Category: Taste & Travel

Why you should visit Québec City NOW

Do you want to know why you should visit Québec City? 

Bear with me here, as it may take a moment for me to answer.

I just THINK the word, “Québec” and I am immediately flooded with happy feelings.

I may sigh a little and wish that I could hold your hand tightly, hoping that through the force of squeezing your fingers, you would begin to FEEL just how much I love this region in Canada.

Québec City IS MAGICAL!

I can list countless places to see that will take your breath away; hundreds of things to do that will spark your imagination and make you believe in the goodness of people; millions of foods to eat that will make you want to cry because your everyday diet will pale in desperate comparison. 

But Québec City is much more than all of that…

Everyone talks about how the region feels European, as if that alone is reason enough for its allure. Visitors say that going to Québec is “like going to Europe without having to fly to get there!” 

While true, these kinds of statements don’t do its magnetism or individuality justice. 

Yes, there IS an old-world feeling to Québec City and its environs. It is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, rich in an intangible cultural legacy. 

The surrounding landscapes are marked with wild beauty and rolling, abundant farms. The Québec province is known for its diverse and exceptional agricultural products. You will be tempted to stock up on its cheeses, wines, breads, and maple syrup.

Colonial French stone architecture and colorful Mansard roofed-homes sit side-by-side with beautifully engineered modern wood, glass, and steel structures. You can see the centuries pass as you walk down any street or visit any farm. 

Listen and you will hear a distinct style of French being spoken. Around 50% of Québec’s residents are also bilingual (Frommers, 2018), making it an easy place for visitors from English-speaking countries to navigate.

And with all of that, Québec City is wholly its own; an amalgam of rich First Nation, French, British, & modern influences.

It’s uniqueness has a quality that will affect you entirely; you will feel as if you have come alive again. 

Why do we go to Québec City year after year?

The Safety & Comfort

Politeness rules the day in Québec City and across Canada. Canadians are known for their courteousness and congeniality. (There is a legitimate truth behind that oft-characterization.)

The Province of Quebec has the lowest crime rate in all of North America, and is home to one of the safest metropolitan regions in Canada. As family travellers, we feel at ease in the city and in the surrounding countryside. Locals always say, “Bonjour!” and make eye contact in a non-threatening way. It is customary to greet friends with a double air-kiss to the cheeks. 

Of course, common sense around safety is always in order. We navigate the region with our cell phones and mobile-based apps. Many US-based unlimited cell phone plans extend into Québec without roaming fees. We have let our teens navigate Québec’s Old City (Vieux Québec) on their own and we stay in touch via IM. Open WiFi networks are everywhere and are the best way to stay connected with your friends and family.

We appreciate the hospitality that extends beyond the hotels and restaurants. We have made friends in the region, as we travel there at least two times per year. The city is easy to navigate by foot, by car, rideshare, or by public transport. 

Find out more about “Getting Around the City” on the Quebec Cité website. Read up on the safety of Quebec City at TravelSafe.

The Food & Culture

At any time of the year, Québec is host to countless music, art, and food festivals. The city is filled with museums, restaurants, and galleries that beckon locals and visitors alike.

Over ONE weekend this past summer, we visited three major events in the city: the KWEI Festival celebrating aboriginal and indigenous people of Canada, the Flip Fabrique Circus just outside of the newly opened Grand Marché, and the Musée des Beaux Arts. The Musée played host to one of the world’s largest shows about Spanish Artist Joan Miró and was not to be missed. Its sister museum, the Musée de la Civilisation featured a spectacular exhibition of previously undiscovered colonial artifacts alongside its permanent collection. We adore the Aquarium du Québec – home to indigenous animals from land and sea, including a very large, whistling Walrus (“le morse” in French) named Boris, and a highly interactive display of sea rays. 

Québec’s Carnaval is the highlight of the winter season. The city comes alive with hundreds of snow-centered activities, from axe throwing and log rolling, to maple sugar-on-snow and enormous ice castles. Carnaval is the largest winter festival in the world. The Night Parades alone are worth the trip, and feature the avuncular Bonhomme De Neige snowman, and the circus and acrobatic stylings that Québec province is famous for. 

