Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bike Shorts on a Denver Barstool

There is something inherently wrong about a man sitting at a bar in bike shorts.

The attire itself highlights anatomy most pub patrons would find unappetizing, at best. And unless I missed a tweet, lager is not the new Gatorade and bar food hasn't trended the latest carbo-loading craze.

Yet I watched with confusion and awe as a toned, athletic specimen strutted into Denver's Wynkoop Brewery, doffed his bike helmet, slid his be-spandexed self onto a barstool and inhaled a cheeseburger, fries and two beers.

I don't know where it all went. He obviously wasn't hiding it on his person - bike shorts don't have pockets. The only explanation was that he had just finished a long ride, hadn't eaten all day and needed to refuel and relax.

Crotch-hugging shorts aside, I could understand that. From a few hours of observation I noticed a similar athletic build among most Denver folk. The men were tall and muscular. The women were lean (and maybe it was the mountain air but the majority of women had certain female parts that seemed a bit, how do I put this delicately? Inflated). This guy fit in with that outdoorsy crowd and looked as though he'd just completed a triathlon.

I looked down at my plate piled with a tender, juicy buffalo meat burger and crispy fries and concluded that he deserved it. I'd flown from Boston and now I was enjoying the local tastes. He finished his own journey, albeit on two wheels and self-propelled, so he deserved to sit back and enjoy it even more.

But he didn't. In under thirty minutes his plate was empty, pint glass drained (twice), tab paid and spokes spinning as he pedaled away from Denver's oldest brew pub.

"He's a local," the bartender said. He must have caught me staring out the Wynkoop window.

No shit, I wanted to say. The last time I saw a Bostonian bike up a mountain, slam back a 40oz and a Whopper extra value meal and then finish the trek up the mountain was never.

I laughed. "Don't think I'd fit in with that crowd."

"Where ya from?"




"Try this."

He poured me a pint of something I'd been eyeing when the mad biker walked in. Chile pepper beer. Patty's Chile Beer, to be exact, a Wynkoop house specialty. The award-winning brew comes infused with Anaheim chiles and smoked Ancho peppers.

In a region where micro-brews are giant, I took the first sip timidly. I figured my first unique local beer would be like riding a bike for the first time - a little shaky at first but thrilling once those training wheels come off. It wasn't long before I was rolling through my first chile pepper beer. It was light, with a golden color and a slightly reddish hue. The pepper aroma hits you before the smoky flavor on first sip. The chile bite is there but not overpowering and it goes down surprisingly smooth. There's a savory heat that builds up the palette from a traditional German-type beer to something totally unique and flavorful.

As I drained the glass I heard, "You want another beer?" The bartender had asked, breaking away from his own conversation with a colleague about their weekend kayaking plans.

I wasn't planning to bike into the foothills or hike across a ridge that evening. But I figured I'd take my own journey as a temporary local in the best way I knew how.

"Right now, another one of those," I said. "And what else you got on tap?"

It's definitely better than whatever that guy in the bike shorts has in his water bottle. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

WiTList: Drinks With A View, Europe


My picks:

5. Des Alpes terrace, Interlaken, Switzerland

From your sidewalk chair the range of heaven rushes at you. You’re sitting in an emerald valley, quaint Swiss chalets all around, and yet the soaring, craggy sentinels are all you can look at. If the Alps don’t take your breath away, the schnapps will. Perfect for warming your bones after a day hiking down from the Jungfrau Stay til nightfall and the jazz band under the bar’s trellis will provide ample soundtrack to the show put on by the infinite bright stars in the sky.

4. Poolside at Castello Banfi, Montalcino, Italy

Relaxation is reality in Tuscany. And you’ll never lose touch with it at Castello Banfi, home to the world-renown Banfi vineyards and winery. The entire estate is lined with rosemary shrubs, pomegranate and plum trees. Not to mention a few hundred thousand rows of grape vines that spill down from the hilltop where the castle (hotel) reigns, into the Tuscan forests and countryside. It is by the pool, however, that Banfi wins you over for good. Surrounded on three sides by citrus and fruit trees, all it takes is a slight reach to grab a snack: a few fresh figs would go nicely with the complimentary bottles of house vino that sit underneath the stone archway. Right next to the slippers and robes. A glass of brunello, a slice of fig and the Tuscan countryside stretching as far as you care to look and your reality is relaxation. 

