Monthly Archives: September 2009

All good things must come to an end…

…and so has this vacation.
It’s Wednesday morning, and time to start packing our bags and making our way home. We’ve got a 4:50 flight – I don’t know what we’ll be doing between now and then. The flight has a stopover in Hamilton; we should be back in Winnipeg around 8:00.
That’s probably the end of this blog for a while – hope you’ve enjoyed it!

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Time and tide wait for no man*

Today’s goal was simple: see the Bay Of Fundy.

As anyone who’s taken Canadian Social Studies should know, the Bay of Fundy is home to the most extreme tides in the world. Seeing the tides was the one thing that I said, at the outset of this trip, that I wanted to do. So today, that’s what we did.

First things first: Deciding where to see the tides. The Bay of Fundy is a big place, bordered by New Brunswick on the north and Nova Scotia on the south. As far as I know, you should be able to experience the tides anywhere along those shores; after all, it’s all one bay. Still, might as well find a nice scenic place.

Luckily, when we were at Peggy’s Cove, I was talking to a traveler from Pennsylvania who mentioned a place called The Hopewell Rocks, and highly recommended it. Lo and behold, this appears to be the place to see the Fundy tides, and it’s in New Brunswick, less than an hour from out hotel. We had our destination!

Hopewell Rocks, at low tide.

Hopewell Rocks, at low tide. The seaweed on the rocks on the right shows how high the water gets.

I checked the tide tables, and low tide was around 9:30, with high tide about six hours later, around 3:30. So, we went down to Hopewell, paid our admission fee, and started walking the trails.

Oh, the trails.

This is one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time.

Here’s how it works. The Hopewell Rocks are a bunch of rocks that have been eroded by the tides over the years. At low tide, you can walk down among the rocks and explore them. At high tide, that entire area is underwater.

So the way it’s laid out, you start at the interpretive centre by the parking lot. There’s a trail that’s around 700-1000m long (depending on how you do it) along the top of the cliff. It leads to a few lookouts where you can get a nice view of the rocks, and then ends at what the park guide called “the 99 stairs” (though when I counted them, I only got around 85). These stairs lead down to the bottom of the cliff, and then you can walk along the bottom of the cliff about the same distance as you could at the top (though there’s no defined trail here, you’re just wandering around).

This seems like it's bound to collapse sooner or later.

This seems like it's bound to collapse sooner or later.

All in all, it’s a pretty nice walk. Parts of it are quite steep, and of course there are all those stairs, so it’s kind of tiring. If you do the whole thing, on the top and bottom of the cliff, it’s probably about 4km. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, and shot a bunch of pictures.

If you’ve been paying attention, though, you realize that we’ve got six hours between high tide and low tide, which means we have to go kill time somewhere. That somewhere was Cape Enrage.

I forget how I found out about this place. Somewhere it claimed that it was the most picturesque location in Canada, and it’s fairly close to Hopewell, so we decided to head out there while waiting for the tide to come in. This took us down about 15 km of steep, windy, narrow highway, through Absolutely Nowhere County, New Brunswick. Guided by GPS, a poorly-labeled map, and crossed fingers, we made our way to a “beach” covered in smooth round stones about 10-20 cm across, with huge waves crashing on shore. Seemed like a nice place to get out of the car and take some pictures.

Until the wind almost took the car door off.

Turns out that, today at least, Cape Enrage was living up to its name. The weather had turned cloudy and cool, and the winds were unbelievable. If they were under 50 km/h, I’d be surprised. They were blowing straight inland, and combined with the tidal forces, they were responsible for those huge waves we saw. Still, we got out, admired the view, and took pictures.

Mom and Dad braving the wind and cold near Cape Enrage

Mom and Dad braving the wind and cold near Cape Enrage

We then continued up the road to the Cape Enrage lighthouse. We expected to need to pay a $10 fee for entry, but everything was closed (presumably for the season), so we just parked the car and walked past the locked gate (why not?) to explore.

“Explore”, in this context, means “walk up the path to the lighthouse”, and then “walk down the stairs to the beach”. Both of these walks included necessary return trips, and in the case of the stairs to the beach, especially after all the other walking we’d already done, the climb was not insignificant. Still, I considered it entirely worth it. The view was amazing, the cliffs breathtaking, and the ocean spectacular. Photography was challenging, but I think I got some good shots — though many of them will require some extra work to deal with the exposure problems I was having.