The food of Québec is an attraction in itself. Just 10 minutes from downtown Québec sits the Île d’Orléans, home to some of the region’s best produce, wine, bread, cheese, and maple syrup. Take a drive around the island and stop in for free tastings and tours with the producers. 

Learn everything you need to know about where to eat in Québec City, and the stories of the local farmers and chefs on Youtube at Foodie Quebec. Watch as local broadcaster and writer Allison Van Rassel shares her tips about the cuisine of Québec. Her warm manner and journalistic style help showcase the best food stories of the region. Read her weekly roundups at her Foodie Quebec website.

The Accommodations

Québec hosts a wide range of accommodations – from small boutique hotels and B&Bs, to AirBnBs apartment rentals, and the world-famous luxury hotel, Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac

As Québec is an immensely walkable city, and small bakeries, cafés, and grocery stores are around every corner, (even in the Old City), we highly recommend apartment rentals for those travelling with large parties. If you are in the Old City, there is plenty of inexpensive overnight parking, as most AirBnBs do not have parking as part of their fee. Find out more about where you can park here

AirBnB has a large variety of rentals to choose from at every budget. You can see the listings right on their website. The pricing allows large groups to travel and stay together on a budget, and for you to try your hand at cooking up some of the regional specialties.

For mid-priced hotels, we love the Le Hotel Vieux-Québec (HVQ). Its rooftop gardens and beehives are lovely to see in the summer, and its own produce is used at the in-house restaurant, Bistro Tournebroche. The hotel stay includes a hearty breakfast that comes in a basket delivered to your door. HVQ is centrally located in the Old City and the street outside perfect for people-watching year-round.

We enjoyed Hotel Chateau Laurier, just outside of the walls to the Old City. Walk out of the back doors onto the Plains of Abraham to take in some fresh air, incredible views, and a bit of local history, or make your way into the adjacent tony neighborhood of Montcalm. There you will find museums, local bistros and wine shops that will welcome you like a local. 

If you want to splurge, Le Chateau Frontenac is singular and boasts the best view of the Saint Lawrence River AND some of the finest restaurants in the Old City. The rooms are beautifully appointed and the beds are heavenly. Its room service menu is hands-down our family favorite. We still talk about the pasta with cream and local cured ham, and the pizza made from brioche dough and Charlevoix cheeses. 

For more information about all-things-Québec, go to the Québec City Website. Not only is it a WEALTH of information, but also serves as a portal to start a live chat with someone who can help you with any questions you may have. 

We would love to hear your tips about visiting Québec City and what you have enjoyed in your travels! Bon Vacances!

-Kristin et Famille

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Rockland Maine – The Art Capital of Maine

The Coast of Maine.

It is a part of the world that has inspired and motivated artists for centuries.

Visit just once, and you will immediately know why it serves as both muse and escape; as refuge and lover. You can see it in the landscape and taste it in the air. The rolling mountains wind down to the shoreline; the craggy rocks and islands are marked with tall evergreens that stand sentinel over its harbors.

The village of Rockland in Midcoast Maine cherishes its reputation as a mecca for artists. It celebrates and supports classic and contemporary work – showcasing both in local museums, galleries, and shops.

Rockland is a short drive from Portland, Maine and Boston, Massachusetts. There is so much to do that you can plan a full, active weekend, or a leisurely vacation. 

