Category: Activities

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 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

Day 39 – Gros Morne National Park

Route map

Distance = 430 km        Gas = $33.35 ($1.30/L in Woody Point)

Moose! I saw two today – one right on the highway and the other just off the side of a trail in the park. The one on the road was a cow, the one in the park was a bull, and they were both big, beautiful beasts with funny looking feet. Bowman says they’re actually more dangerous than the local black bears, especially now during the rut (mating season) because they can and will charge you just for shits and giggles (and because they’re full of testosterone, I guess).

Travel tip: If a moose comes after you, run. It’s pretty simple. Unlike with bears (climb a tree? play dead? run? don’t run? apologize?), moose are not complicated creatures in terms of their aggressive behaviour. They will either ignore you and be on their way, or they will charge you and kick your butt. It’s one or the other. But being big gangly things, they’re not very good at turning a corner, so if you can run in a tight circle, preferably around a tree, you can usually get an enraged moose to quit its pursuit. At least, this is what I hear from Bowman, but he’s actually an American, so I wouldn’t take his advice as gospel truth.

Anyway, he was my tour guide in Gros Morne National Park today and we saw a lot of it, driving around the bay from Woody Point, past Norris Point and up the coast. We also accidentally saw a pretty huge chunk of Newfoundland’s coast north of the park because we were talking so much during the drive that we didn’t realize where we were till we got halfway to the top of the province. Literally. I checked my GPS. Bowman is an artist (the real kind – he’s actually sold a bunch of paintings) and has a lot to say about art and politics and philosophy, etc. and the conversation flowed so well that neither of us noticed we were outside the park bounds till we were way, WAY out of the park bounds. However, there was still time to get back to see Cow Head (beautiful beach with nary another soul to be seen), Western Brook Pond (a lovely walk in that’s only about 6 km round-trip, and where we saw the moose) and the Coastal Trail, where we saw the sun set and the gulls getting ready to spend the night on the rocks just off the shore.

Travel tip: I missed the Western Brook Pond boat tour, which leaves twice a day from the dock at the end of the trail we walked, but I’ve heard it’s great, and probably something to check out if you have more time to spend in the park than just one day. Cost is $60 for an adult for a two-hour guided tour up the lake to see the fjords. Call 1-888-458-2016 to reserve.

Gros Morne is a gorgeous place, full of tuckamore trees (stunted, wind-gnarled balsam fir and spruce), moose and very few people. Granted it’s early autumn and the end of the tourist season, so it’s not surprising it wasn’t overrun with other hikers, but I was also extremely lucky to be here today because, as the folks at the info centre told me, this is the first blue sky day here in almost a month. This is a huge park with a lot to see and I’ve barely scratched the surface, but like the Littlest Hobo, I must be on the road again tomorrow… this time to Gander.

NEXT POST: Woody Point to Gander

Days 35 & 36 – Halifax, NS

Yesterday was a write-off because I spent the day in bed trying to recover from a nasty cold, but there’s nothing like a little salty sea air to clear the lungs, is there? (Besides a bunch of cold meds, a long nap and a whole clove of garlic.)

This morning I started my self-guided walking tour of Halifax at Citadel Hill, which is right in the middle of downtown and offers a decent view of the city. You can pay (I think about $8) to get into the fort on top and take a tour, but I wasn’t in the mood to see people dressed in period costume spewing facts about what happened back in 1749. But that’s just me, and that was just today. I’m sure it’s a great attraction for history buffs or those with more time to spend in the city. I was there, fortunately, (or perhaps unfortunately) for the 12 o’clock gun and it scared the crap out of me, along with a few other tourists who were walking around near the clock tower. It’s loud, even reverberating off the nearby buildings. Still, it was an experience.

Halifax’s waterfront and downtown is not very big, but this makes it very walkable and a nice place to hang out, especially on the harbour boardwalk that spans quite a ways and leads to the farmers’ market and Pier 21 shopping. This city also has more pubs per capita than any other in North America – or so I’ve heard from several locals – so it’s a good place to get a beer.

I didn’t do any pub crawling or brewery tours, but I did spend a lot of time on the boardwalk after discovering Segway Nova Scotia. If you’ve never ridden a Segway you’ve got to try it. These things can go anywhere (hills, gravel, etc.) and can go up to 20 km/hour. Most importantly, they’re just plain fun. My guide took me out first in the parking lot to test out the steering (you basically just lean your centre of gravity in the direction you want to go, whether forward, backward or to each side) and then we were off to glide among the pedestrians along the waterfront, passing everyone and their dog (literally).  It’s pretty impossible to tip over because there are five gyroscopes inside keeping everything in balance, and it doesn’t take long to figure out how to steer (anyone with snowboarding or surfing experience would pick it up in a heartbeat). Definitely a great way to get a tour of the best part of town.

