START WITH SUGAR. Order a cafe au lait at Chez Temporel, along with a chocolatine that seems to contain more butter than dough. Sit next to a man reading a newspaper and (inexplicably) eating a salad. Attempt to read the French headlines. Give up and surreptitiously examine his salad for evidence of butter instead.
Or go for a big breakfast at Cochon Dingue. Hem and haw over the duck confit eggs Benedict and the scrambled eggs with Migneron cheese and béchamel sauce. Ask the waiter what his favorite breakfast dish is, and consider asking him to be your tour guide for the day when he replies, “beer.”
Walk off your breakfast. Stop to listen to a street harpist and ward off sitcom-like flashbacks. Pass La Fudgerie Boutique and eye the chocolate sausages hanging in the window. Assess the tightness of your jeans, note the time of day, and talk yourself out of going in.
Take the Funicular up to the Chateau Frontenac and open your camera bag. Contribute to the fact that this building is the most photographed hotel in the world. Stare at the dozens of white Christmas trees and countless twinkly lights in the lobby and shake your head because Thanksgiving is still three weeks away. Then remember you are in Canada, where Thanksgiving was actually last month. Wonder why Thanksgiving seems to be your date marker when it comes to acceptable Christmas decorating protocol.
Wander out of the hotel and down the Rue du Tresor, a small alley cluttered with artwork. A tiny landscape painting with chocolatey brown hues catches your eye. Realize you were kidding yourself and head back down to La Fudgerie for way too many samples and a cup of the best cayenne-spiked hot chocolate you’ve ever had.
Take the stairs this time.
Walk and walk and walk because you’re full of jittery sugar energy. Walk past the Parliament Building and down the entire length of the Grande Allée, where colonial-style buildings house dozens of modern clubs, restaurants, and bars. Head to Faubourg Saint-Jean District and pass another chocolate shop, this one with a chocolate dress and matching shirt in the window. Start to hate your belt.
Hesitate under the arch of the Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste because Catholic churches have made you uncomfortable since elementary school. Walk in anyway and don’t burst into flames. Admire the 36 stained glass windows and the massive altar, but keep your camera in its bag because it feels like someone’s watching. Sit down when the organist comes in to practice Bach. Think about how the pipe organ is just a bitch of an instrument to play what with the bass pedals and all, and berate yourself for not having kept up with piano.
Decide it’s time for more food.
Spend an hour browsing in the Dépanneur La Duchesse d’Aiguillon, a big name for a tiny convenience store that was built to be a stable in the late 19th century. Or maybe it’s not so tiny, seeing as it houses over 400 varieties of beer. Leave with a six-pack of a locally brewed organic blonde called La Barberie.
Stumble into J.A. Moisan and gaze in awe at the cheeses and pates with names you can’t pronounce. Remove your belt and put it in your camera bag. Eat samples. Leave with a wedge of sharp bleu that you can taste in the bridge of your nose and a firmer cheese which, according to the knowledgeable guy behind the counter, came from cows raised just outside the city that feed on salty grass.
Realize you are in dire need of bread. Buy something long and crusty and soft in the middle from the nearest bakery (there are several). Sit on one of the benches by the church, or sit under a tree, or lean against the wall of the bakery if you really can’t wait and stuff your face with bread and cheese. Don’t forget the beer.
Head to Le Drague, a gay dance cabaret. Watch a drag show from the second level.
Or, watch a punk band at Temps Partiel.
Or, watch some jazz at L’Emprise.
Or, go salsa dancing at Maurice.
My recommendation is Le Cercle — part art gallery, part restaurant, part nightclub. Visit the gallery downstairs first while the band sets up overhead. Head back up and read everything on the menu that’s projected onto the wall, but when you order, ask for the chef’s choice. Eat tapas-style plates of rich blood sausage, chilled salmon crepes, and chicken livers with artichoke hearts. Watch the electronica / rock / ska / jazz fusion / rap / whatever band that’s on the musical menu for the night, because it’s always different.
Order wine (also chef’s choice). Maybe some popsicles with chocolate sauce. Throw your belt in the trash.
Public buses run frequently from the city to Ste-Foy (the university area) and some suburban areas. Purchase tickets from the driver, transfer for free so long as you get a transfer slip from the first bus. One-day passes are also available.
The Funicular is a quick way to get from Lower Town to Upper Town.
Taxis are readily available near any hotel and/or areas with restaurants and bars. Call Taxi Québec (418-525-8123) or Taxi Coop Québec (418-525-5191) to order. Add 15% gratuity when you pay.
Québec City is motorcycle-friendly, but not so much in winter.