Une auberge

imageFor the trip I took to Quebec City in June, I stayed at the Auberge Place d’Armes (24 rue Sainte-Anne). As I was traveling with my parents for a special occasion, I wanted a suite that would accommodate the three of us in a little style and I wanted us to be right in the center of everything. The Auberge Place d’Armes fit the bill quite well.

Rue-du-Tresor-CustomFirst, there was the location. The hotel is just a few steps from the Château de Frontenac in the heart of the Old City. Everything was close – the boardwalk along the Dufferin Terrace, the artists on the rue du Trésor, and the funicular down to Petit Champlain. There is no parking at the hotel, but valet service is available if you don’t want to park your car at one of the garages in town yourself.

placedarmes2Then there was the question of style. The Auberge Place d’Armes is a boutique hotel composed of a 17th and 18th century home that were modernized and united. There is plenty of exposed brick and stone; each room is decorated in a unique manner with eclectic furnishings, but the amenities are fully modern. There is no elevator, but they will take your luggage to and from your room at check-in and check-out.

placedarmesAt first we weren’t sure how we would stay out of each other’s way. Our suite had a Queen-sized bed and a Murphy bed that pulled down from the wall, but we were rather cheek-by-jowl with our beds nearly touching. I’d gotten used to suites where the second bed had a little more privacy. Also, the Murphy bed was so heavy that I left it down for the whole time that we were there rather than struggling with it, which ate up a lot of real estate. Another aspect of the suite that surprised us at first was the shower. It was separated from the living room by a glass wall, but a heavy velvet curtain gave us complete privacy. I would suggest that the suites would be more suited to parents with a young child, rather than three adults.

placedarmes3One of the aspects we liked best about the Auberge was the breakfast in the restaurant downstairs, Le Pain Béni. Breakfast was included and we had our choice of anything on the menu, including juice and coffee. We enjoyed everything we tried – from classics like scrambled eggs and bacon to the breakfast pizza. Our waitress (we had the same lovely young woman every day, but one) was sweet and attentive and took impeccable care of my parents. We also ate dinner there one night, but we found the meal a little pretentious in its presentation and lacking in a distinctive flavor.

imageUne auberge (oon owebersj) mean “an inn.”  Historically, une auberge was located in the countryside and provided shelter for horses, a good meal, and a comfortable bed. At the Auberge Place d’Armes the horses have been replaced by valet parking, but the sense of fine hospitality is unchanged. If you are going to Quebec and want a break from the same-old same-old chain hotels, I highly recommend the Auberge Place d’Armes to you.

51YLcuFtT8L__SL75_Fodor’s Montreal and Quebec City 2014

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Savon

imageCandeur : Savonettes et produits de bain, located at 1187 rue Saint-Paul, is a charming savonnerie, or “soap maker”  near the old port of Quebec City. Savon (savohn) means “soap” and savonette  means “little soap.”  The artisanal soaps are made of goat’s milk and infused with essential oils along with flowers, herbs, bits of fruit, or spices. Delightful vignettes with an old-fashioned air are enhanced by the mingled perfumes of the various soaps. I bought a few to slip in my lingerie drawers and the scent has lasted and lasted, just like my memories of my visit to Quebec City.

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51YLcuFtT8L__SL75_Fodor’s Montreal and Quebec City 2014

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Depuis

imageTouring Quebec City is somewhat strenuous. If you aren’t going up a hill, you’re coming down one. The perfect place for a little pause in all that exercise is La Maison Smith, on the Place Royale, at 23 rue Notre-Dame, just a couple of steps from the oldest stone church in North America.

imageAlthough their sign reads “depuis 1653” (duhpwee sez-sohn-sank-ahnt-twah), or “since 1653,” that august date refers to the building. The business is considerably younger, having been founded in 2013. imageHere you will find traditional café fare, such as flaky croissants to go with your morning coffee, or ice cream in many tempting flavors. I liked that the terrace seating faced forwards French-style, all the better for people watching.

51YLcuFtT8L__SL75_Fodor’s Montreal and Quebec City 2014

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Cuir de vachette

imageToday I’m going to return to a theme that I set aside for the past couple of months – some recommendations for what you might enjoy in the lovely city of Quebec. m0851 is a store whose simple, industrial-chic interiors echo the refined beauty of their products.

imageLocated in the Petit Champlain neighborhood, the shop is at 66 boulevard Champlain, just a couple of doors down from Shâmane. I was in search of a high quality belt, which, sadly, they did not have. They did, however, have meltingly supple leather jackets and bags in the most scrumptious colors, including a rich berry shade. Other chic accessories include cloud-like scarves, perfect for warding off an autumnal chill.

imageEverything is made in their ateliers in Montreal from top quality leathers like cuir de vachette (kweer duh vashet) or calfskin. The company has been around since 1987 and has twenty-two boutiques around the world. They also sell on-line, if you’re looking to add something special to your fall wardrobe. Go on, you’ve been very good.

51YLcuFtT8L__SL75_Fodor’s Montreal and Quebec City 2014

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Objets anciens

image The Saint-Paul neighborhood of the Marais is full of unique boutiques that are fun to poke around. One that I enjoyed this summer was EW at 21 rue St-Paul, which was full of objets anciens (obshjay anh-see-en), as it says on their business card. Ancien can have several meanings, including “ancient” or “old,” but here, I think the one that fits best is “bygone.” The items in EW will make you think of bygone times and cozy corners, like your grandmother’s kitchen.  Whether you are looking for a complete canister set, a single café au lait bowl, or a quaint picture frame, this brocante is the place to go. Happy hunting for bygone objects!

