Quebec: Europe in North America

Commemorating my first time to be a travel blogger, hereby I republish my first post, coincidentally related to the year-end holiday season. Staying at home this year, there are several things I miss much on Christmas: snow and scenic main streets with tons of decorated pine trees, retail stores and houses. 

AMERICA’S EUROPE, CANADA’S SPECIALTY

A week before Christmas, the French-oriented city welcomed us with its first day of snow, that should have fallen earlier years before, with -8 degrees Celsius as we headed to Vieux Québec, the oldest part of Quebec City listed as one of the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. I love the rooftops and streets covered with snow!

chateau de frontenac in the morning
the pier facing St. Lawrence River

Departing from Toronto, Quebec City brought us to European atmosphere we have never felt before in American continent. The city is definitely Canada’s specialty. All inhabitants are francophone. French announcements are mentioned at the first place before English. All signboards at museums, restaurants, airport, highways, and shops are written in French with English translations below in a smaller font size. Historical buildings, old churches and houses that have been dominating the city landscape since over 400 years ago remain beautiful and intact.

BED AND BREAKFAST WITH A TRACE OF HISTORY

the attic room -my future dream room- that used to be Francis’ room when he was young

Holiday season wasn’t for everyone yet. Activities at some schools and offices were still running as usual. We were the only guests at La Marquise de Bassano Bed and Breakfast, that used to be the residence of a prominent woman in Quebec province, Francine McKenzie. After McKenzie’s passing, her son Francis and his ex-wife Véronique turned the family house into a B&B. In fact, you can find a few traces of history there. For instance, the gold coloured heater and the wood used in the living room are exactly the same type as those at Château Frontenac.

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac is situated less than five minutes walking distance from the B&B. Having resemblance of middle-aged castles, anyone could misunderstood the most grandiose landmark in town as a king’s castle transformed into a hotel. The château has been opening for public since the late 19th century, targeting on luxury travelers all around the world.

lobby of chateau de frontenac
santa’s hot seat

The little old town “dressed up ” to the maximum with decorated Christmas trees and lavish ornaments on every façade of boutiques, restaurants and cafés, especially at Petit Champlain in downtown (base-ville) Quebec. No matter how often I visit Europe, it’s still one of my favourite Christmas towns. Breathtaking!

down, down to downtown
Petit Champlain on Christmas
Lush store Quebec

The fresco at Lush Handmade Cosmetics store was super awesome. “Vous avez l’idée?” greeted the Lush lady when we entered the store. Literally means “Do you have an idea?”, I was just not accustomed to another French way of greeting besides “bonjour”. But I finally had an idea to treat myself by purchasing its R&B Revive and Balance Hair Moisturizer as I couldn’t get enough of the refreshing scent and instant smoothness in my hair seconds after applying the tester!

fresco at Notre Dame des Victoires
Natural, simple and classy approach – merveilleux!
view from funiculaire

TABLE D’HÔTE AND MAPLE-BASED CULINARY

Many working class people bring their own lunch to save their living course. To encourage more customers to eat out more often during lunch time, most restaurants offer table d’hôte or so-called menu midi section aka set menu. The chosen meals are either taken from certain à la carte menus or created purposely for table d’hôte, served with free soup and tea or coffee. Table d’hôte at Conti Caffé, an Italian restaurant closed to the B&B, was highly recommended for price and quality wise. The beef steak, stewed beef and the dessert were two thumps up!

this is not the restaurant we visited but i find it pretty

Nothing is more Canadian than a maple leaf. Menus that came with the word “maple” or l’érable in French triggered my curiosity unless something too ordinary like “Pancake in Maple Syrup”. I ordered pork leg steak with maple sauce served with pasta and vegetables at Le Cochon Dingue, a restaurant specialised in pork dishes at Petit Champlain. I never regret not getting free soup and coffee or tea since it wasn’t listed on table d’hôte. It was a sweet surrender!

Véronique made a very nice home made muffin (kind of, don’t know what it’s called), with a glimpse of maple syrup flavour, topped with fresh blueberry jam for breakfast in our last day. Moreover, we loved the strong egg flavour in the cake. Merci beaucoup! Thanks for making us feel like Canadians!