(Side note: A couple other people were there at the same time as us; it turns out they’re from Manitoba – one from Winnipeg and one from a small town I forget – and they had flown into Halifax on the same flight as us. Small world.)

The "beach" at Cape Enrage

The "beach" at Cape Enrage

Cape Enrage is also on the Bay of Fundy, just a short distance from Hopewell Cape, and the tides were still coming in. It was pretty neat to see people standing and having a conversation, and suddenly having to step over because the water was lapping at their feet. It was just about high tide, and people were complaining about the cold, so, back to Hopewell.

Be wary!

Be wary!

We were all pretty tired when we got there – just walking around in the stiff winds at Cape Enrage was exercise, and the uneven ground and steep climbs made it worse. By the time we got back to trails, nobody really wanted to do the 1.5 km round-trip hike, but we didn’t want to wuss out and pay for the shuttle service either, so hike we did.

Sure enough, from up on the cliffside we could see that all the places we had been walking before, on a nice broad stretch of beach, were now completely underwater. When we got to the “99 stairs”, we were surprised to learn that the park staff had not roped them off — you could still walk down the stairs all the way to the bottom (well, the last couple steps were submerged). Just standing there was risking getting wet, because the occasional large wave would come in and splash a few steps that were normally above water level.

Hopewell Rocks, at high tide,

Hopewell Rocks, at high tide,

Dad testing the limits

Dad testing the limits

This story is taking longer to tell than it should, especially since it’s not that exciting. To sum up the rest: We got a little separated, and met back at the interpretive centre after I did a short extra hike to get some more pictures from the lookouts that we had been at before. My knee was really bothering me (it does sometimes when I’m doing a lot of stairs or inclines), and everyone was exhausted. It’s impressive that we got to the hotel without falling asleep in the car, and then actually went out for dinner instead of passing out in our beds until morning. Still, this day was exactly the sort of thing I love to do on vacation. If you don’t get back to your hotel room dead on your feet with a camera full of pictures, you’re doing it wrong.

Potscript: We held a vote after dinner, and unanimously (with Dad conspicuously absent) agreed to go back to Magnetic Hill and give it a second chance (we were definitely unimpressed the first time, but had mis-understood what we were supposed to do and see). It was…pretty weird, actually. Here’s how it goes: There’s an old road that goes over some rolling terrain, and you drive down to the bottom of this small valley, put the car in neutral, and it rolls up the hill to the top. Accelerating the whole way, so that by the top, it was actually moving dangerously fast for a car in reverse, and Dad had to hit the brakes. Ok, so logic tells us that it was an optical illusion, and that the “downhill” slope was actually uphill, but it was incredibly convincing. I’m glad we decided to go back — it’s one of the very few tourist attractions around here (seriously, Moncton is a terrible city for tourism), and it was actually pretty impressive.

* Footnote: Rejected titles for this post include: How High’s The Water, Mama?; I Would Walk 500 Miles; Green Grass and High Tides; Are We Having Fundy Yet?. I thought of a really good title earlier this afternoon that I wanted to use, and for the life of me I can remember it now…

The long bridge

Today was actually pretty full; almost two days in one. We started off in Charlottetown, wandering around the downtown and harbour area, then we drove to Moncton and spent some time there. Actually quite a lot happened, but I`m pretty tired and it’s kind of late (11:00 local time; just finished watching the House season premiere), so we’ll see how energetic I am…

So, we got up at the not-unreasonable time of around 8:00, had breakfast, checked out of our hotel, and drove into Charlottetown’s “historic downtown” to see what there was to see. What there was to see was:

  • A variety of nice old buildings
  • Province House, Charlottetown’s legislature, birthplace of Confederation, and site of that famous photo
  • A nice harbour district with some gift shops and restaurants

Province House wasn’t half-bad. They showed us a little video explaining the significance of the Confederation discussions in Charlottetown, we poked our head into the legislative chambers, and then we actually met the Speaker, who was wandering around introducing herself to random tourists. Unexpected but neat.

Province House in Charlottetown. Kind of a plain-looking building on the outside.

