Earlier this morning as I was a-wandering around the walls of the city of Québec I happened to notice a ferry service plying its trade across the St Lawrence to the town of Lévis on the southern shore of the river.
Being a Pisces I'm always likely to be found somewhere near some kind of water and it would take an exceptional circumstance for me to pass up the opportunity to go for a sail.
From my earlier vantage point high up on the top of Cap Diamant the town of Lévis looked quite a pretty little place and so taking an hour out of my visit to Québec to go for a wander round seemed like some kind of plan.
I would be having a stop for lunch at some point in the proceedings and so the idea of buying a sandwich and using my lunchbreak for a stroll around over there would fit nicely into my programme.
Well, it didn't take me very long to get onto the ferry, did it?
Mind you, it's never usually a good idea for me to go hunting down any kind of maritime transportation and you might say that I risk being in a bad mood for the rest of the day, because every time I see a ferry it always makes me cross.
I'll get my coat.
And cross indeed I was. For it was here inside the ferry terminal that I dropped the Nikon D5000 and this was to have important ramifications at a later date on my journey.
And not only that either. Anyone who was with me on my voyage around North Carolina in 2005 or on my trips around Nova Scotia about which I will write in due course will recall that the charge for crossing over the many rivers, estuaries and bays in places like that is Nothing At All. Here at Québec, for an aller-retour across the river, as a foot passenger mind you and not with a vehicle, was nothing short of a scandalous $6:20.
I'm not used to this at all. If you were to put $6:20 down on the counter at a ferry terminal in North Carolina you would end up owning the boat. I'm surprised that with all of the "miracles" that have happened in Québec since the enigmatic Father Frédéric Jansoone was brought here to rekindle the Catholic faith, that no-one has been observed to walk across the water. It's worth a try at that price.
Anyway, you haven't come all this way to listen to me moaning about spending money. You're here for the sightseeing. And over there is the town of Lévis and the ferry terminal at the foot of the cliff.
The name of the town by the way is pronounced Layvee in French, which is a shame. Being a Pisces and all of that nonsense I could make quite a thing out of saying that travelling to Levi's on a ferry is something to do with my genes.
One of the advantages of spending money on a decent high-quality lens is that you can crop-enlarge-sharpen a selection out of an image and the quality will still be almost as good as the original image from which you have taken the selection.
What had attracted me to Lévis was the collection of buildings up there on the top of the cliff, and once I find myself a butty on the other side I shall wander off up there for a look around.
Of course you can't neglect the view behind you, expecially as being in the middle of a river gives you an unspoiled and unobstructed view of the objects along the river front. Consequently, from here I can give you a birds-eye view of the city of Québec in all its glory.
In the centre of course we have the magnificent Chateau Frontenac about which we talked earlier and the tall building on the skyline to the right is the hideous Edifice Price . At the foot of the cliff is the historic vieille ville round by the Place Royale.
The other tall buildings to the left of the Chateau Frontenac are those that are clustered around the Grand Allée
On our walk this morning we passed by the Québec citadel and you might have been somewhat disappointed by the view of the edifice. Not from out here though. You can see it up there on the peak of Cap Diamant and this will give you some idea of the impressive nature of the construction and also its site and situation.
What we also see in the photograph are the steps of the Governor's Terrace that lead down to the boardwalk of the Dufferin Terrace, the focal point of open-air social life in the city.
We haven't quite finished with the view from the river. You may recall that while we were on the quayside earlier today a large ship, the Algoma Mariner, went a-dieseling past us. Furthermore, when we were walking down the steps of the Governor's Terrace we noticed a mammoth ship - the Cape Celtic - being shepherded into port by a couple of tugs.
From here in the middle of the river you can see the Algoma Mariner doing a bit of the old "left-hand-down-a-bit" where it will presumably tie up alongside the Cape Celtic.
It was in my mind to nip down to the port later in the day in the Dodge to have a closer look at them both but what with one thing and another it slipped my mind completely. Once you make a start on something, you'll be surprised at just how many other things you discover.
