Our adventures in and around Quebec City (one week, one lens)

Before this trip, Natalia and I hadn’t been on a week-long vacation together in literally ever. Montreal was close but wasn’t quite a full week. Everything before this had been quick weekend/long-weekend trips. So, we thought the perfect time to do one was using Labour Day to our advantage… to save a day of our vacation time. It worked perfectly. For just 28 hours of vacation time, we had about eight usable days off!

The one-lens challenge

I wanted to challenge myself on this trip… to chillax. Normally, I try to film everything and attempt to make a narrative about the trip… but that usually leads to me not coming back from a vacation as decompressed as I could’ve been!

So, I decided to do something different: take one camera (Sony A7Sii) and one lens (Tamron f/2.8 28-75mm) and only take photos – no video recordings. Well, except for the Canon 80D and its Tokina f/2.8 11-16mm for behind the scenes (BTS) videos of the photoshoots. In all seriousness though, I felt no stress at all filming those quick videos because I knew they didn’t have to be perfect and I knew that I’d miss a few and just film myself later on. All-in-all, I was de-stressed to the max after this trip… so it worked! 🙂

Anywho, here’s how our adventure went…

Day one – travel, golden hour, Aylmer, family, tent

Leaving Toronto

Natalia arrived at my place in Toronto at around 10 PM. We slept for a few hours before leaving really early in the morning, at 3 AM to avoid traffic.

I drove first while Natalia passed out again using our amazing two-pillow head squasher plus eye-mask system. This quickly became my favourite “device” as it did everything and kept your head firmly in place. We swapped out driving and napping for about an hour before sunrise. 

About 30 minutes after the sun rose over the horizon, I woke up and made the executive decision to pull off on to a side road to get some early-morning golden hour shots in the country.

Golden hour car photos

With the sun rising rapidly, we had to act quick. We drove on the side roads for a bit and finally found a side-path with clearing on either side of it. I pulled the car off to one side on the grass with a simple shot in mind: Natalia on the hood… doing something. I hadn’t really thought of what that “something” would be yet. So, we fooled around a bit. 

Somehow I got involved as well… because why not? These were the first photos of the trip!

About 45 minutes later, after having taken a few variations of the scene, we continued on our way to Ottawa to visit Jamie (my sister), Jon (her husband), and baby Franklin (my awesome nephew).

 Chillaxing in Aylmer, Quebec

We did a few more driver-swaps along the way, and finally, when we arrived, Jamie was out at the park with Franklin and Jon was out getting groceries. We got our bikes off the back of the car and stretched our legs, biking the block over to the park to play with Franklin. 

Jon soon arrived, unloaded, and joined the fun. I have to say, Franklin is my favourite baby ever. As Uncle Ben, I think there’s a lot of bias in that statement but I don’t care! He’s so cute, curious, and well behaved… with just the right amount of rebelliousness… which I can help him nurture when he gets to the REALLY rebellious age 😉

It helps that Jamie and Jon are rockstar parents, doing everything they can to keep a schedule with Franklin. Before hearing about this from her and seeing the amazing results, it never knew that baby schedules were such an important part of raising a child! You can be sure Jamie and Jon are making sure they do everything they need to do to raise Franklin right. They’re awesome. 

We hung out with them for the day, having lunch and visiting Jon’s side of the family for dinner. We spent the evening chit-chatting, playing a quick board game, and then crashing hard into our pillows in our tent outside on Jamie and Jon’s lawn. 

Renovations and tenting it

Yeah, that’s right, I guess I forgot to mention that throughout all this, we’re doing everything I just described in a small area on their main floor… because they’re having 2 levels of their 3-floor house renovated. They’re handling it pretty well, even though it’s a bit much, balancing baby, house, food, work, and life. everything sometimes. 

We knew they were in the middle of renovations and knew exactly what we’d signed up for: enjoying Jamie, Jon, and Franklin’s company and sleeping in a tent. It was a good thing to do anyway – making sure the tent was fully functional before setting up at the campground in Jacque Cartier park

DAY 2 – late, broken rack, stress, rain, fur

Leaving historically late

We left early the next day as planned… said Ben NEVER. There was a Ben-being-late-joke that was made the night before about me waking up early at 4:30 AM to pack up and tear the tent down around Natalia while she slept. In actuality, we ended up leaving historically late. Twelve. Hours. Later. At 4:30 PM. No joke. 

Somehow, I managed to keep busy and distracted doing things that “needed to be done” until it was nearly too late to do the 5-hour drive. Can confirm: Natalia wasn’t pleased (sorryyyy).

