considered higher quality citizens like government, clergy, and the rich and elite.