November 1st, 2019: The last time tourists stepped off a cruise ship to visit the cobbled, historic streets of the Vieille Capitale.
Fast-forward 29 months. Fast-forward through the appearance of a new and unpredictable virus, and its many variants. Through months of social distancing and confinement. Through the fits and starts of repeated attempts to deconfine and reopen. Fast-forward to April 26, 2022: the cruise ships have returned to Québec City. At around 7:30 this morning, the Viking Octantis, a freshly minted Polar Class 6 expedition ship, pulled up to Wharf 21 under an overcast sky and the expectant gaze of the entire Québec City tourism industry.
A few hundred tourists stepped off the boat in the morning drizzle, and 15 of them accompanied me for a three-hour walking tour of the Old City. They were a delightful bunch, hailing from all over the United States: Arizona, Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, and Washington State. And they were tickled to see how excited I was to see them. From their point of view, their visit chez nous is day X of their spring cruise. From my point of view, and from that of my Québec City tour guide friends, it is day 905, the end of a two-and-a-half-year shut down. Needless to say, their arrival here is a huge relief for my colleagues and me.
We started in the Lower Town, of course, visiting Place royale and Petit Champlain. Then we took the funicular to the Upper Town. There, we did the Dufferin Terrace, the Governors’ Garden, Place d’armes, and City Hall Square. It’s a tour I’ve given a thousand times. But today, despite the rain, it felt like the sun was shining after a two-and-a-half-year absence.