3. BYOW(wine) under the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Eiffel Tower is always far away. I don’t care where you are in Paris, when you walk to it, you’re always almost there. Once you get to it, but remember you’re always far away from it, but once you do get to it, the famous landmark doesn’t disappoint. It may be touristy and cliché but impress you, she will. Especially because it took so long to get there in the first place.

Which makes it all the more important to make a few stops along the way. There’s the cheese shop, let’s pick up a stinky wheel. Oh look, patisserie, how about some delicious treats. Some meat here, a jar of fruit preserves there and that smell – oh that smell of fresh baked bread can only mean a warm baguette in your near future. Of course, don’t forget the vino.

When you do reach the Tower, walk to it, near it, under it and pop out the other side, away from the crowds onto the greenway. Pull up a square of grass and mimic the other lovers basking in the shadow of arguably the world’s most famous landmark. The view is of the tower, yes, and as awe-inspiring as that may be, the more interesting scenery is created by your fellow gawkers, cuddlers, readers, photographers, painters, Parisians and hustlers scattered around. Look up in wonder. Look around and wonder. Look at your empty wine glass and wonder if it gets any better.

2. Hotel Boscollo Bellini, Venice, Italy

This spot was one procured out of luck and utilized out of necessity. Because sometimes the view doesn't have to be of wide, sweeping vistas. 

Hotel Boscolo Bellini is a classy, smallish establishment near the Venice train station. Any visitor would do well to stay there. But any visitor would do even better to get the room we got (and as soon as I remember the room number I’ll let you know. It’ll probably be right around the time I remember the exact day I learned how to read, or when I remember anything about Trigonometery or when I remember my wedding anniversary – we all know the odds aren’t good).

Two large floor to cathedral ceiling curtains covered what I assumed were windows. Upon further investigation, however, I discovered large doors that opened onto the roof of the first level of the hotel. Whether or not this private roof deck was meant for human relaxation, I know not. But the rickety wrought iron bistro table and chairs suggested it was. The hotel itself is worth staying, regardless of the room and we weren’t the only ones with a balcony, just the biggest.

Skip ahead to that night, strolling home from dinner in Murano. A liquor store about halfway down the Rio Terra Lista de Spagna was hawking local hooch in the road. I couldn’t resist and walked away with the most delicious aperitif – a creamy, potent pistachio liqueur. Two bottles, in fact.

Venice can be done in one day. The canals, the pigeons, the people. When you’re lucky enough to be handed a private roof deck, it’s necessary to turn your back on the Grande Canal to sit and sip in peace. The outdoor area faced the opposite direction from the water, but rather looked out onto a much more real part of Venice. The rooftops faded into the sunset and a quite neighborhood crowded around a small courtyard. There were no sounds of water taxis or yelling tourists. Rather, clanking dinner plates and idle Italian chatter. Clotheslines strung between homes swayed effortlessly. It was a view of Venice not on the pages of a guidebook. No map names the neighborhood we watched power down for the night. And a bottle of pistachio booze helped bring hectic Venice to a peaceful close. 

1. A Pie de Mar - Lovers walk bar, Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

There are no poor views in the Cinque Terre. There are simply personal favorites. Anchoring one end of the famed hiking path that strings these five seaside towns together like grapes on a vine is A Pie de Mar. As you ascend from Riomaggiore to begin the “Lovers Walk” portion of the trail, a stone stairway peaks out seemingly leading down off the cliffside into the rocky waters below. But take the plunge and you dive into a patio bar with nothing but blue sky blocking the oceanic panorama. Grab a table at the edge and lean against the short rock wall buffeting the patio perimeter. Order a carafe. It doesn’t matter what it’s filled with; could be wine made from the tiered hillside vineyards, limoncello from the local lemon trees dotting the slopes or Cinque Terre’s infamous Schiachettra. Like the views, there are no poor drinks in Cinque Terre. Just personal favorites. Here, it’s all made within shouting distance so there’s a good chance you can express your fondness for a specific pour its maker, or at least someone who knows him.

As you watch the residents set out across the sea in their multi-colored fishing boats that match their multi-colored houses, you’ll start to question whether or not you actually want to get up and continue the hike. You should, it’s a good opportunity to discover your personal favorites, perhaps in the midst of an olive grove or atop a rocky outcrop. But there’s no harm in coming back to A Pie de Mar when you’re done. Just to see if it’s your personal favorite.

