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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Careless and Clueless Journey – Cappadocia

Merely based on positive commentaries I’ve heard somewhere, I spontaneously decided to take a three-day-excursion to Cappadocia departing from Alanya. My traveling companion agreed. Finally, it was a deal: 40 euros, including return transportation from Alanya to Cappadocia, 2 nights in a 3 star hotel, English-speaking guide and entrances to the main tourist attractions. Before bargaining, the local tour was 50 euros. So we thought it was a good deal.

There were 14 people in the minibus, including the tour guide, that took us to Cappadocia, situated in central Anatolian region, about 7 to 8 hours from Alanya. We got 3 beds in the hotel room for the two of us and no leaking shower hose. Lovely! A good start for a great excursion?

LIKE NOWHERE ELSE ON EARTH

The wonder of nature in Cappadocia commenced with frequent eruptions of major volcanoes that were active until 2 million years ago, including Erciyes, Hasan and Melendiz to name a few. Volcano ash deposits, lava and basalt were the foundation of peculiar shape of rocks in the entire region. Subsequent weathering, climate change, rain, wind caused the erosion that formed the rocks into so-called “fairy chimneys”. Fairy chimneys are actually fine grained stratified ash that are relatively soft and easy to be carved.

“window” of the carved rock

The changing reign of power from different civilizations from time to time has contributed rich culture and history of Cappadocia, starting from the Assyrian, Hittite, Persian, Alexander the Great, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk to Ottoman Empire. The most significant historical background attracting millions of visitors every year is when the early Christians built monasteries, churches, chapels inside the rocks or carved fairy chimneys, residential areas in caves so-called underground cities to protect themselves from the Romans until Emperor Constantine liberated Christians in 313 AD.

the village
the rock house living room

Towns and villages in Cappadocia were like nowhere else on earth. Being inside one of the village rock houses was a unique experience for anyone living in modern houses. Long chairs covered with traditional fabrics accommodating about 20 people in the living room and a small souvenir stall outside the owners’ door depicted the awareness of foreigners’ presence in their house. I believe they keep it tidy everyday to welcome tourists, thus it has commercial purpose behind it. And so what? It’s a win-win situation. Many visitors are curious to see local people’s traditional houses and the locals are willing to spend more time and energy to receive them. It’s a fair game, isn’t it? Still, it’s still more original than a cave hotel room interior.

rock house bedroom
The local’s kitty cat lives there, too! She’s got used to with foreigners everyday at her place.

Witnessing the fairy chimneys in different shapes, sizes, heights and climbing the stairs to enter ancient people’s residences inside the chimneys were unforgettable.

Man, I feel like a kid!
The camel is one of the most photographed chimneys at Devrent Valley or Pink Valley, 10 minutes from Göreme

Paşa Bağlari, literally means Pasha’s vineyard, is one of the most visited small towns in Cappadocia. It is famous for its multi-headed chimneys that look like mushrooms. The small town got its name from someone named Pasha who owned a vineyard in the neighbourhood of the fairy chimneys. The vineyard still exists until today. I held the green ripe grapes hanging in one of the trees. I wish I could pick them, that reminds me of those at Alberth Heijn supermarket in Holland…slurp!!

One of the highest chimneys in Paşa Bağlari
vineyard and fairy chimneys
Yusuf Koç Church

Nobody knows the real name of the church above in Göreme town. Yusuf Koç is actually the name of the owner of a vineyard since it is situated at his place. Its architecture is dated from the 11th century.

a pottery store at Konak Canakcilik

UNDERGROUND CITY

I was so much less informed than I thought after checking my one and only souvenir from Cappadocia: a book about Cappadocia itself. Coming to Cappadocia was a spontaneous decision. We decided to go there only based on good commentaries I heard elsewhere without doing further research. I kept wondering why the underground city I saw was not as big as that in the book?

Yeralti Sehri Underground City

In fact, there are about 36 underground cities found in the region (I thought there’s only one!). This amount may increase if there are new discoveries in the future. The biggest one is Derinkuyu in Nevşehir province. Others are Mazi Köyü, Özkonak, and Kaymakli underground city. The local tour marketing department didn’t lie that they took us to the famous underground city, they just didn’t tell which one. After the trip, I realized that the excursion took us to Yeralti Sehri underground city instead of Derinkuyu. Regardless, visiting this place was an awakening experience for us in modern world. Subway station is not an advanced technology, after all!

In the beginning, underground cities were build to protect its inhabitants from wild animals and cold winter. Then, the Christians used them as hiding places from the Arab troops to spread their religion secretly. Considered as the ninth wonder of the world, underground cities were real cities. There were kitchens, bedrooms, storerooms, dining rooms, wine cellars, churches, missionary schools, conference rooms and graves. A big underground city has between 70 to 85 meters depth and 4 kilometers length. Yet, the one I visited wasn’t that big.

