Vacation from unemployment, part 4

You'd think they would've given such a beautiful building a name that didn't sound like a cat yacking up a fur ball. You'd be wrong. (coutesy of

You'd think a beautiful building like the Chateau Frontenac wouldn't have a name that sounds like a cat yacking up a fur ball. You'd be wrong. (courtesy of

How much can a broke unemployed guy possibly enjoy himself on a ten-day vacation? More to the point, how much can he can have to say about it? We’ve reached the fourth and final installment of my vacation saga. So now you have the answers… four posts worth, given a forum, some free time and enough caffeine to put a large mammal into cardiac arrest. This vacation exposé became so bloated for a totally unrelated reason. I don’t have an editor. This is a one-man, two-cat operation. While I’d like a professional second opinion almost as much as I’d like a paying job or my own theme music, it ultimately works out. There’s no money to pay an editor. Hell, there’s no money to pay me. So I sit at my dining room table toiling away for free, flanked by two needy creatures who wouldn’t know a run-on sentence or a runaway theme if it, well, ran away with them.

Wifey and I further explored the exotic hinterland to the north, specifically its tourist areas, on the last leg of our trip. After Montreal and La Mauricie National Park, we continued northeast to Quebec City. The heat and humidity were there to greet us, like an old friend who you really hate and wish would just go away forever and die. Canadian heatwaves are milder than their New York cousins, but infuriating in their own special way. Here’s why…

  1. Canada is supposed to be cold. It’s the law. It’s written into our treaties and trade agreements. We give them Rob Schneider movies, and they give us comfortable vacation weather.
  2. The weather report shouldn’t be a mind game. I hear 32°, and my first thought is, “that’s a little chilly for August.” My second thought is, “but we are in the Great White North, near where Santa Claus lives with all his elves and reindeer.” I walk outside and realize they mean Celsius, not Fahrenheit. Foiled again.
  3. Knowing the temperature shouldn’t require math. But unless the temperature happens to be 0° C (i.e. 32° F), that’s exactly what’s needed… math. Here’s the formula, for all the geeksters out there who enjoy number crunching as a vacation activity… F°=(9/5)*C°+32. Go crazy.

Our hotel was up the hill from the harbor area and overlooked a cute little park, the Chateau Frontenac and the Saint Lawrence River if I pressed my cheek against the window. The squeaky bed and claw-foot bathtub gave the room plenty of charm, and all the steps we had to climb to get there took it away. The Chateau Frontenac – the expensive, castle-looking hotel seen in every picture ever taken of Quebec City – sits majestically upon the river banks. It’s an impressive, seemingly impenetrable structure. I wandered in one afternoon while wifey was bathing in ice and taking fluids to poke around and suck up some air conditioning. The hotel is nice in a classic, getting-by-on-reputation kind of way. The carpets were worn; the brass seemed a bit tarnished. Staff in dorky outfits were at the ready. The guests were still more fancy-pants than anyone Tom Bodett leaves the light on for at Motel 6, at least judging by the cars that the valets were parking. I imagine the rooms are very austere and oak-y, with just a hint of privilege. But the view is probably lacking, since the Frontenac isn’t visible from its own windows. That requires a trip across the river, to Quebec City’s equivalent of New Jersey.

We strolled around the city, taking in the major sites and the general atmosphere. Slathered in sunblock, guidebook in hand, we were very clearly tourists. One morning was devoted to a tour of La Citadelle – the massive star-shaped fort built to protect the city. Every trip requires at least one battlefield or fort visit, and this was it. How can it rightfully be called a vacation without stories of death and killing? One afternoon we strolled along the cobblestone streets in the city’s old town area, marveling at the architecture and peering in store windows. The pace was slow, given the heat.

My favorite part of Quebec City was the Ile d’Orleans, which we explored on our last morning. The island sits in the Saint Lawrence River just east of the city and is accessible only by a two-lane bridge. It’s a rural place, with a mix of small communities, farms and stands selling locally produced fare. The middle-age, spandex-clad bicyclists love it. We followed the main road (in a car) that traces the island’s circumference, stopping every so often to sample cheese or wine or bread or pie or gelato. Drive. Stop. Eat. Smile. Repeat. We were spitting distance from Quebec City, but it felt much much further away.

With our stomachs full, we began the long slog back to New York. Somewhere south of Montreal I spent the last of our Canadian currency on an overpriced soda, leaving us with no stray coins to pass off at the local grocery store. We crossed the border quickly and without incident, though the other side was still backed up. Canada is the place to be, and the US clearly is not? We stopped for the night at an Econo Lodge somewhere near Lake George. The room smelled heavily of disinfectant, like something had recently happened that needed covering up. We ordered pizza, watched bad television and slept. The next day, after a quick stopover at the Hudson Valley Ribfest, where some friends were competing, we made it home. Wifey would return to work the next day. I would return the rental car.

Another vacation was over, but not without some lessons learned. Here is a sampling of the more valuable information I picked up…

  1. Canadians hate s’mores… at least Quebeckers do. Or maybe they just hate me enough to hide all the marshmallows and graham crackers in the province in a failed attempt to ruin my camping experience. Or maybe they’ve never even had s’mores, in which case I’ve just discovered the path from unemployment to untold riches. Ladies and gentlemen of Canada, I present to you, the s’more [cue the trumpets].
  2. Funicular is an actual word. I thought “funicular” was a tourist book term coined to make a tramway or aerial lift sound way more fun than it actually is.
  3. Canadians and lazy tourists love funiculars. Why climb steps? Let the funicular take you up the hill, from one gift shop to another, in style.
  4. XM satellite radio rules. I’d always suspected it might, even though my experience heretofore was limited to car rides with people with different music tastes. My only quibble… why did it take so long to play The Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive?”
  5. My threshold for 80s music is about five consecutive hours. One minute more and my brain begins to eat itself.

Recommence with the unemployment.

Vacation from unemployment, part 1

Vacation from unemployment, part 2

Vacation from unemployment, part 3

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  1. Vacation from unemployment, part 3 | Jobless and Less on Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 9:35 am

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