Last November I had the opportunity to attend a Teacher's Discover Tour with Prométour. It was my first time traveling with the company and truth be told, I had no idea what to expect. Most people in the world dream of travel but the idea of travelling actually makes me anxious so I was a little worried to say the least. As it turns out, my levels of stress immediately disappeared right from the start thanks to the professionalism of the entire Prométour team.
The three-day tour started here in the city of Montreal where several of the Prométour reps greeted a dozen or so teachers from across North America at Trudeau Airport and guided them across the city. After a much-needed lunch break at a wonderful local restaurant, teachers were able to discover the picturesque charm of the Old Port. For the unfamiliar, the historical Old Port provides an unbeatable glimpse into the city's extensive history and offers Montrealers and visitors alike access to a wide variety of activities and attractions such as the Montréal Science Centre, the Montreal Clock Tower, several cathedrals, museums, an observation wheel and even river cruises. The Old Port is also located at the eastern end of the Lachine Canal, which has itself been extensively refurbished as a popular destination for cycling, roller-blading and pleasure boating and hosts various cultural events such as the Festival Montréal en lumière, Igloofest, and the Matsuri Japon festival, to name just a few.
There’s an undeniable charm to the Old Port. Its narrow cobblestone streets and its unique scalable architecture transport you in space and time equivalent to a European getaway. Between food tastings and visits to famous Montreal landmarks, teachers spent time not just learning about Montreal but also getting to know each other as they all traded stories about their time both teaching and traveling. By the end of the day, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that the entire group were old friends and not strangers who met hours earlier. Despite my aforementioned fear of traveling, I have travelled plenty, but never have I come across a group of individuals who bonded so quickly in such a short period of time. And it was easy to see why. The entire tour was organized so that there was just enough downtime in between each stop, allowing everyone to relax, spark up conversations and stay warm during the winter cold. The night ended at Restaurant du Vieux-Port, a popular steakhouse situated directly on St. Paul Street in a beautiful, century-old structure where we all had time to wine and dine. It’s always great to get out of the office/classroom, relax and connect on a more personal level and it helps that Prométour also booked every guest overnight accommodations at Marriott Springhill Suites Old Montreal. It was a great first day but it was just the start of something even better.
Day two was without a doubt the highlight of the entire trip. We woke up early morning, had an amazing breakfast at the hotel and met with our incredibly informative tour guide Katia before setting out to visit Quebec City. Although I had previously visited the 400-year-old fortified city, it was so long ago and I was so young that I barely remember anything from my trip. Going in, I was familiar with the city’s reputation but I wasn’t expecting just how beautiful it really is. Quebec City embodies true romanticism, marrying European and French culture, and magnificent architecture that both honors and builds on history. There’s much to explore, including the impressive Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, a designated national historic site that dates back to 1893 and is generally recognized as the most photographed hotel in the world. The Neo-Château-style structure is a prominent feature of the Quebec City skyline and incorporates numerous towers and turrets, making it look like something you see in the pages of a fairy tale. It wasn't long after when we arrived at our hotel which just so happens to be situated next door to The Édifice Price, which some argue is the city’s loveliest building. It's the only skyscraper within the walls of Old Québec and uses LED technology so that the building’s distinctive silhouette lights the sky every night. Its Art Deco architecture—similar to that of the Empire State Building in New York City—is a radical departure from the style of the other buildings in the area but beautiful no less.
Quebec City has more than quaint streets and beautiful buildings to offer. While there you can marvel at Parliament, Rue du Tresor, Terrasse Dufferin, Place Royale and sample the city’s arts district and visit the urban parks of Plains of Abraham and Des Braves. Backtrack just a bit up Rue Saint-Jean to hit the bohemian streets of Faubourg Saint-Jean, then cross the Rivière Saint-Charles to glimpse the 19th-century homes in Old Limoilou. We also had a chance to visit Montmorency Falls Park, just a few minutes from downtown Québec City. Little did I know that the waterfalls are actually higher than Niagara and if you follow the footpath along the top of the cliff you’ll wind up on a suspended bridge, which affords a splendid view of the whole area. Keep walking along the path until you get to the 487-step staircase down the side of the cliff that will bring you to the foot of the falls, as well as a cable car, three via ferrata routes and even a double zip line.
No place in the city exemplifies the synergy between old and new better than Battlefields Park. We learned a lot while visiting the 254-acre grounds, home to both Le Musée national des beaux-arts and the Plains of Abraham, the site of the 1759 battle between the French and British. Nearby we visited the Martello Tower where we learned about the daily life of a soldier of the 1812 Battle in Quebec. The interior of the Martello tower consists of three storeys with the ground floor served as the magazine and storerooms, where ammunition, water, stores, and provisions were kept. The garrison of 24 men and one officer lived in a casemate on the first floor, which is divided into several rooms and had fireplaces built into the walls for cooking and heating. Not only did we have an opportunity to gets our hands on the weapons these soldiers would use, but our trusty tour guide informed us of the architecture, military engineering, and the living conditions of the military billeted in the towers. Needless to say, it was a hands-on learning experience.
In a short three days, we experienced much, maybe too much to cram into one article but I cannot, not mention my two favorite activities. After having dinner at the restaurant Tournebroche, a gourmet bistro that specializes in the art of rotisserie and authentic Quebecois meals, we participated in an animated historical ghost tour titled “Crimes in New France,” in which spectators roam around the city and revisit the most famous crime scenes in Quebec’s sordid history. The tour is essentially a live theatrical play that extends throughout the city with numerous actors playing the roles of each ghost while the audience participates every step of the way. If you're a fan of true crime and/or classic horror, I highly recommend experiencing it for yourself.
Last but not least we ended the three-day tour at the Érablière du Cap sugar shack. Canada is of course, a country that brandishes a symbol of national pride openly upon our national flag – the mighty maple leaf – and there is no better way to discover an authentic taste of Québec than to sample its maple goodness from one of Québec’s many sugar shacks (better known as, cabanes à sucre). There, we indulged our sweet tooth with delicious maple syrup products! I can’t think of a better way to reprieve from the hustle and bustle of city life than dancing to old folk Québeois music after eating some delicious food. The establishment itself is a typical forest shack that holds well over 100 people and features outdoor winter sporting activities, a gift shop, and even dog sledding.
All in all, my first Teacher’s Discovery Tour was a resounding success – both educational and relaxing and more importantly, a ton of fun. With it, I was fortunate enough to meet new friends, learn a bit more about Québec’s history and even, practice my French.
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