Your picks:

- Sarah Shemkus: "The Caffe Poliziano in Montepulciano in Tuscany. Beautiful inside, has a couple of tiny balconies with amazing views. Fellini used to hang out there. Like many cafes and bars in Italy, they do coffee and food and drinks." Check Sarah out on Twitter @Shemkus

- Liz Paciello Rappa: "Old city Antwerp....I once stayed in a castle that was converted into a hotel. The restaurant overlooked the castle grounds. Amazing."

- Monica Golik Manhoney: "The vineyard right outside the old Prague castle! Tim and I got a carafe and stared out onto our lands ... I mean admired the landscape."

- Bren Sullivan: "There was a bar near the Globe Theater in London, right on the banks of the Thames. It was actually a beautiful summer's day when I was there, and we ate and drank outside."

- Dianne Morad: "Bateaux Parisiens,'s not an especially fancy place, but it sits on the Seine. We took a river cruise on Christmas night and had dinner and drinks afterward at the restaurant. The view was beautiful."Check out Dianne on Twitter @DiMorad 

Get on our WiTList

Wherever it Takes (WiT) Lists aren't top tens, top fives or top anythings. They're simply lists of places, people, experiences, things, bars, drinks, food, festivals - stuff, stuff that inspire the stories we all love to tell when we come home from a great trip.

Each list will grow from Monday through Friday, a new item on the list posted each day to the blog. Twitter will let you know the WiTList's topic for that week and the latest item put on it each day. But the blog will have a more detailed, albeit succinct description of why it made the list. On Friday check back to for the whole list.

We're asking for your suggestions too! Just send your favorites for that week's topic to @WhereverItTakes on Twitter and/or #WiTLists

I'll be adding reader suggestions to the blog as they come in. So send them along and tell us your story!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Got Moose? 11-13-2011

My mother and father never brought us up to globetrot. Travel, we did. One summer we hit up Toronto for the Hockey Hall of Fame; the Blackhawks won when we saw them play at Chicago’s United Center (my brother and I were rink rats, if you haven’t figured that out yet).

But international was simply a word in front of “House of Pancakes.” Fine, Canada is another country and I played my share of hockey tournaments in Montreal. But in the early 90s you didn’t need a passport to get across the border and you didn’t have to speak French to know the Canadian kids were going to kick our ass. So they don’t count. 

What all this did mean, however, was an ingrained love for our places: those worn down used up but too damn comfortable to throw away spots we all grew up with. A cabin, a lake, a beach, a dock, a park, a hotel, a game or for some of us, the pursuit of the elusive.

Right outside of North Conway, New Hampshire, hidden down a dirt road (it’s been paved since Bush, Sr. but I like to remember it rustic) surrounded by the White Mountains, my mother and father gave us nature. It was a small condo with a wide-open yard, perfect for campfires and sledding, depending on the season or how dumb my cousins and I decided to be at any given moment. There were blackberry bushes, raccoons, even black bears. Fresh air and family time were great, but now, in hindsight, I realize there was something bigger at play. There was another, more mysterious reason for why they drove us three hours away to this mountain village.

Moose. Not the hair product. Not the dessert. One moose. Many moose. Brake for moose. Just moose. Got moose?

It was the one elusive creature native to the White Mountains that my mother and father had never laid eyes on.

I can hear Dad now saying, after we sold the condo, “I always wanted to see a moose.”

I see vividly the line of cars along Route 16 just outside of Jackson, all pulled over onto the grass. I can hear Mom ask one of the bystanders what they were looking at and the woman, with a look of pity in her eyes, reply, “You just missed them. A mother and two babies. Moose. They’re gone, down into the trees. They were breathtaking.”

Breathtaking might have been a bit superfluous of a description (I used to think). But nevertheless, we were a minute late to see something many folks never come close to in nature.

In the years since the condo has come and gone, our trips to the White Mountains dwindled and altered into lake vacations and jaunts to Maine. Rebuilding the “our places” motif, nothing changed there, but always knowing some big, antlered hole would always remain.

But Canada changed all that (see, I had a reason for including them a few paragraphs ago – and you were scratching your head wondering why I’ve been mentioned the maple leafs so much).

Fast-forward a dozen years, hundreds of passed “Brake for Moose” signs and zero moose sightings.

The signs along the highway from Quebec City to the U.S. border don’t command you to stop for the massive creatures. They simply say “Moose.” Basic enough, and yet loaded enough to spark a conversation about moose between my wife and I on our way home from a long weekend in the great white north. 

