Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: Quebec City

Chateau Frontenac in Old Town, Quebec City

Quebec City,
on the bluffs 
overlooking the
St Lawrence River
Is Quebec City accessible?  Well, more than you'd think. This walled city was founded as a French settlement on bluffs overlooking the St. Lawrence River in 1608, so accessibility has to contend with history and geography. Buildings and sidewalks are old, and some of the streets are paved with cobblestones. In addition, much of the Old Town is on top of the bluffs, while the neighborhoods of the Lower Town are down at river level, with a steep transition between the two.  

 Ramped entrance
 to Library

Given the multiple challenges, Quebec City has done an impressive job of addressing accessibility, adding ramps and elevators, paving roads, designing accessible bypasses, hacking sidewalk corners to create curb cuts, etc. 

Curb cuts

Signs showing accessible entrance

Bike lanes along

With careful route-planning and creativity, such as using bike lanes (the hacked up sidewalk curb cuts, while admirable, are steep and chunky), the city becomes even more accessible.

By far, the greatest attempt at uniting the upper and lower towns for the swarms of tourists of all physical capabilities is the existence of two contraptions between the two regions: the Old Quebec Funicular and the Flaubert Ascensor (elevator). 

Funicular between
Petit Champlain 
Dufferin Terrace

The funicular runs between Petit Champlain below and the Dufferin Terrace above.  It is wheelchair accessible, as long as the wheelchair user follow the signs detouring to an accessible entrance below.  On the lower end, there are cobblestone streets surrounding the entrance, but the upper end at the terrace is smooth and flat.  The cost is free for wheelchair users, though there is no wheelchair access in winter months, and  I have read accounts of wheelchair users being denied access, even in summer.  

Flaubert Ascensor
(elevator) between
St Rochelle and
Upper St Jean Baptiste

The Flaubert Ascensor (elevator) runs between the neighborhoods of St Rochelle below and St Jean Baptiste above.  The elevator is wheelchair-accessible through the cafe in St Rochelle, which is entered after a steep hill climb on a paved road with a bit of cross slope at the end.  The top at upper St Jean Baptiste is accessible, with one paved street running parallel to the elevator and one cobblestone street going up to St Jean Baptiste. Despite the challenging street access, the entrances are accessible, and the elevator is free.

Rue St Joseph
in St Rochelle
We stayed at the  Best Western Hotel in St Rochelle, which was only one block from Rue St Joseph (a pedestrian only street at night and on weekends in summer, with lots of stores, restaurants, bars, and outdoor eating and drinking). It turned out to be only two blocks from Le Croquembouche Boulangerie, which our guide book says is the best in town (we had pastries along with our Ile d’Orleans strawberries at least every morning for breakfast).  

Best Western Hotel in
St Rochelle 
The location and amenities of the Best Western made it a  perfect base for our stay in Quebec City.  Our “Disabled room” had 2 queen beds, wide doors and spaces, a roll-under sink, grab bars near the toilet and shower, 
and a roll-in shower with a hand-held shower head.  There was parking nearby in a (gravel) parking lot with two designated disabled spots near the sidewalk. From the hotel, it was just a short walk/roll on streets and sidewalks to the elevator up to the upper St Jean Baptiste neighborhood and the Plains of Abraham. A combination of bike lanes and sidewalks allowed a walk/roll to the lower Old Town at St Jean Baptiste street, the waterfront, the neighborhood of Petite Champlain (with the funicular up to the Old Town at Dufferin Terrace), and the paved steep hill streets leading to the upper Old Town.

Rue St Joseph in
St Rochelle
We spent much of our time exploring the neighborhoods and figuring out how to get to them, watching people, and eating well. 
In the summer, many of the neighborhood close off the streets, so that they are pedestrian-only at all times or at least during certain hours.  The streets, paved with either blacktop or flat stone, are generally lined with stores, restaurants, cafés, and outdoor seating, making them pleasant ways to explore the city. The outdoor seating areas offer varying degrees of accessibility, but I encountered many with ramps.  

Montcalm neighborhood

St Rochelle neighborhood

Upper St Jean Baptiste

I especially enjoyed people watching in upper St Jean Baptiste (not lower!), lower St Rochelle, and the gentrified Montcalm neighborhoods. For a truly Canadian (or, perhaps, Canadian tourist) option, there are several locations of Poutineville, where you can create and eat your own version of poutine.  There are also many acclaimed restaurants — often away from the touristy areas.


