Quebec City – A Lovely Vacation Option

This year we debated about going abroad for vacation. I was pushing Scotland, Mike was pushing a beach in Michigan. After some debate and research and perhaps my declaration that we HAVE to do something different, we decided to take the kids to Canada.

We thought it would be a way to get the kids out of America and into a new culture (I realize Canadian culture is not the major shift to the senses that, say, Chinese culture would be), but without the cost and travel pains of Europe or beyond. [Note: The area is French speaking and, as you can imagine, signs and menus are in French and English. Locals speak French first and switch to English when needed. We don’t speak a word of French and it wasn’t a huge problem, but dusting off your high school French would be helpful.]

So the plan was to treat this trip as a true traveling vacation rather than plunking down at a beach or resort (though that is also wonderful). We structured it to include four days in Quebec City and then travel by train to Montreal for another four days. I won’t lie, it was also a bit of a test to see what our kids (and we) could handle.

We booked two AirBnb apartments for the trip (more on that later) and planned to cook ourselves a few meals and do our laundry in the apartments.

The outcome? I think we all agree the trip was a success. It was exhausting and there were difficult moments (quite a few of them), but we learned a lot from this experience. That’s a post in and of itself, friends.

But back to Quebec City.

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If you’re like me, you want to know tips and recommendations from other parents who have been to the places I am researching, particularly when traveling with kids. It just helps to see what you’re heading into. We used a Lonely Planet guidebook, as well as blog and Pinterest research.

I put together a list of what we did and would recommend. Of course, this list is just one perspective from one family during one summer. So if you have other recommendations, please add them into the comments. I’d love to be a resource for others who are contemplating this trip.

Quebec City Highlights:

Montmorency Falls. As soon as I announced we were heading to QC, I started hearing that we needed to head to “the waterfall.” So I made a note that we HAD to do this. Indeed, Montmorency Falls (located outside QC) was the highlight of our time there. It’s a gorgeous waterfall (a bit taller than Niagara) located in a suburb about 30 minutes from Quebec City. To get there, hop on the 800 bus outside the Metrobus station (kids ride free) and take it all the way to the last stop. Our bus driver pointed out how to get into the park.

We took rain jackets because it was rainy and overcast when we left our apartment that morning; however, they’re a good idea even if it’s sunny. You can walk across the waterfall via bridge and trek down to the base (several hundred steps) via wooden stairs. Once you get to the base, prepare to get drenched as the mist and wind swirl around you. It’s a lot of steps, but when are you going to get this chance again? We used the tram to get back up to the top of the waterfall and had a nice lunch at the hotel there. The kids are still talking about the waterfall.IMGP6231
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Citadelle – Changing of the Guard

We took the opportunity to visit the Citadelle and witness the changing of the guard. This occurs every morning at 10 am. It’s a very popular tourist activity, but we didn’t enjoy it as much as we thought we would. After paying to enter, we were guided to an open area where the transfer takes place. The military band and soldiers were impressive. However, it was extremely hot and sunny (no shade) that day and we were so tired from all our walking at the Montmorency Falls. We could have pushed it, but our instincts said to cut bait. Rather than stay for the guided English tour around the Citadelle, we chose to leave and head out for snacks and some resting at the Boardwalk. However, if you’re into military history, this could be a great. And, had it not been so hot that day, we probably would have stayed.

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Fort Saint Louis- Interactive exhibit under boardwalk

This quick and interactive exhibit of the archeological remains of Fort Saint Louis and the Chateau was a lot of fun. It was less than $10 for our entire family and lasted 30 minutes. The Canadian Parks department has done a great job with this exhibit, providing explorer notebooks for kids to fill out as they walk underground. A mini archeological site is provided for kids to dig out “artifacts” – mostly old ceramic plate pieces. A few dress up clothes are also available and interactive screens hang from the ceiling in each corner for further exploration. Tickets can be purchased on the boardwalk (Terrasse Dufferin boardwalk).