Province House in Charlottetown. Kind of a plain-looking building on the outside.

One of the well-appointed rooms inside Province House. I admit I totally forget which one.

One of the well-appointed rooms inside Province House. I admit I totally forget which one.

Overall, we all quite liked Charlottetown. It was…quaint, for lack of a better work. Tourist-friendly without being too touristy, and a nice place to walk around and relax. Very friendly people, too. The most negative thing I can say about it is, there seems to be an obsession with Anne Of Green Gables…or, more specifically, they seem to believe that all tourists are obsessed with Anne Of Green Gables. Get past that, though, and it’s a nice place.

Charlottetown harbour, viewed from the balcony/patio of the restaurant we had lunch at.

Charlottetown harbour, viewed from the balcony/patio of the restaurant we had lunch at.

Oh, also, there’s this ice cream place called Cows that seems to sell more t-shirts than ice cream. We had the ice cream (excellent), and enjoyed the t-shirts, which are all spoofs of pop culture (Super Moorio Bros, Hannah Moontanah, MooTube, etc. They should be eye-rollingly stupid, but actually manage to be pretty funny).

We then drove west to Confederation Bridge, which I can safely describe as “a large bridge”. We drove over it, and had a couple complete conversations before we reached the other side, which is in New Brunswick. Having done this, I’ve now been in every province in Canada except Newfoundland.

Confederation Bridge. If you look closely through the arches, you can see how it curves to the right in the distance.

Confederation Bridge. If you look closely through the arches, you can see how it curves to the right in the distance.

It’s interesting to see how the different Maritime provinces are all distinct, even though they’re fairly small and close together. There’s definitely different terrain and culture in each one. New Brunswick has a much stronger Acadian/French contingent, and the terrain is very farm-oriented (unlike Nova Scotia, which had almost no farming at all). The countryside actually looks not unlike parts of Saskatchewan, except with the ocean in the background.

We know this, because we decided to take a non-major highway, and if we didn’t have the maps and GPS to prove otherwise, we would have been sure we took a wrong turn. This was a beat-up, narrow road, with no shoulders, and along most of it, no painted lines. It really seemed like a road to nowhere. But it took us exactly where we epected it too, and along the way, we stopped at a closed-for-the-season roadside snack shack, pulled a couple drinks out of the cooler, and drank them by the oceanside. Dad and I climbed down the ~3-metre embankment and walked along the “beach”, and collected a bunch of seashells (why not?).

Cruising down the "highway" in northern New Brunswick

Cruising down the "highway" in northern New Brunswick

Once we got to Moncton, we checked into our hotel, and then decided to go to Moncton’s downtown and wander around it. It’s not nearly as nice as Charlottetown’s was — there’s not as much to see and do, the historic buildings aren’t as well-presented, and there are a lot of locals (which we quickly labeled “hoodlums”) hanging around and giving the whole area a sort of unwelcoming vibe.

Oh, wait, I forgot about Magnetic Hill. We went to Magnetic Hill, couldn’t figure out how it was supposed to work, were unimpressed, got caught in the massive tourist trap road that makes it difficutlt to get back to the highway, and then had a hard time finding our hotel. So yeah. At least the toll booth was closed, so we didn’t have to pay $5 for the experience.

Anyway, we had dinner at The Pumphouse, a local pub, and now we’re back at the hotel. Tomorrow we’ll do the Bay of Fundy, primarily Hopewell Rocks. That promises to be an interesting visit, and should provide some nice photo opportunities…

Have I mentioned that they're absolutely silly about lobster over here? It's been lobster everything for the last week.

Have I mentioned that they're absolutely silly about lobster over here? It's been lobster everything for the last week.

To PEI

A quiet, relaxed day today, as befitting a Sunday. We got up relatively late (Pamela and I set out alarm for 8:15, but we woke up before it went off), and started out drive to Charlottetown around 10:00, after a mediocre but serviceable breakfast.

Prince Edward Island is, of course, an island, which means that there are a limited number of ways to get there. The first is a ferry from Caribou, Nova Scotia (near New Glasgow, where we stayed a couple nights ago) to Wood Islands, PEI. The second is Confederation Bridge, from Border-Carleton, PEI to Bayfield, New Brunswick. We took the ferry today, and will take the bridge when we leave tomorrow.