Rockland-Maine-Art-Capital-Maine-Kristin-Fuhrmann-Simmons Mural Farnsworth Art Museum
Rockland-Maine-Art-Capital-Maine-Kristin-Fuhrmann-Simmons Mural Farnsworth Art Museum Center for Maine Contemporary Art CMCA
Rockland-Maine-Art-Capital-Maine-Kristin-Fuhrmann-Simmons Mural Farnsworth Art Museum Center for Maine Contemporary Art
Rockland-Maine-Art-Capital-Maine-Kristin-Fuhrmann-Simmons Mural Farnsworth Art Museum Center for Maine Contemporary Art

ART

The Farnsworth Museum

Its mission states that it celebrate’s “Maine’s role in American Art” and that charge is on full display in each of the Farnsworth’s beautifully appointed galleries. A signature institution in Maine and across the United States, the Farnsworth’s collection features works from American masters including The Wyeth Family, Louise Nevelson, Alex Katz, and Robert Indiana.  Rotating exhibitions like  “Slab City” and its progressive children’s school programs, bring the legacy of Maine’s impact in the art world to life. The museum is a must-see while in town.

The Caldbeck Gallery

Exit the Farnsworth and you will find yourself face-to-face with the charming Caldbeck Gallery. Artists like Katherine Bradford and Sam Cady have their work on display in rotating exhibitions. The charm of the gallery comes not only from the art, but the connection and accessibility to the proprietors Cynthea Hyde and James Kinnealey.  You can easily end up in a wonderful conversation about color and light, or the playful use of brushstrokes.

The CMCA

The Center for Maine Contemporary Art moved from neighboring Rockport in 2016 to a refurbished section of the Rockland working waterfront. Architect Toshiko Mori designed the space to seamlessly fit into the downtown lot, successfully capturing the feeling that the CMCA has “been there forever” and is also new, breathtaking, and deeply original. 

Exhibitions at the CMCA are outstanding, the likes of which locals and visitors are known to exclaim: “THIS is in Maine?!” The CMCA answers with an astounding, “Yes!” Chief Curator and Executive Director Suzette McAvoy and her team work to support contemporary artists and local school programs with their open house classes and rotating exhibits. You will know what “Wow!” really means when you visit the CMCA.

Friends of Maine Coastal Islands – The Visitors Center

Find yourself in an engaging visitor’s center that successfully combines education, engagement, and the arts – all of which support programs to renew and protect Maine’s precious shore wildlife and habitats. Situated just off of Rockland’s Main Street, the center features a life-sized coastal habitat that brings a shore bird sanctuary to life. Children and adults alike can play in dories and on the rock ledge, placing eggs and models of birds in stone nests.

The main building is home to an education center and gallery, filled with work by professional artists and local children. Educational programs run year-round and guests can learn how to visit the coastal bird sanctuaries. 

Rockland-Maine-Friends of Maine Coastal Islands Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons
Rockland-Maine-Art-Capital-Maine-Kristin-Fuhrmann-Simmons Mural Farnsworth Art Museum Center for Maine Contemporary Art
Rockland Maine Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons Friends of Maine Coastal Islands

EAT

Bixby Chocolate

This historic Ice-House-turned-Chocolaterie is the home of Bixby Chocolate. Owner Kate McAleer is an outstanding confectioner, and the fruit of her labor can be seen in the tasting room and on the shelves of the Chocolate Store.

The outfit grinds and conches its own chocolate, creating a signature coverture that is unique to Rockland, Maine. Kate and her father Gordon McAleer purchase cacao beans from Fair-Trade purveyors around Central and South America. Take a tour and learn how the Bixby team makes their signature sweets from bean-to-bar.

Clan MacLaren

This sweet Main Street Café serves up fresh sandwiches and signature salads in sizable portions. Proprietors Jackie and Glenn Lawrence combine their love for their family’s Scottish History and cuisine at the café. The menu is themed around the names of their family members. Salads like the “Lorelei” made with  chicken, apple, grapes, feta, walnuts, red onions, and spring greens are sensational; the “Breton MacLaren” is piled high with turkey, provolone, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, and olives, is deeply satisfying. 

Get your lunches packed to-go and take it out to the Breakwater to enjoy views of the harbor.

Archers of the Pier

Chef Lynn Archer opened this signature Maine Coast restaurant in a former corporate boathouse. The menu is comprised of hearty New England classics, made from scratch daily. Archer’s food is gorgeously executed – the crab rolls are packed with fresh meat and are served up with hand-cut french fries. The chowder is creamy and light, full of littleneck clams, herbs, and diced potatoes. Take a stroll to Archer’s from downtown along the Rockland Harbor Walking Trail. Ask for a table on the deck and enjoy views of the Breakwater and working waterfront.