By the way, I noticed something odd about this Vieux Québec. If Americans have Starbucks, Canadians have Tim Horton. But why couldn’t I find Tim Horton when I could find Starbucks and McDonald’s?

most lovely restaurant decoration, yet unfortunately they serve rabbits as food 😦

SNEAKERS: A BIG NO NO!

Sneakers are very comfortable, but cannot keep the feet warm and the soles are not suitable for icy streets and stairs! We had to walk very very slowly; so slowly that turtles could beat us on marathon. Our feet nearly froze every two hours. Entering boutiques or museums was a must to warm them up, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to continue our journey. Luckily, it was Tuesday where there are three museums with free entrance, including Musée de la Civilisation. A pretty nice place exhibiting local Quebec history and temporarily displayed Roman Empire artifacts, by the way. So why not?

notre dame des victoires
Chateau de Frontenac by night

Going to Marché du Vieux Port to see the Christmas market selling maple-based delicacies, wines and deli products, was the peak of our “painful” journey. Getting lost, taking the wrong way and almost falling down from the steepest and the most slippery road proved it all. 

Véronique shared her instant tricks to solve extreme coldness on the feet: put toe warmers, that last for six hours and disposable, inside the shoes. If it’s not enough, wrap your feet (socks on) with plastic bags before wearing shoes. I’m no stranger to cold weather, but I never knew these tricks until she told us.

Unfortunately, toe warmers didn’t work with my mom’s shoes because the front part of the sole was slightly detached and the snow penetrated inside. Plastic bags worked better for her. Ehm…..I regret lending her those shoes because it was unexpectedly turn that bad in Quebec! Next day, Véronique put them in the dryer for about ten minutes. The shoes slightly shrunk, but at least they dried and still wearable.

A LA PROCHAINE?

Getting in the taxi to the airport signified the end of our trip. Ironically, the city became a bit more crowded by the time we had to leave for Toronto. The man behind the wheels loves storytelling, embracing his excitement with his job, ” Many people say that being a taxi driver is a stupid job, but not for me. What kind of job that allow you to meet new people and go to several places in a day everyday? Isn’t it great?”

Quebec panorama viewed from Lévis, taking about 15 minutes by ferry

He’s a Tunisian origin, who speaks seven languages and has finally found his home in Québec since 37 years ago. As he gets older, he decided to retire from being a government official to become a taxi driver. He continued, “The government does not issue taxi licence any longer because there are more than enough taxis in Quebec. To become a driver, I had to take over someone else’s taxi licence and spent $150,000 for it!”

Porte St. Jean – Place D’Youville

Quebec City, in his point of view, is a peaceful city with no restricted areas to walk at night and almost no racism issue. Furthermore, the locals are now “go international” with excellent English skills without leaving their first language behind and has no language pride overdose syndrome. He advised us to experience heaven on earth in Quebec at summer time, where flowers flourish beautifully in parks and everyone can enjoy various events and live music performances every week.

I don’t know whether I should say “Au revoir” (good bye) or “À la prochaine” (see you next time) when our flight took off leaving Jean- Lesage Airport. Vous avez l’idée? Should we go back for summer? Peut-être ça sera une bonne idée…

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Penang: Heritage in Hues Part 1

George Town, the capital state of Penang, Malaysia, is a modest and a laidback capital city at a glance. Mid 80s to 90s shopping centre and hotel architecture mingle with metal-roofed hawker centres, Komtar Tower -the highest skyscraper in town-, colonial style government buildings, churches, museums, Buddhist and Hindu temples, peranakan shophouses, mansions, mosques and a few recently built modern properties.

Despite major absence of modernity, George Town has been one of the cities preserving a remaining Southeast Asian legacy besides Singapore and Malacca. Once being a melting pot of Malay, Chinese, Indian traders and European colonies, it has formed exceptional multicultural heritage. Since 2008, UNESCO has awarded George Town as one of the World Heritage Cities.

What fascinating experiences did my parents and I get in Penang, especially the Heritage City George Town? Here in Heritage in Hues Part 1, I emphasize on peranakan shophouses, mansions and language. Peranakan (Straits Chinese) refers to Chinese descendants who acculturate with the locals to form their own culture. I find Peranakan culture is the most distinctive multicultural heritage in this old town, a must to see!