Broken car bike-rack replacement

The good news is that during my distractions, we found out that the 30-year-old bike rack for the car that we’d been borrowing from my parents had finally died. Its metal had creased and broken at an important spot. So, to delay our drive to Quebec City even longer, we made a trip to Canadian Tire to purchase a $100 replacement rack.

While in the store, Natalia asked for help and found out that Gatineau, Quebec has a very French-speaking population. It was kinda funny to see because she didn’t think there would be such a quick transition between people speaking English in Ottawa to suddenly barely being able to understand English across the river in Aylmer.

Anyway, we installed the rack, did a tug test, and were IMMEDIATELY 100% confident that we’d made a great investment. The previous rack was nowhere as near as stable as this one was rock solid and had 6 straps instead of 4, which just added to the stability and robustness of it. 

Addressing the tension in the air

With confidence restored in our bike rack setup, we went on our way. Within a few minutes of being on the road though, I felt the tension in the air (and no, it wasn’t from the very taught bike rack straps). I realized that Natalia’s vibe was off and she was mad at me. 

I bluntly called it out because there was no way I wasn’t addressing it with a full week of us travelling together coming up. We talked it over and I realized I’d been really abrupt and bossy when we were installing the new bike rack. We’d both been stressed out because of the time constraint (which was my fault in the first place) and trying to get on the road as fast as possible… but I had handled it poorly. And that’s my fault. Natalia was being as supportive and helpful as anyone could’ve asked for and she thought she wasn’t helping enough… when she really was. We both confirmed that organization and time management are things to work on in the future.

Clear tension, french directions, rain at the Airbnb

With the vibe cleared up, both of our energy levels came back and we talked the entire way to our Airbnb in Quebec City. On the way to the Airbnb, we learned basic French directions, right (droit), left (gouche), and straight ahead (tout droite). It started raining as we approached, just as The Weather Network had said it would – so we weren’t surprised. 

Worst Airbnb stay of our lives (so far)

We were, however, surprised to find that the bedroom that was meant for us looked as if it had already been slept in, with dirty laundry sitting next to the un-made bed. 

We were NOT impressed. There was another room that was “alright”, but when we pulled the sheets back, we found dog hair EVERYWHERE. We didn’t have a choice but to sleep there, so we showered and hit the… fur (instead of the hay… haha… ANYWAY…).

Day 3 – Plains of Abraham & exploring

Rainy day? History lessons at the Plains of Abraham

It was going to be a rainy day, so we knew we’d be sticking to non-biking activities. First up: the Plains of Abraham. Parking was $9 for 12-hours. We’d be taking advantage of that. 

The Plains of Abraham indoor exhibit and guided bus-tour was around $32 for the two of us and was definitely worth it in our opinions. Two floors of history, a 30-minute movie, explaining the happenings surrounding the Battles between the French and British, back in [1700]. 

To be honest, I hadn’t been to a museum for quite a few years… so taking it slow and purposefully visiting with the intent to learn was a really nice experience. 

Plains of Abraham guided bus tour

The bus tour had “Abraham’s Wife” giving us a tour of the Plains of Abraham which was a blast because of how dynamic she was. She was also incredibly reactive to the crowd on the small bus. My favourite joke was when a couple from mentioned that they were from the UK and the Guide was surprised that they would take a six-week boat ride to play tourist in Quebec City. 

As funny as it was, it made me think -like so many things do- about how good we have it today. Actually everything about the history of Quebec City reminded me of how lucky we are to be growing up in such a prosperous, healthy, and safe era.

On an entirely unrelated note, this small tour bus (and any other short-distance tour vehicles) was a perfect prospect to be an electric bus instead of a diesel bus. That was running through my mind the whole time the bus was idling (most of the day). #bensclimatecorner

Plains of Abraham Museum – 2nd floor, art piece

We came back to the museum after having learned even more from the bus tour and the amazing guide. With more respect for the happenings centuries ago, we checked out the 2nd floor. Aside from ancient artifacts of the long-ago times, there was an art piece that really fascinated me.

It was so intriguing to me, especially after reading the sign next to it. 

My version: On the left, explorers were on a boat, with natives welcoming them. Then the French and British fighting and killing. Gradually, as you move to the right, picnics were being held, and children playing with kites were found to the rightmost, representing the future generations to come. I found this to be really thought-provoking. Not to mention, the wooden background even had meaning, depicting a very abstract and subtle hourglass, representing the passage of time. 