It's quite a climb up from the waterfront to the town itself, involving a few flights of steps and a steeply-sloping road. And if I had more wits about me than I actually possess, I would have taken a photo of the steps to show you what I mean.
Instead, I'll show you the photo of the city of Québec that I took from halfway up when I paused for breath (I'm not as young as I was). What I like about this particular view is that the hideous Edifice Price is pretty well camouflaged in this shot and you can't see it. In my opinion, the best service that the terrorists of Québec can do is, instead of blowing up anything that has the remotest connection with the United Kingdom, to blow up the Edifice Price.
Never mind turning a blind eye. I reckon that half the population of the province would stampede to the city to give them a helping hand.
So having made it up the steps and into the town, I was stunned. Not by a sudden blow, but by the pervading silence. I've never ever been in a place as quiet as this.
I walked around up here for a good 15 minutes and in that time not a single car passed me by and I didn't see another human being of any description. I was half-expecting a tumbleweed to go blowing across my path at any moment.
Apart from the overhead power lines, about which I talk ad nauseam whenever I'm in Canada (except in Amherst Nova Scotia where they have buried them underground) I really couldn't see anything of note at first. It appears to be one of these places where people come to die, and for fun, they sit around and watch the cars rust, as Burt Reynolds once famously said about the town of Texarkana.
I remember reading one of the Jeeves and Wooster books in which Wooster says
"the last time anything exciting happened here was in 1842 when a tree fell over, and they still talk about it now."
I had no idea that PG Wodehouse had ever visited Lévis.
So while I was giving vent to my less-than-complimentary and rather uncharitable thoughts about the town, I stumbled across this beautiful edifice.
This is the building that I saw from the river, and isn't this much more like it? It is in fact the Ecole Marcelle-Mallet, a High School built in 1858 as a convent school under the inspiration of the Parish Priest of the day, a certain Father Joseph-David Déziel. His aim was to provide an education for the young girls of the parish.
Once the school was built, he placed it in the hands of the nuns of the Sisters of Charity of Québec, of whom Marcelle Mallet was the founder, and it opened for business on 1st October 1858.
There are two facts about this school that are well worth taking into consideration as far as I am concerned.
Firstly … this superb edifice - or at least, the original edifice - cost a mere $14,412 and so if I ever meet the person who built it, I shall have him build one for me without a shadow of a doubt.
Secondly … although originally a girls' school, it has admitted boys since 1996 and according to the school prospectus, of which I managed to obtain a copy, today boys make up about a third of the pupils.
Hmmm - just like the Beach Boys and "two girls for every boy". I wonder if they accept mature students? - "Well, if they do that rules YOU out" ...ed.
A little further on, up a side street to the right, I came across what I think is the Sports Hall of the college up the hill, and here is an enormous blank wall where some of the local artists had been let loose with a few brushes and a pile of paint tins.
Closely exaining the artefact, it made me wonder what on earth they teach for history around here as there seem to be a few chronological issues. There's some kind of 16th or 17th Century schooner out there with a bunch of Indians living in wigwams or teepees, but a railway locomotive dating from the early days of the 20th Century together with a bunch of redcoat soldiers.
All of this reminds me of the story of the Indian chief who broke the world record for the number of cups of tea consumed at one sitting. They found him dead next morning in his teepee.
A little further up the hill in this side street is the College Alphonse Levasseu of Lévis. A really nice stone-built structure that has clearly undergone several programmes of enlargement.
While they haven't managed to totally respect the original styles during these enlargements, at least they haven't resorted to the late 20th Century glass-and-concrete monstrosity that has blighted many other magnificent historic buildings and I suppose that we should all be thankful for that.
We also have the Centre d'Education Physique and School of Taekwon-Do with some kind of connection to the College. So it seems that there are some other things to be doing in Lévis if one takes the trouble to look for them.
One thing about which you might be wondering is the fact that in a major break with tradition, there is no close-up photograph of the church here in the town. After all, you've seen it quite clearly in the shots of the town taken from across the river in Québec and in a few of the pictures taken while I was on the ferry coming over.