To finish off the day, I stopped in at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (also right on the waterfront) to see the Titanic exhibit. They have a lot of maritime nautical artifacts and historical info generally, but I was most interested in the most famous sinking of the 20th century. Still heartbreaking to think that of the 2200 passengers on board the Titanic, only about 700 survived. The museum has several items pulled from the ship, including a piece of a deck chair and an intact pair of leather baby shoes from one of the youngest victims – “the unknown child,” who, as of 2010, has actually been identified, according to the museum. Many other bodies were also buried here in Halifax, so there’s a strong local connection to that ill-fated maiden voyage of 1912.

Travel tip: The Maritime Museum is listed on Trip Advisor as No. 6 of 65 attractions in Halifax, and on Tuesdays it’s free to get in after 5:30 p.m. (Lucky for me, I came on the right day!) Regular admission is $9.25 between May and October, and $5 between November and April. The museum is not nearly as impressive as the war museum in Ottawa, but if you’re into nautical history, then I’d say it’s probably worth it.

NEXT POST: Halifax to Woody Point

Five days in Montréal

If you like food, go to Montréal. Seriously. From the moment I arrived I’ve been relishing every bite I’ve had, starting with poutine at Patati Patata, and fresh bagels bought at 1 a.m. from a 24/hour bagel shop on Rue St. Viateur – and that was just my first night here.

I’ve been staying with my friend Eve and her roommate Gabrielle in Outremont, an area of town just north of Mount Royal. Eve is a real night owl, so we’ve seen a lot of the city at night, walking through Old Montréal in the rain, through the Plateau where all the classic winding metal staircases lead to second-floor brick apartment blocks, and riding Bixi bikes through the McGill University campus to a popular hole-in-the-wall Japanese fusion restaurant where we lined up for half an hour on the street, everyone drinking beer out of paper bags.

Travel tip: If you’re spending more than a day in Montréal in the summer, definitely rent a Bixi bike. There are stations all over town, and all you need is a credit card to swipe, then you grab a bike and cycle all over town for up to 24 hours for just $7. The only downsides are that the bikes are a bit cumbersome, and you have to keep exchanging them every half hour to avoid paying a higher fee. They’re a great way to get around town and see the sights; just don’t take them on the cobblestone streets of Old Montréal. I made that mistake and it was a very bumpy ride. 

There’s so much going on here. This weekend there was the International Freeski Film Festival (where we caught a flick yesterday afternoon) and the cycling grand prix (which I saw while hanging out in Mount Royal park with the Tam Tams).  In the last five days I’ve spent time in coffee shops, antique stores, produce markets (Atwater is overwhelming with its abundance of goodies), hung out at the shop where Eve works on Notre Dame (trying on clothes I could never afford) and on St. Laurent at a club where Chet Faker was thrilling the crowd with his groovy tunes. I’ve walked up Mount Royal – a beautiful hill right in the middle of the city – been inside the basilica of Notre Dame, and had many opportunities to practice my French – most interestingly at a house party where few people spoke English but wanted to talk to me anyway.

The people here seem genuinely friendly. At least, that’s been my experience in the time that I’ve been here. There’s not the reservedness or formality of anglophone Canada. Last night I was standing talking to a group of people outside the back door at this apartment, Eve somewhere inside, and a man I’d never met before walked up and introduced himself with a kiss on both cheeks. And I thought that only happened in the movies.

Montréal is a sensual city, with something to satisfy the senses at every turn. It’s Canada’s most European city (besides Quebec), and as such, pleasure is a serious business here. The art, music, shopping, street life, architecture, festivals and of course, the food, all seem to be set to a higher standard than what I’ve experienced elsewhere. Meals aren’t just eaten, they’re savoured. At any time of day or night you can get everything from  a high-class sit down dinner at a table with a white cloth and sparkling glasses to take out at a greasy little corner stop. It’s all here: poutine, crepes, fresh bagels, smoked meat sandwiches, Portugese chicken, all kinds of bread, cheese, meat, wine, espresso, chocolate, fruit, and, yes, deserts. Last night we had custard tarts and milles-feuilles after dinner. The night before we had warmed tarte de pomme with oka cheese. I’m not drinking coffee these days, but I had a caffé latté at Café Olympico the other day and it was heaven.

Yesterday morning I was up before Eve so I walked down the street to buy chocolate croissants for breakfast (from la boulangerie) and saw a woman carrying a baguette and chatting on her phone in French. There were planter boxes along the sidewalk full of bright flowers. There were church bells ringing somewhere. There were about five pairs of shoes I found in a shop window I know I won’t find anywhere else. This city is like a ripe piece of fruit, bursting with flavour, just begging to be tasted.

