Today was an action-packed day. I had planned to spend a good chunk of the day in Toronto, but I still wasn’t sure were I’d be headed to next. Since I had visited Montreal more than once in the past, I did not have a desire to revisit it again for the sake of time. I decided to pack a half-day of activities in Toronto and attempt to get to Quebec City before sunset.
Unfortunately, since I was traveling in a short schedule, I was “forced”, like the average tourist, to hit the main attractions. While I like to see the well-known attractions too, I prefer to have time to explore places that are off the beaten path and that don’t feel like tourist traps built to separate me from my money. When I “slow travel“, I find it easier to get a better feel for the mood and make-up of an area. You’re likely to meet more out-of-towners at the popular sights than you will the local people, who are typically tired of said sights and can only be dragged there forcefully by a visiting relative.
Looking over the “attractions” listed in a brochure I found at the hotel, the St. Lawrence Market caught my eye. Local food markets are usually prime places for slow travel as they’re good places to meet local people and get a sense for the culture by observing what they eat.
(UPDATE 05/08/2012: St. Lawrence Market was voted number one food market in the world by National Geographic.) So I headed that way. Good thing I was going Saturday, since it’s the prime day to visit, even if it meant joining the other throngs of tourists visiting.
Toronto Skyline – CN Tower
Toronto was not particularly difficult to navigate. It helped that where I was headed was near CN Tower. Pretty hard to get lost when all you have to do is look up at the giant needle to see if you’re getting closer.
Visiting St Lawrence Market
St. Lawrence Market
St. Lawrence Market is actually two stories high. It is divided into two sections, the North Market and the South Market. The North Market houses a farmer’s market on Saturdays, which is the best day to go since the whole building is open.
Whatever you’re looking for, you’re likely to find it here
There were many picture opportunities to be had at the market, unfortunately, I didn’t take many good ones. This experience taught me two things: 1) That a decent camera is a must (not the most expensive or feature rich, just that pics need to be clear) and that basic subject-framing techniques go a long way towards snapping a great looking shot. I hope to get better as I go along and to replace the camera with a better model when possible.
After walking around for a bit and admiring the wide choice of meats, fish, cheeses, and other delicacies, my stomach started to grumble pretty badly. That’s when I sopped by Buster’s Sea Cove, a pretty popular fish and chips take out place. I had the swordfish sandwich, which was tasty.
Once the rumblies quieted down, it was time from a stroll to CN Tower. Well, it started as a stroll, but soon it turned into a lengthy walk. You see, when gazing from a distance, towers tend to appear much closer than they actually are.
View from Atop CN Tower
Walking to CN Tower
After walking from the market for close to 20 minutes, I arrived at CN Tower. While it is the “World’s Tallest Tower” (a tower differs from a building in that no more than 50% of the structure can be considered ‘livable’ space’), it didn’t really leave me with a sense of awe or history. The views were really nice, but, unfortunately, not that memorable since I was INSIDE the most memorable structure in the vicinity, looking OUT at the much less interesting buildings around it.
View from CN Tower
One interesting feature was the glass floor section, which allows one to stand on a plate of glass and stare 113 stories straight down. Sure, sure, the brochures talk about the glass being able to withstand 14 large hippos. I’m almost positive I saw at least 14 of those walking around when I was there. What’s to say they all didn’t want to stand on the glass at the same time? I cautiously kept my heels in check and was aware of their position at all times. Suffice it to say, I don’t think I’ll be skydiving anytime soon.
Driving From Toronto to Quebec City
Once I was satisfied with what amounted to a painfully short, passing acquaintance with beautiful downtown Toronto, it was time to head out. Quebec City was 2.5 hours away according to maps, so I left Toronto with plenty of time to get there while the sun was still out.
Up to now, almost road signs had been in English by default and French tacked on as the secondary language. The closer I got to Quebec City, the more infrequent signs in English became, until English signage disappeared completely. It wasn’t really hard to figure out their meaning in English, for the most part. The Quebec province’s official language is French and they make this abundantly clear. Quebec considers itself a separate country WITHIN a country and have tried to claim independence from Canada in the past, coming thisclose to almost achieving their goal. I was just happy I didn’t have to deal with another border crossing today.
I stayed in a hotel in the outskirts of Quebec City. I arrived in time to rest a bit, shower, and head out to eat dinner somewhere within Old Quebec (Vieux-Quebec), which is the walled-off historic district. That was the plan, at least.
Finding an inexpensive place to eat within the walls of Old Quebec proved to be a challenge. Not only is parking within the city walls very limited, the quality of restaurants is very high, so finding a cheap place to grab a bite proved difficult without prior knowledge of what was around me. I finally found parking by the pier, near the cruise docks and from there it was a short walk to the city itself.
Old Quebec is a magical city. It is said to be the closest city in the continent of America to resemble an old-world European city. It is charming and breathtaking, day or night. Since my camera wasn’t up to the task of taking beautiful images at night, here’s a photo of Old Quebec through the lens of HellN.
Since I was starving, I ended up at a tourist trap of a place in the corner of Place Royale, an otherwise beautiful plaza and the oldest commercial square in North America. The food was ‘meh’ and on the expensive side, but the view of the plaza couldn’t be better. The plaza is flanked by Eglise Notre Dame des Victories, one of the oldest stone churches in America. The plaza is beautiful at any time of day.
After having taken in enough of the city, I headed back to the hotel to rest for the adventures of the next day. I could only spend a day and a half in the city, but I determined to get the most of it.
Have you been in Toronto? What places did you enjoy most?