Newfoundland is a special place in Canada: it joined Canada in 1949, has a unique culture and—something unusual for Canada—has a charming regional accent of its own. Newfoundland is renowned for its friendliness—a reputation that's well justified.
It's a place that both Lynda and I had wanted to visit: Lynda has travelled extensively elsewhere in Canada; I had been around the East coast in the distant past and never made it to Newfoundland.
We wanted to go! So when Lynda found she had a business trip to Halifax, we jumped at the thought of taking in Newfoundland.
The original idea was to rent a car and drive around. Friends Heather and Alan had just returned to St. John's so we emailed them, hoping to meet for dinner at some point. "We'll be away for your first few days" they wrote back "why not stay at our place for the week?". Hard to turn an offer like that down! But they were nuts to take this on. They'd been away for three weeks, gave us a whirlwind week in which they closed the deal on a new house, and due to leave for another holiday only weeks later. Now that's hospitality.
Largely uneventful flights here: first leg to Calgary and a one hour layover in the Air Canada lounge [you know you're in Calgary: a large picture of a steer, just standing there staring at you adorns one wall. Elsewhere you might ask what deep meaning such a picture might have but in Calgary it means "It's a cow dumbass"!] then on to Ottawa where we chose to stay on the plane. We're flying in a Brazilian Embrar, which is a first; odd little 2x2 across thingy. Arrive a few minutes early at 10:15pm in St. John's airport. Kirby, (Alan and Heather's daughter) very kindly met us at the airport and drove us to Alan and Heather's palatial apartment in the center of St. John's.
We slept surprisingly well last night and were up 9ish on Sunday morning—no apparent jet lag. A bright sunny day in St. John's. With an appetite for both breakfast and a quick look around, we made a quick sortie from the house looking for a cafe. After a couple of wrong turns we finally spotted a line-up outside a likely looking place only a few blocks away and joined it. Some guy comes out and, hearing our accents (from "away", but geez, you should have heard his) wants to know where we're from and friendly as all get out, spent five minutes chatting. The name of the place is "Figs" and we're in and seated in 10 minutes. Good breakfast. Back up to the house within an hour.
...and out again and on the road in another ten. The City is really compact. Takes us only ten minutes to walk through town, out around the end of the bay and be on our way up Signal Hill. Lots of history and points of interest along the way, lovely and picturesque old houses. But soon we're out of town and climbing Signal Hill. We take a trail off the road and go out past Deadman's Pond. As we ramble around the trail we get great views over the town, out over the narrows and along the coast to Cape Spear. We walk past some artillery looking over the narrows and continue on up to the tower itself. It was to here that Marconi sent his first broadcast to North America. Lots of history—something we're not used to on the West Coast.
The ankle I sprained a week or so back is not too bad but to play it safe we head back down the road. We stop at the Geocenter for an hour, then move on to look at a couple of art galleries and bookstores. We're almost back at the house by 3ish. Lyn branches off to do some shopping and I head back to the house to pick up the car so I can pick her up. Damn if I didn't ding the car fender on a wall trying to pull out of the parking spot! But we get a good couple of bottles of wine, have dinner at home and watch TV.
Monday: Taking it easy
I went to bed last night with a looming sore throat. However, got up this morning feeling more wretched about the car scrape than the on-coming cold. So got going early, phoned a few places and found a place that would fix it...on Wednesday...then opted to kick back to fight off the cold. Lyn went out and walked, did some shopping and had a look around town. Kirby phoned to invite us out to the airport to meet Alan and Heather, who are returning tonight. We eventually agreed that it would be better if she met them so we waited at the flat.
They got in around 8pm and we all sat around and talked for a couple of hours. Hit the sack around 10:30pm.
Tuesday, in town
Woke at around 8:30am to hear Alan pottering around below. Apparently he had woken up at 8am...London time (5am local) and hadn't been able to sleep.
After a whole morning of planning the rest of our week, we set out for a walk around Quidi Vidi (kiddy viddy) pond. The weather was now socked in by fog but it wasn't too dense and it was warm; and the cruise ship at the dock, which had loomed over the town for the last day or so, delayed by high winds at sea but had now left.
We rambled through town, past the Governor General's house; made a quick visit to the grocery to have a look at a conveyor belt that takes your grocery cart up to the grocey floor, and then on around the pond. It's just a small lake, hosting the Quidi Vidi boat club which in turn hosts the oldest regatta in North America.