We skipped across the Canadian plains that edge the countryside, hopped the border and began winding up and wending down Vermont’s high-altitude hills. At the state line New Hampshire welcomed us with Bienvenue (how appropriate) and the “Moose” signs continued.

Slipping through Franconia Notch, we rounded a turn near the Old Man of the Mountain site. The highway here narrows into one lane on either side, tightly packed between rocky faces and scenic turnoffs. I took my foot off the gas, thinking maybe it’d be nice to stop and admire the national park service’s identified tourist stops. The Notch is beautiful, even on an overcast day and we had been driving for way too long. We needed a pit stop.

But something made me skip over the Old Man of the Mountain stop. He’s crumbled and gone and frankly, he always sort of creeped me out.

Just as we rounded the next bend, I immediately regretted my decision because of the line of traffic and red brake lights that stretched out ahead of me.

It had been such smooth sailing, I thought, it’s Sunday afternoon, what the hell is going on. Accident? I bet it’s an accident. I should’ve stopped, then at least we could’ve taken some pictures instead of waited behind all these cars.

Then I noticed here was no accident. There were people standing outside their cars, staring down a short slope at the forest’s edge. People with cameras.

My wife said, “Why are all those people out there. Is that an accident?”

I immediately regretted regretting my decision to stop. I immediately knew.

“Moose,” I said to her. “It’s gotta be a moose. People wouldn’t stop like this for anything else.”

So we did too.

Down the slope, less than twenty yards from the road, a bull moose larger than my Ford Explorer with antlers you could sit in like a Lazy-Boy stood proudly, inquisitively searching over the dozens of human adults gawking like school children.

He shifted slowly, then took a few long, slow strides, his legs leaning like timbers hinged together. My heart was in my eyeballs when I crouch to take a photo, zoomed in and in that snap, he looked directly at me. Around those huge brown nostrils, the edges of his mouth curled up into what could only have been a smile. He was milkin’ it for the camera.

He had a brown coat that shifted like a gradient into white at his rear. The antlers rose from his crown like golden tree limbs, almost shiny from our vantage point. At the risk of sounding hackneyed, the damn thing was majestic. Breathtaking, even. Animals in zoos are one thing; but to stare at a solitary creature in the wild (as wild as the side of a main thoroughfare can get), one with the power to trample everyone in sight at the snap of a twig, really does stop your breathing a bit.

After ten minutes, none of the people were leaving. The curious thing was, 90% were adults. Just a few scattered children. And two locals in camo hunting gear that walked through the crowd salivating and saying, “that there’s the biggest damn moose I ever saw.”

People only moved along once the main attraction had his fill. He turned his antlers into the high brush and lumbered through the undergrowth until all you knew of his existence was the creaking sound of saplings being trampled under his girth.

I think I smiled all the way until we got cell phone service. When we finally did, I called my father.

“Hey day,” I said, giddy as a child, “what’s the one thing you’ve always, always, always wanted to see up in New Hampshire?”

“No you didn’t,” he said. “Did you take a picture?”

Monday, November 14, 2011

gastrO'Canada: Rabbit, Red Deer and Really Strange Ice Cream 11/12/11

Try not to feel guilty in Le Lapin Sauté, a quaint French country style bistro, tucked away in the equally as quaint artist neighborhood that hides in the shadows below the walls of Old Quebec.

The shame comes not from indulging in fragrant desserts or deep red wine, or even the chef’s decadent dishes, which arrive tableside still sizzling in their sauced drippings.

I challenge anyone not to feel a tinge of guilt when your dinner’s former likeness is glaring at you en masse from every corner of the room. Black, beady eyes, some painted, some sewn, wait judging while you wait for your wine. 

At least until the waitress places the lapin cassoulet on your placemat, the cast-iron pot still hissing from the oven as juices stream from the rabbit leg into a bath of white beans and bacon. Your first bite and the wooden rabbit statues, the smiling rabbit paintings and the silhouetted rabbit curtains immediately disappear into the background. To hell with them. Better yet, to the oven to make me seconds. 

Le Lapin Sauté specializes in its namesake (lapin = rabbit) and they infuse the furry little foragers with the best of French-Canadian cuisine. That is, French-style cooking with the Canadians’ industrious use of seasonal foodstuffs.