Just a lucky guess, I’m pretty sure there was some kind of fixed arrangement between the excursion company and the local people living around Yeralti Sehri. Moreover, I didn’t see any ticket booth at all. The entrance should be free of charge?

MAGNIFICENT CAVE CHURCHES

At first, the arrival to Göreme Open Air Museum was quite unpleasant. As soon as our minibus stopped in front of the magnificent World Heritage City since 1985, the tour guide mentioned that it was the last destination and the tour had actually finished without entering the site.

We were stunned by the announcement. The company promised to take us to the main tourist attractions and Göreme was a major site to visit. I felt the air of disappointment in each tour member. We felt cheated by the ad, but what’s the point of looking the huge complex from the outside? Finally, all of us decided to enter the open air museum on our own expenses. The tour guide didn’t join us, I believe the company wouldn’t reimburse the entrance fee to do so. He gave us allowance of 2 hours to visit the site. It wasn’t that long for a huge place, but better than no allowance at all.

Göreme means “you cannot see from here”as the Christians used and built churches inside the carved rocks as shelters from the Arab troops. In 726 AD during Iconoclastic period (deliberate destruction of religious icons, monuments and other symbols), the Byzantine Emperor Leon III forbid religious drawings, closed churches, monasteries and destroyed numerous icons until Empress Theodora ended the period in 843 AD. The church in Göreme were created from 10th until 13th century. The frescoes inside were from post-iconoclastic period with typical Byzantine style.

Façade of a rock church

The main churches in Göreme are St. Basil Church (Basil Kilise), Apple Church (Elmali Kilise), St. Barbara Chapel (Azize Barbara Kilisesi), Snake Church, Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise), St. Catherine Chapel, Sandal Church (Çarikli Kilise), and Buckle Church (Tokali Kilise).

formerly a dining table?
Apple Church

I noticed something particular about churches in Cappadocia: their names are not always based on a saint’s name like any Catholic and Orthodox churches. For instance, Apple Church got its name from one of the frescoes depicting the round shape in Jesus’ hand that resembles an apple. Dark Church got its name simply because it literally has lack of light inside. As a result, the frescoes don’t fade out easily. Moreover, before it was opened to public, it took 14 years to clean the pigeon droppings on the wall. Underneath the droppings, the frescoes were in a very good condition. The droppings played an important roll as well: to preserve the beauty of the 13th century church.

Dark Church
Dark Church
St. Barbara Chapel

St. Barbara Chapel reveals its own characteristic. Built in 11th century, the frescoes painted with red ochre depict mythological animals, geometrical patterns and various symbols besides the saints.

the path of Göreme Open Air Museum

The journey might not always be perfect, but meeting nice companions during the trip could comfort us. The Parisian couple we met were very friendly, Nicolas, a palaeolithicum specialist, and his girlfriend, a high school history teacher. There was something in common that connected us: we love history! Their extensive knowledge could make them excellent tour guides. If they knew more about the rock churches, I bet they could alternate the existing local guide! They gave me their business card, but unfortunately my wallet (where I kept the card) was stolen in Amsterdam!!

EPILOGUE 

The day after, the minibus took us back to our hotel in Alanya. About an hour later, I realized there was something left: the luggage in the baggage! I called the local excursion’s main office and finally they would return our luggage to our place. Thank God!!! There was an extra charge applied, but never mind. I guess we started getting used to with unexpected things in Turkey.

I started to realize what Turkey is all about, apart from the unexpected. Islamic atmosphere in Istanbul, coastal Greek atmosphere in Alanya, and the atmosphere in Cappadocia? Like nowhere else on earth. Perhaps I’ve jumped into the conclusion too soon. Nevertheless, I believe none of the places I’ve visited in Turkey is alike. In a nutshell, I never regret my sudden decision to visit Cappadocia. I’ve proved all the positive commentaries about the region!

What’s next? I’m thinking of visiting other unique cities and regions within Turkey. Any advice?

Penang: Heritage in Hues Part 3 – End

PROLOGUE

Nothing religious about the next story of my journey. Not even if religious buildings are the centre stage of my post. My only belief is that “Heritage in Hues” will be lack of hues without showing enchanting temples worth to see on this island. I purposely created a separate post from part 1 and 2 to show ornamented details of each temple I managed to visit. Having nearly zero knowledge about Buddhism, religious events and all the carvings couldn’t stop me from appreciating and admiring the beauty of craftsmanship and vibrant colours in these sacred places of worship. It didn’t take a genius to enjoy them wholeheartedly. Especially in limited time.

GODDESS OF MERCY TEMPLE

Goddess of Mercy Temple (Kong Hock Keong) is dedicated to Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy, and Ma Chor Po, the patron saint of sea voyagers.

I’m not the only one who accidentally snapped the green shirt grandpa with his walking stick. I recognize the same grandpa appearing in other images of this temple on internet.