The ferry is, technically, more expensive than the bridge. However, both the ferry and the bridge are priced for the round trip, not one-way, and collect the fee when leaving PEI, so we didn’t pay for the ferry today. (This leads to obvious jokes about “They’ll let you onto PEI for free, but you have to pay if you want to leave”).

It’s recommend that you get to the ferry about an hour early so that you can secure a place in line, and so that they can get everyone loaded onto the ferry in time for its departure. This also gives the gift shop the opportunity to sell you stuff (I bought more fudge, because I’m weak). As a bonus, while the harbour is fenced off, it’s not secure — there’s just a sign saying “enter at your own risk” — so I got to wander around and take pictures of the boats, and Dad chatted to a local fisherman.

Caribou Harbour, on Nova Scotia's Northumberland Shore

Caribou Harbour, on Nova Scotia's Northumberland Shore

Buoys hanging from a boat in the harbour

Buoys hanging from a boat in the harbour

The ferry ride itself is about 75 minutes long. There’s a little cafeteria on the ship – we were taking the 12:30 ferry, so we had lunch – and some other diversions (some tourist information, and I think a few arcade games), but we spent most of the trip on the decks, watching the waves and the occasional island or passing ship.

Mom and Dad aboard the ferry

Mom and Dad aboard the ferry

Once we got to PEI, we drove over to a lighthouse that’s right by the harbour. During the summer, it’s open to the public, but it was closed for the season now, so we just admired it and went on our way.

The Wood Islands lighthouse

The Wood Islands lighthouse

PEI is a very pretty place, and quite different than Nova Scotia. The famous red soil is very evident, and where Nova Scotia was trees, trees, trees, PEI is covered in farms. It’s very picturesque, with little farms on rolling hills with the ocean in the distance. While it doesn’t have the mountains of the Cape Breton highlands, it has a charm all its own, and feels very…lived-in. A lot of Nova Scotia seemed…empty, with small towns that barely deserved the name, and huge tracts of undeveloped land. PEI has farms, and fishing villages that seem like people actually live and work there.

Of course, PEI is pretty small. We were all, I think, a little surprised at how big Nova Scotia was. It’s easy to think of the Maritime provinces as piddly little things, but you can spend a lot of time driving in Nova Scotia. PEI is, legitimately, small…we were driving across it the long way, and made it to Charlottetown, which is about halfway, in around an hour.

We actually had to drive all the way through Charlottetown and out the other side to get to our hotel, which is technically in Cornwall. It’s a Super 8, and surprisingly nice. It looks recently renovated, and the rooms are quite spacious. The bathroom in mine and Pamela’s room is huge – almost as big as mine at home (which is just silly). They get one black strike though: it seems they don’t keep the coffee and hot water thermos equipment separate, so when I made myself a cup of tea, it tasted of coffee. Blech.

We looked into getting to a church service today, but our travel options were limited by the ferry schedule, and the two local churches that we considered don’t have afternoon services (we actually drove past the Free Reformed Church of Scotland around 3:00 or so). So we settled with a very quiet day (dinner in our hotel room, no real sightseeing).

The Free Church of Scotland, just east of Charlottetown

The Free Church of Scotland, just east of Charlottetown

We’ve got the rest of the trip pretty much planned out now. The next two nights (our last two) are booked in what looks like a very nice hotel in Moncton. We hope to spend some time exploring Charlottetown tomorrow, and then on Tuesday we’ll go to the Fundy coast, hoping to see the Hopewell Rocks, the famous tides, and maybe a couple other things. Wednesday morning we might take a look around Moncton, and in the afternoon, we fly back home…

May her mountains dark and dreary be

Today, we drove the Cabot Trail. It was a long day, with a lot of driving, but we saw some fantastic scenery. The day was pretty grey, and rainy and windy, but the landscape was still easily among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

Bridge we went over early in our drive -- at North River Bridge, I think

Bridge we went over early in our drive -- at North River Bridge, I think

The route we took basically goes counter-clockwise around Cape Breton Island. We started at Syndey, in the east, and drove up the east coast, cut across the northern tip of the island, and went back down the west coast to Port Hawkesbury (for the last leg, we switched from the Cabot Trail to the Ceilidh Trail).