STRAITS CHINESE SHOPHOUSES

One of my favourite peranakan heritage is the shophouses. These are some words I use to describe them: colourful, contrast, unique, damaged, faded, tarnished, restored, eclectic. Not all of them were in their best condition, but I find this imperfect beauty breathtaking, it’s “vintage”. Nowadays, many of them are commercial centres, such as driving school, dental clinic, cake shop, etc. Straits Chinese shophouses are everywhere in the old town George Town, from busy streets until every block and corner of the street. Trust me, they are very recognizable, you can’t get wrong!

Row of eclectic shophouses at Magazine Rd.

Detail of a Chinese door from one of the shophouses

Restoration undone?

Colourful and patterned tiles are also one of the peranakan signature styles, depicting the detail of the previous shop house right above this image.

This “1938” yellow building is a local snack shop where I got free home-made pia cake sample and bought my favourite dried ikan bilis (anchovy fish) snack .

Restoration (nearly) done

I’d rather call a tooth fairy to check up or take my tooth out than coming to this dental clinic….

Still at Magazine Road, I prefer presenting this picture above in black and white. It’s just more classy.

Another shophouse somewhere not far from the hotel.

Shophouses at Canon St, just across Khoo Kongsi clanhouse.

STRAITS CHINESE  MANSIONS

Enough with shophouses? Let’s move to the mansion, shall we?

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee, the proprietary of the mansion built in 1899, applied peranakan style to decorate his lavish mansion using the finest materials from China to Europe, such as English floor tiles and Chinese wooden panels. After several decades of neglect, the mansion was finally restored to return its former glory. People come to the mansion for studying the old generation of Straits Chinese lifestyle, shooting films, photography sessions, special event venues or simply enjoying the beauty of Straits Chinese art. It reminds me of chinoiserie applied in European castles.

From all the colours used in both shophouses and mansions, green wall of Pinang Peranakan Mansion is very distinctive. It reminds me of old houses in my hometown Indonesia during Dutch colony period. Many other shophouses I saw in the Heritage City use similar type of green. Turquoise and salted duck egg-shell kind of blue were also popular in this era, then.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

Unfortunately we could only see this magnificent rare blue mansion from outside the fence. We came after 3 pm on Sunday and it was closed. Cheong Fatt Tze, named after its owner, was built in 1880. It doesn’t only display antiquities and exquisite interior, but also provides rooms to stay. Each room has its own theme, designed by famous local designers. Above all, this mansion is known to have great Feng Shui.

JUST PASSING BY…..

Situated not far from Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, this former private residence and office of Ku Din Ku Meh is now a bungalow with typical peranakan style both exterior and interior.

Seems like a nice place to hang out

I took this picture from the bus window on the way to Khoo Kongsi clanhouse. The gates were closed, but the windows were open and looks unpromising. I’m wondering if this hotel still operates. After Bratislava, Rome and Vegas, I think this place is suitable for the next Hostel sequel if any 🙂

LANGUAGE: SOMETHING IN COMMON

As we are also peranakan, Chinese-Indonesian descendants, the first thing we have in common with local people is the language. In general, Chinese Malaysian in Penang speaks Malay fluently and the main Chinese dialect they speak is Hokkien. We speak Indonesian, which is similar to Malay, but unfortunately we don’t speak Chinese. If we could speak one, Hokkien would be our dialect, too.

Having a Chinese look without the ability of speaking the language can sometimes bring discomfort to the beholder. The question “Why don’t you Chinese?” turned to be an endless discussion when I was in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore around a decade ago. Really, it happened more than twice. It seemed that they couldn’t accept a Chinese who can’t speak Chinese.

I was so glad nobody asked me that kind of question in Penang. Is it because they don’t care or they are used to with Indonesian people, never mind. Whatever the reason is, it made me comfortable. I noticed that the locals, especially drivers and vendors, preferred to respond our question in Malay every time we asked in English. Therefore I made use of my time in Penang to practice Malay (conversational Malay, not Indonesian), hoping that my Malay accent was still as good as that of 13 years ago when I studied abroad in Malaysia. In the beginning, I felt awkward since I mixed up a lot with Indonesian terms that are either never used or have different meanings in Malay. But well, I finally made it although it wasn’t that perfect. Hooray!

We used to have rickshaws in Jakarta before being banned. But no worries, street dogs are still not banned there until now

This is not the end of my sharing session with you yet. The heritage still have more hues to show in my next post…..