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Funicular

The funicular is a little tram that takes people between the Upper and Lower Town areas. The Lower Town is where you head to be close to the river, and walk through cozy streets filled with restaurants and shops. The boardwalk area of the Upper Town boasts beautiful river views and fun street performers (my son thought they were fantastic). When I say take the Funicular, it’s sort of a general phrase for exploring the shops and restaurants down in the Lower Town area, as well as touring the boardwalk. The steps and hills are STEEP here. It’s nice to take this little tram up or down when your knees get weak. And also it’s cool to say the word funicular.

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Notre Dame de Quebec Cathedral

A beautiful catholic church sits in the middle of the Old Town. Free admission. This is a quick stop if you’ve got little ones who aren’t so excited about a big church visit. It was impressive to our children, who don’t have much exposure to cathedrals. And we could easily pop in, take some pictures, and then pop out. Perhaps some of you have children who like to stay for long time periods in super quiet places… also maybe you don’t. This was an easy stop for our family.

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Boat ride at sunset

I should state upfront that we chose to do this at 11:30 a.m. rather than sunset. When traveling with kids you often have to make concessions for temperament and, well, bed times. Ah well. It’s a beautiful 1.5 hour tour of the St. Lawrence River, which takes you by Ile d’Orleans and past the Montmorency Falls. Drinks and snacks are available during the guided architectural tour. It’s a nice non-walking activity for little ones and adults with sore feet! Ferry rides are also available if you want something quicker. Side note: Horse rides are also a very popular (but pricey) way to tour around the old streets. We didn’t take one, but they look wonderful.

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Chateau Frontenac – extremely famous hotel

We chose to stay in an Airbnb while in Quebec City. However, the Chateau Frontenac is a huge, extremely beautiful, and popular hotel that gets high marks. Even though we weren’t staying there, we knew we wanted to stop in and have a look around. We originally planned to grab an afternoon snack and drinks there. However, timing didn’t quite work out. It was mid-morning when we found ourselves in the lobby. We opted to wander downstairs instead and enjoy some Starbucks (I know, I know), which opens out onto the boardwalk. It was still fun!

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Running around the city walls

Exploring the city walls and running around the stone steps is a free and easy way to view the city from above. The kids really responded to the open spaces and the chance to imagine they were under siege!

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Swing by Tim Horton’s

We knew we wanted to stop in at Tim Horton’s before leaving Canada. So we stopped in for coffee, donuts and TimBits early one morning. And, yes, it was delicious. Fine, fine, okay. We stopped by there twice in Quebec City. And also in Montreal. Donuts, people… donuts.

So Is Quebec City good for kids? Would we recommend it?

It’s a beautiful city and feels very quaint and European. There were several things our children loved, including the waterfall, the Fort Saint Louis, the boardwalk area and all the chances to explore the city walls. But Quebec City is not Disney World and if you’re looking for big parks and amusement rides, then it may not be the right fit. We knew all of this going in and we thought it was a great city to explore.

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Total collapse. It was inevitable at some point.

It was a lot of walking. Bring good shoes. No matter how energetic your children are, a trip likes this requires a lot of walking and that can be tiring and frustrating. Combine that with parents who are in unfamiliar neighborhoods and are also trying to figure things out and, well, there are moments.

Our family spent three days there and that felt about right. But you could spend a lot more time here and explore more. Isn’t that always the case? We skipped the museums because a) Chicago offers a lot of museum opportunities already and b) our kids really wanted to be outdoors. However, the museums did look interesting and I’d be curious to hear what others have to say about them. There are lots of restaurants and pretty shops, but our kids cannot stand shopping. We didn’t really even bother to shop. Although we did take the bus to a large toy store called Benjo, which we had read about in our guidebook, and allow the kids to each pick out a small toy.

When our time in beautiful Quebec City was finished, we headed to Montreal next, and we’ll be writing up our experiences on that city soon. In the meantime, feel free to add your thoughts, tips, experiences, and recommendations in the comments. We love hearing what others enjoy!

Quebec City – A Lovely Vacation Option

Homemade Travel Journals

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This weekend I decided that the kids needed travel journals. And I’m the sorta person who gets an idea in her head and then has to jump on it immediately. This is one of my best/worst qualities. Once an idea weasels its way into my brain, I cannot let it go.