Of course, it’s not perfect. Driving is a nightmare and you’ll be forced to take up smoking, even if it’s just second-hand. But with so many other attractive elements, Montréal is definitely worth a visit, and not a short one.

Tomorrow, I’m leaving for Quebec City. There, I shall eat crepes. Crepes! I’m in food heaven.

NEXT POST: Montréal to Quebec City

Day 22 – Ottawa, ON to Montreal, QB

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Distance = 254 km        Gas = $46.87 ($1.33/L in Casselman)

Sept. 10, 1939 – 74 years ago today – Canada joined the war against Germany. Coincidentally, I was at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa this afternoon. It was either that or the national art gallery since the weather wasn’t great, but I’d already been to the art gallery when I was in Ottawa in 2004 (definitely worth it), so I decided to see the museum – which is ranked #1 on Trip Advisor for attractions in the capital city. There are four main exhibits, and they span from Canada’s first European and First Nations conflicts to Canada’s military today. Admission is just $13 for adults, and it’s free for teachers and those in the military. While I was there, I realized three things:

  1. War is horrible.
  2. Canada has a rich history and a lot to be proud of.
  3. I am so grateful to live in this beautiful, peaceful country.

There are many amazing artifacts and historical details to see and learn about (the museum even has one of Hitler’s cars that was captured by the Americans in 1945 and later brought up to Ontario), but, of course, it’s not exactly a fun place to be. I held it together until I got to a plaque that told of a Canadian soldier in WWI who carried with him his 10-year old daughter Aileen’s teddy bear every day until he was killed. The bear – which was well-worn and sitting forlornly behind a glass case – was later returned to her, along with a letter from her little brother that hadn’t made it to their dad before he died.

In one exhibit I’m pretty sure I saw a guy wipe a tear, and I definitely heard some sniffles coming from an older gentleman in the hall of honour. It’s hard to take, seeing everything in that building, but I’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting Ottawa. The museum is well laid out, there’s so much to take in, and it ends with a hopeful message in the peace exhibition.

This morning I drove from Morewood into Ottawa through a haze of mist and low cloud, and found my way to Byward Market to park and look around (the market is a few blocks of shops and cafés, as well as street vendors).

Travel tip: Parking in downtown Ottawa is free on weekends, but ridiculously expensive during weekdays. I paid $16 to park for about three hours in a parking garage in Byward, and another $5 for two hours at the museum. (Actually, I let the meter expire and stayed for three, and fortunately didn’t get a ticket.) If you can, avoid driving into town. I think public transit in Ottawa is supposed to be pretty efficient.

After buying some postcards and doing some window shopping, I walked over to Parliament Hill. I’d had a tour of the building when I was in town before, so I skipped it this time and just went up the Peace Tower to see the view and check out the memorial chamber. In the chamber there are books with the names of every Canadian soldier killed in war. Every day, the pages are turned so that in one calendar year, every soldier’s name is given a day to be displayed. It’s pretty impressive because the names were all hand-written in calligraphy and encased in glass boxes with brass angels in each corner praying over them.

The parliament and museum visits pretty much took up my whole day, besides ambling through the market and sitting down to read the Globe & Mail and eat an oatmeal cookie the size of my head, so I got stuck in traffic leaving Ottawa and had to drive in the dark and the rain into Quebec. It was a bit hairy with all the street signs in French and having to negotiate the weird traffic lights (a flashing green light is the same as a flashing green arrow in B.C. and you can’t turn left on a red light or a green arrow), but I made it to my friend Eve’s, where I’ll be staying for the next few days. As soon as I’d dropped off my stuff we went for poutine and she gave me a rundown of all the awesomeness I’m going to discover in this city. If it’s anywhere near as good as the poutine, then I know I’m going to like it here.

NEXT POST: Five days in Montréal

Day 20 – Race track, Bowmanville, ON

At 7 a.m. on a Sunday I’m usually asleep, but not today. Instead, I found myself in the passenger seat of a brand new, fire-engine red Chevy Camaro going 180 km/hr around hairpin turns at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The car was my uncle’s, and he was driving. As the operations director at the track, he’s got special privileges (“When you’re in charge of everything you can do anything you want,” he says), so I got a taste of a V8 at high speed, as well as a wrist band so I could be trackside of the spectator fence during the race.

Today was the final for The North American Ferrari Challenge. These cars start at $300,000. There was at least $15 million worth of sports cars in the parking lot, too.  In some Canadian towns you can buy a whole house for that price. And yet these drivers – millionaires from around North and South America – are happy to pay top dollar for their fancy toy and the $100,000 entrance fee to drive it at turbo speed on a track.

Another gorgeous day in (or near) Toronto, and I was more than happy to spend it amongst the rich and daredevilish. Tomorrow, I’m off to our nation’s capital – Ottawa!

NEXT POST: Toronto to Ottawa