Story and photos by Julia De Santis.

Last Friday I hopped in the van with 15 other students and 4 leaders to visit Quebec City for Winter Carnival. We went in search of a short cultural & language immersion experience before most of us head to France this spring to study at Cavilam, one of the best French language schools in the world.

On our drive up we saw two moose!! This one was on his/her knees licking the salt off the road.

Gray Cox, who organized and led the trip, explained, “For students who have been in French classes on campus for a month, a short intensive weekend immersion experience like this can provide a catalyst for a breakthrough to a new level of fluency and confidence – a bunch of grammar pieces and vocabulary bits that they have worked up snap together like the pieces of a model airplane and take off.”

First night in Quebec: Virginia Brooks ’12, Eli Mellen grad student ’13, and Graham Reeder ’14.

And it’s true. I started French classes a few weeks ago (8am—4 days a week—oh my!) and while I wish I could write this post in French, I cannot, at least not yet, but I am much more comfortable with the basics. Bonjour. Comment ça va? Je ne mange pas gluten.

Eli Mellen, a graduate student who will travel with me to France this spring, agreed: “I gained the confidence to ask questions of Francophones in French – now I just have to learn enough French to understand their answers.”

Ana Puhac ’15 rolling maple taffy in the snow at Winter Carnival.

 “Everyone visiting Quebec finds it an incredibly interesting, accessible, novel city that looks and feels very European in lots of ways, has its own very distinctive colonial and modern sense of Franco-Canadian language and culture,” said Gray, “and is only 6 hours away from Bar Harbor! Begging to be revisited again on your own in the future!”

So yummy!

Although google maps predicted the trip would only take 5 hours and 58 minutes, I think the travel time was closer to 7 or 8 hours, but maybe that’s just what it felt like. On the way up we passed quiet towns, farms covered in snow, and more snow mobiles than cars. Oh, and two MOOSE! Gray taught us two french songs and we enjoyed listening to the radio in French once we crossed the border. After dropping our stuff off at the hostel, we headed out to explore. Snow was falling and the city sparkled with a soft layer of white. I swear, snow is magical stuff.

Red question marks floated around ready to assist folks.

 And Canadians seem to agree. Yes, we were there for winter carnival so a celebration of winter made sense, but the spirit went deeper than that. Everywhere we went, people were decked out in their snow gear—-I lost count of how many public (well-kept) ice skating rinks we passed with people actually skating on them (as we might see joggers run here in Bar Harbor). At the Musée de la civilisation (a MUST-VISIT if you are ever in Québec), a quote said, “In Québec, there are only two seasons, winter and the month of July,” and people really seem to embrace winter.

By afternoon a lot more people showed up to enjoy the festivities. We decided to leave and check out the museums.

Still, there was a lot more to see than an old city covered in snow. Zabet NeuCollins, a first-year in my morning french class, said she most enjoyed drinking caribou in ice glasses on a frosty morning, visiting the art museum and tiny french bookstores, standing on top of the old wall looking out at Quebec City, and hearing the church bells on Sunday morning.

Inside Québec’s fortifications. Random fact: “The ramparts surrounding Old Quebec (Vieux-Québec) are the only remaining fortified city walls that still exist in the Americas north of Mexico.” (Thank you Wikipedia).

For those of you who understand French, Rose-Marie Chavez, the professor visiting from Cavilam and teaching us all french, sent this to me this morning about her experience, “Comme dirait l’écrivain français Michel Déon, “pour bien aimer un pays ,il faut le manger, le boire et l’entendre chanter” et ce voyage nous a permis tout cela. Par ailleurs, durant le voyage, j’ai vu pour la première fois un “moose” (un élan en français). Rencontre inoubliable! Merci à tous!”

Old Québec city street.

It always amazes me how 48-hours in a new place can feel like forever. On the way back, we tried to do homework, talked about the bigger life/philosophy questions, and fell asleep, knowing we would all be up late once we got back to Bar Harbor preparing for the week ahead.

The Château Frontenac, Québec’s most famous landmark, was designed by Bruce Price—the same guy who designed our very own Turrets!
Too cute streets glow with holiday lights. The celebrating doesn’t end January 1st; in Québec, they celebrate all winter long.