Dad looking out over the Atlantic Ocean

Dad looking out over the Atlantic Ocean

The weather started out kind of cool and cloudy, and got progressively worse as we drove. We went through some aburdly patchy showers — places where we’d have no rain, then a massive downpour that lasted long enough for, say, two or three swipes of the windshield wipers, and then no rain again. The wind picked up quite a bit too — in places I’m sure it was at least 60 km/h. This meant that some of the views may not have been as nice as they would have been otherwise (“I bet this would look even better if it was sunny, and it wasn’t raining so hard that no one wants to leave the car”) but others were more impressive (“Look at this size of those waves!”)

The water just kept getting rougher. This is in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The water just kept getting rougher. This is in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Dad in particular was enamoured of the ocean, and the huge waves, and kept pulling over to get another look.

Dad, reaching out to touch the ocean

Dad, reaching out to touch the ocean

The ocean, reaching out to touch Dad

The ocean, reaching out to touch Dad

The drive wasn’t just ocean views — the Cape Breton Highlands have steep windy roads that can compete with anything you might get in the Rockies. We went from sea level to 300 meters up more than once, and the poor rental car was really put to work.

Looking down through some of the hills in the highlands

Looking down through some of the hills in the highlands

During the northern leg of the drive, as it cuts from the east shore over to the west short, the route is totally inland, and you can forget that you’re on an island – or even anywhere near the coast – quite easily. The way the mountains run right up to the coast is pretty impressive: it only takes a few seconds of driving to completely lose sight of the coast behind a hill, and after a few minutes more, you’re totally surrounded by the highlands, and it feels just like driving through mountain terrain anywhere else.

Beulach Ban Falls. I think.

Beulach Ban Falls.

All in all, we have definitely seen the ocean now. Not just harbours and bays and coves, but the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, with water as far as the eye can see, waves crashing on rocks, and salt in the air.

Looking south along the east shore of Cape Breton

Looking south along the east shore of Cape Breton

We’re in an Econolodge motel tonight – definitely the poorest hotel of the trip so far. We knew it would be when we booked it, but it essentially came down to “It’s here, it’s not too expensive, and if we book this we can stop looking for a hotel”. We’re hoping for a quiet day tomorrow — less driving, less hurrying, less stress. We plan to spend tomorrow night in Charlottetown.

Seaweed-strewn beach. It must have been low tide.

Seaweed-strewn beach. It must have been low tide.

Other random thoughts that don’t really fit anywhere else:

  • We stopped in Ch├Ęticamp, which is an Acadian town. After everything being Irish, Gaelic, Celtic, and Scottish, it was really weird to suddenly be in this completely French place, where shop owners greeted us with “Bonjour!” and the locals were chatting in French (well, Acadian, I guess). Then in the next town it was right back to Celtic again, so hey.
  • So far, we’ve driven through the home towns of Rita MacNeil and the Rankin family.
  • Towards the end of our drive today, we saw Joe’s Scarecrow Village: something like 100 scarecrows. The weather was awful, we stayed for about 26 seconds, and I got some horrifyingly bad pictures.
  • The fact that my laptop is still on Manitoba time is really messing me up, because I’m writing these blog entries at night and seeing the clock and thinking “Hey, it’s only 9:30, I can keep going!”
  • Pamela and I are hilarious – the time between arriving in our hotel room, and checking out the state of the hotel’s wireless internet access, is getting pretty short.
  • At one point in the drive today, we looked to our right, into a rain- and mist-filled valley, and saw a rainbow below us. This was a unique experience.
  • We’re baffled by the climate control in our current hotel room. I think we’re running the heater and air conditioner at the same time.
  • We’ve now gone as far east as we’re going to go, and are working our way west towards Moncton, which is where we catch our flight to Winnipeg. By some interpretation of this, we’re now on our way home.

Driving Cape Breton Island, day 1

Everyone we talked to about Nova Scotia said the same thing: “You have to see Cape Breton Island; you have to drive the Cabot Trail”. Today, we started that.

Actually, it was an enjoyable day, but really it was just a relaxed day of driving. I didn’t take that many pictures (49); we didn’t do that much that was really exciting. So I don’t have much to write about (apart from the birthday story in the previous post), and I don’t have many pictures to show.