We made use of our $32 for sure, being the last out the door at 5 PM (sorry)!

Exploring by bicycle

It had stopped raining at this point (perfect timing!), so we took our bikes off the back of the car and rode around the park. It was getting dark at this point, so we didn’t get to explore the whole park, unfortunately… and never ended up returning because of all the other stuff we did. 

What we did do, was head back to the car, change up pannier contents, and head out to a nice little restaurant for dinner. 

It started raining while we were inside, so once we’d finished eating, we said screw it, put on our rain jackets, and left for the car on our bikes. We were tired and the rain didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon – sleep was our priority! We crashed hard and got the second-to-best sleep of the week!

Day 4 – bicycle tourism, waterside bar, cannons

We’d locked our bikes to the back of the car with three separate U-locks overnight. To our surprise, when we looked outside… they were still there! We took those things and hit the bike path. Unfortunately, Natalia lost her sunglasses almost immediately after starting to ride. RIP sunglasses – you made for some amazing photos and will be missed <3.

Hungry bicyclists hunt for breakfast

We took the waterfront trail, which is a part of the longer Corridor du Littoral et Parcours des Anses trail (map here if interested). When we started getting to Old Quebec, we took some side streets and took some photos. We heard a bit about this building from a guide of a walking tour passing by. I’m pretty sure they said “something, something, something, something”. Very informative. Didn’t help that he was speaking in French haha!

We started hunting for places to eat food… but quickly resorted to Googling the best places for what we wanted. SOMETHING WITH EGGS AND TOAST.

We found a nice place, Au Petit Coin Breton, and enjoyed DESTROYING THIS FOOD. YUUMMMMM!

Aimlessly exploring

We biked around aimlessly next, just enjoying being in this old city. Natalia took the camera for a bit and these were my favourite photo of hers!

Then we got ice cream! We were busy making sure it didn’t drip so didn’t get a good photo. Instead, we took photos right after eating. Yes, Natalia brought multiple outfits and got pretty good at quickly changing in public. Pro changing tip: use alleyways 😉

Then we paid/splurged just about $30 for two drinks at this fancy little bar along the bike path (who says cyclists don’t spend money on local businesses?). We chilled here for a bit and I took a 20-minute nap with a beer in hand. SO REFRESHING.

And we continued to explore even more! Included were umbrellas in the sky, a jewellery building with cute yellow window panels, a wild Natalia, and cannons!

The evening then crept up on us pretty quickly.

Day 5 – Montmorency Falls & Cassis Monna & Filles

Montmorency falls was the main attraction for this day. We dawned our jackets once again because we knew it’d be a wet one!

Apparently there’s a train that runs through near the falls. Here’s an “artsy shot” of it!

A wooden step machine

As we approached the falls, we realized that we’d be getting our steps in! In the first photo below, you can spot the stairs from afar… and then up close. Many, many stairs. It could be worse – at least we weren’t hiking up the side of a mountain!

The splash zone

This was probably the wettest we got during the entire trip! The cameras got SOAKED too. But you don’t get the shots is you’re worried about the “hurting” your precious camera. By the end of the 10 minutes we were down at the bottom of the waterfall for, my camera was literally dripping wet. Still, 20 days later as of writing this, it’s fine!

When we got to the top…

It started raining REALLY hard when we got to the top… and that explains why Natalia’s squinting in the photo of us on the bridge haha! I think it’s cute 🙂

The way back down was pretty uneventful… except for that one slip up of mine. Mid-way down the gigantic staircase, I slipped and absolutely slammed my expensive camera and a new lens on the staircase to break my fall. The good news is I somehow only fell down one step and even by the next day (usually when the pain starts to show itself), there wasn’t any pain! The other good news is that my camera and lens were totally unaffected! Good job, Sony! Two tests in one day!

Wine tasting on the l’Île-d’OrlĂ©ans

We moved on, driving off into the sunset… or rather, the opposite direction… but just keep that image in your mind. It makes our journey more epic that way. We made our way to the l’Île-d’OrlĂ©ans (Island of Orleans) where we’d hunted down a wine tasting place on Google Maps, yet again. This time, it was a place called Cassis Monna & Filles.

This was the first time either of us had ever actually done a “wine tasting” in our lives. THEY WERE SO GOOD! Unfortunately, they don’t deliver, otherwise, we’d be broke. It’s dangerously tasty for a 19% black currant wine! I 100% recommend checking them out!!

