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Centered on a good-size commercial harbor, Saint John is New Brunswick's largest city, the center of much of this province's industry. Spread out over a low hill with good rocky views, the downtown boasts elaborate Victorian flourishes on its rows of commercial buildings. (Look high along the cornices to appreciate the intricate brickwork.) A few impressive mansions are tucked into the side streets, their interiors featuring intricate wood carving -- appropriately so, since timber barons built most of those.

There's an industrial grittiness to the city, which can be either unappealing or charming. Just don't expect a tidy garden city with lots of neat homes; this isn't that sort of place. Instead, Saint John offers plenty of brick architecture in various states of repair. Throughout downtown you'll see its past and present front and center: big shipping terminals, oil storage tanks, and paper mills. But don't give up. The central downtown district -- once you find it -- is laid out in gridlike blocks and squares, good for walks waiting for the ferry to Digby, bites to eat, and a pint of beer. You might even stay a night or 2, just to get a break from the cute-village train that Atlantic Canada can sometimes be. This is a place full of life, not a postcard: Streets often bustle with skateboarders, merchants, carousers, out-for-the-weekenders, and local old-timers casing the public market for discount produce.

Note that Saint John is always spelled out, just as I have done in this sentence. It's never abbreviated as "St. John," mostly so that mail -- and airplane travelers -- destined for St. John's, Newfoundland, don't end up here by mistake. Good thinking. But don't worry if you get it mixed up; locals will be right quick to correct you if you err.