When we were stuck unexpectedly unemployed in Canada for the foreseeable future, waiting on our Chinese visas to come through, we decided to take an unexpected road trip to Québec City. (We made two mindset shifts to come to that decision.)
This is how we spent the first two days of our five day road trip from Hamilton to Québec City and back.
DAY 1: The Big Apple and Gananoque
Because Hamilton is west of Toronto, the morning rush hour is super heavy with people from outside of the city heading in for work. To avoid this congestion, we woke up bright and early (like 5:00am early) to beat the traffic. After loading up the car with a cooler full of snacks (carrots, hummus, nuts, chips, fruit, and of course, chocolate), we turned on Stan Rogers’ From Fresh Water album–the quintessential Canadian road trip soundtrack–and headed off in search of the Big Apple.
The Big Apple
The Big Apple is exactly that. A big (38-foot high) decorative apple in Colborne beaconing 401-travellers to come taste its delicious apple-flavoured goods, complete with a mini-putt course and petting zoo.
However, as March isn’t exactly apple season, no animals were available to be petted when we stopped. We did enjoy watching the bakers at work and picked up a box of apple turnovers and two ciders for a whooping $12. #WorthIt. After eating our pastries and using the facilities we hopped back in the car in search of our next stop.
Tip for this Spot: No, you don’t need to stop at the Big Apple. But it’s right there off the 401 and when you’re coming from Hamilton, it’s about the distance that the standard bladder will travel without a pit stop. So find some discounted apple goods, insta the Apple, and carry on.
Next, we meandered through the beautiful Prince Edward County, known for its picturesque landscapes, antique shops, and charming towns. Again, because we were travelling in the off season, there wasn’t much to see, but we did take the long route so we could drive by the water.
An hour or so later, we hit Gananoque, which could also be called a little ‘sleepy’ in the off-season but we weren’t about to let that kill our vibe.
We took a little walk down the main strip and found Beggars Banquet Books calling to us with a table full of books and a sign saying ‘Between 8am and 8pm, whatever is on this table is yours.’ We can’t pass up a bookstore putting all that great energy out into the universe. Inside the store, Adam not only found 5 books for $10, but Rose found the very Stan Rogers album on vinyl we’d been listening to in the car. When we asked the store owner how much, he told us it wasn’t for sale. But after some mild begging and puppy-dog eyes, we picked it up for a whole $6. Rose had never been happier.
After a quick walk down to the theatre, we said goodbye to Gananoque and pushed on.
A Tip for this Spot: It seems like Gananoque comes alive in the summer, and if you come between late May and September, you can even catch a performance at the Thousand Island Playhouse. As theatre nerds, we’re ashamed to say we’ve never seen anything at the Thousand Island Playhouse, but my mom will tell you she saw the best production of Les Miserables she’d ever seen at this theatre. So make a visit!
Arriving in Quebec City
It was getting later in the day and we were eager to make it to Québec City before it was too late. After another quick stop at an OnRoute near Ottawa, we were nearing Montréal and started googling some of the more charming ways to travel to Québec City.
That’s when we learned about Le Chemin du Roi, or The King’s Road, built in 1737 and one of North America’s first major thoroughfares. It runs right along the St. Lawrence river and gave us some beautiful views of the water as well as Québec’s quaint churches, almost blinding us with the shiny silver of their steeples. We took in a few podcasts and followed this road almost all the way into Québec City.
Twelve hours after we left Hamilton, we finally arrived at our charming AirBnB, which was just a twenty minute walk from the Old City, nestled right below the Plains of Abraham just a stone’s throw away from the St. Lawrence river.
We unpacked our bags and took a short breather before stretching our legs and taking off to explore the Old City at night. It was absolutely beautiful, with gorgeous architecture and a very European feel. But it was dead. Maybe because it was a Tuesday night or in what felt like the dead of winter, but most of the restaurants seemed closed. And we too started to feel the cold in a major way.
