When we are about to leave a certain place, eyes open up in a different way, thoughts swirl around all the good and the bad, the memories packed up in the back, and then a silence falls, silence that sometimes expresses gratitude, sometimes sadness, usually both, a joy of getting to know something, of getting to know another piece of yourself, maybe a slight regret of overlooking something, a silence with which we say goodbye and till next time. In the next moment, we already look ahead, our next stop is waiting.
The moments that make a year.
They say the sense of tranquility comes from within, but there were places I saw during my travels that immediately calmed me down, no matter the internal agitation. They demanded absolute admiring attention and silenced or distanced themselves, hence me, from my personal battles. And I’m sure it’s not just about putting things in perspective.
This charming little place had many, yet this solitary bench in the middle of a walking path among the trees and the bushes presents a symbol of sorts for them all. It made my current anxiety a bit more serene somehow just by looking at it on a screen. Because we all need occasional reminders.
Oh the places that mercilessly take a piece of our soul. Though sometimes, I wonder… maybe they add some to it.
Chute-Montmorency, Québec City.
Some take their time and soak in the view, I, on the contrary, almost ran to the other side and appreciated it much more from below…
Is there a better thing to do in a city than take one corner after another for a turn?
And with each one of them satisfy your curiosity with a new colour to the same being?
A few of the best spots where those special, magical moments that make a journey worth it happened.
- Sunset : Pointe de l’Islet, Tadoussac. I kept coming back to this place, pretty much every day, at different times, thanks to its accessibility and easiness in its air, usually to read or just sit there, sort of meditating. One evening I decided to stay longer than usual, digged up my stubbornness from somewhere deep inside my body and this is what I got…
- Reading : Pointe de l’Islet, Tadoussac & Parc de l’Esplanade, Québec City & Canal de Lachine and Parc La Fontaine, Montréal. Just give me a bench or a grassy/rocky spot and I can read. Yet, there are places engraved in my heart, because they somehow add the allure to the books or the act itself (debatable). Because I can lift my head up from the sentences and have a view to rest my mind or eyes. These four were quite nice.
- Breakfast : Maison Smith, Place Royale, Québec City. One morning I decided to take breakfast outside the hostel and headed to the cutest square of the cutest quarter. Oh the good decisions. I just sat there appreciating the cinematic like scene and even more – the waiter’s impeccable ability to understand the length of my espresso (”Not Italian short, you know, but not too long neither.”). Thanks for the morning patience!
- Chill : Anse à la Barque, Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay (Tadoussac). Probably my favourite place in the whole of Québec. And it’s not an exaggeration. It was on one of my favourite days, too. Whichever hiking path I took that day, I loved it. I wrote about it already, so I’m just going to say that sitting on a rock in this bay, completely alone, except the birds flying around me and a seal at the end of it, was one of the best breaks of my life. That apple in my hand tasted even better than usual somehow.
- Lunch : St-Viateur Bagel, Montréal & Café Bohème, Tadoussac. First, was the unimpressive poutine, greasy stuff you eat after a long walk and then you don’t move no more for the day. Then, were the Montreal’s bagels. Well now, now we’re talking real food. I appreciated the bread with a hole much more than I’d expected. Later still, leaving the grand city, I went for the lovely bistros. Tadoussac’s one stayed my favourite of them all. Not sure if it was the home-made raspberry lemonade, the delicious (maple syrup!) marinated tofu burger, decent coffee, or super friendly waitress. All of them, combined.
- Bus drive : from Rimouski to Gaspé. Most of it was along the coast, so different from the one across, with its scattered rocks and waves rushing towards actual beach-like shores, and water reflecting afternoon sun, the pictoresque villages to cross and many colourful houses overlooking the beaches, and then the forests. The Gaspé peninsula’s charmed me quite quickly, almost immediately after the bus left the shallow Rimouski station. I soon heard the uncomprehensive local accent, too…
- Boat trip : Percé and Île-Bonaventure. Because it’s worth seeing the famous rock up close, from every direction, and then from a far in all its glory, only half observable from the coast. And especially, because the island is stunning, its landscape, its cliffs, toped with green, its rocks, nesting sooo many birds and even seals, its emptied houses on friendlier shores (no one lives there nowadays). I wonder what it has to be like to miss the last boat and stay stranded there alone during the night…
- Evening : Rue St Jean, Québec. Because the street musicians come out and make it all wonderful.