It's a lovely walk, through an older part of town and then round below the hillside behind Signal Hill. We continued through the village into the cove. Alan told us a story of how a rogue wave had swept in some years back and carried off four people who had been swimming at the beach (apparently everyone was eventually saved but high drama).
We wandered back through town, parted with Alan, and had the feta/curry quiche at the Hungry Hearth, a training restaurant. From there, onto the Rooms, a controversial museum complex on the hill just above the apartment. It's controversial because from the distance of somewhere like Signal Hill it looks like a huge barn in the middle of town, dwarfing the nearby Basilica. We take in the art gallery, museum and furniture exhibit. Declined the climb to the cafeteria on the fourth floor after we noticed that we couldn't see across the street.
Back to the house, we met Heather and Alan returning from the bank. Then Kirby called and invited us out to see their new house, with a plan to go onto dinner at the "best fish and chip shop in North America". So around 4pm, we headed out of St. John, up past Torbay, and trundled up to Baulane, where Kirby and Colin are building their new house. It took us about 30 minutes as we're in rush hour. Rolling countryside, with forests of short stumpy pines and the occasional marsh. Caribou and Moose are often seen around here (Kirby said she's seen moose by their house); quaint coves and villages.
The house was really coming along. Built almost opposte Colin's parents AND grandparents place, they've tried to build something that didn't require them to be conected to "the grid" but just fell short. Phone, internet, TV and power are still to be hooked up but they have a heat pump, well water, sewage tank and all other amenities.
Down towards (all 6 of us in 3 cars) St. Phillips for "the best fish and chips in Canada". It was: but too much food. We were all groaning.
Back home; take the Altima out for a battery recharge which requires only ten minutes driving the highway that emerges out of the middle of town here.
Wednesday: Fix car; 'ang about
Today's the day we take the car in to have my scrape fixed. Up at 7:30...but the auto body shops hereabouts aren't open yet and we have to wait until 8am before we can drop the car off. I follow Alan we get the job done and then head over to Canadian Tire to get some mousetraps and a few other items. We head back to the house and Lyn is finally up and having breakfast.
Lyn and I have a lunch appointment today with Caroline, an associate of Lynda's from her work, so we make our way up to the Rooms for noon. Going against the forecast, it's an overcast but bright day with great views over the harbour. After lunch we head downtown to visit a few spots suggested by Alan. We hit Murphy's Gallery first, where we find a few Christopher Pratt prints on sale for less than some of the other lesser known artists on the walls. Then onto the Railway Museum (good, but not enough about the engines) and back along the harbour. We buy a print that miraculously we both agree is the best, and head back.
Heather and Alan get back five minutes after us and they've had a successful day too. Alan and I go a pick up the car—it's brilliant. Back for more gab, beer and snacks with Heather and Alan. Kirby drops in and stays for dinner. We chat until 9ish and start preparing for an early departure the next day.
Thursday: Trip to Trinity
We were packed, out of there and on the road by 9am, tooling through town and out onto Route 2, leading to the "TCH" (Trans Canada Highway). The weather was supposed to be sunny but we leave St. John's under low cloud and it sticks with us but at least it's not raining.
The highway was unexpectedly (for us) good: 4 lanes for the first hour, emerging from 'burbs relatively quickly and heading across typical island terrain: low hills; short trees and lots of ponds/lakes. This is definitely moose territory but the moose would be better to lay low today: it's the first day of the moose season (Kirby and Colin were out at 4am).
The terrain varies a bit. We're never very high above sea level, climbing to perhaps 1,000 feet as we approach Clarenville where we stop for lunch at a diner. A little further down we pull off the TCH and head down #230. We continue across similar countryside but now have glimpses of small bays with tidy communities. We're about 2 hours plus out of St. John's when we come down into the picturesque town of Trinity.
We find our B&B among the many on the leeside of the hill, unpack our bags and have our lunch out on the porch. The sun is poking its head out; it's a little breezy but basically looking good.
We take a walk around the town and it's just lovely here. We notice that all of the houses are beautifully maintained, and it gradually dawns on us that there is no sign of poverty anywhere in Newfoundland that we've been, and this impression will remain through our trip. By signs of poverty I mean the broken down houses and junk in the yard that one sees in almost every town elsewhere in North America. But here the odd house here and there that needs a coat of paint is about as rough as it gets.
A second impression is that while we're tourists, people are not particularly interested in us. This is a good thing! Normally in parts of the world that attract tourists, the area becomes dependent on tourism. Tourists get wearily accustomed to subtle and not-so-subtle pressure to spend money everywhere. But where we have been, people are more interested in a way of life that they've practised for centuries: they fish (at least when the season allows them); they prepare for winter; and the hang fish out on their washing lines to dry!