Café Miranda 

Get your “Flamingo On” at this staple of the Maine Midcoast. Beloved Chef and Author Kerry Altiero is a fixture on the seacoast for good reason: His food and hospitality have been pleasing guests for over 25 years. Café Miranda was at the helm of the region’s food renaissance. The portions are markedly generous and the menu is beyond extensive. There is something for everyone.

Try the “LET’S GET DANGEROUS” -fire roasted house cured tamarind glazed leg of duck spiced with Szechuan peppercorn & clove, served with Asian egg noodles, garlic, ginger, basil & spinach in a coconut curry peanut sauce. Share a signature pizza like the “SLEEPER” – topped with cured smoked beef, artichokes, red onions, parsley, mozzarella & romano cheese.

The side porch is great for pre-dinner drinks and taking in the signature flamingoes that are part of the café’s decor.

Rockland Maine Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons Bixby Chocolate
Archers on the Pier Rockland Maine Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons Waterfront Maine
Cafe Miranda Rockland Maine Cait Bourgault Photography Kristin Fuhrmann-Simmons Writer
Cafe Miranda Rockland Maine Cait Bourgault Photography Kristin Fuhrmann-Simmons Writer

STAY

Rockland is home to the Ferry Terminal that takes locals and visitors to Vinalhaven, North Haven and Matinicus Islands. Find out the daily schedules here. 

ROCKLAND HARBOR HOTEL

This newly rebuilt, refurbished, and reconstructed hotel has been a mainstay for ferry-goers and day-trippers to Maine’s Islands. Now, after its total refresh, it is the perfect weekend home for visitors to Maine’s Art Capital. Every room overlooks the harbor and the sunrise is spectacular. The beds are heavenly, as are the linens and pillows – you won’t want to get up even though the sunrise and fresh coffee are calling. Enjoy in-room coffee from your deck, and fill up on a full, hot complimentary breakfast in the lobby that includes, waffles, fruit, cereal, eggs, muffins, bacon and eggs, juice and of course, more coffee.

A short walk from all the downtown attractions, the Rockland Harbor Hotel is a traveler’s delight. Find out more about the room rates and availability here.

Rockland MAine Kristin Fuhrmann SImmons MAine Midcoast Where to Stay

Have you been to Rockland, Maine?  We would love to hear your tips and must-see-do-eat-stay suggestions. Share your comments on Facebook and see more photos of my trip to Rockland on Instagram.

A big hug to Cait Bourgault for her gorgeous photography. MOST of the photos herein are credited to her. Read her blog post on our trip here and see more of her incredible photos.

A special thanks to Maine’s Midcoast and Islands for supporting me on this trip. An extended hand goes to the team at the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber, The Farnsworth Museum, The CMCA, The Rockland Harbor Hotel, Bixby Chocolate, The Caldbeck Gallery, Archer’s on the Pier, Friends of Maine Coastal Islands, Clan MacLaren Café, Rockland Main Street, and Café Miranda,

Rockland-Maine-Art-Capital-Maine-Kristin-Fuhrmann-Simmons

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Study Abroad – A Parent’s Perspective

Study Abroad – A Parent’s Perspective on travel & letting go

My oldest daughter just landed in Shanghai for her first Study Abroad program.

I am happy she is in China safely. I have been watching the clock and calculating the 12 hours ahead, following happily along with her initial itinerary. I imagine she is full of excitement and exhaustion from the long flight.

I have to admit: Sending her off for her study abroad was somewhat of a relief. The days and weeks of planning amidst all of our other life events made for a wee bit of stress.

Well, maybe MORE than a wee bit of stress…

It was at times fun to plan, pack, and fantasize about the sights and food in China. It was also fertile ground for power struggles, family sit-down chats, and self-check-ins about my OWN energy that was clouding the planning process.

