Quebec, Days 1 and 2

photo: The church at Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies

A church seen over the salt flats of the St. Lawrence

Yesterday was a day of driving, and not even appealing driving - just driving on the freeway trying to get from one place to another. And so I got from Toronto to Quebec City (800km), and with the advice of someone in the Tourism Info place just across the Quebec border, I was able to bypass Montreal entirely (a good thing as it would have been 1700 and rush hour in a city already choked by construction detours). And here's where having a seven year old GPS really screws you: it didn't know about the bypass at all. At least it was entertaining (if mildly disconcerting) to drive on water crossing two large rivers. There was a toll bridge on the route so I asked the guy who took my money "how long has this road been here?" to which he said "four and a half years." Always stop at the Tourist Info stops: they're a font of wisdom.

The day's only fun came in the evening: I chose my hotel by proximity to a brew pub. Le Sacrement Bistropub Microbrasseries was three blocks away. As a single traveler I often find myself at dinner, arriving by car, and unable to drink because of the need to drive. So what the hell: let's make sure that's not a problem. I love the name "Le Sacrement," although it seems it may have been named in part because of the nearest cross street. And I was slightly disappointed to find out they don't brew their own beer - but only slightly, as they had an excellent selection of local beers. The food was good, and I ended up trying four beers. They gave me samples of three, but the "stout" was just fantastically vile: all the yeastiness of a Weiss beer in a stout, just nasty (I don't like Weiss beers). Anyway, I drank about a third of it and my waitress kindly replaced it with an IPA. Lovely space: trendy, all wood tables and benches, and a crowd that averaged 25 years old - I felt very old indeed.

I got on the road relatively early, but no good deed goes unpunished: don't pass through a major metropolitan area at 0830 on a weekday. In this case Quebec itself was okay, but once I crossed the St. Lawrence I got into Lévis and the traffic was glacial. Once free of that, I moved off Route 20 onto 132, which is older, slower, two lanes, more scenic, and more residential. I mostly followed that, but took the "Route des Navigateurs" detours whenever they came up. This is mostly right along the edge of the St. Lawrence River. The smells of the day (in approximate order of commonness) were cow manure, wood smoke, unburned diesel oil, and - on one particularly memorable occasion - road-kill skunk that we all cautiously detoured around.

The Navigateurs detours took me through a number of tiny little towns, some of which were quite lovely. Model houses seems to be a thing - or at least I saw two lawns with two and three foot tall model houses of places in the neighbourhood. At the second one (better models, very good work), a very old man came out of the house to tell me what the models were of (local houses and churches). But he was telling me in French, so I was missing nearly all of it. I said "English," and touched my chest, "English." He nodded and smiled, and continued on in French. Then he invited me inside. I understood that he had played the violin that was now up on the wall, but was he really gesturing at the three different grandfather clocks in the corners of the room, or was I missing the point entirely? And then he gestured that I should go down to the basement. I politely declined (or as politely as you can when you don't share a common language). But they were damn fine model houses.

photo: The first set of smaller houses I saw

Several miniatures houses in front of a regular house

I stopped in Montmagny to visit the Accordion Museum, where I had the place entirely to myself (the advantage and disadvantage of the off-season - many place close entirely). They told me all about the wonders of the Quebec diatonic accordion, and how the province has made it its own. Some of the craftsmanship was quite beautiful.

By the time you get to Rimouski in the Bas Saint Laurent region (just on the edge of the Gaspésie region, but not quite in it yet), the St. Lawrence is 25km wide. Seriously. Apparently the locals simply call it "the sea." It's partially salt, it's subject to tides (according to my unknowledgeable eye, going by water staining on harbour walls and boats in drained channels), and it smells more like the Atlantic than Lake Ontario.

It started to drizzle around 0900, quit around 1630, had another go in the early evening, then quit entirely so I could walk to my restaurant. Unfortunately, it appears that tomorrow's weather will be worse rather than better, so I'm stuck doing more driving than hiking - too bad.

This evening, dinner and beers were at Le Bien Le Malt in downtown Rimouski. Le Bien Le Malt is a brew pub - the food didn't really live up to brew pub standards (which have always been pleasantly high), but the beer did. I got samples again - this time six samples (every brew they had on tap) cost $10.50, a very fine and educational deal. Sadly, three IPAs and no stout or porter - they clearly hadn't heard I was coming. Nevertheless, good stuff: the red ale was very mild but quite nice, the English Brown Ale was ... well, stout-lite, a really lovely bit of work. The black IPA was good, and the IPA with conifers in it (I don't know what part ...) was really interesting, in a good way - surprisingly good.