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51HAKULm0QL__SL75_Paris Brocante

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Un Aide-mémoire

parislibereThe exhibit that I liked the best while I was in Paris this summer was Paris Libéré, Paris Photographie, Paris Exhibé at the musée Carnavalet in the Marais. Although it’s particularly pertinent right now, as Paris was liberated 70 years ago on August 25, it’s on until February 8, 2015. I had written about this exhibit before going to France this summer, but it had a different impact on me than I had expected.

600_281955_vignette_2On one level, the exhibit recreated one that took place immediately after the liberation of Paris. But on another level, it really pushed the viewer to consider the role that photography plays in history. For example, the exhibit looked at images of the occupying German troops posed in front of Parisian landmarks that where juxtaposed with pictures of the liberating American troops posed in exactly the same way.

Une-image-rare-une-femme-fait-le-coup-de-feu-sur-les-barricades_exact780x585_lThe rooms had provocative questions written on the walls in French, German, and English. One of those questions wondered what happens if there are no photos of an event or a group. Did the event really happen or was the group really there? There were no photos in the original exhibit of women or people of color as combatants even though both groups had actively participated in the liberation. There was footage of one female Resistance fighter disarming a soldier and then receiving a commendation for bravery. Women were only shown kissing soldiers in the initial exhibit. The contributions of both African-American and North African soldiers were figuratively whitewashed out of the photographic record because the American commander wanted an all-white liberation.

occupationFor me, the most chilling photograph was a room in Paris lined in asbestos that was used as an incineration chamber. The heat softened the asbestos and the photo trapped the hand prints of victims trying to claw their way out of the room.  But the kicker was that this room was used both by the Gestapo AND the French authorities who collaborated with them.

236881-paris-brise-paris-martyrise-mais-paris-libereNear the end of the exhibit, a video interview with geneticist Axel Kahn delved into philosophical questions about image and reality. What “wins” when a photograph conflicts with a memory? Which is real? He also talked about how stress, such as living in an occupied city during a war, changes people at a genetic level – even two generations later! It was fascinating stuff.

parisliberatedToday’s expression, un aide-mémoire (uhn ed maym-wahr), means a memory-aid or a reminder. The exhibit does an amazing job of discussing the role of photographs as propaganda as well a memory-prop. It was the most intellectually stimulating museum exhibit I’ve ever experienced and I highly recommend it to you.

513IsHuYZXL__SL75_The Blood of Free Men: The Liberation of Paris, 1944

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Chantilly

imageOn my one full day off from my job in Paris during July I took care of a trip that was on my bucket list – a visit to the Château de Chantilly. It was a hot, sunny day – perfect for an outing. I read that I could get there by the RER D line (the commuter rail that runs out to the Paris suburbs), but that was bad advice. It was a lot slower and then I had to change to a regional train to get all the way to Chantilly. For the trip back, I got a regional train that went directly from Chantilly to the Gare du Nord in less than half an hour for about 8 Euros.

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Once I got to the station, I opted to walk the rest of the way to the Château. I like to walk, and it was a great day. There were plenty of signs, so that part was easy. After about half an hour, I was at the stables where I bought my ticket. Chantilly is a big horse racing town and horses were a major part of life at the Château. I wasn’t there at the right moment for any of the dressage demonstrations or other horse-related events, but it’s always a pleasure to be around such beautiful animals. Then it was off to the Château.

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Architecturally, the Château is a bit of a hodge-podge, with two principal wings that are radically different from one another. The interior is dominated by a huge art gallery. The duc de Condé was a major art collector. The over 800 paintings in his collection include three Rembrandts and several other Louvre-quality paintings, including three small portraits by one of my personal favorites, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. Although it is no longer on display due to its fragility, the ultra-famous Les Très riches heures du duc de Berry are part of the holdings. Another very beautiful Book of Hours was a worthy stand-in.

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Besides the art, the highlight on the upper floor is the Grand Singerie, the room paneled with scenes where monkeys cavort dressed as though they are members of the nobility. It was learning about the recent restoration of these panels that had made me want to visit the Château de Chantilly in the first place. I also really enjoyed the chapel with its beautiful carved wood and stained glass. The library was stunning.

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After enjoying all the art, I went down a level to the private apartments. This small group tour was only a 3 Euro add-on to my ticket and totally worth it, although the guide was a little odd. She seemed totally blasé about what she was showing us and almost seemed miffed that we were taking her away from some passionately exciting duty elsewhere, but she thawed out a bit as the tour went on. I hadn’t realized that there was a second Petit Singerie that was painted at the same time as the larger one that was just for the family’s enjoyment. Totally cool.

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Then it was time to explore the garden. The formal parterres were designed by LeNôtre. There was also a hameau, or farm hamlet, like the one at Versailles. I hadn’t known that this was a fad for the aristocracy; I thought the one at Versailles was the only one. This Chantilly hameau was actually the inspiration for Marie Antoinette’s. Apparently, the interiors were off-the-hook glamorous, despite the rusticity of the exteriors. Today, they are the site of a tea room.

imageSince the tour of the apartments fell right when I would have eaten lunch, I was now rather famished, so the tea room was an interesting destination. They only thing on the menu, however, that reassembled actual food was a plate of raspberries with whipped cream. They were the most expensive raspberries I have ever eaten in my life (17 Euros!), but they were delicious. The word for whipped cream in French is Chantilly (shan-tea-ee), which is not a coincidence. According to legend, the French chef Vatel created whipped cream at a grand banquet when he was in charge of the kitchen at the Château de Chantilly. But the whipped cream at the tea room was like none I’d ever had before. When I saw the recipe in the shop portion of the tea room, I could see why. The proportion of heavy cream to sugar was almost one-to-one! Totally delicious, but wow!

image“Wow” is a good word overall for the Château de Chantilly. I only had one full day off during my summer job, and I’m so glad that I spent it right here.

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