12.30.10

LA, in photos

Posted in Travel Log (N. America & Europe) at 7:13 pm by Benjamin Ross

Here’s a photo essay from my recent trip to Los Angeles, and vicinity.

skyline
sprawl
highways
financial district
City Hall
old downtown
Broadway vendors
Grand Street Market
Chinatown
Echo Park (where I stayed)
more skyline
Union Station
public service announcement
San Bernardino Rail Depot
Downtown San Diego
San Diego Marina
Santa Monica
beach
beach houses
bike trail
Santa Monica Pier
Venice Beach
the end

 

12.17.10

Quebec City

Posted in Travel Log (N. America & Europe) at 4:12 pm by Benjamin Ross

This is the last post in a 6-part series on my trip to Canada.

Montreal is bona fide French Canada, but the undisputed capital of Francophone North America is La Ville de Québec, or as we say en anglais, Quebec City.  This was the last major stop on my 2 week tour through Canada.

In addition to being the most completely francophone city in North America, Quebec City is also the continent’s oldest extant urban area.
Quebec City was founded in 1608 by French navigator Samuel de Champlain.  Although several other outposts predate it, Quebec City was the earliest European city in North America intended for permanent settlement.
As might be expected, Quebec City is touristy, regularly finding itself on the lists of top tourist destinations for travelers from Canada and abroad. But Quebec City is touristy for good reason.  Unlike its younger sister Montreal, and American cousin Boston, Quebec did not boom into a major urban center during the industrialization swept through North America in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  The resulting slower growth spared much of Quebec’s older districts from the wrecking ball.  (This explanation is based primarily on my own observations.  If anyone is more versed in Quebec City’s urban history, please feel free to chime in.)
Quebec City is centered around the Old City, aka Old Quebec, the entirety of which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Thanks in part to preservation efforts, Old Quebec retains many of the characteristics of a French colonial town.
Walking through the streets of Old Quebec is like no other urban experience in North America.  With the exception of roadways for vehicular traffic, much of the streetscape has retained the layout and feel of colonial New France.
Old Quebec is tiny and can be traversed by foot in under half an hour.  With its endless backroads and alleys, it is well worth a full day of wondering around and getting lost.
True to its pre-automobile European urban design, the streets in Old Quebec are constantly curving and winding, and do not follow any semblance of a grid.  After a futile hour of attempted navigation, I ditched my map, and instead began relying on landmarks for my bearings.
Old Quebec’s most recognizable architectural landmark is the Château Frontenac hotel, completed in 1893.
Quebec City is one of the most racially and ethnically homogeneous cities in Canada, yet like most places on Earth, the Chinese have made their presence, as indicated by this Shanghainese restaurant.  Across the river, in the town of Levis, I also met a convenience store owner from Fuzhou.
Old Quebec is divided into two distinct areas: Upper and Lower Town.  Upper Town (previous pics) was traditionally home to clergy and military officials while the Lower Town (pictured above and following 3 pics) served as the port, housing merchants and craftsmen.
The settlement in Lower Town is older than Upper Town, and even more touristy, with expensive French restaurants and gift shops bustling out of nearly every storefront..
Old Quebec was built on a veritable natural fortress: a peninsula jutting into the St. Laurence river, with Lower Town (foreground) just above river level, and Upper Town on a natural mound several hundred feet above, as shown here  by the Château Frontenac in the background.
These collections of modest buildings in Lower Town represent the oldest architecture of the city.
Now back to Upper Town.
Old Quebec is particularly photogenic.
especially at night
The boundaries of Old Quebec are demarcated by the defensible wall, originally constructed to keep out would-be invaders.  It’s the only city wall in the Americas still standing, north of Mexico.
There are several points where the city wall can be scaled, and a path on top, which provides excellent views of the city.
Slits in the walls were left for cannons, and ramparts were constructed to fight off invaders of France’s most prized settlement in the New World.
The urban landscape of Quebec City outside the wall is quite different from that of inside the wall, as it’s referred to in the vernacular.
Adjacent to Old Quebec, across the St. Lawrence River, are Quebec’s primary industrial districts.
West of Old Quebec, just outside of the city wall lies Quebec City’s primary downtown commercial district.
The modest skyscrapers downtown represent the most heavily urbanized (I use this term loosely) part of Quebec City.
The biggest mistake tourists make in Quebec City is spending all of their time inside Old Quebec and never venturing beyond the wall.  Some of the most unique architecture in the city is located in the residential neighborhoods just outside of the walls.  Since many tourists never venture outside of the walls, these neighborhoods also have a markedly local feel, quite the contrast to Old Quebec.  You won’t hear much English in these parts.  And you also won’t encounter many people who aren’t white and Catholic.
As I alluded to above, on account of it never becoming a major urban center, Quebec City hasn’t seen the large-scale urban redevelopment which had reshaped North America’s other “ancient” cities such as Boston and Montreal.  Walking through these neighborhoods feels like walking through a major city North American city in the mid-late 19th Century at the dawn of industrialization.
Northwest of (and several hundred feet below) Old Quebec lies the Saint-Sauveur neighborhood, which originally developed as a separate town from Quebec City proper.
Though formally annexed in 1887, Saint-Sauveur still feels like a slow paced, blue collar, French Canadian small town.
The neighborhood is now becoming a center of gentrification, as low rents and proximity to downtown is attracting many of the younger denizens of Quebec City.
Like much of Quebec City, Saint-Sauveur hasn’t seen much redevelopment over the years, giving it the feeling of a late 19th Century blue collar neighborhood stranded in time.
There isn’t anything outwardly spectacular about Saint-Sauveur, but I couldn’t help meandering around for several hours and taking pictures of the houses.
Outside of Old Quebec, signs in Quebec City are all in French, and you’re likely to receive blank stares if you attempt to ask for anything in English.  What I found particularly amusing about all of Quebec (not just Quebec City) is that in the rest of Canada, even in areas which are 99% English, most signage is bilingual.  However, Quebecers don’t even bother an attempt to be bilingual, and just post everything in French only.
Unlike much of Canada, Quebec City is not an overflowing bastion of ethnic diversity.  This Mexican grocery store near Saint-Sauveur was one of the few businesses I encountered which catered to a primarily foreign clientele.
On the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, adjacent to Quebec City, is the town of Levis.
Feeling adventurous, I decided to rent a bicycle and ride down the southern coast of Quebec City, and across the St. Lawrence River to Levis.  Aside from almost getting killed biking uphill on the shoulder of a curvy 4 lane highway which was somehow part of the “bike trail,” the trip was rather uneventful.
After biking west along the coast of Quebec City proper, and crossing a windy bridge which would have kept Indiana Jones on edge, the path led back east to the center of Levis.  Expecting a quaint French village, I was disappointed to find Levis not much more than the strip-center infused urban sprawl of Quebec City.  This was, however, where I met the convenience store operator from Fuzhou (where I had lived in China for 3 years), which was probably the highlight of the jaunt.  From Levis, a ferry takes passengers back to Quebec City (in background) for 3 dollars.
…and another view of Old Quebec, from the ferry, with Château Frontenac in the middle
I have never seen any place quite like Quebec City.  The architecture is more ancient (again, using term loosely) than anything else in North America, and it is also probably the most European city on the continent (Montreal included).  For travelers who truly want to experience French Canada, Quebec City a must-see…and that just about wraps up my 2010 summer trip to Canada.

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