They've even constructed these disruptions in some of the streets that allow cyclists through but not cars, so that the street will be quieter and even more suburban. There's a big car culture in Québec City, and our host Julie noted that there's a lot of kilometers of highway per capita. Aside from the predominant residential areas, there are a couple streets that seemed to be where social life takes place: Grande Allée and Cartier. Cartier seems to be more of a daytime place with restaurants and shops and cafes, and Grande Allée seems more like a nightlife area, though we were there Sunday night, so there wasn't much to show for it. Julie also mentioned the most popular club there just lost their liquor license, and we know from first-hand experience that it's surrounded by construction, so that area might be dead for a while.
I also forgot to post this earlier, but fire hydrants in Québec have signs above them in their immediate vicinity. At first I thought this was just easier for trucks to see, but it is actually because the entire hydrant may be covered in snow, so the sign tells the firefighters where to dig for the hydrant.
There's also an "annual moving day" phenomenon in Québec. Apparently all leases end on June 30, even if they start after July 1, such that everyone is moving on July 1 (which is also Canada Day), and renting a moving truck will run you something like $600. No one understands this.
Yesterday, before we left Québec, I wanted to get some maple syrup. Julie and Jeff said all maple syrup is basically the same (no preferred brand), but there were differences in boiling time, which would make the syrup thicker and sweeter. When I went to the grocery store though, the vast majority of brands did not say "100% pure" and had other ingredients, including corn syrup, so if you plan to buy this as a souvenir, check the ingredients label. They also have it in a can, but I assume that's for recipes that call for large quantities of it.
The grocery stores smell really good and also sell a drink called "Slow Cow," which is placed immediately next to Red Bull, but is marketed to have the opposite effect. I bought a can, but I haven't tried it yet.
I got some fast food lunch at a chain called ThaiZone, where the food is made to order and surprisingly good for fast food. Much more excitingly, there was a pet store across the street with these adorable kittens. (What kind of internet product would this be without kittens?)
We made a quick pit stop at Montmorency Falls, since it was just a little bit out of Québec. These falls are smaller but taller than Niagara. There was a long line to enter the park area, but you can park for free on the streets around the entrance if you don't plan to be there for longer than 90 minutes. To get a really good view, you need to go on the bridge, but since we were just stopping by, we took some mediocre photos from farther away.
When we arrived at the border, we were "randomly" selected for a more detailed inspection, so we had to go into the office and answer some questions. I wonder if this is because when they asked us where we're from, we weren't sure what they meant (no Asian American does, by the way). Any time we hesitated before answering or looked at each other, they seemed to be concerned. Anyway, one of the standard questions is to ask if you're bringing anything into the country from Canada. I don't think I've ever declared a single thing at customs, because I have nothing threatening, I'm not introducing new plants or diseases, and it just takes longer if you declare stuff, because then they have to inspect it or investigate. I'm convinced that the customs officers themselves hope you declare nothing so they can avoid this, too. Didi, however, is a much better person than I am and said, "Oh, we have an orange." One orange. I'm pretty sure at this point, the officer was thinking, "Well these ladies are clearly not criminals." So we had to go get the orange out of the car, and they let Didi eat it at the office, "but the peel has to stay here." (This also really confuses me, because wouldn't you be worried about the seeds? Or are fruit diseases spread via the peel?) After typing things and looking at the monitor for who-knows-what, we were permitted to proceed.
TO THE SLOWEST STATE EVER. Holy crap. Maine is full of slow drivers and one-lane "highways." It's so slow that it makes you sleepy. It's a very picturesque drive, but it is maddening.
Our host in Bar Harbor had asked us to get some fish and veggies for our dinner, so we stopped by a grocery store, where the guy at the fish counter was ridiculously nice. We were very obviously clueless, so he advised us on a fish to get (wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, which was on sale for an actually good deal) and how much. Zack, our host, who is a cook by profession, made us this dinner, that is by far the healthiest meal I've had in, potentially, months:
|We have here broccoli with brussels sprouts and onions, a salad of greens I cannot identify, sweet potato fries, and salmon with BBQ sauce.|
It is insanely quaint, but it is genuinely quaint. Many shops are open for the tourist season, and then they shut down for the rest of the year. Most residents are teachers at local schools, chefs, or "lobster people." Doors remain unlocked. "Town" is used as a proper noun. As in, "This area on the map - that's Town." People who live elsewhere live "off-island." It is perceived as really weird to rent out your whole house when you are not there. (Zach commented about his neighbor, several times, "He's just not there! At all!" Also, he must be off-island right now.)
In August, Town is really full of tourists (considering its capacity). Parking can be pretty hard to find, but there are places on Cottage for 2 hours or on side streets all day (if you can find availability). I have concluded that I would hate being a local here, or really anywhere where tourists outnumber residents. I definitely have a sense of entitlement to enjoy my own town/city without being encumbered by guests who also feel entitled because they have paid to be there or are on vacation having special experiences.