We left our hotel in New Glasgow this morning around 9:00, and took the Trans-Canada highway all the way to the Canso Causeway.

Emergency geography lesson: Cape Breton Island is the half of Nova Scotia that is an island. The strip of water that separates Cape Breton from the mainland is the Strait of Canso. A causeway has been built so that you can drive from the mainland onto Cape Breton Island; this is the Canso Causeway. A set of locks and a swing bridge have been installed so that ships can still get past.

Canso Causeway and Strait, viewed from Cape Breton Island, looking toward the mainland.

Canso Causeway and Strait, viewed from Cape Breton Island, looking toward the mainland.

Once we got to Cape Breton, we drove the Fleur-de-Lis Trail to St. Peters, and then the Bras d’Or Lakes Drive to Sydney. Along the way we went through over a dozen tiny little towns with almost nothing to them. It was weird — there were all these cottages and country homes, but no sign of anything like grocery stores or gas stations to support them. It made no sense. Nobody’s really trying to survive off tourism either, so while it was a very pretty drive, there wasn’t really anywhere to stop, and we made quite good time. (For anyone considering the drive: St. Peters has some very nice walking trails and a picnic area; if you want to stop somewhere, this is the place to do it).

Bras d'Or Lake

Bras d'Or Lake

We did end up in a little Celtic-themed gift shop; I almost bought a bodhran, but it looked kind of cheap (almost like it was designed for display, not for playing), so even though I liked the way it sounded, I bought a tin whistle instead, enlarging my collection of “traditional instruments purchased as souvenirs” that I began in Turkey.

One of the bilingual English/Gaelic road signs we saw today.

One of the bilingual English/Gaelic road signs we saw today.

Our hotel in Sydney is nice, especially Mom & Dad’s suite — it looks like a decent small apartment. And this was also one of the cheapest hotels we could find around here, so getting a recommendation from the hotel staff last night was definitely worthwhile. The only disappointment so far is that this is the first hotel we’ve been in that doesn’t have 24-hour coffee/tea/etc. We have a microwave, mugs, teabags, etc. in our room, so it’s not like we have nothing to drink, but still.

Tomorrow, we drive the Cabot Trail, which is reputed to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world.

Giant fiddle outside Sydney Port and Tourist Centre. Speakers hidden inside play fiddle music.

Giant fiddle outside Sydney Port and Tourist Centre. Speakers hidden inside play fiddle music.

(Pronunciation note: “Cabot Trail” is universally pronounced “CAB-it”, not “ca-BO”. They claim there are a lot of French people here, but based on this fact alone, I’m disinclined to believe it. The town of Ben Eoin is pronounced “Ben Yawn” — I mention this not because the town is in any way important to this post, but because I couldn’t figure it out, and then I heard it on a TV commercial, and now there’s one less mystery in the world. The place names and general multiculturalism around here could be worth a post all by themselves.)

A Nova Scotia birthday

Just like yesterday, I’m doing more than one post today. Photos will be in the later post. Entertaining stories go here.

So, before we even left on this trip, Pamela had said that on her birthday, she wanted to go to a proper Maritimes pub with a celtic or Irish band. We asked around, and it was unanimous: “No problem, just walk into basically any pub, and you’re set.”

Today is Pamela’s birthday. (Happy birthday, Pamela!) We’ve made it to Sydney, Nova Scotia, on Cape Breton Island — I think it’s the easternmost major population centre in the province. Just to make sure we knew what we were doing, I asked the girl at the Sydney tourist information centre if she could recommend a decent pub with traditional music, and she said “Actually, yes – The Governor is having a ceilidh tonight from five ’til nine”. Perfect!

Around 5:30, we wandered over to said pub. It was fantastically Celtic. Classic Celtic knot designs figured prominently in almost all of the decor, from the windows to the wall designs to the light fixtures. Gaelic phrases were written on the wall and on the menu (Pamela apparently knew some of them, which impressed me). The pub was also clearly Nova Scotian (is that a word?). Featured beers were Alexander Keith’s and Garrison. The menu – this is a pub, remember – included lobster, calimari, shrimp, and mussels. This was a promising place – loads of atmosphere.

