I've been back from vacation for over a week now and I've yet to write it up. About time, don't you think? This is a long one, so I give everyone permission to skim through and just look at the pretty pictures. You know you're gonna. I started the drive North on Thursday the 21st. Since I was driving the whole way, by myself, I had decided to break up the trip by spending the night in Plattsburgh, NY. Why Plattsburgh? Mostly because it was at a good point in the drive and I figured that it would be fairly cheap to get a room in the town. Plattsburgh was pretty dull. It's a college town and it probably is a lot more hopping when the students are there. But during the summer there weren't many folks around the town center. I got a room at the local Super 8 and took a drive around looking for a place to eat. The only choices appeared to be fast food, but I found an interesting little hot dog stand where they still had servers that would come out to your car. Clare and Carl's served what is called a 'Michigan'. Not having any idea what that was, I got a hamburger, which was good, but I should have tried the hot dog buried in chili sauce, onions and mustard. Friday I checked out early and headed toward Canada. The border crossing was uneventful, but suddenly all the road signs were in French. I had been getting French language radio stations since leaving Plattsburgh. It felt so odd to be such a short distance from home and to feel completely foreign. It took about 4 hours to get from the Plattsburgh to Quebec. When I got to the city I wasn't able to cross the Grand Allee, one of the main east-west roads, by car to get to my hotel. All traffic was being diverted. Since it was still pretty early, I decided to park the car and walk around a bit to get a feel for the area. I was hoping that I might be able to walk to the hotel and figure out an alternative way to drive there. I also needed to get some cash so that I could buy something to eat. After using my bank card in a local ATM yielded a handful of Canadian cash I headed down the Rue St-Jean looking for someplace interesting to eat. Rue St-Jean is a fun street with little boutiques and arty stores. It had a very college town feel with young people hanging around street benches. I didn't find food, though. My hunger was making me grouchy and anxious along with the 90 minute limit there had been on my parking spot. But I did manage to figure out how I could possibly detour around whatever was going on on the Grand Allee and get to my hotel. Once I got the the Chateau Laurier where I was staying I checked in and arranged to park my car in their parking lot. I then hit the Grand Allee which is lined with restaurants and also happened to be right outside my window. My first meal in Quebec was at an Italian place called Casa Calzone where I had a giant Calzone and a glass of beer. I sat at a table outside on the sidewalk, surrounded by people speaking French, and watched the world go by. Later that evening I was restless and noticed that the park right in front of the hotel was set up for a concert of some sort. As part of the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of Quebec's founding, there were military bands in town and free concerts every night. So I decided to watch for a while. I nearly cracked up when I realized that, over 500 miles away from NYC, and I was watching the NYPD Jazz Band perform. Saturday morning I got up early to partake of the breakfast being provided to the marathon participants by the hotel. Afterwards, I wandered into the lobby and bumped into the crew from the College Point Track Club. They were headed out for a run. I didn't mention that my cell phone had stopped working when I got close to the border and I had not been able to contact anyone who was supposed to be coming up for the race. So I was pleased to see Carmen and Hector, who I knew, and Robert and Tony, who I hadn't previously met. They said they were having some problems with their phones, as well, and hadn't heard from the rest of the bunch. I wished them a good run and told them I'd see them later. A little later I headed over to the Race Expo to get my race packet and to see if I would bump into anyone from the club. I got there when it opened at 9 and hung around until after 11. I did bump into the College Pt. group again, but didn't see any of my teammates. I decided to heck with them and headed down into the Old Town to look around.