The fact is that although as in most towns in Canada there is a nice little square in front of the church, the local authorities have decided, in their wisdom, to build a huge concrete monstrosity - the building that we saw with the mural on the wall - over the little square and as a result there is absolutely no view whatever of the church.
I have to say that this is probably one of the most astonishing things that I have ever seen in the whole of North America. I cannot even imagine what must have gone through the heads of the civic authorities when they gave permission for this.
And it wasn't just this that had put me in a bad mood. I'd been wandering around this part of Lévis for a good half-hour and I had yet to come across anywhere that sold anything to eat. Never mind the lack of humans and the lack of vehicles. I did find a local depanneur where there were a few signs of life, but even in there, there was nothing that looked remotely edible "on the hoof".
All in all, I was considerably disappointed by this part of the town of Lévis.
It wasn't all doom and gloom however. I decided that I would wander back to the ferry and return to Québec to continue my walk and while I was on my way, I bumped into a couple of humans and we had a little chat. They told me about a few places to visit further down the St Lawrence, Harrington Harbour being one of them, and they also told me where there was a spectacular view of the city of Québec, just a little further on and round the corner.
And so off I trotted, and they were certainly not wrong about the spectacular view.
Here's a splendid view of the citadel, and you can see exactly what I mean about its superb defensive setting. Storming the citadel from the banks of the river below would not be something for the faint-hearted. Half a dozen well-armed and resolute defenders could have a field day against a whole army of attackers trying to climb the cliffs.
This is probably the best view that you can have of the city of Québec and it really brings out everything that is good about the city, even if the hideous Edifice Price is clearly visible in the shot.
I have to say that even if the Chateau Frontenac is a comparatively modern building, it's certainly a splendid one and it's thanks to Lord Dufferin, whose idea it was to create a majestic centrepeice for the city, that we have it here.
It just goes to show that architecture was in its apogee during the late Victorian era and is probably the best that the western world has ever seen. By comparison, the generation of architects that came afterwwards seemed to be totally clueless and nothing at all has improved since then. It really is a tragedy.
A little further around, we have a good view of the mouth of the Rivière St Charles and the port complex of the city, complete with the typical 1920s-style of port buildings and warehouses.
Tied up at a wharf over there is the massive Cape Celtic and bearing in mind its deadweight of 177,500 tonnes, that should give you some idea of how deep the river must be over there.
Before I left this excellent spec on top of the cliffs overlooking the city, I couldn't resist taking a distance shot way across the river to this group of houses sitting on top of the Cap Diamant right at the end of the Dufferin Terrace.
What wouldn't I give to have a room in the attic of one of those over there? The view from out of the window must be one of the best urban views in the whole of North America.
I made a mental note to mention a certain Alphonse Desjardins before I leave Lévis and you are probably wondering who he might be. Born in 1854 and died in 1920, he is the favourite son of the town.
By profession a journalist who minuted the debates in the Chambre des Communes, he was concerned by the lack of financial stability in the Province especially as far as the ordinary citizen was concerned. After much thought, he imported the idea of a Credit Union or Savings Bank from Europe and adapted it to the specific needs of the local population here in the province of Québec.
His idea is often credited with underpinning the whole financial stability of Francophone Canadian society and the Banque Desjardins, which you see in almost every town or large village, numbers about 1300 branches and about 5 million clients.
So that was Lévis on a Sunday afternoon - or at least, part of it. There's much more to say about the town and its important military history should not be overlooked, but I'll be coming back here on a future occasion to spend more time looking around, and I'll save the best until then.
In the meantime, don't take my ill-tempered comments too much to heart.
On the way back across the river to Québec, I took another photograph of the dockside installations and buildings. It was this photograph in fact that enabled me to identify the red and grey ship as being the Cape Celtic.
As an aside, I should mention that all of the photos that I take are at a resolution of about 4280 by 2760 or something like that on a "fine" setting, and I reduce them both in quality (45%) and size (800 by 533) for the purposes of the web pages, otherwise you would be here for ever waiting for them to load.
If you do wish to see a photo in all its full-size glory, and I'll see what I can do.