- View : Mont Royal, Montréal & Mont Adéla Lessard, Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay (Tadoussac) & Mont Saint-Anne, Percé. There were many. Each time you climb, hike, walk a bit, you’re due to get some. Sometimes, it’s the effort that makes them sweeter, sometimes it’s simply there. These are a few that stayed with me.
- Tree : La Forêt Magique, Percé. Because I think I found my spirit/soul tree in the midst of the magical forest, right there in front of the bench I sat down on for a brief moment.
I wanted to include my favourite streets in Montreal and Québec, too, but realized that, although there were some I really liked, there were none which truly blew me away. So, why force myself then. If you follow the usual instructions and visit the main quarters, you’ll easily find them yourself anyway.
Gaspésie had had a great allure for me before actual arrival, but the very first morning I woke up in Gaspé I felt like nothing was on my side. Like out of all the possible destinations in the amazing region I had picked the wrong one. A boring town in beautiful surroundings, but then I didn’t have a car, did I? Weather was wet and windy and gray, too. Still, I gathered the last remains of my shattered tired will and took some walks, the promenade, the long cycle trail (long if you walk it as I did) to the Haldimand beach, braced myself against the unusual cold, ate well in the local bistros and found some proper coffee in Café des Artistes, enjoyed the strange movie-like feel of my so-typical motel and its diner for breakfast. The quick un-attentive organisation went against me this time, but I managed to gather my lacking skills for a final try and made it, got something out of what nature of the region has to offer in the couple of days there still. Just next time, I’m camping in the middle of a national park, no doubt about it!
Reflections after my journey through Québec, june 2017, part II
That thing about travel, changing countries and distancing yourself from your own hometown, the change of perspective it entails. More clearly seeing a certain structure, or in this case, a subtle shifting of a mood back home, a shift you had noticed before, but now seems so much more apparent and comprehensible.
We were talking humorously about the stories and old photos of an Indian fellow traveler, our big hostel group returning from a trip to the falls among the Québecois leaving work for the day, him proudly showing the one with dreads, the other shaven, then another one taken somewhere in the Middle East where he would easily pass as one of the locals with his features, covered with a growing beard. The discussion continued and nuanced and detoured and all the while kept the laughing quality. There was no malicious tone in any of the comments, more than anything maybe the admiration of all the lives that he had lived. The moment still came when it paused and rested our smiling jerks for a while. It was here something so on point hit me, when an American girl said: ”I don’t think we could as easily talk and laugh about it across the border in the U.S., not on a public bus, without some sort of edgy response in the air …” Just because certain nationalities were mentioned? Soon, the feeling of nostalgia encompassed us, or at least me and her. ”I still remember those days when we could, though, I’m happy I got to live them, that I know it wasn’t always so, that this was what America was all about.”
You could ask why the feeling of nostalgia grabbed me, too. The last time I visited America was almost 20 years ago and since then TV shows and news are all I know of it. Maybe, that would suffice. However, my feeling came because America isn’t alone in it, because Europe, and France in particular, are sharing the process. Because I remember Paris before the attacks, not perfect and harmonic even back then, true, yet her comment clarified how dramatically, but subtly, the atmosphere changed for us, too. If a society continually moves on a line between openness and enclosed-ness, we are bit by bit approaching the latter, giving it more space, so to speak. (If I got to see that in Canada, it’s because its preoccupations differ, not because there aren’t any. I’m sure it has its own taboos and disturbances that might for someone make its receptivity fake. For me, it showed our own.)
Why do we let it happen? Scream ”Not afraid” just to let fear entrance our everyday lives in a more indirect way, exchange basic human trust and joy and inter-connectivity for anxiety and more or less symbolic walls. Seeing victims and criminals, only knowing how to judge and pity. Yet, I don’t want to theorize too much about it, because the more I do, the more negatives I use. I prefer to continue to smile and shake hands and share stories and listen and hug and laugh some more, with whoever crosses my way, rather exchange some sort of false political correctness, need for attention and shameless blaming for a solid inter-respect and an open ear.