The stage had a couple guitars on it, one bearing a celtic knot design. But it had no musicians, and thus, no live music. The piped-in music was decent: some fiddle tunes, some Irish Rovers, some Great Big Sea; but we wanted a live band. We asked the waitress about music, and she said “yeah, it’s going to start at 5:00”.

This perplexed us.

After a bit of conversation and checking, it turned out that the band was late, they were at that table over there, and they were going to start just as soon as they finished their meal. It was after 6:00 by this point, so, umm, ok.

Around 6:30, the band finally got up on stage and announced “We’re intimidated by Irish bands.”

This concerned Pamela and I.

Then they started playing…a series of covers of ’70s and ’80s pop tunes. We heard “I Don’t Like Mondays” (by Boomtown Rats), “Sixteen Tons”, something by Bruce Springsteen…decent songs, really, and the band wasn’t half-bad, but this was not what we were looking for.

After our second round of drinks, and about the fifth song, we paid the bill and headed across the street, to a bar called “The Crown & Moose”. It didn’t look particularly Celtic, but the sign outside suggested that the band for the first half of the night was “Highland Mermaid”, so that seemed good.

When we went in, the guy was up on stage singing “Chasing Cars”. A great song, but not what you might call Irish.

We then walked up and down the two main streets in Syndey, Nova Scotia, a nice harbour town, and located…zero other pubs. We went back to the hotel, and I asked the receptionist for a recommendation, and she instantly suggested The Governor’s Pub, where we just came from. When I described the situation there, she was aghast – “My friend goes down there all the time and plays fiddle, that’s the kind of music they normally have!” She then called another hotel, described what we wanted, listened to the response, and said, “Yeah, they just came back from there”.

So apparently, we came to Cape Breton Island, birthplace of essentially an entire genre of music, home of so many great Celtic bands, on the one day that no one was playing any Celtic music.

Pamela and I went back, had supper, and listened to the band apply their country-folk style to Bob Dylan, Rufus Wainwright, Coldplay, and all sorts of other songs that had nothing in common except a complete lack of any Celtic influence whatsoever.

And that was Pamela’s traditional Nova Scotia birthday pub crawl.

Peggy’s Cove and Lunenberg

Ok, so let’s just get it out of the way right now:

The famous Peggy's Cove Lighthouse

The famous Peggy's Cove Lighthouse

Can’t go to Peggy’s Cove without taking a picture of the lighthouse, right?

Actually, the lighthouse was, to me, one of the less interesting things around. Peggy’s Cove is a very picturesque fishing village, and I probably could have spent all day there, wandering through it slowly (it’s very small, just a couple of streets), taking pictures, checking out the local shops, and so on.

Lobster traps in Peggy's Cove

Lobster traps in Peggy's Cove

Besides the town itself, I was fascinated by the rocky shore that the Lighthouse is on. I spent more time wandering around and admiring the rocks than I did actually paying attention to the lighthouse — in fact, I never walked up to the lighthouse itself.

Anyway, very nice place, and worth the drive. It felt like a little fishing village, and was actually the only time so far that we’ve really gotten any sort of view of the ocean. Most of the time it’s been little bays and harbours that you can see across. Even here it wasn’t that vast and wide open — you get a better view of endless water from, say, Grand Beach — but it was something.

The other thing Peggy’s Cove had was old people. I counted at least 10 tour buses there simultaneously, and they all seemed to serve the 55+ crowd. Pamela and I were struggling to get decent pictures without random strangers all over the place. I did spend a few minutes chatting with a nice woman from Pennsylvania, though.

When we were done, Pamela and Mom bought some prints from a local artist, and we headed off to Lunenberg.

This is a medium-sized town that is fairly tourist-oriented. There’s a nice waterfront to walk along, with the harbour and a bunch of restaurants, and a couple of streets of shops and pubs. I ended up buying a print from a shop called “Out Of Hand”, which sold all sorts of rather funky folk art, and Dad picked up a CD of traditional Nova Scotia songs put out by a local high school choir.