Quebec is a wonderful little city. Most of the tourist stuff is within easy walking distance of everything else. So I just wandered around, getting an idea of how the city was laid out. I grabbed a quick soup and sandwich for lunch and just tried to enjoy myself. When I was walking up the Rue St-Louis I noticed that quite a few people were out on the sides of the road. Many of them had folding chairs or were simply seated on the curb. I wondered what was going on as I meandered through the shops. Then I saw a band coming down the avenue and realized that there was going to be a parade! Fantastic! So I whipped out my camera and got a spot on the side of the road. There must have been about 50 military units that came down that street, all within touching distance, and quite a few in fancy dress. Saturday evening was the marathon pasta party, which it just so happens, was being held in my hotel. This is where I finally found the whole AP Striders crew - Rob, Helen, Gerry, Gillian and Marge. We enjoyed a pretty good pasta dinner and great desserts while we caught each other up with what we'd done in town, so far. Sunday morning I was awake and at breakfast by 5:30am. After trying to figure out what I could eat without taking the chance of upsetting my tummy, we headed out to the shuttle buses that were taking us to a ferry to get to the other side of the St. Lawrence River. More buses would meet us there to take us to the starting lines of the full and half marathons. Both races started in Levis and ran along the bank of the St. Lawrence, crossed a bridge and then ran back the other side to return into Quebec City. The day promised to be a long hot one. At 7:30 we were sent off by cannon blasts. I had heard that the course was fairly flat, except for one hill within the first two miles and the incline of the bridge. Well, there were actually two pretty memorable hills before we hit the bridge at approximately the 3.5 mile mark. Up and over the bridge, I felt OK and was staying on pace for a 2:10 finish. The heat and, probably, the travels before the race, caught up with me around the 6 mile mark. I just felt the sudden need to walk. So I did for a short bit and then tried to pick up a run. This worked for a while, but it got harder and harder to resume running each time. I stopped at each and every water stop to drink a cup and douse myself with the other. I sipped at the Gatorade that I had with me. I had been eating a little, but when I took a Clif Shot Block at around the 7 mile mark it started a distinctly queasy feeling in my stomach. I had no desire to nurture this feeling, so I stopped taking in anything except for a little water. Instead, I started putting a great deal of water on the outside of me. I was literally dripping as I moved. I really wanted to stop, but didn't have a good enough reason to, so I soldiered on. I bumped into a New York Flyer at about the 10 mile mark. I chatted with her for a little bit, which distracted me from desire to stop. Her name was Marj and she had come to Quebec for vacation and thrown the race into the mix. I managed to keep mostly moving for the next couple of miles. I saw some of the non-runners with our group on the sideline with about 3k to go. Waved at them and headed toward the finish line. There was a nice big chute for us to finish through and a red carpet to welcome us in. I was never so happy to stop running. Tony from College Point finished a minute or two behind me and saw me as I waited on a line to get my picture taken. I heard that Hector from their club had collapsed at the finish line. No one seemed to know how serious it was and they were looking for his wife, Carmen. Fortunately, it just ended up being bad leg cramps and Hector was much better later. After getting my photo taken I headed toward the food tables and the exit. This is where it got truly ridiculous. With runners coming in from 3 separate races, many of them suffering from the heat and dehydration, the race organizers decided to make sure that no one took more than one bottle of water or a fair share of the other foodstuffs offered. They funneled all the finishers through a tent to a single gate with a few people stuffing items into a plastic bag they gave you before you entered. This left the majority of the finishers standing outside the tent in the sun and the heat without water or shade. I just knew that I was going to be sick if I had to stay there too long. I just dropped to the ground and sat for a while with my head between my knees while hundreds of runners milled around me. When I felt well enough to get up, I shoved my way out and past the crap they were giving out. I then just lay down on the lawn under a tree for a few minutes. Eventually, Marge from AP found me and helped me put myself together and leave the park. It was a very long walk back to the hotel, nevermind that in my addled brainlessness I got us lost and added an extra uphill climb to our trek. Marge had spoken to the rest of AP, who were staying at a different hotel than we were, and arranged for us to meet later for dinner. So I went up to my room and showered and laid down for a bit. Later that evening, we met the rest of the gang for dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Gambrinus in the Old Town. If anyone is going to Quebec, I would highly recommend this place. The food was good, the staff was attentive and the atmosphere was comfortable. We had a fine time comparing race experiences and discussing everyone's plans for the next day's sightseeing. Everyone had had a hard time in the race, but had enjoyed it nevertheless. Monday dawned chilly and damp - oh why couldn't we have had that weather for the race? At breakfast, we again bumped into the College Point gang. Much ado was made of the fact that a photo of Hector's dramatic collapse on the finish line had made one of the local newspapers. After breakfast, Marge and I hit the town. I