It might be a weird one, my response to the ”satisfaction” prompt. Yet, there was nothing like that delightful child-like curiosity about the flora and the fauna while I was exploring Québec last month. Hiking through the woods or siting on the rocky coast and observing the many individual expressions of this magnificent region, or better just the world, period. Nothing quite came close to this kind of exploring and wondering, so much that satisfactory seems to be an understatement, enriching it truly was. Bending down and trying to capture the colours and the shapes, smelling, touching, still respecting, pure looking became my religion for a day. Not caring about the names of the plants, because why would they matter, when the essence is right in front of you?! It’s not even about their new-ness or unfamiliar-ness, no, it’s just you opening your eyes for a minute, you all of a sudden, for no particular reason, lifting your head from a book and becoming obsessed by the algae bouquet few meters below you, you seeing the squirrels arguing and not being sure how to respond, hearing birds fly by in fright because you accidentally scared them and feeling a sense of remorse. Following the path, turning the corner and finding more and more of those wonders, so evident and so simple, so close and so reachable, your soul expands with every scene, every sensation your senses catch for a moment. Finally, I understood the excitement outside of the city-life buzz.
All of these taken in or near-by Tadoussac, although the feeling itself wasn’t limited to that place!
It was an hour away from Montreal I finally felt I was in Canada. Canoeing on a small lake with a friend I hadn’t seen in years, observing the charming houses on the coast, resident ones at that, not meant only for vacation, birds on the island and green green everywhere. For the weekend, I was in a home away from home, nurtured by the enormous hospitality, readiness to show me around, the getaways and the mundane villages, where even rich city folks climb a hill or two, or at least take the funicular and then chill in a restaurant. All the while, I was anchored in that real-folks life, peanut butter on toast and filter coffee for breakfast, local beer in the afternoon and sweet cider for the aperitif, home-made dinners and red wine that still came from Italy – ”Don’t get too tempted to try the one from Quebec, hardly drinkable!”. The huge supermarkets, candy bars, hunting stores, dollar stores, mini golf. My first hike of the season on a foggy Saturday, the rewarding clearing right when we got to the peak, the onion soup in the valley afterwards. Everything so easy and without pressure I was glad I was not going back to the city quite yet.
This city is so smooth. It may not overwhelm you, but you will still appreciate its lightness of being. It felt like people here live, with some quality of life that eludes the anxious Europeans. Am I wrong in my intuition? But then, why did I meet so many French, determined to make life for themselves here? Yet, for me, it was too calm still. I came there right before all the festivals and activities, in that period when people are preparing for the summer happenings that are not quite there yet. So, my impression of calm might be premature.
Or maybe, it was what I needed at the time. I could always find something to do instead of preferring to find one greeny chilling/reading spot after another, Ile Sainte-Hélène, Parc La Fontaine, Mont Royal, Canal de Lachine. Or just walk through the old town to get to the view from above where the new one reigns, mix up the hipster streets with getting lost in the residential ones, skip la poutine and go straight for the bagels. If I ever get back there, I’m done being a visitor, exploring every possible district, I will immerse into their life itself. Somehow.
Till then, I have the memories of super sympa Québecois, coffee too mild and watery to have any kind of caffeine effect (how do you function, how the hell you get through your days on that, really?!), that French accent that I hated at first and sort of grew on me later – Parisians even say I adopted it, oh well…, that one museum that occupied one stormy afternoon : MAC!, the grey skies above the tranquil streets where squirrels replace the rats. All in all, the equation is positive.
There are places, perfectly situated between the water and the hills, the rocks and the forests, where flora and fauna breathes and so you can breathe with it, in the calm and out the dirt. Where the reason you came there fades away the first day, because you found so many more. A touristy village cannot ruin that, when just a few steps up you find yourself alone on a trail, leading you to those distant views that make towns seem more enjoyable somehow. Or you take the most taken one around the ”almost-island”, sit down on the welcoming rocks and listen to the waves, pay attention and you might see the whales, too. The prospect itself is magical. Even if you don’t, you just found your favourite reading spot, and the one to observe sunset at as well. Whatever you do, take your time and it’s soothing.
But, the best – take advantage of a close-by national park and take those trails for a hike. Alone, again, you only stumble upon one group of three girls, multiple times, so that in the end you’re allies. Yet, you only make friends with squirrels, and that one seal you see chilling on a rock at the end of your now-adopted bay. You become a child again, wonder, wonder, where have you been… these plants, this magnificent world has all of a sudden obsessed your entire mind and you marvel like a baby, taking the first few steps on the smoothing grass, touching unknown flowers and observing familiar trees that don’t have names yet. On the top of a mountain, everything falls away, and you are a simple you again.
Tadoussac, I could easily get back to you, anytime.