They cook with what’s around. They include maple syrup in some way in almost everything. And they skin, sear and serve just about anything that was once cute and cuddly. It endears the food to the homeland and vice versa. And despite the obvious French foundation, the cuisine contained swirls of a unique Quebec identity.

Take the grilled rabbit with mustard sauce. The meat was tender with an appropriate light game flavor, while the mustard provided a gentle zing. Yet underneath a maple sweetness rolled around the tongue. A little bit of Canada in the little bits of bunny.

We tried four variations of rabbit at Le Lapin Saute. The mustard and its plate pairing, olive sauce smothered medallions. All around were fresh root vegetables, mostly carrots for obvious reasons, chunked and simply charred, perfect for swathing up what sauce stayed on the plate.

The aforementioned cassoulet, a white bean and bacon casserole served piping hot in its cast-iron bed; the vehicle for a thick confit rabbit leg. The meaty thigh submerged in the oil and flavor and bacon beans and the bone pierced through looking like a stirring spoon. The meat shredded off with the lightest touch, tender and juicy with an almost poultry taste, albeit more earthy. Soaking in the stew was a rabbit sausage, filled with fennel and the mineral bite that comes from small game.

From such small animals came such big flavor. Flavor for a price, in Quebec. It is an expensive city, even during an off-season in mid-November. Every restaurant tacks on two taxes, prior to gratuity, on top of mid to high range prices. The problem, however, was that there was no low to mid range options. There are very few, if any, quick-stop spots. Our American perspective sees fast food or a step up to a sandwich shop as perfect lunch options. Even on the streets of Paris or Rome, where food is a snobbish lifestyle, there exist sandwich shops with ham and cheese baguettes or a quick street vendor. In Quebec there are none, save for the random Subway tucked between a furrier and souvenir shop.

When in search of a quick bite for lunch, I ended up sitting down. Why? Because every place was a sit-down restaurant.

If Le Lapin Saute is any example, the food prices should simply be a guidepost, not a deterrent. The food itself is hearty and filling, regardless of eatery, so two large meals a day still resulted in full bellies. Traveling in the off-season meant cheap hotels and virtually no lines or waits. Driving meant no airline or airline baggage fees.

Above all, it means embracing a slower pace, spawned from the lack of fast-food and the boon of cafes and bistros.

One of those was Pain Beni (don’t ask me to translate, I did the yeoman’s work with The Sautéed Rabbit). Twenty yards from our Hotel Clarendon, down the short cobblestone walk that connects it to the sprawl of the Frontenac grounds, you’ll know you’re there by the red light above the stone steps.

I chose it because the menu served Quebec Red Deer with berry and juniper sauce, and frankly I couldn’t walk away from that. I tackled rabbit, locally grown pork, the farmers market down along the riverfront (local iced cider and plum wine doled out in samples) – so red deer from down the road seemed an appropriate nightcap.

The modern décor of Pain Beni reflected their menu. And yet, like the rest of Quebec, it was rooted in the root veggies and local products procured around the province. Oysters three-ways (fried, sautéed in lemon and garlic and raw with oyster foam) bridged to the venison I was promised. The loin was exquisitely seared, but rare as was the house custom (I was told by our jovial waitress). Dollops of raspberry sauce and juniper sauce spotted the edges of the plate. One tangy, one a sweet woodsy flavor that when combined, tasted like a holiday medley spread over the meat. Which itself was strong and wild, but reigned in by mild peppery spices. The truffle potatoes came in the form of a white brick, which were actually layered, paper-thin potato slices held together by black truffles and truffle oil. Decadent, for sure but the deer held up next to the overpowering truffle.

If dinner wasn’t modern Quebec, dessert sure was. An apple and butternut squash pie, deconstructed in similar fashion to the truffle potato brick. Only around it were maple crumbles, butternut squash puree and sage-infused whipped cream. The autumn spices danced through each piece, fusing together when combined. The squash and apple complimented each other, one tart and the other slightly savory, but both sweet around the edges. 

Atop the entire dish, however, reigned a cool abomination – cheddar cheese ice cream. It was cheese. It was ice cream. And alone, a spoonful hit the tongue sour, remained that way until the distinct cheddar flavor melted away. It was unnatural, even though ice cream and cheese are naturally related. But when added to the apple pie, the ice cream took on an entirely new character. It lost all sourness, the cheese flavor died to mild and the fruits jazzed up into the forefront. It became a perfect bite: all familiar things but totally unique. 

