On Prince Edward Island they know how to make ice cream, they know how to make clam chowder, and they sure as hell know how to make music.
If you’re ever on PEI and feeling blue, just step into one of their tiny village halls and listen to a local fiddler and you’ll be sure to cheer up. If you’re already feeling good before you get there then you’ll probably be ecstatic by the time the first song is done. Stuffed after a four-course lobster supper in Cavendish, and relaxed after a day of beach combing and wandering around downtown Charlottetown, I serendipitously found myself at the last show of the season of the Richard Wood Trio, playing in Stanley Bridge (pop. 38) tonight. It was me and about 99 gray-haird seniors, clapping our hands and tapping our toes as the fiddle, bodhran (Gaelic drum) and mandola blended in the sweetest way and brought the house down by the end of the night.
I couldn’t have asked for a better day on PEI.
The sun was shining this morning when I woke up late in a queen-sized bed in a house in the woods after a deep sleep – I didn’t have to sleep in my car after all… my couch surfing host had called me just before midnight as I was about to leave Boston Pizza to look for a place to park for the night. Karyn is crazy busy as a costume designer for a local theatre company, and works late, but was kind enough to have me stay even while she’s been away all day again today. So, after helping myself to toast and a quick shower this morning, I drove the 20 minutes to Charlottetown and wandered around, looking at the harbour where a massive cruise ship was docked, and all along Queen Street, where the shops and cafés were catering to the last of the summer tourists at the tail end of the season.
Travel tip: There is free one-hour parking right in the heart of downtown in front of the docks, next to the visitor centre. It says one hour, but I think I left my car for two and no one seemed to mind.
I bought a couple of books at a used book shop (including Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, which is set in Newfoundland) and hung out for a bit with a firefighter outside the station where loads of people were taking photos of the old engine from 1929 that was restored and is now the biggest attraction in town for some reason. I then drove a meandering road up and around to the north shore, past dairy pastures and pumpkin fields, to Prince Edward Island National Park, where the roads are strangely red, and the beaches look untouched. There are lighthouses and deep sea fishing guides’ shacks on docks to see along the drive, and if you head west on the No. 6 road, you’ll end up in North Rustico, where you can get the best lobster dinner in the world at the Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant (this, according to my waitress at the Boston Pizza, who says she hasn’t eaten lobster since she was a kid because her dad’s a fisherman and she got sick of sea food at an early age, but who clearly knows where to find the best of it in this province.)
I started with the clam chowder, followed by a tossed salad, then a heaping plate of steamed muscles, and finished with the lobster itself, which was one pound and was brought to me along with a giant plastic bib, tongs to crack the shell, and a couple of hand wipes. I’ve got to say, that’s not a meal for anyone who’s at all squeamish about seafood. It’s still got its tentacles and everything when they bring it to you and it’s probably alive 10 minutes before it gets to your plate. I kind of felt bad, too, when they told me it would have been about 14 years old. Anyway, I did eat it all (except the liver, which is a chunk of gray stuff in the back that looks like cat puke). I won’t say I’ll never eat lobster again, but I don’t really see what the big deal is. It tastes like chicken. Okay, not really, but it is pretty bland and kind of rubbery. But I paid only $43 including tax and a good tip for the whole meal – which also came with coffee and dessert (I took the pie home with me) – and I’d say it’s a great deal for a meal of that magnitude.
Ready to burst two hours after arriving at the restaurant, I finally lugged myself back to my car and drove to nearby Cavendish where the famous Anne of Green Gables House sits behind a big gateway that’s closed after 5 p.m. I got there at 6:15 p.m. and thought, well, there’s no one in the giant parking lot, and I didn’t drive 6,000 km and cross a 13 km bridge just to see the parking lot, so I hopped the fence and had the whole place to myself, including the prettiest walk in the woods I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking. Having never read the book Anne of Green Gables, I didn’t get goose bumps looking at the house or anything, and I wasn’t sad I couldn’t go inside, but the walk through Lovers’ Lane was awesome, especially with the sun setting through the trees and the only sounds coming from the little bubbling brook and the wind whispering in the birch leaves overhead.
Of course, ending the day with the kitchen party show was the cherry on top. Actually, no, seeing a fox three feet from my car on a quiet highway in the moonlight on my way back to Karyn’s was the cherry.
In summary, visit PEI. You won’t be disappointed. (Unless you come in winter, in which case you might be cold and miserable in the freezing rain and be very disappointed. I hear the winter weather here is atrocious.)
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