These birds are not meant for pets. They will be released from their cage as part of a religious event.

The sacred temple was crowded with worshippers burning and raising incense sticks to seek answers for their prayers. The strong smell from the incense sticks forced us to hold our breath several times and the thick smoke lead our eyes in tears. I squeezed among the crowds to be in the corner part of the temple to capture this moment without disturbing the religious activity. Thank God the pilgrims didn’t care much of their surroundings. Perhaps they are used to with bunch of curious tourists visiting the oldest temple in Penang, which is still actively in use.

KHOO KONGSI CLAN HOUSE

As we got off the bus, we were skeptical with the surroundings. We only saw regular shophouses, some were closed and untreated, middle class residential areas and a soccer field. No sign of a majestic edifice, proudly called “The Heritage Jewel of Penang” on its postcard, has ever existed. We finally found a shophouse lookalike entrance door at Cannon Street, the oldest part of George Town, after asking the locals about the road direction to the temple.

The temple façade is as stunning as what people said, and that’s not it. Go upstairs to see the peak of its beauty.

Khoo Kongsi is the clan house of Khoo family who migrated to Penang from Sin Kang clan village in Hokkien province of China. Khoo family was one of the richest Straits Chinese traders in early Penang and Malacca back in 17th century. Initially, the Khoo ancestors built a clan house in 1851, which was burnt down in 1894 by lightning strikes. However, some believed that the angry Gods were the cause of destruction triggered by the clan house’s resemblance to the emperor’s palace.

One of the rooftop details of the clan house

In 1902, the less grandiose version of the clan house was re-erected and finished in 1906. The temple is a family temple to respect the passing predecessors and a place to keep ancestral tablets. Wait a second – less grandiose a.k.a simpler?? I can’t imagine how magnificent the old clan house was. If I were the God of Jealousy, I would burn it down once more because it beauty exceeds my present palace. ;p

Passing through the red door is the starting point to be up, close and personal to the history and family tree of the wealthy Khoo family

Rickshaws are part of tourist attractions, but the rate is way too touristic for me. Compared to these rickshaws, taxis without meter are cheaper. Some shophouses situated around the clan house surroundings are being renovated. Those days, its neighbourhood was like a clan’s village where governmental activities including finance, welfare and education were held. These activities contributed a strong influence for civilization in Penang.

KEK LOK SIE 

We only had an hour to visit the largest Buddhist complex in Southeast Asia before its closing time at 6 pm. It could be enough although we had to sacrifice a bit of enjoyment of the visit. It was our last day in Penang, so we had no choice.

Kek Lok Sie, meaning “Temple of Supreme Bliss” in Hokkien, is the only Buddhist temple we visited outside the Heritage City George Town. It is situated on the hill of Air Itam town. Built in 1890, it took more than 20 years to complete the execution and it is still in ongoing process to expand, funded by the affluent Chinese community.

The Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas with its seven tier was completed in 1930. Its architecture is a combination of a Chinese octagonal base, a Thai middle tier and a Burmese crown.

Colourful ribbons represent wishes. Each ribbon, which has different Chinese inscriptions, is put on the table with the following English translations in front of it, for instance wisdom, health, wealth, success, prosperity etc. Visitors can write their name(s) and wish(es) on their chosen ribbon. Then, the temple officials hang them on the twigs that makes it look like a “tree of wishes”.

The other option is to write it on a roof tile. I preferred writing it on a ribbon as it is more colourful and I loved seeing my handwriting hanging on a “tree”. Moreover, the markers they provided to write on a roof tile were non-permanent ink. Since they really place the written roof tiles on rooftops, it won’t be a good news if one day the pouring rain washes away the marker ink.

I’ve made myself clear: I was there!

The Kuan Yin Goddess statue and its pavilion was completed in 2009.

Turtles on a turtle pond located inside the temple complex

After the turtle pond, we passed through the hallway with lots of souvenir shops on both right and left side. At the same time, the cab driver who drove us to the temple waited for us outside.

This vintage optical ad was seen on the hallway, marking the last thing I photographed before I left Penang

EPILOGUE

I could have selected only the best to share up to 10 images max, but I decided not to. I’d rather show several particular details I loved while visiting these wonderful places. It’s hard to tell that the carvings on the left wing room is better than the right one, for instance. Each element should be embraced as a whole, depicting harmony and unity of the architecture, as well as the interior.

En gros, Penang is all about showing off its Southeast Asian heritage to the world, from historical buildings (Straits Chinese shophouses, mansions, places of worship, town hall), delicious street food until peaceful environment and friendly people. Apart from that, many Indonesians come to Penang to get more affordable medical check-up in a hospital. Of course I wish you all are in great health, therefore you can put the hospital thing aside.

The heritage presented with full colour of life, art and culture – that’s what I love best.  I just don’t see any other reasons not to call it “Heritage in Hues”.