As we sat in the Hotel Clarendon lounge listening to jazz and sipping port, I looked around for rabbit statues or perhaps a deer painting. None. No furry creatures looking down at me with accusing stares. 

Indulge in Quebec, nothing to feel guilty about here. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Walled City - Quebec, Canada

The guttural accented border guard pricks up your ears even before the ink on your passport has time to dry. In that instant, though, America and the English language evaporate into fleurs de lys. You’re in French-Canada and you better start translating, fast.

Quebec wastes no time telling you who she is, an obvious identity from the get-go. She's guarded, all defenses raised upon first contact. Its eponymous city along the St. Lawrence is even surrounded by a centuries-old rampart. 

Being dropped into a location whose people speak a language different than my own is not new, nor is it frightening, intimidating or frustrating. In most cases it is refreshing and exciting, with that hint of discovery and adventure always associated with international travel.

With Canada (French-speaking Quebec Province, to be fair to the rest of our neighbors to the north), the shock comes from the immediacy of it all.

Even in Switzerland, where we boarded a train speaking French and disembarked into a station labeled solely in German, my ever-fluctuating vernacular adjusted quicker. And that nation tosses three languages around (Italian, French and German) like a juggler on a high wire, if you drop one your life depends on how well you handle the other two.

At least there were options in the Alps.

The first sign over the border into Quebec, and every road sign, kilometer marker and billboard to follow, was entirely in French. No warning. No English translation underneath.

When you enter New Hampshire from Massachusetts, the sign says “Welcome” and “Bienvenue.” Not in Quebec.

Yet after an hour humming along the highway, north then sharply northeast, I found myself enjoying the challenge; racking my brain over root words and the similarities to more familiar Romance languages. I was back in that Swiss train station, slack-jawed staring at an unfamiliar departure board. The novelty of Quebec hit me like the 4pm Eurorail to Zurich. I was international in my own car. I was abroad without a customs check. I was overseas simply by crossing the St. Lawrence River.

We approached Quebec City and its uniqueness glinted on the horizon; or was that the chateau copper roof of the Hotel Frontenac, looming over the mighty river as sentinel to Old Town? 

Under the stone archway, behind the walls and the city reminds you she’s different. The walls are there, literal and verbal, but you can simply glide right past them. The city is not what she seems. She’s unlike you – it doesn’t matter who you are. 

She’s made up in the European style, yet with a beauty that rises from the working shipyards along the riverbank, through the cobblestone alleys, Parisian row houses and up, up, up the Cap Diamant cliffside, where cannons and horse-drawn carriages alike await all comers. Protected by the illustrious Hotel Frontenac, with spires and multi-tiered chateau roofs concealing a bygone glamour and rich history steeped in winter revelry and French-Canadian lore.

Walking from our Hotel Clarendon, around the corner to the Frontenac and cliffs edge boardwalk, the November gray broke to allow blue sky a few hours indulgence.

At the railing I looked down and scanned the shops and houses rolling to the riverside. The rooftops were multi-colored, with wooden ladders attached from gutter to peak. Snow removal or chimney cleaning? Probably both, I guessed. When I turned my sights back toward the city, the Frontenac absorbed most of the scene. But around the perimeter waited a military garrison, an old stone Catholic church, a cobblestone street lined with artist stalls and a massive building yanked straight from banks of the Seine.

There was no Eiffel Tower, no Big Ben, no Coliseum. And in that sense, the touristy Europe feel dissipated with the afternoon clouds.

Crowds were slim, due to the off-season. Soon winter would take full hold and the second high-tourist season would begin. But the streets now allowed for strolling.

Even though the store signs, street signs and menu boards were in French, every “Bonjour” was followed by a “hello.” Not once was the city not bilingual in every respect, despite the province’s desire to make everyone else think otherwise.

No time-consuming tourist traps. No space-consuming crowds. No brain-consuming translations. This was Europe without the “Europa.”

Quebec City is definitively not American. Nor would I even label her Canadian. She is her own brand of “European.” Accessible, unimposing and can be toppled in a long weekend; and yet, hearty and fulfilling (for the stomach and the soul), vibrant and relaxing, historic without stuffiness.

I found it odd I was only six hours from home. I said so to my wife, as we walked hand in hand along a cobblestone road through the shadow of a stunning chapel belltower.

“You know, Paris is only six hours from home,” she said. “But we can drive here.”