showed her all around the touristy areas. We wandered around boutiques and checked out the excavations of the original fort. We then rode the Funicular down to the Petit Champlain area at the base of the cliff that the main city sits on. The Funicular is sort of a glass elevator that rides down tracks on the side of the cliff. Marge said they have similar things in Italy to get up and down the mountains. The Petit Champlain area is darling. Very cute without being too sweet. All these cobblestone streets that are lined with small stores. We ate a late lunch at a place called Le Cochon Dingue (the Crazy Pig) and made friends with a moose. We wandered through a lace shop and chatted with a craftswoman in a museum about her needlework, although she spoke no English and we spoke very little French. After we returned to hotel later and freshened up, Marge and I met up again for dinner. The College Point group had invited us to dinner with them, but they were going to try Gambrinus and we didn't feel like walking that far and wanted to try a new place. We wandered the Grand Allee looking for a likely candidate, but nothing was striking our fancy. So we finally ended up right across the street from the hotel in the Restaurant Aux Vieux Canons. This was the worst dining experience of the entire trip. I ordered something off the Pris Fixe menu and it was alright, but Marge ordered a chicken dish that she said was awful. Tuesday we decided that today we were going to finally have crepes. This was the one thing that I wanted to eat while I was in Quebec. Poutine was on the list, as well, but it honestly doesn't sound too appetizing. So we set off for the Rue St-Jean for that was where two of the recommended creperies were located. After a morning of browsing and shopping we still hadn't hit the restaurant that I was looking for. I was certain it was on the Rue St-Jean, but Marge was doubting my memory so she tried asking some of the people in shops. Asking for a crepe shop was getting blank stares, but I managed to string most of the French name of the place together when we spoke to a guard in an office building. Au Petit Coin Breton was all the way down in the Old Town, but it was worth the trek. The restaurant is small. You can watch them make your crepes while you wait. The waitresses wear traditional garb from Brittany, the home of the crepe. These are not the tiny little crepes that you get in some places for breakfast. These crepes are large and substantial and they can be filled with either a savory filling or a sweet filling. I opted for a ham, spinach and cheese concoction. It was fantastic. Tuesday night was our last night in town. We ate at a little restaurant with a diner-like feel, L'Omelette. The food wasn't fancy, but it doesn't present itself as a fancy restaurant, so I wasn't disappointed. We ended up chatting with the people who sat next to us who were in from England. He supplied golf clothing for an historic golf game that was going to happen on the Plains of Abraham in honor of its 100th anniversary. We compared food choices and suggested places to see in NY to his wife who was going to be coming for a weekend the following week. After dinner, Marge and I wandered a bit around the Old Town looking for a likely place that we could sit outside and have a drink. We ended up back at Gambrinus where we toasted a fantastic vacation. We parted in the hotel lobby where I promised to give Marge a call when I hit my hotel in Vermont. Wednesday morning I arose early and started to lug my baggage down to my car. Bumped into Marge when I went to look at what the breakfast was like. We both decided to pass when it appeared that we would have been the only ones there. Marge said that she would probably grab something at the airport and I decided to grab something on the road. Goodbyes were said again and I went to get my car. My drive to Vermont was nice. I had Mapquested the directions to Burlington and they took me through more rural sections of Quebec and Vermont until I was almost there. I got to Burlington in the early afternoon. The entire center of town is busy and all the streets are metered, so I ended up parking my car far outside the main part of town and walking in. Hit Church St. which is a closed mall and found a likely restaurant to grab some lunch. While sitting waiting for my food, my phone suddenly lit up - signal was achieved! I had voicemails waiting from everyone who had tried to contact me while I was in Canada. I called my Mom to let her know that I was OK. After lunch, I wandered around for a few hours. Had to grab an ice cream at the Ben & Jerry's which I think is the original shop. Then headed back to my car and out to my hotel. The drive back to New York the following day was pretty uneventful, except for a lunch stop in New Paltz where I attended college. Ate in the pizza shop I always used to go to and noted all the places that were gone and some of the new shops that were nice replacements. The Striders are already talking about going back next year, possibly. If not, perhaps making another trip together. I think everyone was agreed that it was one of the best vacations that we had ever had.