Finding a big guy

Getting hungry, we left the vineyard and were on our way to the campground when… we saw a big guy sitting in the park, playing guitar. He was holey, too. Very. We drove up to this big metal statue and took a photo with him because… why not! We couldn’t read the French signs that explained the field and what it represented… which is unfortunate. We’ll just assume it was there as a monument to someone nice!

The lighting was nice too, so I snapped a few golden hour shots of Natalia, as I do.

Never get poutine from McDonald’s

After this, we hightailed it to a McDonald’s where we got a bunch of food, including poutine. That’s right, we got poutine from McDonald’s because I have a tradition of trying out unique McDonald’s menu items in every new culture that I visit. Without a doubt, this was the most disappointing poutine I’d ever had in my life.

I just asked Natalia and apparently it wasn’t the worst SHE’D ever had! Apparently, that award goes to a Jack Astors in London, Canada. Stacked like a cabin, it looked really cool… but there wasn’t any gravy. Sooooo, it was literally just dry fries and cheese curds.

Not sure who had it worse here.

Getting to the campground in the dark

Driving on the highway in the dark is one thing, driving on backroads with a Nissan Versa is another. In the pitch black, we had to figure out where our campsite was. We were tired and ready to fall asleep… so when we finally found our campsite and set up our tent, we were ready to pass out. *fade to black*

Day 6 – Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier

The next morning we got ready to hike up a mountain by heading to the front desk and asking for a map and suggestions. We packed food that we’d gotten in Quebec City from a grocery store and were on our way.

We chose to do “Sentier le Scotora“, a 16KM trail (roundtrip) with an altitude of 809 meters. The problem? We thought it was a 5KM roundtrip trail. We stopped a bunch of times along the way but oh man was the distance unexpected! On the way up, I was losing motivation but somehow Natalia had all of the energy. She expelled some of that energy by pushing me up the mountain!

The peak

Finally, after a few hours of hiking, we arrived at the peak of Mount Andante! Starving, Natalia got the food ready while I got distracted, setting up the camera and tripod for a timelapse. Within 10 minutes of being at the top, it started drizzling… so I took my hat off and created Monsieur Chapeau (Mr. Hat). This protected the camera from the rain and made everyone question our sanity.

Timelapse

While we ate, it clicked away and took a fairly uneventful timelapse. Other people came by and were silly and got in the way of my timelapse… but I’m fine with it. I didn’t want to stop other hikers from being able to take their own triumphant photos – especially when I didn’t have high hopes for this timelapse (because of the lack of cloud movement).

It figures though, as soon as we wrapped up and I moved the tripod from its timelapse spot, the clouds opened up into what would’ve been an excellent scene for a timelapse. My lesson learned: always wait just a few more minutes after you would’ve normally stopped the timelapse because that’s inevitability when something interesting is gonna happen.

A couple selfies

After we were done eating, we set up the tripod and started “getting the shot” that we were happy with.

Back down the mountain

By this point, we’d been loitering around the peak for around an hour and the sun was starting to sink fast. We started jogging down the mountain, knowing we had a limited time before it would be dangerously dark. BUT, we found amazing golden lighting at a beaver dam only two minutes into our jog back down. We had to stop!

Feeling the sunlight on our skin was a pleasant surprise, seeing as most of the time at the peak had been cloudy.

We knew we were the last ones on the mountain once the one guy we knew was behind us nonchalantly jogged past us. If he was running, we had better run more because he seemed to know what he was doing. For the rest of the way down, we switched between jogging and fast-walking until we got to the bottom!

We were exhausted but now that we weren’t going to die in the forest in the dark, we could chill and take in the view from the bottom of the mountain. And what a view it was…

Shot on the bridge

Obviously, we had way too much fun shooting these photos because now it was fun and games. It was REALLY buggy though – thus the one photo of me looking very unimpressed haha.

After this, we went back to the campsite, had a nice little fire, a few beers and wine, and then absolutely CRASHED harder than we had at any other point during the trip. SO EXHAUSTED but is such a good way!

DAY 7 – pack up & drive back!

We woke up feeling refreshed and -surprisingly- NOT SORE. That came the day after!

We freshened up, packed up, topped up the tire pressure, and left on our long, long, long trek back to London.

The end

Aside from these weird clouds, nothing eventful happened on our drive back. We were all vacayed out and ready to sleep in a familiar bed in familiar surroundings 🙂

Conclusion

This was a fun week full of tons of adventures, from small to large. I’m happy to have written about it and taken all the photos but holy bajeepers was this a lot to compile off of just images! It took some determination and discipline to put this out. I hope you enjoyed!

Cheers. Ben.

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Ben Durham

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