The waterfront was flat and relatively smooth, with bike lanes leading to the views and ferries (although I couldn’t find any good restaurants there).  

Plains of Abraham

Also, the Plains of Abraham was a nice, big park with a fantastic river view and paved paths.

After midnight in Old Town

Interestingly, I spent little time in the upper or lower Old Town. I loved the feel and the view when I rolled home from the chateau bar after midnight, and I would do that again.  However, the daytime and evening hoards of tourists made it too crowded
 to be enjoyable. Most streets were paved, and sidewalks had curb cuts, but the crowds and crowded sidewalks made the Old Town my least favorite section.  

Petit Champlain

The cobblestone streets, crowded sidewalks and bad touristy restaurants of Petit Champlain countered the quaint architecture of that section for me as well.

Small musical stage in
Old Town for
Fest D’ete

Coincidentally, we happened to be there during the annual two-week Fest D’ete, a multi-stage music festival that brings in big name entertainers and large crowds.  We watched one free concert and enjoyed the atmosphere, but tried to avoid the crowds.  Regrettably, we missed the Museum of Civilization, which appeared to be interesting and accessible. 

Chateau Frontenac

We met friends at the 1608  bar in the Chateau Frontenac in the Old Town.  The hotel is a symbol  of  Quebec, so visiting it is kind of mandatory, and the hotel bar is accessible, but crowded.  There is a ramp to get into the hotel and the women’s restroom has a large wheelchair-accessible stall.

Old Town skyline from
Levis waterfront at sunset
One of my favorite activities was actually not in Quebec City itself. From the harbor on the Quebec waterfront, we took a ferry across the St Lawrence River to the town of Levis in the evening.  The Levi waterfront offers a stunning view of Old Town Quebec and its skyline.  It seemed like an entire town was out, gathering at the waterfront park to enjoy the sunset, the views, the 160 water jets, the nightly sound and light show, and the big chairs.

Montmorency Falls
We also spent an enjoyable afternoon outside of the city at Montmorency Falls, which tumble 272 feet into the a bay on the west side of the St Lawrence River, north of the city. If you can ignore the carnival-like atmosphere and the crowds, you can get a wonderful view of the falls and a roll over a high suspension bridge at the top of the falls  You pay for parking at the top (although I’ve heard of people parking for free higher up) and extra for tickets to ride the cable car, experience a via Ferrara course, and ride a zip line.  

Once in the park, however, you can view the falls from the (accessible) suspension bridge (wheelchairs should approach the bridge by going behind the back of the main building and then going down a gravel/dirt path for a bit).  At the lower end of the falls, is a 3 mile out-and-back wheelchair-accessible boardwalk.

One of my persistent memories of Quebec City is the crosswalk buttons; I never did figure them out. Next time (and I hope there will be a next time), I want to understand the crosswalks and to visit the Museum of Civilization, and the Ile d’Orleans.  And, of course, I want to eat more croissants, strawberries, and cheese.

Next stop Montreal…

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: St Lawrence River

St Lawrence River

I grew up in the middle of the North American continent; yet one of my most indelible childhood memories is watching the ocean-liners from around the world sail under the St Louis Bridge.  Thanks to the St Lawrence Seaway, Duluth, Minnesota became a sea port, with ocean-going cargo ships from ports as far away as Europe and Asia.  These behemoths could enter the St Lawrence River from the Atlantic Ocean, and then traverse the waterways, canals, and locks of the Great Lakes.   Even though the majority of these ships today seem to be "lakers" that remain on the fresh water of the Great Lakes, there are still some "salties," that sail the length of the St Lawrence and out the gulf to the ocean beyond.  At any rate, after centuries of dreaming about it and decades of building it, the St Lawrence connects the middle of the continent to the rest of the world.  So, it was with both anticipation and nostalgia that one the "points" of the road trip was to follow the St Lawrence River from its mouth, where it mixes with the Atlantic Ocean at the Gulf of St Lawrence, to its source in Kingston, Ontario, where it flow out of Lake Ontario.

Cap des Rosiers lighthouse
and the mouth of the
St Lawrence River
At the north end of Forillon National Park (, the  wheelchair-accessible trail, Sentier du Banc (, runs 2km along the coast from the visitors center to the Cap des Rosiers lighthouse.  The location of the lighthouse can be considered the mouth of the St Lawrence River.