Etsy is one of my favorite resources and I headed there first, but I just couldn’t find what I was looking for. Lots of cute items, but I couldn’t find THE THING. The ideal journal in my mind is one that serves as a writing prompt, has room for drawings (for little ones who aren’t writing fluently yet) and fits the nature of the trip (i.e. doesn’t ask about amusement park rides when you’re not taking a trip to Disney).

And there are little pet peeves I have with kid products in general, such as having teensy weensy lines for the kids to write in and cheap spiral bound coils that immediately get crushed and make it hard to turn the pages.

So I decided to create something myself. Now I’m not a crafty McCrafter or a graphic designer. My skills are primitive, at best. However, I know my kids and I think I know the types of things they’ll want to remember and the types of questions I’d like them to think about.

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Using some map/globe/travel-y photos from my computer, I tried to make it colorful and inviting. I brainstormed the questions I want my kids to answer and left plenty of space between lines for large kid handwriting. There are still more components I’d like to add later, including a way to house souvenirs and photos.

One draft later, I printed it out and hole punched the pages. I happened to have a cute 3-ring binder on hand and it worked perfectly. When I showed my daughter she said, from the very bottom of her dear heart, “I think I forgot to brush my teeth.”

Clearly, the sentiment was overwhelming.

But I’m not sweating it. I have a feeling she’d rather do this than practice workbook pages this summer. Plus, this little journal didn’t cost me a dime so I’m not really out anything if it doesn’t work out.

Any tips or tricks for helping kids record travel memories? Let me know!

Homemade Travel Journals

Travel plans underway

I've strategically placed one clue to our destination in this flag, er, photo. Dang it!
I’ve strategically placed one clue to our destination in this flag, er, photo. Dang it!

We’ve finally nailed down our summer vacation plans and I’m excited to report we will be heading to Canada, specifically Quebec City and Montreal, for one week. We debated a lot of locales and narrowed it down to the FINAL THREE: Canada, Scotland, and Michigan. I know, I know, one of those things is not like the other. However, Chicago people know that Michigan makes for one great week at the beach.

After some back and forth, we landed on Quebec. Why Quebec?

I’ve read really good things about Quebec City in passing during the last year and started to casually research it a few months ago. From what I can tell, it’s an incredibly beautiful historic city that feels very European, but cheaper and with a shorter plane ride. We can still tie a bit of history and French culture in with our trip preparations (I’m kinda into that because I feel like connecting the dots between travel and history can be eye-opening).

We’re going to test the waters with this trip to Canada before we head to Europe (potentially next year, right? Mike? Honey? Still with me?). The trip will include three days in Quebec City, travel from Quebec City to Montreal via train (should be beautiful!) and then three days in Montreal. We fly into Quebec and out of Montreal.

So now I’ve got a list of things to get moving on like finding AirBNB apartments and getting Anna’s passport application filed. We have had some frustrations with passport operations at our local post office and still have to get hers submitted.

If you’ve traveled to these locations and have tips or recommendations, please share them! I love, love, love, to hear what others have to say about their favorite attractions and restaurants.

Travel plans underway

Packing light for a quick trip

IMGP4888 I try to pack as light as I can. And I’m hoping to instill in my kids this same habit. Packing properly and carefully is important, but after many years of trial and error we’ve discovered proper packing doesn’t mean taking everything for every scenario. (Not everyone feels the same way, I totally respect that every family has it’s own approach!)

However, extra stuff can be such a burden and I don’t like the weight of heavy bags to put a damper on our arrival and departure. If I can’t carry it myself (in this particular case Mike will be meeting us at the hotel and I have to account for his bag also), then I’d better rethink.

My road trip packing tips were posted here recently. I hate being frazzled and snappy with the kids because I’m overwhelmed with baggage and transition. It’s one of my personal weak spots! And I can only expect so much assistance from kids who are ages 8 and 5…

Why does this matter? I’ve got packing on the brain. We’re headed out for a quick trip to a new spot. Luxury hotel. Two nights. We hope to answer the question… is it worth it to take kids to a luxury hotel? Will they enjoy/appreciate it? Will it be worth the time and effort and expense?

