Sunday, July 14, 2013

All Aboard for the Gourmet Train to Quebec

All the shops in Montreal are open at last, but it is already time for us to leave for Quebec.  Xingxing says a reluctant goodbye to the squirrels in the park, and we board our train.
VIA (the government body that runs the railway) has given Xingxing special permission to ride with me on the train, rather than in the baggage car.  At the moment, the Canadian government only recognizes dogs who assist the blind or the deaf as being entitled to be treated as "service dogs" -- but VIA is in the process of reviewing (and hopefully broadening) its policy regarding dogs like Xingxing.  The policy review should be complete by March, 2014.  I thought it was very generous of them to make an exception for us.
Meanwhile, I tell Xingxing, you're a sort of ambassador.  So you've got to set an example and show everyone how good and how well-behaved a service dog can be.
It's a lovely, comfortable train.  Once we're underway, they pass out the lunch menu.  And what a menu!  We begin with an appetizer of smoked salmon sushi rolls served with pickled ginger and washed down with an excellent, Canadian wine.
There's a choice of three main courses -- a cheese and spinach ravioli in tarragon marinara sauce with Bocconcini cheese, a seafood stew on saffron rice, and a fruit-stuffed grilled pork tenderloin in mustard sauce.  I choose the pork, which is served with rosemary, red-skinned potatoes and mixed vegetables. And more wine, of course.
The pork is absolutely amazing.  It tastes completely different from American pork, which I don't think has any taste at all. Perhaps this is because Canadian pork has not been genetically modified.  Or maybe it's got to do with what the farmers feed their pigs.  But this was the best, tastiest and most tender pork I have tasted in many years.  Xingxing thought so, too.
We finish off with a raspberry mille feuille, and more Canadian wine.  What a delightful way to travel!
The train ride is quite scenic.  We travel along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, past Cap-de-la-Madeleine and Trois-Rivieres. Three hours after leaving Montreal, we disembark in Quebec.  A car whisks us through the city walls (Old Quebec is the only walled city in North America) and voila!  We are in France.  I mean, really. If you had blindfolded me and set me down here and whisked off the blindfold, I would have sworn I was in Paris.  Old Quebec is incredible, and I am not at all surprised to learn that it is
 one of only two UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Americas.
Towering over the city and the St Lawrence River, the enormous Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac's multiple turrets soar into the sky.  With its green copper roof and mullioned windows, it looks like a castle, or a fortress.  You enter through a low gate into a cobbled courtyard. Our room is in one of the towers, with dormer windows overlooking the city. I feel like a princess in a fairy-tale.
There's a park adjacent to the hotel,  with shaded pathways, trees, and zillions of squirrels.  Xingxing thinks he's in heaven.

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