Reflections after my journey through Québec, june 2017, part I
I could start with so many things, still there was one going back and forth in my mind all along the walks and the bus rides, following me through the streets and the hike trails. Some places open up your heart or soul, other just your mind.
Maybe, that is why I didn’t feel attached to Québec in any way, knowing I’d appreciate my return to Paris after the third week, despite the beauty and the experience. I was an observer only, and not much more than that. A listener, perhaps, a reader, a questioner. My heart and soul stayed home somehow, waiting for me in the little room, not far from La République. That is why I felt a void, that is why my mind stepped forward. (Whereas in Chile, it was quite silent.) It noticed things, noted them, in asking or concluding, yet always lacking profound sentiments.
So, I’m not sure anymore we always travel with our souls, that is upon the place to take it away, to sweep it off our feet, to steal the pieces of our hearts.
There is an entry in my diary: ”Perhaps I should be more torn apart? No, I don’t believe that.” As if I had to be in some intense emotional time myself to feel a place intensely… Because, I more often than not lacked the real excitement, even in the enjoyable moments, those fizzles in my stomach that launch me on my quest each day, to explore and see, to search and appreciate, and asked myself: ”How do you face this kind of feelings when you travel? Can you blame the destination? I don’t believe that.” (Again.)
I don’t believe in boredom of whichever destination, especially not one as diverse as Québec. Familiar it seemed, yes, in so many aspects, but in so many more it wasn’t. And even if… Familiar is not empty. Where’s the answer then?
I should know by now, travel doesn’t just fill us up, it reflects our void, the void we always take with us and which at home we don’t necessarily have the time to face. I should expect only to hold me up a mirror, to throw right back at me what I radiate out. Rare are the places that push through, that transform the void into a omni-embracing nothingness which equals everything-ness, and where the void becomes a certain calm and not an itching vacuum, a killing kind of hole.
There was one, though, even in Québec, that simple hiking trail, that magnificent bay, just a stone throw out of Tadoussac.
A few days had passed and I honestly started believing I would never get it, that I’m forever limited to checking things of some to-do lists, provided by guides and hostels. Then, I took an evening walk along the Rue St Jean and all of the supposed highlights of this lovely, but somehow mellow, town faded away. I was left with those moments when I stole the place’s ordinariness and made it my own… or vice versa. When what I love most in life succeeded to translate itself into the local language and found its place among the strangers.
Morning breakfast at Place Royale on a cool sunny day, on the cutest square in the cutest district, with a nice smoothly crispy chocolatine, resulting in my sending a message to my best friend : ”I found good coffee in Québec. I guess I could come back here.” (At La Maison Smith, btw.)
All the long breaks in-between even longer walks, on my favourite afternoon reading spot, just across the Parliament, sitting on the wall, with ants crossing the grass to get into my backpack. Putting down an excellent book, ”augmenting life” (- Henry Miller) in its own way, to observe children play, or turning a bit to watch the yellow line of the horizon blushing above the bare buildings.
Continuing my walk after the sunset along the main street, closed for traffic in these hours, to pass street musicians on every turn, and finally deciding to sit down on the pavement at the last crossroad. Absorbing energy of the amazingly good spirited Québecois and the tourists, infected by the joy of the music and the jokes coming from a young fellow, dressed as Mac DeMarco would approve. In a couple of minutes, he’ll be joined by his friend and they’ll start a dance party, inflamed by a long-haired, white-bearded man whose body is a rhythm absorber and a pulse performer.
I guess I can accept you, now, vieux Québec, your less grand than lively nature.
La Forêt Magique, Percé, Quebec.
A thick fog greeted me in the morning and all through the walk in the midst of the magical forest, as they call a little part of a hill, leading to the most superb view of Percé and its rock and the island across. Nothing of this supposed postcard view had been seen yet, instead of it there was only the consistent humidity, yet that somehow added charms to the trees’ landscape. I’m glad I passed it when there was something truly mystical about it. A couple of hours later the sun pierced through, and inch by inch the mist lifted, slowly unraveling the coast, until the horizon was open for new adventures.
The day that started so badly and ended so magnificently reminded me how transient things during traveling are. Not because you move, but because life always does, I guess. And now, I’m off to succumbing to jet-lag, it’s tomorrow I’ll try to put my impressions of a few weeks Quebec journey sort of together. My mind is already drifting in its own fog now…