Packing light for a quick trip

A girl and her mom… and a hotel

It isn’t easy carving out time, meaningful time, with one child. Grabbing a hot chocolate here and there, snuggles in bed, and an occasional lunch is our typical approach. Even that seems to be less frequent than we would like.

However, this weekend I got a chance to take Anna into Chicago for one night. It was an accidental event. Mike and I had originally planned for all four of us to venture in to the city and stay in a hotel and then hit a museum on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A treat for our hotel-obsessed kiddos. However, some behavior misfires on Sunday led to an abrupt reality check. It just wasn’t going to be a good scene if we all four went. One kid needed  to get a better handle on his emotions and stick closer to home. It was a rough day and I’m sure wiser people might have handled it differently, but we felt like we needed to set some boundaries and change our plans.

Mike graciously offered up that Anna and I should still go and enjoy the room. He would hang back. Suddenly, it was a girls trip. Talk about an unexpected but awesome chance for us to get away and spend time together.

We packed our backpacks and headed out to the Intercontinental Hotel on Michigan Ave. I’m not sure I’ve seen a smile so big as the one plastered across Anna’s face when we walked into the hotel lobby. The girl digs hotels.

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This is the child who once wrote in her journal, “I love hotels.”

As we pulled into the hotel, I saw a Dylan’s Candy Bar nearby. When did this arrive in Chicago? The last time I saw one was in New York. But it was nice to see it on Michigan Ave. Walking into this place is the closest equivalent I can envision to entering Willy Wonka’s factory. It is bright, colorful and FULL of the good stuff.

After we dropped our bags off, we marched straight there and grabbed some sweets (and souvenirs for the boys). Tootsie Rolls and caramels for Anna. Sour patch watermelon and peach gummy rings for me. Anna stared in amazement at the sheer volume of candy in one store.

When we had procured enough sugar, we made a bee line for the hotel. A lovely pool awaited us and I’d packed our goggles and swimsuits for the occasion.

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It would have been wonderful for the kids to swim and play together. However, with one kid, I really had to get in and… play. Anna is in school all day and I don’t get the chance (or make the time) to just play alone with her very often. Listening to her gab about underwater tea parties (including a fake british accent) and then recite her favorite lyrics and jokes was so incredible. Had Mike and Abe been there, we would have had a wonderful time but I would have missed that time to just absorb her funny little personality.

We took our wet towels and pool hair back to the room, threw on some clothes and headed out to grab dinner. I could smell the chlorine on our skin as we exited the elevator. Who cares? Certainly, not us.

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Restaurant selfie? Why not.

We had dinner and then brought dessert back to our room. As we climbed into bed, the room had two double beds, Anna remarked that it was the first time she had slept alone in a bed in a hotel. Usually she shares with Abe. I asked her if it was nice being alone or if she missed her brother. Both, she replied. Both.

We gobbled down dessert and watched the tail end of some old Sponge Bob movie. An episode of Full House came on. Man, did we have some serious hair back then.

Then lights out.  As I fell asleep, I had such an amazing sense of gratitude that we had been able to spend this time together. It was a surprise gift.

We had breakfast and packed up for the Museum of Science and Industry. I almost canceled on that leg of the trip, but I’m glad I didn’t. Anna had such fun and it was so nice to be able to say yes to her requests rather than the long-winded negotiations that occur when two children want to head in opposite directions in a public place.

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I’d love to do this again on an annual basis. It was so good for us. Good for her to just get some time with a parent alone. Good for me to absorb her with no distractions. It wasn’t long, but it was just long enough.

A girl and her mom… and a hotel

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Lest, I forget… my kids will come to screeching halt upon the sight of a worm.

This photo was taken as we left my cousin’s home in Kansas City. It had rained all night. That was one of the challenges of packing for this trip. Modern weather technology had alerted me to rain potential throughout the week. We took rain boots and tennis shoes, despite my longing to have the kids just take one pair of shoes. It’s so much easier to keep track of one set…
But if we’d only taken one pair of shoes, I’d be admonishing them at that moment for getting their sneakers soaking wet rather than letting them stare at a squirmy worm for a few minutes before wet off for the day’s activities.
Probably made the right call.
Previously published elsewhere on our family blog on Monday, April 07, 2014
Squirmy