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Kathryn

Driving to Quebec City from Portland, ME. Any tips?

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We will be in lower ME during the two weeks surrounding Labor Day. DH really wants to drive up to Quebec City for a couple of days. We all have passports (kids are 4, 8, and 12). I'm incredibly anxious about the whole thing: hundreds of miles of rural roads, border crossing, money changing, a language I haven't spoken since third year high school French and DH doesn't know at all. 

Does anyone have tips on how to do this successfully and cheaply? Which route to take, what to see (there's nothing in particular he's interested in, he just wants to see the city), where to change money, where to stay for two nights?

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I've never taken that particular trip from Maine, but I think you should relax about it.  You're going to love driving in Canada.  They build roads to last, they are much more pleasant to drive on than in the USA. I've only been there a few times during Winterlude, and nothing we did was appropriate for children, but I'm sure there are travel sites that can clue you in on everything that would be fun with kids.

Agree there is no need to change money, but do call your bank and credit card companies and warn them you're going there on whichever dates. And if you get a call from your credit card fraud department, take the call.

As long as you're out and about during the day at high-crowd and touristy spots in cities, you won't have any trouble not speaking French.  People will be so glad to get your money they won't care. My only other tip is that if you don't speak French, drive during the day instead of at night, in case you need help or directions of some sort. I had an irritating college experience with that one in Montreal, and I thought I did speak fluent French at the time. Suffice it to say it was much easier to communicate with everyone when the sun was up than it was at 2 am (though to be fair it may have been the political issues of the French language that were controversial in the late 90's).

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You're atm card should work also. We often use cash instead of credit in other countries because there is a one-time fee, rather than possible fees associated with each transaction. For a few days it isn't worth stressing about.

For five people you could look at airbnb (or the like). It can be cheaper than two hotel rooms - I don't know what the rules are like in Quebec, but I've run into that issue on some trips (not Quebec specifically)

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The last time we went to Canada we didn't need any cash. We used one of our credit cards that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees. If you want cash and your debit card will work in Canada then you can get money from an ATM (try to find one in your network to avoid a fee). I think many banks on both sides of the border will exchange money, although there may be a small fee.

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So, I should just be able to use my credit card, that's good!

What about buying gas? A couple of years ago at a gas station, I was stopped by a French Canadian tourist who had no clue how to pay for gas at the gas station (using a credit card at the pump). Was he just special, or do they do that differently?

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Just now, Kathryn said:

So, I should just be able to use my credit card, that's good!

What about buying gas? A couple of years ago at a gas station, I was stopped by a French Canadian tourist who had no clue how to pay for gas at the gas station (using a credit card at the pump). Was he just special, or do they do that differently?

It's been several years since we were there, but we had no trouble using our credit card to pay at the pump. I don't recall that DH ever had to go inside to pay, but it's possible he did and I just don't remember. But we spent most of our time in Nova Scotia, so . . . maybe different?

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3 minutes ago, Kathryn said:

So, I should just be able to use my credit card, that's good!

What about buying gas? A couple of years ago at a gas station, I was stopped by a French Canadian tourist who had no clue how to pay for gas at the gas station (using a credit card at the pump). Was he just special, or do they do that differently?

 

I don't remember that anything was different, but it's been almost 20 years, so it's possible something may have changed. We stopped at large truck stop style places right off whatever they call the interstate.  They were nice, the bathrooms were always clean, I was vegetarian at the time and always found multiple full-meal food options even at fast food style truck stops. For years whenever I did anything in New England if I could choose to take the Canadian route instead of NY, NH, or Vermont I'd choose Canada. Even if it added an hour I found it was worth it because it was more pleasant and there were far less construction delays.  And I never had that unfortunate experience you sometimes get in the USA of getting off the highway to get gas only to find that there wasn't an on-ramp and you had to drive a few miles through a rough neighborhood to find an on ramp again.  Okay, that was in Detroit, not upstate NY or New Hampshire, but still.  Always impressed by Canada.

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20 hours ago, Kathryn said:

We will be in lower ME during the two weeks surrounding Labor Day. DH really wants to drive up to Quebec City for a couple of days. We all have passports (kids are 4, 8, and 12). I'm incredibly anxious about the whole thing: hundreds of miles of rural roads, border crossing, money changing, a language I haven't spoken since third year high school French and DH doesn't know at all. 

Does anyone have tips on how to do this successfully and cheaply? Which route to take, what to see (there's nothing in particular he's interested in, he just wants to see the city), where to change money, where to stay for two nights?

