Quebec in time

Despite all of its leanings in favour of its French heritage, Quebec City owes as much to its British forebears as it does our historic rivals. Oddly enough it’s because of the British defeat over the French in 1759 that so much French culture, including language, has survived: allowing the most recent British citizens to keep their old ways made it much less likely they would side with America in the event of further hostilities south of the border. Because of this there is such a blend of influences from the two once competing nations, although unfortunately in my case this also included he weather; sweltering 30+ degree heat followed by it absolutely pissing it down.

Not that battling the elements was my first challenge, that being finding a way out of Quebec coach station at 4 in the morning. Thanks to an open gate in an underground car park I managed it eventually, and (after a decent night’s sleep) found the city to be more than worth anything it wanted to throw at me.

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Within the fortified city walls, the only ones north of Mexico still standing, Vieux-Quebec is just a small part of the city overall (not that I bothered which much of the rest of it), and walking its streets it very much feels like a quaint European town. It’s no wonder the ‘Historic District of Old Québec’ was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985.

Despite its protected history however, it’s still very modern and the past and present are often combined. The citadelle overlooking the St Lawrence river is an official residence of the monarch of Canada (ie, Queen Elizabeth II) and also hosted conferences between leaders of the allied powers during WWII in which many of the details for the D-Day landings were discussed. More than this though, it is still an active military base and home to the Royal 22nd Regiment, often referred to as the ‘Van Doos’ due to the fact that they are the only French-speaking regiment within the Canadian Army.

Despite this your can still tour the historic fortifications, although only by following a guide at all times. Obviously much is off-limits (including on of the oldest brick buildings in North America, although that’s kept off the tour because it’s empty and boring), but there is also a museum which tells of he foundation and history of the 22nd Regiment, from WWI, through Korea and Afghanistan.

SAM_5028Standing on a citadelle lookout also gives one of the best views of perhaps its most recognisable feature, the Château Frontenac. Despite celebrating its own 125th anniversary, it was in fact itself built as a hotel, catering to those who wished to explore the city’s history even back in the 1890s and is considered to be he most photographed hotel in the world. Purpose built for tourists, obviously its link to the present means there is now a Starbucks located just behind the lobby.

SAM_5107Despite a few failed attempts at conversing in French (it’s appreciated that you try, but can often lead to being asked questions you can’t knowingly answer), he most confusing thing during my stay however, was an art installation called “Où tu vas quand tu dors en marchant…?”, which translates to “where are you going when you’re sleepwalking?” A series of tableaus which seemed to bear no resemblance to each other, one a depiction of a protest turned riot in which most mannequins were wearing animal masks, another a long corrider decorated with shoes and wheeled objects (a pram, a skateboards, an office chair) all painted pure white which represented the stages of life, and another which I can only describe as “very performance studies” which took place in an elaborate garden.

Obviously these had deeper meanings which I failed to completely comprehend, but are much like Quebec itself. It doesn’t matter if you understand everything or just pieces here and there, the beauty is in just walking around and taking it all in.

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Yes we Canberra

Despite being the national capital and purposefully placed between Sydney and Melbourne, Canberra is a city that not many backpackers visit. One reason for this is that not all venture further south than Sydney anyway, but also because there isn’t as much to do there.

Far from the coast it doesn’t have any beaches or lagoons, and any buildings that could be described as landmarks are mostly functional rather than anything else. There are several galleries and museums, but again, these are not always at the top of young backpackers’ to do lists. Whilst I am glad I got to visit Canberra on my trip (which I have to admit was mainly out of curiosity), I was only there for little over 24hrs, which personally I found to be adequate.

Still looks rather swish, regardless of what it resembles.

Still looks rather swish, regardless of what it resembles.

The city really reminded me of Washington D.C., built specifically to be a capital city it is comprised almost entirely of government buildings and memorials to the armed forces and various wars and conflicts. I walked through the city to Capital Hill which involves walking past the old Parliament House to get to the current new one. The first being regal and ornate, almost exactly what you would expect from a building of its period, whereas the new was highly modern. So modern in fact, it has the appearance of being built right into the hill itself, much like something from the Teletubbies. I’ll leave you to make your own decision of what that says about politics in the 21st Century.

While Canberra might be lacking in quantity of places to visit, these certainly do not lack in quality; some deliberate, some just amusing. I continued walking down across Lake Burly Griffin, and found a great example of the weirdness of how the Commonwealth works. On Aspen Island stands a Carillon, a musical instrument composed of dozens of bell, and which was a gift to the people of Australia from the British government, and was accepted by H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth II. Seems a long way to come to accept something from people who are basically your neighbours.

G for George, kept in pristine condition since the 40s.

G for George, kept in pristine condition since the 40s.

Chief among those places of actual quality however, is the Australian War Memorial. A place to remember those who fought and died in Australia’s wars, going below the surface (both figuratively and actually) brings you to a museum of uniforms and artefacts, each telling their own individual story. These then lead you to the Anzac Hall, which houses the biggest, and most treasured pieces, chief among them being G For George, an original Lancaster used by Bomber Command in World War II. Sticking to the memorials principle of not glorifying, but commemorating war, George, along with various other planes, and even a Japanese Submarine, are accompanied by videos which use both original and recreated footage to give a sense of what happened on both sides of aerial conflict.

Over 62,000 names from WWI alone.

Over 62,000 names from WWI alone.

The exit again brings you to the memorial itself, along the walls of which are the names of all the Australians who died during World Wars I and II. These in turn lead up to the tomb of the unknown soldier, a feature used by several countries but here accompanied the emotional epitaph that recognises the bravery and sacrifice of a normal man who will never be known but represents so many:

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