St Lawrence River,
N Gaspe Peninsula, 

This cape, where the river empties out into the Gulf of St Lawrence in the Atlantic Ocean, has been witness to numerous shipwrecks. Widening to 62 miles across near the mouth, we couldn't even see the other side, and this northeast section of the river felt more like an ocean.  

Bike trail along
St Lawrence River
We spent over a day driving west to Quebec City along the north coast of the Gaspe Peninsula, following the St. Lawrence River. The road was accompanied by bicycle paths with frequent municipal rest stops offering views of the water, picnic tables, and access to rocky beaches.  Near the river's mouth, the landscape was similar to that of the Atlantic coast -- starkly beautiful and isolated.  It was a challenge to find an accessible motel, and we ended up staying at our most inaccessible room of the trip (though planning ahead may have allowed us to find one).  As we approached Quebec City, the river narrowed, and the landscape became more urban.

Quebec City and Montreal are indeed part of the St Lawrence River experience, but since there is so much in each, they each get a whole separate blog post.

Ile d'Orleans strawberries
in Quebec City

In the middle of the river, just north of Quebec City, is the Ile d'Orleans (Orleans Island).  I'm sure there are numerous travel guides about the multitude of wonderful destinations on the island; however, I know it for one very important reason: the island is the source of strawberries by the same name, equal in taste to the amazing Hood strawberries of western Oregon, and they were at the height of their season in mid-July 2022, which is when I happened to be in Quebec.  

Boulangerie Pâtisserie
Le Croquembouche
in Quebec City
We didn’t have time to explore this pastoral island, but we often enjoyed the fruits (literally!) of its harvest.  And we loaded up on Quebec produce before leaving to continue following the St Lawrence River to Montreal: bread, croissants, and coffee at Boulangerie Pâtisserie Le Croquembouche in St Rochelle, (accessible) and Ile d’Orleans strawberries and tomatoes at Tradition Marche on Rue St Joseph in St Rochelle (also accessible). 

For about 3 hours, we followed the St Lawrence River from Quebec City to Montreal, where the narrower river (still wide, for a river) seemed to be another road for transport.

Portneuf Harbor trail--
(unpaved section)

About 60 km southwest of Quebec City, we stumbled upon the town and harbor of Portneuf, and we got out of the car to try the accessible harbor trail.  The trail, partially paved and partially surfaced with hard-packed stone, loops around the harbor near an accessible restaurant and on the river.  

The Portneuf harbor includes a boat ramp — a great way to wheel down to the river and test the temperature.  

Fromagerie du Grondines

Another serendipitous find was the cheese shop in Grondines. It looked inaccessible, but they invited us to roll up the ramp to the delivery entrance.  We were rewarded with a cabinet full of cheese with flavors I'd never heard of before. Luckily, the guy behind the counter had recommendations, and I will forever dream of the ones I ended up buying and trying,

Ecological Park of
Anse du Port

Before reaching Montreal, we stopped at the Ecological Park of Anse du Port near Nicolet. The highlight of the park is a 3-mile accessible boardwalk loop through woods and over wetlands to a platform overlooking the spot where the River Nicolet flows into Lake St Pierre. There is also an accessible visitors  center with an accessible restroom.

Ecological Park of
Anse du Port

Trail overlook:
Lake St Pierre

After our time on the island of Montreal, we continued southwest up the St Lawrence River.  After about 200 km, we entered the town and harbor of Brockville, ON. On another trip with more time, I would have stopped here, since the town looked historically and architecturally interesting, and the harbor seemed to have an accessible path around it. 

2 of 1000 Islands

From there, one could board boats offering tours of the 1000-Islands region, with its castles and vacation mansions.  I think every rock was counted as an island in order to reach the lofty title of this historic vacation-land.  

Along the way, we passed huge cargo ships headed to the Great Lakes from the Atlantic Ocean, plying their way through the river and locks,  

Lake Ontario -- source of
St Lawrence River

After about 3 hours, we reached Kingston, ON and Lake Ontario — the source of the St Lawrence River.  With our usual Mario Andretti driving to catch the sunset, we were able to use some of the paved trails along the edge of the lake to watch the setting sun.

The trip continues: Northern Ontario by Lake Ontario and Lake Huron

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: East Coast & Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula

Having already driven the Prius to the northernmost point in the contiguous USA (the Northwest Angle in the chimney of Minnesota), it seemed obvious that this trip should be expanded a little to incorporate two similar destinations: the easternmost and westernmost points of the contiguous USA.  