Firstly, at least half your driving will be in ME, and the rest in well populated parts of Quebec where there is a lot of English (near Sherbrooke). Just because you cross a border doesn't mean you suddenly end up in no-man's land. In fact, northern Maine may well be a lot more rural than southern Quebec. You can get cash from an ATM if you need it, and otherwise use credit cards. Border crossings are no problem, in fact far too easy at the moment.

Quebec City is beautiful and a lot of people speak English, especially those working in public. You can certainly try out your French for fun, though, and locals would appreciate that a lot.  You probably want to reserve a hotel room if you're planning on staying in Quebec City over the Labour Day weekend, as it could be busy.

Enjoy the trip!!  In addition to the wonderful historical Old Quebec City, there is an amazing waterpark near Quebec City called Valcartier. It has both outdoor and indoor water slides, wave pools. https://www.valcartier.com/en/

Edited by wintermom
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On 8/1/2018 at 10:42 AM, wintermom said:

Firstly, at least half your driving will be in ME, and the rest in well populated parts of Quebec where there is a lot of English (near Sherbrooke). Just because you cross a border doesn't mean you suddenly end up in no-man's land. In fact, northern Maine may well be a lot more rural than southern Quebec. You can get cash from an ATM if you need it, and otherwise use credit cards. Border crossings are no problem, in fact far too easy at the moment.

Quebec City is beautiful and a lot of people speak English, especially those working in public. You can certainly try out your French for fun, though, and locals would appreciate that a lot.  You probably want to reserve a hotel room if you're planning on staying in Quebec City over the Labour Day weekend, as it could be busy.

Enjoy the trip!!  In addition to the wonderful historical Old Quebec City, there is an amazing waterpark near Quebec City called Valcartier. It has both outdoor and indoor water slides, wave pools. https://www.valcartier.com/en/

 

You mentioned Sherbrooke, which of these routes would you recommend?

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Edited by Kathryn

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You probably don't need to go through Sherbrooke, as it's out of your way. The most direct route looks fine. I haven't driven highway 73 in Quebec, but it looks like it would be a major highway and probably the fastest. It also brings you directly to the bridge across the St. Lawrence River. There is also a ferry which might be a neat alternative for the trip home. I looks like it is accessed right from Old Quebec.

 

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Born in Maine, have had many trips to Quebec City. The old city is completely magical, European even. So different from what you will find in the US. I always stay in a hotel right in the Old City. The shortest route is the best route. The roads are rural but the first half of Maine has interstate and actual small cities, once you get above Waterville, the road is sprinkled with small towns. It is not like traveling through the wilderness. They are generally in good condition as well. You might even see a moose (the route is called "Moose Alley" and for this reason, it is best to travel during daylight hours). The very last bit of the road before the border is wooded and curvy and very pretty. Once you cross the border (which is easy if you have your passports), you leave the rural Maine and enter the agricultural Canadian small towns, then bigger towns, then, finally the city. There is a nice waterfall right outside of Quebec City, https://www.world-of-waterfalls.com/canada-chute-montmorency.html. If you have more energy and time, you could drive up the St. Lawrence and go whale watching in Tadoussac. You won't have trouble being understood in Quebec City (there was a time long ago when a separatist movement was active and people were to speak French in restaurants and shops, but that has fallen by the wayside). If you travel up to Tadoussac there will be some people who only speak French, but the whale watch and hotels have people who speak English. Go! Have fun!

 

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24 minutes ago, Kalmia said:

You won't have trouble being understood in Quebec City (there was a time long ago when a separatist movement was active and people were to speak French in restaurants and shops, but that has fallen by the wayside). If you travel up to Tadoussac there will be some people who only speak French, but the whale watch and hotels have people who speak English. Go! Have fun!

This is not exactly accurate. The official language of the province of Quebec is French, so you'll find most people are speaking French as their first language. There are a lot of people who do speak English, especially those involved in tourist/travel businesses. 

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Just wanted to update and thank everyone. We did it! Everything went smoothly. We fumbled a bit at a Tim Hortons far outside the city with a cashier who didn’t speak English very well, but it worked out in the end. Everyone we dealt with in the city spoke English. The city was absolutely beautiful and we had a lovely time meandering the streets for a couple of days. We got into Canada and back to the US without a hitch (though the people in front of us on the way back in were not so lucky). Thank you guys for reassuring me that it would all work out!

Edited by Kathryn

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