Category: Accommodation

End of the road – St. John’s, NL

IMG_2399I made it!

The road trip has come to an end because, well, there’s no more road. Yesterday I drove out to Cape Spear, the easternmost point of North America, and dipped my toes in the sea and threw the rock I’d brought from the Pacific into the Atlantic. (The cape is a fantastic spot, with the province’s oldest lighthouse and a view like none other. It’s also a good place to spot whales. I managed to glimpse a pod of humpbacks breaching and spouting way out at sea, on their way south.)

This journey has been a six-week solo adventure that began in Victoria, B.C. and took me through so many varied towns and cities and parks and gave me the opportunity to see friends from long ago, and make new friends along the way. It was also a chance to experience all 10 provinces, and all 10 capital cities – I even got a photo of every single parliament building! I’ve had a blast seeing Canada from coast-to-coast, watching the trees shrink and fade away, before coming back and then shrinking again. In the last six weeks I’ve had many moments of quintessential Canadiana; standing in the middle of a wheat field on the prairies, canoeing across a glassy lake in northern Ontario, eating poutine in Québec, tapping my toes at a kitchen party in PEI, and encountering a moose in the wilderness of Newfoundland. Last night I even became an honorary local. With a few of my newfound friends cheering me on, I kissed a cod and downed a double shot of screech (awful, paint-peeling rum) at a pub on George Street. I got a certificate at the end. Mission complete. (And another item off my bucket list!)

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Travel tip: If you visit Newfoundland you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to be “screeched in” and experience the ultimate Newfoundland rite of passage. I can’t reveal all the details because it’s meant to be a surprise, but needless to say, it’s a fun, whacky and oh-so-Newfoundlandish experience. (Dee, one of my hosts here at the hippy commune, has been screeched in nine times – once for every year she’s been living here!) Many bars around St. John’s advertise the event, but the best place to go, according to my hosts, is Christian’s Pub, where the barman performing the ceremony will give you your money’s worth. Cost is $15 per person.

I love this country, my home, and I’ve had the journey of a lifetime. Who knew? Canada may seem not particularly exotic or romantic to those of us who live here and who dream of far-flung beaches and exciting destinations in the southern hemisphere, but I say stick closer to home for your next adventure and you won’t be dissapointed. And you won’t need to get shots or your passport updated! The best time of year to go, I think, is September, because most of the country is enjoying the last of the summer weather, and it’s easier to find places to stay and less crowded tourist hot spots after Labour Day. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather. Yesterday was a balmy 23 C here in St. John’s, which is very unusual for this time of year.

But along with the summer, my trip is now officially over, which prompts the question…

WHAT NOW?

I’m hoping my readers will help me find an answer. Do I head straight back to Vancouver, stay here and get a job gutting fish, or find an opportunity waiting for me somewhere in between? My goal now is to find work, a paid gig, a living. As Brian Mulroney once said, Canada is a country of small towns and big dreams, and I’m open to heading to just about any town in this great land where I can find work and realize the rest of my own crazy ideas and aspirations. (Ideally, I’ll be offered a gig in which I’m paid to travel around the world and take photos of far-flung places… but I’m open to just about anything that comes with a paycheque.)

To contact me with ideas, job offers, words of wisdom, or questions about this trip and how to make it happen for you next summer, email me at mkmreid@gmail.com.

To the followers of this blog, thanks for coming along for the ride. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. And to the people who’ve helped me along the way, I couldn’t have done this trip (and it just wouldn’t have been the same) without your generosity and support. To the following people who hosted me, fed me, let me do laundry and most importantly, shared with me their local’s knowledge and their company for a short time:

  • Annemarie and Gary (Victoria, B.C.)
  • Katie and Dave (Merritt, B.C.)
  • Sarah and Ana (Nelson, B.C.)
  • Kristine (Edmonton, AB)
  • Gina (Calgary, AB)
  • Andrew (Moose Jaw, SK)
  • Shannon and John (Winnipeg, MB)
  • Chloe and Ian (Dryden, ON)
  • Suzy (Thunder Bay, ON)
  • Rodger and Maria (Toronto, ON)
  • Cher and Blair (Morewood, ON)
  • Eve (Montreal, QB)
  • Pascale and Denis (Quebec City, QB)
  • Debbie (Saint John, NB)
  • Karen (Charlottetown, PEI)
  • Anastasia and Keith (Halifax, NS)
  • Bowman (Woody Point, NL)
  • Tonya and Dwayne (Gander, NL)
  • Chad and the gang (St. John’s, NL)

THANK YOU!!

