Canada Trip Day 7: Lost in Translation

Ok, let me just say that I’m most definitely NOT one of those people who goes to a foreign country and expects them to speak English. That said, while my Spanish serves me pretty well in California, in all of my travels abroad, except for Costa Rica and that incident in the Italian emergency room back in 2009, it’s been my English that’s been far more useful. For the most part, it’s been the, er, lingua franca (and yes, I’m aware of the origins of that term) wherever I’ve been.

Lingua franca. Oh the irony.

So while my Spanish is good, and while I can decently understand Italian and muddle my way through the basics, and while I even managed to pick up some Hungarian and Serbo-Croatian in my travels in those regions, my French is limited to hello, thank you, and a couple of cuss words.

I did sit down and make the small effort to learn how to ask for things, as well as the first few numbers and some other phrases. And when it’s come to reading signs and stuff, my Spanish/Italian have helped me for the most part figure things out.

But the pronunciation in large part escapes me, and understanding spoken French is just kind of a lost cause. If I actually made a concerted effort and, say, took a couple of French classes, I know I’d be in better shape. But when it comes to pronunciation, reading only gets you so far, ya know?

So anyway. Where am I going with this? Yesterday we left Montreal on our way to Quebec City, and on the way, we stopped at a cheese factory where Ysabelle (one of the friends we stayed with in Toronto) had recommended we try the cheese curds.

They have a restaurant, so I ordered, or thought I did, fries with cheese curds.

I did NOT order poutine. That was a separate menu, and Ysabelle had recommended another poutine place that she said has the best poutine in Canada, so we figured we’d just try cheese curds at this place and actual poutine at the other place.

Now, for those of you who don’t know what poutine is (as I didn’t before this trip), it’s french fries with fresh cheese curds, gravy, and who knows what else on top of it. I’m not a gravy fan (never have been) but I like cheese, and I’m adventurous, so I figured I’d give it a try.

So yeah, I ordered fries with cheese curds.

We got this.


So I took it from the counter (it was a busy walk-up wind0w) and I was like, “Oh, huh. This looks like I thought poutine looked like. I didn’t order poutine.” [Checked the receipt] “Nope, it says “moyenne avec fromage. Ok then.” And the price was the same as a medium fries with cheese curds.

So I took my fork and started poking, digging for the fries.

Only there weren’t any.

That entire thing was a container of gravy with cheese curds.

The three of us tried to eat it. Well, we did eat some of it. We enjoyed the cheese, and the squeakiness of it.

But… it was just too much, and way too much gravy.

I KNOW I didn’t order the poutine. There was an entire separate menu for poutine, and the prices were different than what I’d paid.

Clearly we got the incorrect order somehow (even though our receipt was on our tray.) And I was too embarrassed (and the line was too long… but mostly I was too embarrassed) to go back and try to figure out how to explain that we got the wrong thing.


Obligatory mealtime shot.


So, after spending $7 and 15 minutes trying to eat the cheese and gravy, we gave up, got a scoop of ice cream, and left. We never did make it to the poutine place Yzzie recommended. We felt bad, but after the cheese curds and gravy, the last thing any of us wanted to look at was more cheese curds and gravy.


ANYWAY. That may go down as one of the more hilarious things that I think happened this trip.

Part of yesterday was spent with this as my view:

That would be the boys in the front seat and me in the back seat of our rented Nissan Altima. Which, for what it’s worth, has the turning radius of the average World War II aircraft carrier. I’m crossing it off of my list of cars to someday purchase.


I realize it’s a lousy picture, but I was in the back seat at the time. That would be a Confederate flag painted on the back of a pickup truck. In Quebec. AWESOME.


So it turns out, entirely by accident, we happened to show up the exact weekend of the last two days of the Festival d’été de Québec, an 11-day, 15-stage music festival that draws 1.5 million people. The festival is held in the historic area right outside the city wall. Guess where we were staying? Right INSIDE the city wall. Guess which day of the festival was the biggest? Yesterday.

We ended up parking over 2 kilometers from our hotel. That was the best we could do. It was THAT crazy. But, since I thrive on crazy, I found it pretty freaking awesome… even though we did end up walking to our hotel, walking back to the car, grabbing our stuff, and taking the bus back (which still entailed a fair amount of walking, since the bus stops outside the city wall.)


