Econogal’s Note: This is the third part in a series about the Province of Quebec. Details of a drive from Lac St. Jean to Montreal follow.
Our stay in Saguenay was brief since we woke up to rain. We were very satisfied with our meal from the previous night so just grabbed coffee and chocolate chaud from a nearby Tim Hortons. However, the manager did need to come assist us since she was the only one fluent in English. Since we were rapidly becoming Francophile we took the difficulty communicating in stride.
My travelling partner decided to drive up to Lac St. Jean to begin the day’s travels. Even with the periodical rain showers, the countryside was beautiful. There are many farms in the area dotted along the rivers and numerous lakes left behind by the retreating glacier.
This area is heavily French-speaking. Mid-morning, several stops were made in an attempt to find oatmeal. My travelling partner had searched for the translation, but perhaps the pronunciation was way off. Finally at one of the ubiquitous Tim Hortons, a picture of a bowl of oatmeal accompanied by the simple word gruel appeared. However, smiles and patience translate well. We did not experience any unfriendliness.
Lac St. Jean Tourism
There are indications of tourism throughout this area. But we did not see any tour busses. Unlike the United States, the area lacked chain hotels. But campgrounds were located both along the large Lac St. Jean as well as along the rivers and lakes of the various Canadian Parks we drove through on our roundabout journey back to the St. Lawrence River.
We drove up Highway 170 and turned west once we reached Lac St. Jean. Soon after, we began noticing the bike lane which would merge with the roadway from time to time. A key attraction of the area is the Velaroute des Bleuets. This extensive circuit offers cyclists many levels of difficulty for biking around the lake. We did not see any, most likely due to the weather and possibly the school year.
We missed our turn at Chambord. It was a fortuitous mistake. The road runs right alongside the lake on the way to Roberval. We found a wonderful lookout near the historic site Val-Jalbert. This vantage point allowed us to watch the storm squalls roll across the lake.
Some of the pictures of the lake and those of the farm fields come from this stop. The farm had strawberries and asparagus in close proximity to the rest area. Perhaps some blueberries were in another field.
This vantage point also allowed us to spot a place to park lakeside. We drove there and snapped a few shots against the whipping wind. Since we were not hungry we did not pop into the small seafood restaurant. This location appeared to be a major stop along the Velaroute des Bleuets.
Journeying Toward Trois-Rivieres
While we would have liked to drive the perimeter of the lake, our timetable did not permit. So we turned back toward Chambord and headed down Highway 155. This route follows the Bostonnais River for many miles. Again there were numerous campsites.
The drive is about 300 km so we did not take any detours. However, there are many hamlets along the road. One is La Tuque. The population of just over 10,000 made it similar in size to our home town. By this point, the Saint-Maurice River flowed alongside the route.
Toward the end of the drive, we passed the city of Shawinigan. A glimpse from the highway indicated manufacturing. Shortly thereafter, I was hit with a familiar waft of paper mill. Perhaps the next trip to Quebec will allow time to explore this area.
Return to Montreal
The leisurely drive from Saguenay up to Lac St. Jean and then down to Trois-Rivieres allowed timed to reflect. Our trip thus far had been wondrous. Yet we felt like we wanted to spend more time in Montreal. Thus we cut short our exploration of the countryside and returned to this city.
We began our morning with the familiar, a drive along the St. Lawrence. This time we were headed west on Highway 138. Sprinkled among the small towns and farms were numerous construction sites. New homes and new commercial buildings joined road construction to make the drive a bit slow. Anxious to return to Montreal, we joined the Interstate about a half an hour outside of Montreal.
Upon returning the rental car, we walked about a kilometer to our hotel where we left our bags until our room was ready. This time we were staying at the downtown Sheraton. As much as we liked the old part of the city, I was anxious to explore the heart of Montreal.
I fell in love all over again. The city bustled with activity. Streets were clean and I felt safe. While the city is built on the up-slope from the river, the streets running parallel to the river are somewhat level in elevation. Furthermore, there is a huge underground.
Shopping in Montreal
While walking along St. Catherine Street, we entered an area with a movie theatre and discovered the complex of stores and tunnels multiple flights below ground. Everything was well-lit with multitudes of people. Retail shops carrying items from clothing to jewelry to art supplies spanned blocks of the city. All underground. The result is Montreal now takes third place on my list of favorite places to shop. Only NYC and Chicago rank above.
The last morning in the Province of Quebec we split up. I returned to the underground shopping while my travelling companion wandered about. This is unusual for me. I seldom take off on my own when visiting a new city. In fact never before in a foreign country! But I felt so comfortable in Montreal. My only wish was for a map of the underground tunnels.
Returning to the airport, we cleared customs in Canada versus upon our return to the United States. I had not travelled outside of the U.S.A since 2012, so I do not know when the new machines came into play. Now you begin the process at kiosks by sliding the passport along the scanner of the touchscreen machine. Then you line up for a photo. Hats and glasses need to be removed. A slip of paper emerges with your photo verification. Finally the slip is handed to a live human further down the hall. I plan to count this as a new skill since my brain did learn something new.
Please enjoy the latest slide show and check back next week when I share information on the wonderful meals of our trip.