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Day 41 – Gander to St. John’s, NL

Route map

Distance = 333 km    Gas = $29.47 ($1.32/L in Gander)

After driving more than 8,000 km on the Trans-Canada Highway, taking two ferries and a crazy long bridge along the way, I’ve finally made it to St. John’s, Newfoundland, the “other” mile 0, (which, for some reason, they call Mile One) and the “other” ocean. Tomorrow I will dip my toe in the Atlantic and cross off another item from my bucket list!

So last night I decided to splurge on a stay at a B&B and I’m so glad I did.

Travel tip: If you stay in Gander, be sure to book a room at the Inn on Bennett. There’s a reason it’s rated the number one B&B in town on Trip Advisor. The rooms are beautifully kept and impeccably clean, and the hosts, Tonya and Dwayne, are super friendly locals who are also caterers and serve a breakfast that alone makes staying with them worth it. I left stuffed after a granola parfait with local partridge berries, French toast with bacon, juice and coffee. To book a stay, call 1-877-256-4560.

Leaving Gander around 10 a.m., I had a lot of time to kill because from there it takes only about three hours to reach St. John’s, so I stopped for a hike in Terra Nova National Park. So worth it. The Coastal Trail – about a 4 km there-and-back – runs through a lush wood along the bay, and on sunny day like today is (almost) equal to the beauty found on the trails in southern British Columbia. Of course, I’m biased, but everywhere you go in Canada people rave about how our license plates speak the truth.

Anyway, if you have the time, do a hike in the park. I was the only person there, and spent some excellent introspective time on the beach at the end, skipping rocks and just sitting in the hot sun listening to the kind of quiet so hard to find these days. It was pretty magic. That being said, I was clapping my hands and trying to think of tunes to whistle on my way to the beach because I found somewhat fresh bear scat, and very fresh moose scat on the trail, and wasn’t in the mood to have one of those life-defining moments of terror on my own in the woods.

This evening I arrived in St. John’s just before the sun started sinking and asked a friendly construction worker to take my photo at the (totally pathetic) Mile One marker downtown. As MacLean’s writer Mark Richardson noted on his cross-Canada trip last year, the sign is downtown, and not actually at the end (or is it the beginning?) of the Trans-Canada Highway (known here as the TCH). Anyway, I got it and then found the place where I’m staying after asking a gang of neighhours out on their porch smoking and drinking beer where I could park my car without getting towed, and I somehow found a spot despite having almost no idea what they had said to me. The Newfie accent, to my ear anyway, sounds like a cross between an Irish lilt and an Alabama drawl; but however you’d describe it, you’d have to agree it’s unique.

I was then warmly welcomed by my host, Chad, and his roommates and his friends who live across the street (who immediately offered me salad from their garden) and made me feel so welcome. Chad is a self-described “gentle hippie” who lives in a three-story apartment that’s crammed full of furniture, bikes, the sound of downtempo electronica and the lingering smell of weed. If I closed my eyes, I’d swear I was in Vancouver. I’m pretty sure this is what you would call a commune. I think four people live here, maybe five. The door is never locked and people come and go. I’ve been asked if I’d like to go dumpster diving tomorrow night for free food. When in Rome…

I can’t believe the “other ocean” is right here, and this is end of my eastward momentum. Tomorrow,  I think one of the folk living here is going to lend me a bike and we’re going to check out the town. Then, depending on what else there is to do, I might just take a break from the road and be here for a few days. Maybe I’ll even kiss a cod and become an honourary Newfoundlander for a time.

NEXT POST: End of the road

Day 40 – Woody Point to Gander, NL

Route map

Distance = 369 km    Gas = $33.94 ($1.30/L in Woody Point)

Driving through Newfoundland (aka The Rock) in some ways reminds me of driving through parts of B.C. – there are long stretches of winding single-lane highway edged with trees so thick you can’t see more than a foot past them, and mountains looming behind. Of course, in Newfoundland the trees and mountains are much smaller versions of those in B.C., though both perspectives are beautiful in their own wild way.

Today before I got on the road I went for a hike with Bowman in the Tablelands of Gros Morne park. It’s a strange scene – steep hillsides (which are actually the earth’s mantle) with crumbling red rock scattered down their sides, little vegetation, and a waterfall tumbling down to a brook that runs through the valley between them. Walking the path up to the waterfall is what I imagine it must be kind of like to walk on Mars, because of the very dry, barren landscape. Bowman informed me it is, in fact, one of the places where NASA does test runs of its Mars rovers. Awesome.