Quebec City is the oldest walled city in North America outside of Mexico, which is one of the reasons I wanted to come here — I figured it’d be a lot closer to what I saw in Europe, and I was right. It’s AMAZING. Anyway, this is one of the entrances to the city–it’s about a block and a half up the street from our hotel. :-)


View from our room. Sorry about the window screen. :-)


After quick showers, we headed out to wander the old city to see what there is to see. Even the guys thought it was amazing, and me… well, I was pretty darn enthralled with the whole place.


Toward the bottom of our street, looking up toward our hotel (actually a bed and breakfast.)


Down the hill a little farther, toward the boardwalk overlooking the waterfront. Old Quebec City is divided into two parts — Haute Ville (upper town, where we were staying — still within the city wall) and Basse Ville (lower town — the REALLY old part of the city. The boardwalk is the edge of Haute Ville.


St. Lawrence River, looking north. This is pretty much where the St. Lawrence River widens into an estuary and becomes tidal.


Parliament Building at night.

Parliament Building at night.


Saw this on a t-shirt, laughed. :-)



Canada Trip Day 6: Uneventful but relaxing

I feel like we’ve been going at a slower pace than we normally do on our trips… Maybe we are? In any case, yesterday morning we slept in and took our time getting out the door, and then instead of taking the metro, we opted to walk down to McGill University to check out the Redpath Museum, a small, free museum of random natural history things that the university has collected over the years.

I really dig old collections like this — sometimes you find more interesting (and unexpected) things than you might at a larger museum.


The main gallery of the museum. It was larger than this, but not by much — all in all, it took us about 90 minutes to walk through.


From the US, a Carolina Parakeet, an extinct species that used to live in the southeastern US. According to the tag, the Redpath Museum acquired this specimen before they became extinct. The only other place I think I’ve seen one of these was in the Smithsonian Natural History museum… maybe in the London one? I can’t remember.


From California, my favorite rock!! I was really surprised they had this, actually, and also, while it’s a smaller sample than the Royal Ontario Museum, it’s (in my opinion) a more pretty sample.


From Egypt, a mummy…


And from Winnipeg, a smart alec (who left the circled comment in the museum’s guest book.)


Obligatory mealtime shot. I swear I’m having a good trip with these two — they’re really a ton of fun, mealtime pictures notwithstanding. :-)


Nice car!!



Canada Trip Day 5: Europe-lite

Yesterday we spent wandering around the city of Montreal — lots and lots of walking. John and I have decided that it’s similar to being in Europe, but that there are some things that remind us very much that we’re in North America. All in all, it’s been a fun city to wander. :-)

Obligatory breakfast shot in the main (downstairs) kitchen of our hostel.


I have to say, I am REALLY digging this hostel. Essentially, we’re sharing an apartment with one other couple (also late 20s/early 30s.) They have one bedroom, we have the other. So far we’ve more or less had the place to ourselves. It’s inexpensive, clean, quiet, and relaxing. And someone comes to clean the bathroom every day. What more can I ask for? Seriously, best hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Only thing that would make it better would be double beds instead of singles, but oh well. :-)


One random thing I saw fairly frequently in Europe but don’t ever remember seeing in the US (or at least in CA) was construction netting over the fronts of buildings that was painted to look like the building’s facade. I really like that!


I may have inadvertently run one of these. Not because I didn’t know what it said, though — I just didn’t see it. :-p


Matt sporting his homemade shirt next to its movie poster. :-)


We went to Notre Dame Basilica for the tour and to see what there was to see. It was incredible.


Mark Twain once said about Montreal, “This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window.” Double-negative aside, I thought it was funny. :-)


Snack of waffles and handmade ice cream. OMG GOOD.


The Palais des congrès de Montréal, or Montreal Convention Center, has these amazing windows — I could have played with my camera for half a day there, just capturing the light and color and shadows of people walking. So beautiful.


Montreal has an underground network of tunnels and shops that connect many of its downtown buildings, called the RESO. We decided to check them out, and, most likely because it was a gorgeous summer day outside, they were pretty empty. Kind of spooky!! Although I can see how it’d be nice in the wintertime to not have to go outside. Anyway, the walls in one of the tunnels were very reflective, and I got this shot of the guys. Reflections = FUN. :-)


After wandering all day, we went back to the hostel and crashed, then I made dinner and we hung out and watched a movie. Low-key and fun. :-)