We stopped in at a Metro just outside the Old City, picked up a frozen pizza, greek salad, cheap bottle of wine, and a sandwich for the next day ($24 total) and made it back to the AirBnB just before our limbs started to fall off. We warmed up by the electric fire in the cottage-chic apartment (think raw wood and lots of buffalo print), enjoyed each other’s company with wine in hand, and had an early night in preparation for the next day’s activities.
Tip for this Spot: Eat in! Cooking at your AirBnB, Homestay, hostel, or even picnicking in your hotel room can feel exciting and exotic when you’re away from home, not to mention an easy way to save some cash when you’re travelling. And in a cute spot with great decor and a stash of board games, sometimes staying in is even better than going out.
DAY 2: Québec City, QC
We didn’t want to waste any time on our only full day in Québec City, so after taking advantage of the AirBnB’s free Keurig coffee and eating a breakfast of leftover apple turn-overs and road trip snacks, we bundled up in preparation for the cold Canadian weather still in effect in this part of the country.
Rose’s sister, Clare, had gifted us vouchers for a mobile scavenger hunt app called Let’s Roam. We thought this would be a perfect (and FREE) way to see the city, so we downloaded the app, selected the Old Quebec City hunt, and headed out.
Tip for this Spot: Find the cheap (or free) ways to get around the city. The Let’s Roam app was a great way to lead us around, but we’re also BIG fans of ‘Free’ tours. Though it’s common courtesy to tip your tour guides five to ten dollars, you don’t pay until the end of the tour. This not only makes sure you’re not being ripped off by only paying what you’re able, but it also incentivizes your guide to give a kick-ass tour. We’ve been on free tours in Valencia, Malaga, Prague, London, and more and haven’t been disappointed yet. Plus they’re available in almost every major city. A quick Google search will help you find a reputable company – just make sure you register in advance if it’s required.
The hunt started in the Plains of Abraham, just above our AirBnb. The app’s map let us know that it was only a quick walk away, but it failed to mention that the majority of said walk was climbing 400 stairs up the side of the escarpment. Fortunately, we were nice and toasty for the beginning of our hunt.
The app took us to a number of the city’s most well-known monuments, including the Parliament Buildings, Old City Walls, and Notre-Dame Cathedral. Fun fact: Québec’s Notre-Dame is home to the only other Holy Door in the world outside of Vatican City. Impressive! The app, though fun, was a battery-vampire, but our phones lasted just until the last stop – the Château Frontenac.
After snapping a few ‘grams just outfront of the historic hotel, we stepped and took a quick browse at the lobby’s art exhibit; a collection of Grace Kelly’s dresses highlighting her visit back in the sixties alongside her husband, the King of Monaco.
Needing a little something extra to warm us up, we stopped in at the hotel bar. Rose’s parents had come to the Château Frontenac on their honeymoon, so we toasted to Steve and Elizabeth with our fancy-shmancy cocktails and plotted how to save enough to come back and stay overnight some time.
Tip for this Spot: Money isn’t everything, and we definitely spent more than we normally would on drinks at the Fairmont but it was a choice we felt good about. Now we’re not saying to blow your budget on the ‘best of’ everything and the touristy attractions – but there are some things in life that are worth more than money. And the opportunity to spend an hour together remembering Rose’s dad, who passed away a year ago, and mom in a time when they were happiest was worth far more than the $40 we spent on cocktails. The best way to be able to enjoy these moments without breaking the bank is to budget a little more for those ‘special’ times you just don’t want to miss.
We took a mini-siesta at home before heading out for dinner. Let’s face it, you can’t go to Québec without sampling some of the local cuisine. So that’s exactly what we did. After a quick google, we found the Q-de-Sac Resto-Pub, which happened to be just a hop, skip and a jump down the street from our AirBnB. We sampled some local ciders, ate French onion soup, and even had foie-gras poutine. Feeling sufficiently stuffed, we capped off the night with some wine back at the AirBnB and prepared for another travel day ahead.
That’s it for days one and two. Check out the remainder of our Quebec roadtrip!