This afternoon I drove for about four hours to reach Gander. It felt good to be cruising again, listening to some more groovy tunes, and I’m getting really excited about seeing Saint John’s tomorrow. Did you know it’s the eastern-most point in North America? If you reach out far enough you can almost touch Europe.

NEXT POST: Gander to Saint John’s

Days 37 & 38 – Halifax, NS to Woody Point, NL

Route map

Distance = 933 km        Gas = $41.25 ($1.28/L in Halifax, NS) and $40.19 ($1.30/L in North Sydney, NS)

The last two days have been a study in contrasts. Yesterday I started off in Peggy’s Cove, which is everything a little Nova Scotia fishing village should be, and ended the day in the most nightmarish driving conditions on Cape Breton Island, on my way to catch the midnight ferry to Newfoundland.

Peggy’s Cove is a total tourist trap, but worth the 45 minute drive south from Halifax. It’s a tiny little village right on the water, with a gorgeous lighthouse, lively little cottages in various colours dotting the shoreline, and little coffee shops and souvenir huts that must do a roaring trade in the summer. The best part, though, is exploring the huge rocks at the end of the village, where the view of the lighthouse is best. I capped off a great afternoon with a fish ‘n chip lunch on a seaside deck just down the road before heading up to the ferry in North Sydney (at the top of Cape Breton Island), but the while the drive started out all lovely, with sunshine peaking out from behind dark clouds, highlighting the dinghies drifting in the coves, it later turned into the ultimate test of nerve and driving skills by the time the sun went down and the sky unleashed a torrent of rain that my windshield wipers could not clear fast enough. On top of that, there are no street lights or road markers on the highway up there, near the top of the province, so it was like trying to drive in the bottom of a murky lake. The only way I made it to the ferry terminal was by tailgating a semi, following its brake lights through the blur of water in front of me.

The ferry trip was possibly the worst part of my journey so far. I could write a whole other blog post just about how much I did not enjoy my first time at sea, but as our mothers like to tell us when we’re toddlers, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. So I’ll just note that if you’re going to get the ferry to Newfoundland, I suggest taking it during the day (unless you really don’t care about staying up all night listening to hockey highlights on TV and a two-year old letting the whole world know all about her problems).

Travel tip: If you’re catching the ferry to Newfoundland from Nova Scotia, it leaves every day at 11:45 a.m. and 11:45 p.m. and costs $152, including tax for one person in a vehicle. You can book a sleeping berth for another $135, (which I now believe might be a good option) but from what I’ve heard and read on Trip Advisor, it’s better to save the money and just tough it out trying to get some sleep in a chair or in the lounge. 

If yesterday started well and ended badly, today was the opposite. This morning I woke up in the foulest of moods, with crazy hair, morning breath and that crummy feeling of having slept in my clothes, but by the time I’d reached Gros Morne Park and met Bowman, my host in Woody Point, I was once again happy to be alive.

The first thing I did after leaving the ferry was drive past the ridiculously long lineup for Tim Hortons in Port-Aux-Basque (the village where the ferry docks) and looked for somewhere to get bacon and eggs. Fortunately, it took no time at all to discover a cute little breakfast diner right on the water where I was the first customer of the day and was served by a local woman who called me “sweetheart” and “my love” with an accent and not the slightest hint of irony. It was a good start. Then, as I drove north, and managed to avoid death by moose (I didn’t see a single moose, despite the incessant signage warning of their presence on the highway), I only had to stop twice to cat nap and finally found my way to Gros Morne National Park where the view is again stunning and the house where I’m staying incredibly peaceful. This evening Bowman and I walked past fishing boats on the shore to go for dinner just up the road, and tomorrow he’s going to be my guide on a hike in the park.

I can’t believe I’m already in the 10th and final province, and almost near the end of my journey (at least, in this direction!)

NEXT POST: Gros Morne National Park

Day 34 – Charlottetown, PEI to Halifax, NS

Route map

Distance = 325 km        Gas = $38.56 ($1.32/L in Charlottetown, PEI)

Having a cold really puts a damper on a road trip. I drove today from Charlottetown, PEI (technically, Canoe Cove, PEI) to Halifax, which is only about 3.5 hours of driving, but it might as well have been a 10 hour trip because I’m pretty sure I had a fever and felt kind of gross. I couldn’t tell if I was too hot and sweating through my tank top because of the summer weather or because I wasn’t well. The weather here is weird. It was warm and sort of sunny, but also incredibly windy, so I couldn’t leave my window down.

Anyway, I did enjoy the scenery and marvelled once again at the view as I left PEI before passing back through New Brunswick to get to Nova Scotia.