Atlantic Ocean at
Stonington Point, CT

The beginning of our trip was a mad dash across the country, as we couldn’t leave Washington until the car was serviced, while we needed to be in Connecticut for a reunion a few days later.  With the exception of a few stops, we drove straight through, making it from Seattle, WA to Stonington, CT in less than 5 days.  

West Quoddy Head, ME 
(the easternmost point in the 
contiguous USA)

After the reunion and a brief meeting with more relatives, we headed north and a bit more east to the easternmost point in the contiguous USA –West Quoddy Head, ME.  Racing the sun, we made it in time for sunset and a short amble around the lighthouse before the ranger kicked us out.

New Brunswick
moose warning

In the dark, we continued driving north to the border town of Calais, ME, from which we crossed into Canada the next day, following dirt roads and highways to the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec.  

Cabin in the heart of the
Gapse Peninsula

After a few days of respite and laundry at a remote river cabin in the middle of the peninsula, we headed even further east toward the Canadian Atlantic coast on the Gaspe Peninsula.

Perce Rock off of the Gaspe Peninsula

In the summer season, the coast of the Gaspe teems with tourists swarming through cute little tourist town and beaches.  In the winter, I imagine, the Gaspe is more like the forlorn and desolate, backdrop described by Louise Penny and Inspector Gamache.  Luckily, we were there in July!  

Either time, visitors are rewarded with stunning coastal and ocean views, and cyclists (and wheelchair users) can ride on paved bike lanes along and on the side of the highway with regularly spaced rest stops boasting views and picnic tables.   We had a difficult time finding a cheap motel that was at all accessible (maybe a higher price range or more advanced planning would help?).

La Mie Veritable
in Carleton-sur-Mer

On the way, we passed the small town of Carleton-sur-Mer – a Francophone town with steepled churches, bike paths and bikes.  Most importantly, we visited the first boulangerie-patisserie of the trip -- Boulangerie La Mie Veritable (sadly, up a series of steps, so Ted had to bring me my pastries).  We were in town only a short while, but I left convinced that I wanted to return (in summer months and with an able-bodied person who could climb those patisserie steps!)

Hiking trails at 
Pointe Tracadigash
outside of

A breakwater and a sandy spit out to Pointe Tracadigash leave the mainland next to the town.  Before leaving, we drove out the spit to the point, alongside a paved bike path and beaches and past a campground, with accessible restrooms and a ramped dining cabin.  

Hiking trails at 
Pointe Tracadigash
outside of

We consumed our first Quebecois croissants at the beach, traveling on trails that were very well maintained and accessible in and near the campground to trails that were not so well maintained but still accessible further out and up until the beach. 

Pointe St Pierre
(Easternmost point
of our trip)

We then got back in the car and headed east and then north, reaching the easternmost point of the Gaspe peninsula at Pointe St Pierre: 4444 miles from Seattle.  

Trails at
Pointe St Pierre

To mark this key location -- the easternmost point of our trip -- we got out of the car, and I went a short way on a narrow trail to see the ocean.  I hadn't gotten very far before rain began to fall in earnest, so our hiking was limited, but the trail was too narrow anyway.

Forillon National Park on
Cap du Rosiers

After Pointe St Pierre, we circled clockwise around Gaspe Bay, then drove northeast past Forillon National Park.  If we’d had more time, I would have like to have spent time in this park.  The park has a webpage geared toward accessibility and accessible activities, (, and it has several accessible activities, including hiking trails, different camping options, an accessible beach, indoor centers, and a swimming pool.

Sentier Du Banc at
Forillon National Park
south of Cap du Rosiers
The only activity we came close to exploring was the Du Banc trail (, which offers sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, Forillon cliffs, and Cap du Rosiers lighthouse.  The hike connects the (accessible) visitors’ center with the parking lot via a mostly-flat, 4 km (round trip) trail on boardwalk and hard-packed stone dust.  At the visitors’ center and along the way you’ll find accessible restrooms and an accessible picnic table.  The park “rents” (for free) a GRIT Freedom Chair – a manual all-terrain wheelchair with levers).

Cap du Rosiers is the point where the Gulf of St Lawrence in the Atlantic Ocean becomes the mouth of the St Lawrence River.  From there onward, the Prius journeyed west.

up next: traveling west from the mouth to the source of the mighty St Lawrence River ...