Last November, my wife and I decided to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary as we had our honeymoon, with a road trip. Actually she was the decider and I was the driver. (That’s one of the secrets to 50 years of marriage.) The final destination, then as now, was the world-famous le Chateau Frontenac hotel in Quebec, Canada. The attraction of driving 600 miles north with winter looming escapes me, but that’s what we did.
Back then we were just a couple of “wet behind the ears” kids when we finally arrived at le Chateau Frontenac. Without reservations and with a total ignorance of the French language, we waited in the sprawling lobby for our turn with what must have been the rudest desk clerk in Canada. The chilly reception when he finally deigned to acknowledge us turned totally frigid when he discovered we didn’t speak French. He couldn’t have cared less when I mentioned we were on our honeymoon and seemed to delight in informing us that “Zee only zing available ’as deux zingle beds!” Single beds! On our honeymoon?
Out of options, we followed the bellboy to a rickety elevator up to a dimly lit corridor at the end of which he opened a door to what seemed like an attic. There sat those “zingle beds” on a threadbare carpet, in a dinky, dusty room with a hissing radiator under a grimy window. We soon discovered that the radiator didn’t shut off and the window didn’t open. A dripping faucet in the bathroom and a flickering light bulb over the sink completed the idyllic tableau.
You’re probably wondering why in the world we would ever go back there. Me, too! Actually, we both remember a very romantic late evening, candlelit supper in the Jacques Cartier Lounge with champagne cocktails and soft jazz and later walking the boardwalk overlooking the beautiful St. Lawrence River and, of course, doing what honeymooners do.
Now 50 years later, thanks to the Internet and online reservations, we were ready for le Chateau and they were definitely ready for us. Check-in was on the 14th (gold) floor after an express elevator ride from the lobby. The most-attentive concierge was steps from our deluxe room, as was a beautifully appointed lounge overlooking Old Town Quebec and the St. Lawrence River. The lounge, with its personable, bilingual French maids, was where we enjoyed our complimentary evening canapés and beverages and our complimentary gourmet breakfasts.
Our luxurious room and king- size bed were lavishly decorated in Victorian style with satins and brocades. The heat and air conditioning were whisper quiet; the sparkling windows overlooked Old Town and opened easily. All the bulbs in the gleaming marble-tiled bathroom were burning brightly and the golden faucet did not drip. And as a pleasant surprise, a “Happy 50th Anniversary” card from the hotel manager was waiting on the bureau along with flowers and chocolates.
Sadly, the setting for our romantic honeymoon supper, the Jacques Cartier Lounge, no longer existed, but we had a delicious and romantic anniversary dinner on the opulent le Champlain Terrace.
The boutiques, restaurants, galleries, churches, a romantic carriage ride and the historic ambience of this 400-year-old section of Quebec were more than worth the drive. Therein lies an admonition: First impressions don’t have to be lasting impressions!