We had lunch at Lazy Lobster Deli, where I ordered a lobster roll and a cup of clam chowder. (I'm pretty sure I took a photo, but I can't find it now.) The chowder was really good - flavorful but not too rich. As for the lobster roll... I prefer Luke's. I know Maine has better lobster, but I only had one bite of this roll that really tasted of lobster. The rest of it tasted like water but with lobster texture, so it was very clean and crisp, but I could have been eating cold shrimp for all I knew. The rolls themselves weren't as buttered and crispy as they are at Luke's, and there were no seasonings to give the meat a little flavor.
The chowder and hot tea were great, because it was unusually cold today. Yesterday it was around 80, but today was more like Halloween weather. We had passed a thrift store on the way to lunch, so I stopped by, expecting to nab a $5 sweatshirt with a rainbow, a unicorn, and a cat on it, but instead walked out with a $4 sweater that was 100% cotton and a nice, white cable knit. As they day went on, this increasingly became the best $4 I've ever spent. So if you're ever in Bar Harbor, and the weather is not what you thought it would be, stop by Serendipity. It's a small shop, but they have a little of everything, and 100% of their proceeds go towards a food pantry.
Then we headed over to the park. When we were getting our pass, we passed a little kid who said, "So is there like a park here?" Note that at this point, she was probably at least 100 to 150 meters into the forest, surrounded by a national park, but I guess that goes to show that when kids think "park," what they visualize is "baseball diamond next to a playground." (I would have, too.) We also passed a couple having a one-sided argument, in which the girlfriend/wife was silent and the boyfriend/husband was reasoning (very patiently, I might add) that he couldn't know what to do to fix things if she didn't tell him what was wrong. I do not understand this relationship dynamic. Just tell people what is wrong. Or remind them, if they "should know by now." Or accept that they will never remember this particular thing for some reason and get used to reminding them, even if you sigh a little about it. How is that so hard? I feel like the answer to every single relationship problem is just communication without belittlement or embarrassment.
Since parks don't really have culture I can comment on, I'll just post a bunch of photos with some captions. Overall, it looked like how I expect Washington state to look, based on the Twilight movie. (I'm a huge fan of the first one, by the way. It's like the worst direction, the worst acting, and the worst source material all came together to make this beautifully awkward movie. It is hilarious, and I want to watch it again right now. The scene where they are supposed to be exhibiting irresistible chemistry is my favorite. It is truly terrible.)
|Sand Beach. This would be a pretty shitty beach for actual beach activities.|
|Thunder Hole. The signage for this stop is bad. It also did not sound like thunder while we were there. I think you have to go when high tide is coming in for that effect.|
|A sort-of beach past Otter Point. The pebbles are mixed in with mussel shells.|
|Seal Harbor (with actual boats).|
|Jordan Lake, which sits in front of the "Bubbles," which I assume are so named because "the Boobs" was unacceptable.|
|Top of Mount Cadillac. Cloud level. Also, freezing. Also, windy. Too windy for Candide.|
|Slightly farther down the mountain. Slightly less windy.|
For dinner, we went to Side Street Cafe and sat at the bar, since the wait would otherwise have been over an hour. This is the kind of town where they can serve water in mason jars, and I can't even be mad about it. Didi and I split a whole lobster and a bowl of lobster stew.
The lobster stew, as far as I could tell, consisted of butter, butter, butter, some oil, and chunks of lobster meat. It was good. Whole lobster is by far my favorite way to eat lobster. I love everything about it. I like that you eat the entire thing, I like demolishing the shell, and I like dipping it in butter. In fact, there is really no crustacean that I consider "too much work" to eat. Four pounds of crayfish? Done. But anyway, the lobster was great, and it was $15. Yay!
Our last stop of the night was Udder Heaven, where the following is considered a "small."
That is a solid three scoops of ice cream. We mainly stopped by to say hi to Zach, who workes at Mainely Meats, a BBQ joint that is attached to Udder Heaven. The hostess, who I presume is a Quebecer based on her accent, did not understand what we were saying, and worriedly followed us into the restaurant after we tried to explain several times that we wanted to say hi to Zach, whom we could see from the entrance. ("Do you want to place an order?" "Do you want take-out?" No... as I've explained three times.) I am very much in favor of cultural diversity, but I think it is a poor business strategy to have your hostess not speak the primary language of the state your restaurant is located in. I'm sure she understands most normal requests in English, but she must get questions now and then that she just cannot understand.
Tomorrow, we're eating more lobster on our way out of Maine and probably spending the night in Providence, which I keep hearing is cool, but I don't know why.