Thursday, February 13, 2014

québec hospitality

When I told friends about my trip to Québec, a minority furtively said in a low voice, “Aren’t the French…. like….. errr… a bit rude?” Years ago, the same question and/or statement came up when I relayed my stories of my travels in Paris.

I never knew and understood the stereotype. I’ve travelled the world since before the age of 5. Perhaps I somehow acquired a travelling technique of mindfulness of a country’s customs and to be respectful. In the case of Paris, with a vocabulary of at most 20 words -- which includes boulangerie, croissant, pain, merci beaucoup, s'il vous plaît, chocolat, ça va? -- no one ever lost patience to this non-French-speaking tourist.

In the case of Québec, I probably had the best time here than in any other provinces in Canada. Canadians are generally good-natured in the first place, very similar to Australians in a way. But I found the Québécois are a different breed of friendliness altogether.

Everyone speaks French to us, and when I informed them otherwise, they were usually apologetic, sometimes even accompanied with a sheepish smile. In the rarest occasions, when they can’t speak English, they would do their best to convey the message in some other way, gestures, pictures, etc. We were probably treated more graciously and with better humour in Québec than anywhere else we’ve been to in Canada. So kudos, Québec!

During our 4-night stay in Québec City, we stayed in Hôtel & Suites Normandin on Boul. Pierre Bertrand in the city outskirts. Our first reason for picking this hotel, accommodation in the city proper can be quite expensive and competitive with tourists clamouring to be as near to the attractions as possible. And for the price, they were not necessarily great either. Second reason, parking is a hassle in the city, you have to pay exorbitant amount of money to park. Seeing as we had a car, it’s not a bother for us to drive into the city everyday and only park for the duration required rather than the whole day.

When we stayed at Hôtel & Suites Normandin, they were in the middle of renovations. Ordinarily, during a reno, the staff and hotel guests would be more on edge than usual, but this was not the case. In fact, the stay at this hotel with all its mess and renovation was the most pleasant of all my stays all over the country in the three months we were road-tripping. The reception staffs were gracious and polite, never once did they show annoyance with being phoned so many times and answering so many questions -- I’ve had horrendous treatment in Best Western and also Quality Inn across Canada, but that’s a story for another day. To be treated like a valuable guest, rather than simply a person paying for a night’s stay, was refreshing to us, but really if we were honest, we shouldn’t be so surprised, we really should expect that in the hospitality business that one should be hospitable, no?

The other great asset of this hotel is Restaurant Normandin. Every guest in the hotel was given a choice of breakfast in the hotel and breakfast in the restaurant -- located 3-min walk across the hotel. We had a look at the breakfast in the hotel, it was pretty pitiful, with a few cold croissants, boiled eggs, etc. We opted for the restaurant instead. It seemed that every guess thought the same way, every morning a huge line of customers were waiting in the cold at the door, but it’s really worth the wait.

For a free breakfast, the quality of the meal was outstanding. The variety in the menu meant we ordered a different meal every single morning we ate here. Our preference is for decent, satisfying hot breakfast and that was what we had. Service was, as expected of Québec, gracious and friendly. Though, it can be quite slow due to the busyness of the breakfast service. If you’re an English speaker, ask for the English menu as you are being seated, or you might have to wait another 10 minutes for the waitperson to come back to you.

Pouding chômeur - $3.50
In our last morning, I decided to order off the breakfast menu for an additional price. It was sugaring off season, it'd be remiss of me not to order the pouding chômeur, a sponge cake that has been drenched with maple syrup. It was entirely too sweet, a sugar overload, but it in itself symbolised everything about Québec for us: couldn’t get any sweeter if they tried.

Restaurant Normandin on Urbanspoon 
Restaurant Normandin
986 Rue Bouvier

The humongous sized breakfast gave us the much needed fuel for the day’s sightseeing ahead.

La Citadelle de Québec
Québec National Assembly
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