I am feeling all-the-feels, as it is de-rigueur to say. I am happy. I am a wreck. I am filled with excitement, and riddled with anxiety-based-what-if travel scenarios.

This is not the first time that we have been apart for long periods of time. Both of our girls have gone away to camp for several weeks each summer. I loved the time to myself to breathe and rest, as much as I appreciated all the new and fun experiences that they were having.

Right now, summer camp feels like child’s play compared to the preparation and planning for a study abroad in a majorly far away country.

Study Abroad - A Parent's perspective on meeting go and trust by Kristin Fuhrmann-Simmon

To backtrack for a moment…

Both of my children study Mandarin Chinese. I KNEW that when they picked this course of study (and yes, it was a decision that the girls discussed and debated with us at-length before making their choices), that a study abroad program in China would be in their future. I, myself have studied several Romance languages and I lived in both Mexico and Italy for long periods of time and LOVED it.

Immersion was THE THING that took my language skills from perfunctory classroom recitation to fluency. I was confident that my girls would undertake the same kind of program in their own lives.

The China trip was announced over two years ago, as her teacher and school knew that we needed time to plan, to fundraise (travel ain’t cheap!), and to get everything we needed together. My daughter began a plan to babysit several days a week during the summer, and socked money away week-after-week. She launched her own “Go Fund Me” campaign (with a little parental help) and asked for donations.

She raised the required $4,500 for her trip. We felt so proud of her efforts and the seed that was planted began to grow into full-blown excitement.

For ME, stress began to mount over what felt like a huge burden of “What-Ifs.”

It went a little something like this:

We live rurally. Will my daughter know how to get on and off a city bus? Will she know how to handle her money? Will she look both ways before crossing the street? Does she know how to carry her bag across her shoulder to keep it snug and safe from pickpockets? How will she cope with the huge crowds? Will she need to use her kickboxing skills in real-time? Will she put on enough sunscreen?  We she dress modestly? Will she stay hydrated? Does she know how to treat herself if she gets diarrhea/nausea etc? And on, and on, and on….

Any scenario, I have imagined it.

I found myself getting mired in a feeling of inadequacy that I had not better prepared her for EVERY LIFE SCENARIO that could possibly come her way. (Yes, I know how insane this sounds! Hooray for Mom Guilt!) ……Like there was some kind of international boot camp I should have put her through in order to be properly prepared for study abroad and also wilderness and city survival.  

I was gently and lovingly reminded by my patient-as-a-saint-husband, that our lives together have been the training she needs. We have travelled A LOT with our children and they have paid attention. We have included them in the preparations. We talk to our kids about safety. We model and LIVE the kinds of relationships we want them to have.

My daughter is smart-as-a-whip, compassionate, and highly organized.

I needed to SEE and ACKNOWLEDGE that about her.

Our daughter is beautiful, strong, and amazing. We love seeing how she grows.

My husband also reminded me that travel IS also the bootcamp. That these experiences are how she will learn to trust herself.  

He also reminded me that the gift of OUR TRUST would help set her on that path of self-awareness and connectedness that comes from travel.

Ahhhh………That was it: TRUST.

I found myself reaching out to friends who have studied abroad, and who have experienced similar emotions with their own families.

My friend Marina shared with me: “I always felt that they [my parents] had the trust in my abilities to figure it  [Travel Abroad] out, they are very proud and supportive of me and honestly, it made our relationship so strong and special. I absolutely love my parents. Now, as a mom myself I understand how hard it must’ve been for them to let me fly into the unknown and let go of control.  It is the ultimate parental sacrifice to let go of your child.”

She articulated about TRUST so well.

My friend Jude stated in regards to her son’s travel abroad: “I love watching it. It is filled with the beauty of being young so far away from what you know, and the joy of being together in the experience of what you don’t. What a time this will be for your baby who has grown like a glorious flower opening to welcome the warmth of the sun.”

I am grateful for have they have shared.

So… have you been through something similar in letting your child study abroad? Did you, yourself travel far from home and feel a range of emotions? I would love hear from you.


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