Wear Comfy Shoes!
In some cities you can get by with fashionable footwear and be reasonably comfortable. Not me. I have orthotics that make even nice shoes look a little clunky. While we didn't plan to go about looking scuzzy, we did determine that this was a city where comfy shoes were a must and with the hills, I'm glad we did. Which leads me to...
Practice Walking Prior to Your Visit
This may be a given if you walk regularly but even if you do, if you know you'll be dealing with hills, you might want to get off the flats, whether it's on the treadmill or a real hill! Especially if you are wheeling your luggage up or down with you!
Some banks have reciprocal arrangements with foreign banks for no-fee atm money exchange. If not, pull what you think you'll need in cash all at once to save additional fees (and of course most credit cards are accepted). We knew our B&B took American checks or cash so I was covered there. Think about things you might not want to charge -- ground transportation, small purchases. Remember, many banks and credit unions have a credit card use fee for foreign exchanges, so factor that into your currency exchange rate before deciding whether to use cash or charge.
Explore Alternative Transportation
Rick would tell you to ride, but if a 900-mile bike trip isn't your idea of a good time, there are other options! Feet are the obvious one here, but also be aware of bus or Metro lines. And I can't recommend the train highly enough. While in a tourist city with carriage rides? Well, if you can afford it, go for it -- looked fun to me!
Parlez vous Francais? Give it a try!
Quebec is a province where French is the primary language and English secondary. Pretty much everyone we talked with spoke English but it was fun and I think appreciated when we could at least be polite in French at the least and give a conversation a try as well. Menu French will be useful too -- most menus we saw were bi-lingual but not all. I think no matter what the country, even if you have a few words -- please, thank you, excuse me, hello, goodbye and a few others, it lets people know you are trying to be with them and part of the country you are visiting. (Most will immediately come to your aid, we've found, and between the two of you, all gets answered!)
Consider Buying Art
Quebec is an artist's mecca and there are loads of galleries. Some pieces are very high priced, others more reasonable. Galleries are very willing to compromise on shipping costs and there wasn't a one that didn't say "we will ship the painting after the first payment and the first ten months are interest free." The shipping helps skip duty taxes and you get to enjoy the painting in your own home. If the galleries are still too pricey for you, consider the street artists or a print from a shop.
If you have a good B&B, as we did, consider a mid-morning breakfast, mid-afternoon light snack like soup or sharing a sandwich and then a nice dinner.
Don't forget the Table d'Hote -- all three courses are included and you often have a variety of selections for your main dish and sides. It's an economical way to enjoy a lovely meal, versus ordering a la carte.
And speaking of being economical...
Consider What's free and What's Not
No one loves a good museum more than I do. But many have costs attached and if you commit to an indoor attraction that will take a couple of hours, that's two hours less to explore, which matters if your time in a city or country is brief. We chose to skip museums this time. (Next time, I'd take in at least one or two.) I'm glad we did. We covered a lot of territory and the art we saw, which, while not as famous as a great master, was delightful, diverse and fun for us to see. In addition, chats with a gallery manager gave us loads of information about technique or the artists we liked.
It's more than the museums. Major cities often have street performers and lots of them are fun and worth a watch. Check out the hotel lobbies. Some, like the Frontenac, have interesting displays that convey the history of the city or the building. And be bold! If you walk like you belong there, no one will much care if you take the elevator to the 17th floor, look out the window and get a look at the view!
Our ferry ride cost far less than a cruise and was both fun and gave us more time to explore. Souvenirs from the grocery store may be more fun (and less expensive in some cases) than one from a gift store -- and who needs another magnet?
Be sure to find out what events are occurring during your visit, if any, and plan for them. Your host at a B&B or hotel concierge will be helpful and there are newspapers and brochures that include this info as well in most cities.
Venture Outside the Wall
If you're in Quebec, the Vieux Quebec area is magical, old world and wonderful. I could stay there forever, I think. But we didn't see a tenth of the city. If your visit is short, limit your choices but if you have a longer time, get outside your residential area and see a little more.
And, say you're not in a walled city -- then what? Well, get out of your familiar neighborhood, take the bus or the Metro or the Tube and check out another area. Why not? You may only be there once.
Brush Up on Your History
If you are headed to Quebec or many European countries, you may not be familiar with their history and the names you hear may mean little to you. My knowledge of French Canadian history, for example, came courtesy of "Bury You Dead," a Louise Penny mystery into which explorer Samuel de Champlain played a major (albeit posthumous) role. And we all know how history and fiction can get mixed up in our minds! I'm not saying you have to be a scholar, but your experience will be a bit richer if you have a bit of a head start!
There is nothing worse than being on holiday and trying to do it all -- and then the next day you can hardly move or you're really wiped out -- and there is still loads to do! Of course you want to make the most of your time but those places will be there should you love them enough to return.
I tend to favor not being with a tour group as it gives me time to make my own choices and my own timetable. More than once I've heard someone say "we only had fifteen minutes to shop before we had to go back to the bus." Sometimes (and some places) that's the only way to go, but I heartily recommend giving a try to going alone, maybe booking a tour for a special place that might be out of your zone.
There's something nice about a leisurely lunch in a cafe or taking a long time in a store that appeals to you or simply sitting and enjoying the scene. If you do your homework, you may well discover that this is the way to go!
Most of all, Have Fun!
That's what travel is all about. Meeting new people (we met a couple at our B&B from Cleveland where my family is and it turned out their son dated my cousin's daughter in high school!), chatting with your B&B host or waiters, trying a new local food or making a new discovery is part of what travel is about for me!
Thanks for joining me on this recap! I hope you'll give Quebec City a thought when planning an exciting holiday!