For our annual family vacation this year, time restraints prevented us from going to Europe to celebrate two grandchildren-graduates ready to embark on college careers. We found the best alternative was to fly to Canada’s very European cities, Montreal and Quebec.
All too often hearing French spoken around, and driving into the city finding our way through streets bearing French names, we felt as if we had been magically transported to France although we hadn’t left North America. Wanting to be central to Montreal’s 20 mile underground city, it’s shopping mecca of Rue Ste Catherine, and walking distance to the sights of the city, we stayed at the Fairmont’s The Queen Elizabeth, which for the past 54 years has been an integral part of Montreal’s history. It remains the largest hotel east of Toronto and was made famous in 1969 when John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their famous Bed-In for Peace. Hotel Public Relations Director Joanne Papineau proudly had her assistant Maude show us the hotel’s 22nd floor rooftop garden, which was, in 2011, spearheaded by the Environmental Committee to show the hotel’s dedication to sourcing local ingredients to serve guests the freshest products. This year over 28 varieties of tomatoes were grown along with blueberries, melons, strawberries, edible blooms and over 15 different herbs. Nearby some 300,000 honeybees call this rooftop garden their home where its six beehives produce up to 150 kg of honey per year so the Fairmont chefs can serve sustainable dishes with organic urban honey in its restaurants. It’s no wonder The Queen Elizabeth won a Sustainability Award from the city of Montreal for its rooftop urban agriculture program.
Montreal is known as the walking city but grandsons Justin Matsuura and Garrett Wong made use of this city’s Bixi ( stands for bicycle/taxi) program where bikes are placed all around the city in stalls which can be rented for only $7 for 24 hours. The only hitch is, even if you want to continue on your bike, you have to check them in and change bikes every half hour at other bike stalls or be additionally charged per-hour fees for keeping the bike out. They biked down towards the Jacques Cartier Bridge where they viewed the beautiful fireworks show performed twice weekly all summer as a competition between countries on who can produce the most spectacular spectacle.
Ruby Roy, a free lance guide arranged by Jeremie Gabourg of Tourisme Montreal, showed us the sights of the city she obviously has great pride and love for, a job she says she has enjoyed for over 22 years. Only through Ruby’s knowledge of the city were we able to ride on a Formula One race car track, the only private track in North America one can drive on, stop at the famed Schwartz Store where lines of people waited to buy its special smoked meat sandwiches, park for a photo stop among the pedestrians surrounding the Notre Dame Basilica, and alas, taste the famous Montreal bagel from St.Viateur, known for being fluffier with a bigger center hole due to more use of honey and air.
Our Arizona State grandson Garrett, in the School of Sustainability led us to Montreal’s five story Biosphere Museum built like an open air golf ball, the only environmental museum in North America dedicated to teaching the public about ways to save our environment. All in all, one must stay at least 3 days to see all the museums, try the efficient metro system, ogle the historic and modern architecture fused together throughout the city, visit the diverse cultural neighborhoods ( yes, there is a small Chinatown!) and savor all of the many notable eateries around town of different types of foods from around the world. Obviously Montreal’s ties to France has woven the fabric of the city to become an international destination. I recommend it to any adventurous soul who can enjoy a taste of French culture in a Canadian city.
Quebec City’s old world charm captivates everyone who walks the cobblestone narrow streets overlooking the St . Lawrence River. Twenty seven years ago I fell in love with the sight of the majestic architecture of the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac Hotel towering over this once strong French stronghold dating back to the 1600s. Just as enamored this time, I again wanted to feel like royalty staying enclosed in this historic building. Although I loved gazing out the dining room windows overlooking the Dufferin Terrace and the St. Lawrence river below I have to say the breakfast buffet offered was disappointing in its appearance and the lack of well heated offerings. As executive assistant Genevieve Parent explained, the hotel has just recently gone through a two year renovation and it has successfully maintained historic aspects in all the public rooms while also adding modern up-to-date features.
To Fairmont standards every Presidents club member expects, the doorman always had umbrellas at hand when blustery rain blew through the city one day. Quebec City Tourism Account Executive Nancy Dacres welcomed our family to this number one favorite city as proclaimed by Conde Nast readers by having 20-year tour guide veteran Michelle Demers drive us around the whole city, pointing out highlights of every district. Explaining he history of when, how and why the city became a well sought-after fortress that the French and British and Canadian forces fought over, she showed us the fortress Citadel and accompanying Plains of Abraham where fierce battles occurred. She drove us through the narrow streets for souvenir shoppers, art lovers, fashionistas and families enjoying the European atmosphere permeating throughout the two-level Upper and lower parts encased within the stone walls of the old town. Everywhere French is spoken, the names of stores are all in French, and of course, all of the many restaurant menus were primarily in French. We dined at the oldest residence of the city at the Aux Anciennes Canadiens enjoying its fois gras creme brûlée but our favorite meal of the whole trip was at Le Canard Huppe on the Ile d’Orleans, a part of Auberge-Inn owned by chef Philip Rae and his delightful wife Maggie, and daughters Shanie and Kellya. On the Ile d’Orleans one can sample many wines, maple syrup and delightful chocolate tastings at small modest farms where they are locally made on a very reminiscent drive around the small island like one was in the. French countryside in Europe.
Visiting the countryside of Quebec Province, we ventured to the magnificent Montmorency Falls, a must-see attraction, where we rode the cable car up to the top and walked the suspended footbridge spanning the top and width of the falls which at 83m high is 30 m higher than Niagara Falls, no less. Closing the loop on the other side of the falls, the grandkids Justin and Melissa with their mother Kelly walked a panoramic winding stairway feeling the strong mist of the falls to cool them off. Standing tall nearby was the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre Basilica, a symbol of faith and salvation for parishioners from all corners of the world.
It obviously would take many more words and another week to fully savor the flavor of France and the French influence so prevalent in both Montreal and Quebec. However it was wonderful to experience what we had the opportunity to do and share with you our vacation tale this week.
Cupertino Rotary Club inaugurated its first Chinese American women president, Ms Hung Wei who said she will bring in a year of ships – ownership, friendship and membership. Chartered in 1955, this chapter has over 180 men and women representing a cross section of local businesses and professions.
A very active couple, with many friends in the community, Eddy and Louise Jang of San Leandro, celebrated their 71st Anniversary recently with a dance party in Alameda and dinner with golf buddies. Celebrating with them were the Howard Setos, Steven Gees, Larry Louies, Don Chews, Roger Engs, Robert Chuck, Lovelle Shak and Nancy Mar.
Chinese Historical and Cultural Project of Santa Clara Valley held an Appreciation Tea to honor its many supporters who have given time and energies to continue the establishment of the Chinese American Historical Museum (CAHM) at San Jose History Park. The CHCP Speaker Series, as chaired by Yvonne Ching, introduced Dr. Barbara Voss, Associate Professor of Archaeology at Stanford, who spoke on “The Archaeology of Anti-Immigrant Violence”. Recognized that day included Hong Chin and Barbara Johnson by Anita Kwock. Others at the tea included Carolyn Jow, Miriam Ngai, Peter Young, Celine Chan, Lee and George Chin, Liz Chew, and Wanda Ching.
Broadway by the Bay will present the sensational musical DREAMGIRLS at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City August 15-31st.