Travel tip: Getting to PEI is free if you drive over the Confederation Bridge. Leaving the island, you can take the ferry to Nova Scotia or you can take the bridge back again to New Brunswick. Either way, you have to pay to leave. The ferry is around $70, and the bridge toll is $44.50. I went back over the bridge because it was closer to where I was staying, cheaper than the ferry, and this way I didn’t have to wait for the next sailing.

In Nova Scotia I got the requisite photo at the welcome sign, but made no other stops since there wasn’t much to see from the highway anyway. I just wanted to get here to Halifax because I knew there would be a bed waiting for me. I’m staying with an old university friend and her husband, and they’re wonderful hosts. They are also both surgeons, so I figured if I had something awful they’d be able to diagnose me. (No such luck, though – she’s an opthalmology specialist and he’s in orthopaedics.) The first thing I did when I arrived was take two Tylenol and have a bath, which was sorely needed after sweating all afternoon in my car (no AC is a bummer sometimes), and then Anastasia made a really nice fish and seafood dinner that livened me up again after eating only a couple of buns on the road that I’d saved from my lobster supper. (It’s been feast and famine much of the way on this trip.)

I’m feeling better already, and I’m sure another good night’s sleep will have me back on track tomorrow. I’m going to check out Halifax and maybe a bit down the coast. The forecast is calling for rain, but I’m from Vancouver, so I’ll handle it.

NEXT POST: Halifax

Day 33 – PEI

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.

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Local boy, Richard Wood

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.)

NEXT POST: Charlottetown to Halifax

Day 32 – Saint John, NB to Charlottetown, PEI

Route map

Distance = 376 km        Gas = $46.15 ($1.27/L in Saint John, NB)

I’ve made it to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. I’m not feeling especially great, since I’ve got a cold and all I consumed today before I got here was two donuts and a bunch of Benylin, but I found a Boston Pizza, where I’m enjoying a chicken club sandwich and free wifi. I’ve been here three hours and still haven’t heard from my Couchsurfing host, so tonight could be another sleep in the car adventure. We’ll see.

It doesn’t take more than four hours to get from Saint John to Charlottetown, even going through Fundy National Park, and it’s a pretty drive. The park is nothing special (in my humble opinion) if you’re just driving through, but perhaps the lakes and hikes are nice. That being said, if you’re from B.C., maybe just skip the park altogether. If you’ve been through the Rockies, definitely skip it.

I’m glad I took that route though, because the little villages along the coast south of Moncton are really cute. Being fall, the leaves are all starting to turn, and there are pumpkins on doorsteps already. It’s definitely a tourist route, and being a tourist, I took my time and even stopped to talk with an artisan who makes bird houses at his little farm. I have no particular interest in bird houses, but I do have an interest in people who make them for a living. People are fascinating, everywhere you go.

Anyway, the main point of interest in this area of New Brunswick is the Hopewell Rocks Ocean Tidal Exploration Site – on the route from Fundy National Park to Moncton. The rocks are what you’ll most often find on the cover of any tourist brochure. They’re between 40 and 70-foot tall rust-coloured columns that were formed by the tides eroding the cliffs. (The tides are the highest in the world in this region, with 100 billion tonnes of seawater flowing in and out of the Bay of Fundy during one tide cycle, according to the Bay of Fundy Tourism website.) Evidently the rocks are the thing to see here, because there were licence plates in the parking lot from all over eastern Canada and the north-eastern US, but I skipped it for two reasons: one, it was high tide (therefore the rocks would be just little islands), and two, it costs $9 to see them. Say what? Nine bucks to look at nature? As a Canadian, I find that ludicrous. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure you don’t have to pay anything to see stuff in any park in British Columbia. Anyway, I decided to skip the rocks.

Travel tip: If you do visit the Hopewell Rocks, aim to be there at low tide so you can walk around the ocean floor and see the full length of the rocks in all their glory. High tide you’ll just be looking at their tops, which I can’t imagine is really anything to write home about. 

The drive across the Confederation Bridge is pretty stellar (at least, the first time you do it). The bridge is 13 km long, takes 12 minutes to cross (going 80 km/hour) and in winter is the world’s longest bridge over ice. It’s free to drive over to Prince Edward Island, but to leave there’s a toll of $44.50. The other option is to take the ferry to Nova Scotia, which costs about $70.

Along one of the side routes on the way to Charlottetown I passed a little self-serve honey stall where there was a note asking customers to please leave the correct change in the cash box. There were all kinds of lovely honey jars and bees wax candles for sale, and all of it open to the public, on the honour system. How charming.

NEXT POST: PEI