We have a change and after a quick turn around the town, then head out towards East Trinity to the Skerwink trail. Here we park the car and strike out on foot, a 5.3 km ahead of us. What a great hike! We're walk around a headland with constant views as we go; there's some mild up and down. In the distance, rugged coastline and distant capes. It's a lovely walk. We do a lot of taking pictures and hanging about. Coming out we pass three ladies and two guys carrying timbers and doing the major trail reno we've seen over the last 3km They've done an amazing job.
Skerwink Headland in the distance. See the shot 3rd from end below looking directly back this way
Trinity Bay in the distance; our place just over the back of the spit.
We take a leisurely route back to the hotel, shower, change and relax. Some guys who have been out fishing are cleaning their fish on the jetty across the way. We walk across to the dining room for dinner. Not a bad meal—fish is beautiful. It's getting dark as we emerge and walk across to the theatre. There aren't too many in the audience when we get there. It's a one man performance of an actual character who lived from 1903 to whenever in these parts. Talking about it afterwards, we all enjoyed the inside look at life—and a hard life at that—in these parts over the last 100 years. But we're all bushed and hit the sack early.
Friday: Back to St. John's
Up at 8 and over to a so-so breakfast. We have a quick look at the art upstairs and then another walk around town. Then we're off for a drive up to Bonavista. Brilliant little town. Spread out along the north western tip of of the cape. Lovely clean neat houses scattered across the cape. We grab a coffee and head out to the cape lighthouse. Not a lot there, so we wander back into town and eat our lunch sandwiches watching a boat being crane-lifted out of the water and loaded onto a dock.
Back out on the road and we tour down the western edge of the cape, with quite a bit of inland driving broken up by picturesque little villages. Back out on the highway, we detour off on 230a to take in a few quaint towns behind Clarenville. We have a quick ice-cream at the diner and take the TCH for another half hour before deaking up towards Burgis for a quick recce around this much gentrified town.
Saturday, our last day
We left at the relatively leisurely hour of 930 yesterday for a drive round part of what's called the Irish Loop, south of St. John's.
The trip began with what I thought would be a relatively quick drive over the headland opposite, to visit Cape Spear. It took longer than expected to reach this Easternmost point of North America. Beautiful coastline views, including that of the harbourmouth of St. John's with Signal Hill visible. Walked up to the lighthouse. Good weather but a heck of a wind blowing.
Turned round and took highway 10 down the Avalon Peninsular in the direction of Cape Broyle—where Heather and Alan have their new place. Drive down takes about an hour, mostly because we're winding along behind slow-moving vehicles. The scenery on the flat is of the usual low trees and swamp mixed with the occasional farm or business—much more of this than we saw over the last two days. This dips occasionally into a picturesque town built around one of the many bays and coves along this coast. The East Coast Trail rambles along this coastline, passing (conveniently for the less hardy hiker) through towns, where a B&B stay can relieve the exercise.
We located the new house after we managed to locate the "warden", a local character who's mother-in-law had originally owned the house. He let us in and showed us around. It's a beautiful spot, with bright southern exposure and a view over the bay. Windy today mind you.
Had lunch in the town—cod again and excellent again even though it was only a small restaurant. Then on to Ferryland where we drove out to where the whale-watching happens in the summers. In the summer you can buy soup and other victuals at the lighthouse then take a blanket and sit on the grass looking out over the bays and watch the passing fleet of behemoths.
Back in the car (Heather hadn't moved, nursing a cold) and back up route 10 and home. A quick rest, dinner and then out to O'Reilly's on George Street for a beer and some music that night. We found that a street festival in progress so had to pay $15 each, but the music in the bar was good and the beer even better. Didn't hang around too long outside though as there was a chilling wind.
Sunday: getting back
Lyn and I were flying out separately the next day—her to Halifax while I head back to Vancouver. I checked my flight and found I'd picked the unholy hour of 6am to fly out; Alan heroically offered to drive me out to the airport. We stumbled up in the early morning darkness and unfortunately fell into conversation on the car ride out to the airport and suddenly found ourselves on some very dark road heading along water than shouldn't have been there! Bit unnerving but it turned out well. Alan turned around and five minutes later we were at the airport. Lyn left for Halifax later that morning (taking the unscenic route). It's wierd flying back. After the early start and 11 hours of travel, I arrive in Vancouver at noon, with "the rest of the day" to kill.