My wife and I had the opportunity to travel to Canada for some getaway time in the summer. Two of the cities on our itinerary were Montreal and Quebec City. While at both locations, we essentially did the same types of activities and visited similar locations. In both cities, we had very good experiences and saw almost everything we set out to do. Yet, at the end of our stay, we mutually agreed that we had no strong desire to return to one city, but were enthusiastically ready to return to the other. We began to confront the question: Why did one city leave such a great impression on us while the other did not?
We know that these are two great cities that have a lot to offer the traveler. Each is unique, but they also have a lot of similarities. To take away the mystery, yes, it was Montreal that left a less dramatic impression on us and Quebec City that has us longing to return. I’m sure that is what many of you had already guessed, and I am sure that many of you have your own opinions and suspicions. But I think that it is worth unpacking this question to examine why certain cities endear themselves to the traveler and others leave us with the feeling of been there, done that.
We scheduled to spend a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night in Montreal. We specifically booked a hotel that was not in the downtown section, because we wanted to do some activities in the surrounding area as well as the downtown. We drove to Canada from our home city on the east coast of the United States and had a beautiful drive through the Adirondacks in northern New York state. We arrived at mid-day in Montreal and found our chosen hotel to be very accommodating and very much as we expected.
On our first day, we took the Metro to Old Montreal and had dinner in Jaques Cartier Square.
Afterward, we spent time walking the Rue Saint-Paul, watching the buskers, and marveling at the beauty of the Old City. Everything went well and we had an enjoyable time.
On our second day, we took in the views from Mount Royal Park and spent the day at the Botanical Garden. Both experiences were enjoyable and much better than we expected. In fact, the Chinese Gardens inside the Montreal Botanical Garden was a wonderful surprise that reminded us of our visits to China.
On our third day, we took a small cruise on the St. Lawrence River around the Old Port Montreal area.
This included seeing the locks of the Lachine Canal, Habitat 67, the Parc Jean Drapeau, St. Helen’s Island, and the beautiful waterfront views of the city.
Not everything was perfect. The weather was often tenuous and somewhat uncooperative. There always seemed to be a threat of multiple thunderstorms and it did rain most mornings and evenings. Yet, the weather did not stop us from doing the main things we set out to do and we enjoyed most of our activities under partly sunny skies. Another issue we encountered was the roads and bridges around Montreal. It seemed that everywhere we traveled there was road construction. marked by an incredible number of orange construction barrels. Sometimes we would drive on a road in the morning, only to find it closed at night. We didn’t wait an excessively long time in traffic, but there seemed to be unusually long back-ups for a weekend. We did use the public transportation system, but often it seemed easier to get to places by driving than to use the subway and busses.
After three days, we felt ready to move on and headed to Quebec City. Out destination in the capital of Quebec Province was a Bed and Breakfast in the Old City. When we arrived, it was Canada Day, so there were some road closures and detours. Eventually, after some crafty navigating, we arrived at our lodging. It was a really quaint, stone building that was situated on a corner overlooking the Parc des Gouverneurs. At the bottom of the shady, green area was the Terrasse Dufferin, the boardwalk situated on the cliffs in front of the famous Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel. Since there was little parking within the Old City, we valet parked our car and walked everywhere the two days we were in Quebec City.
We were hoping there would be some special activities going on in honor of Canada Day. There were a few, but overall the atmosphere was low-keyed. We guessed that perhaps Quebec’s independent identity was still on display even on Canada Day. Nonetheless, the weather was beautiful and we simply enjoyed walking around the walled hilly city, seeing the historic buildings, and experiencing the energy of our fellow tourists.
Our evening consisted of enjoying a meal in a cozy restaurant, enjoying some delicious ice-cream dipped in chocolate fondue, riding the funicular between the upper and lower parts of the old town, and watching some fireworks in honor of Canada Day from atop the Plains of Abraham Park.
The next day, we headed for the waterfront to take another cruise on the St. Lawrence River around Quebec City. Our ship, named after the French-Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet, featured a narrated tour presented by a costumed guide dressed as the famous explorer. He talked for almost the entire length of the tour and provided extensive insight into the history and development of Quebec City and the surrounding area. It was just a delightful beginning to the day. Later in the afternoon, we took a land tour atop a double-decker bus of the Old and New City.
After dinner on the Rue Saint-Jean, we climbed the walls of the Old City to watch the sunset. All in all, it was a memorable day, and as we walked back to our hotel, we began planning our return visit to the city.
The next day, on our drive home, we began to reflect and unpack our memories of our recent journeys. We identified many different factors that contributed to our impressions of the two cities we visited. We essentially did similar actives in both places. In Montreal, we stayed outside the city center and struggled with road construction. We also found ourselves planning around the weather. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the activities we planned and accomplished almost everything we set out to do. In fact, we covered a great deal of the city and actually saw more unique attractions in Montreal.
In Quebec City, we took a different approach and stayed in the Old City. We walked everywhere and enjoyed a more relaxing pace. For the most part, we did not have an agenda. In fact, the only thing we really planned to do was take the boat ride on the St. Lawrence River.
Through discussion, we began to discover that there are certain experiences that really foster our love of travel. We surmised that we definitely like a balance between busyness and relaxation. We further realized that the less transportation we have to deal with the better, and that we really like walking to attractions as much as possible. Furthermore, we enjoy a combination of planned activities and unplanned discoveries. For us, these are major factors that help us to choose hotels, attractions, and cities to visit.
We give a good deal of thought to comfort, place, and time and have often found that it is better to pay more to be in a location that we find comfortable than by downgrading to save a few dollars. Also, we have definitely found that it is usually better to plan less and allow ourselves time to discover. It seems to us that what works best and creates the best memories will be unique for each person or a couple. Regardless of all the articles that tell you about the right way to travel, each person or couple will have to discover their own formula.
To be clear, my goal in sharing our experience was not to speak negatively of Montreal. It is a world-class city worthy of a visit. In fact, you should go and see both of these two cities in order to make your own decision. When you do, give yourself ample time to see both places and enjoy the culture and energy they both offer. Even though we have had many travel experiences, we have not yet found the perfect way to travel. We’re still learning and discovering what creates impressions and moments that stay with us for a lifetime. On this excursion, we concluded that in Montreal, we visited and toured a city. In Quebec City, we discovered ourselves and our love of travel.