Colourful houses in Lunenberg

Colourful houses in Lunenberg

One thing we’ve noticed about the architecture around here: The houses tend to be painted in these solid colours that you’d never get away with in, say, Winnipeg. The photo above is an extreme example, but we’ve seen houses painted just about every colour you could imagine. Pink? Sure, no problem. Royal blue, from the shingles all the way to the window trim? Sure, why not? Purple, orange, yellow, red…we’ve seen it all. I don’t know if it’s the surroundings, or the building style, or what, but
colours that would look ridiculous elsewhere seem to work fine here.

Lunenberg does have one major claim to fame: It’s the home of the Bluenose, and its successor, the Bluenose II, built according to the same plans, still makes its home there.

The Bluenose II, unfortunately without sails raised.

The Bluenose II, unfortunately without sails raised.

They take tourists out for cruises on it. We got to wander around the decks for a while, and then later on they set sail, except they didn’t, because it turns out it drives out of the harbour with a motor, and presumably raises its sails later on. Rather disappointing.

Anyway, after Lunenberg, which is west of Halifax, we turned around and drove to New Glasgow, which is northeast of Halifax. This is sort of a stopping point on our way to Cape Breton Island. We made pretty good time and got here in time for supper, so of course we didn’t have any (and just ate whatever we had in the hotel room). We rented movies from the free video-rental machine (Mom and Dad: What Happens In Vegas. Me and Pamela: Kung Fu Panda.), and then had a massive stress attack over trip planning.

It turns out that this whole “make it up as you go along” approach to the trip was a bad idea, because now we keep having to figure out “Where are we going tomorrow? Where are we sleeping?” After a great deal of wringing of hands and poring over of maps, we’ve (*ahem* I’ve) roughed out an itinerary for the rest of the trip (in terms of what cities/towns we expect to be in and which highways we expect to drive), found a hotel for tomorrow night, and tentatively booked a hotel for Saturday night (this booking may yet change). There were a lot of competing factors, and compromises were made, but at least we know, more or less, what we’re doing now.

The whole planning aspect took probably an hour and a half of time, aged us three years apiece, and for some reason had to happen right in the middle of the climax of the movie that Pamela and I were watching, deadening the dramatic impact completely. But, it’s done now, and hopefully it’ll be a little smoother from here on out…

Getting lost in Nova Scotia

Today, we drove.

Mostly, we drove from Halifax, to Peggy’s Cove, to Lunenberg, to New Glasgow.

But that description omits so much of the flavout.

See, Peggy’s Cove and Lunenberg are west of Halifax, and New Glasgow is east of Halifax. Peggy’s Cove, Lunenberg, and Halifax are on the south coast, and New Glasgow is on the north coast (more or less). So we had a little backtracking to do, and a lot of options. Do we drive the scenic south shore route, or the scenic north shore route? Do we cross to the north shore on highway 10, 12, 14, 102, or 2? Do we try to get to Truro, New Glasgow, or Antigonish? Do we go back through Halifax or around it?

And how do we do it when all we have is one half-decent map, a GPS that’s really not designed for thsi sort of work, and four people trying to find turns?

But we made it!

Hotel-wise: We’re in the Country Inn And Suites. The rooms are ok, but there are a couple of good things going for it:

  1. They have free DVD rentals. Pamela and I flipped a coin, and we now have Kung Fu Panda.
  2. Not only do they have 24-hour coffee, tea, etc., like both previous hotels did, but they have a machine that makes a cup of hot chocolate for you on the spot, they have proper mugs instead of styrofoam cups, and they have a cookie jar full of free cookies. Score.

Touristy stuff and photos will come later…

Breakfast police…

So I saw a sign down by the breakfast counter of this hotel (paraphrased from memory):

The complimentary continental breakfast consists of:

One bread product, one egg, one bowl of cereal, one piece of fruit, one glass of juice, and unlimited coffee and tea

This strikes us (me and Pamela) as…somewhat stingy. We have postulated the existence of Breakfast Police, wondered if there is some rate of exchange (two bowls of cereal but no egg?), and considered the legality of supplying our own glasses for the juice.

Contrast this (the Comfort Inn, which also, by the way, has no wireless internet, so I’m tethered to the wall) with the Hampton that we were in earlier, which not only set up the breakfast area to encourage you to stay a while (with free newspapers, and places to set up your laptop), but also had some pre-bagged breakfasts for you to grab on your way out if you were in a hurry.