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Today is Canada Day (happy Canada Day, Canadian readers!), which makes it a good day to tell you about my just-completed vacation in the Canadian Maritimes. Those of you who were following me on Facebook last week will already have seen some of this content, but there’s plenty of fresh maerial here too. Thanks in advance for dealing with some redundancy.
So: The New Girl and I flew to Halifax, Nova Scotia, two Saturdays ago and flew back the following Sunday. During the eight days in between, we covered about 1,200 miles on the road (or, as the Canadians would measure it, about 2,000 kilometers). You can get a sense of our route by following the alphabetical pins in this map:
As you can see, we spent most of our time in Nova Scotia, and especially in Cape Breton (that’s segments C through G), but we also saw some of Prince Edward Island (H to I) and briefly veered into New Brunswick (the westernmost part of the I-to-J segment). We had decided from the start that we didn’t want to spend any time in Halifax. I’m sure it’s a fine city, but we already live in a city — we wanted to see the countryside. We also made it a priority to spend some time in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which meant we wouldn’t have time to see the lower part of Nova Scotia. Next time.
Here are the highlights, broken down by category:
Transportation: Our silent partner for the trip was a little green Fiat two-door. I wasn’t expecting such a groovy vehicle, but that’s what Alamo gave us. Naturally, I was pleased with the color:
The car was the subject of great curiosity everywhere we went — people pointed at it, gave us the thumbs-up, asked us about it, etc. It drove and handled fine, although its size and low-to-the-road profile made for some bone-rattling jolts when we hit a few of Nova Scotia’s many, many potholes. (Seriously, the roads were in terrible shape, although I realize that comes with a cold climate.)
I love car ferries. Our route included two of them, including the 75-minute crossing from Pictou, Nova Scotia, to Prince Edward Island. We were surprised to find that the ferry doesn’t sell alcohol, so we took two beers from our “fridge” (a Styrofoam cooler that we purchased on the first day and kept on the back seat) and used two of the New Girl’s knee socks as concealing cozies, just in case we weren’t allowed to have booze on board:
The socks prompted some odd looks as we walked around the ship. We imagined that we might inadvertently be starting a new trend, and that lots of people would soon start using long sock cozies. Eh, okay, maybe not.
Weather: Most days had a high temp of about 70 (sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less), with lows in the high 40s, which is pretty much my favorite temperature range. All the locals were griping about how the season was running about a month behind, but that was fine by us. We had one day of fairly heavy rain, but that was the day we were mostly making time in the car anyway, so we didn’t mind. In short: No complaints.
Food: We mostly stuck to seafood — lobster, mussels, scallops, oysters, halibut, etc. — which we thought would be, like, the best ever. But most of it was, frankly, unremarkable. I’m not saying it was bad, mind you, but I don’t think any of it was better than what we routinely get here in NYC (or what I grew up with on Long Island, for that matter). Actually, some it was kinda bad: a watery lobster, some badly overcooked mussels. That said, there were two meals that stood out — a great fried-seafood plate we shared on the first afternoon of the trip and a very, very good 2.25-pound lobster we shared on Prince Edward Island (the flag on the left in the first photo is the Nova Scotia provincial flag):
When I gave the waitress my credit card to pay for that lobster dinner, she looked at it and said, “Your name is Paul Lukas? Our chef’s name is Paul Lucas! But he spells it with a ‘c.’” I asked if I could meet him but was told he was too busy, although they did try to sell me his latest cookbook. (No, I didn’t buy it.)
At one point we were told that there was an oyster bar in the town of Cape North. But when we arrived there, there was no sign of it (or of much else, frankly). We eventually went down a long dirt road and discovered that the “oyster bar” is actually a campground office run by a woman whose family has been farming oysters in the region for decades. Her husband dives, she shucks. We had a dozen and a half:
At Uni Watch reader Donnie Gould’s suggestion, we tried a New Glasgow pizzeria that’s famous for its “brown sauce” (a local concoction that’s apparently thickened with flour, like a gravy or roux). While we were there, we also ordered something we’d been seeing on menus throughout the trip: deep-fried pepperoni with honey-mustard dipping sauce (is this served anywhere in the States?). Both were okay but not life-altering:
Two other food-related notes: (1) Almost every eatery had poutine on the menu, but most of them made it with mozzarella instead of cheese curds. I asked if this was a regional variation and was told, “Nah, everyone’s just too lazy to do it the right way.” (2) Pretzels — my favorite snack — were nowhere to be found at convenience stores (although we did see them for sale at a bar). Come on, people!
Drinking: The New Girl and I both like alcohol just fine. But what we really like is the culture of alcohol — the conviviality and sociable chatter that come with a good watering hole. So we were surprised and disappointed to find that most of the small villages we passed through didn’t have pubs. Fortunately, we quickly figured out that the best places to drink and meet the locals were fraternal organization meeting places: Knights of Columbus halls (too bad I didn’t bring along this shirt), Elks clubs, local firehouses, and, especially, Royal Canadian Legion halls (which are pretty much the same as American Legion or VFW halls). Most of these are technically for members only, but we just walked in and asked if we could sign in as guests, and the answer was always yes.
Most towns had a Canadian Legion hall, and we hit about a dozen of them during the trip. They provided exactly what we were looking for: friendly, interesting people who were happy to share drinks and stories. Here are a few of these places, and some of the people we met there:
A few of the Legion folks paid us the high compliment of presenting us with ribbons and, in one case, pins — their badge of approval, literally. We proudly wore the pins for the rest of the trip:
Sports, games, and such: On our first day we came upon a bowling alley. I figured it’d have Canadian five-pin bowling and was surprised to find it instead had candlepin bowling, which I thought was found only in New England. The proprietor explained that candlepins are common in the Maritimes.
We tossed a few games and enjoyed a small detail I’d never encountered before: The scorer’s table had a metal trackball mounted in a small pool of water, so the bowlers can moisten their hands for a better grip if the balls get too slick:
As for other sports and games, we came upon a few curling clubs and hockey arenas, but of course they were all closed for the summer. We shot pool and played shuffleboard at some of the Legion halls we stopped at. And in Sydney we stopped in at a casino, where I sat down at a $5 blackjack table, played three hands, won them all, and then walked away, happy to have made a quick 15 bucks.
One other sports-related note: When we were waiting on the airport security line for our outbound flight, former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes walked by with a small retinue. Didn’t get a photo, alas, but I did shout out, “Hey, Larry Holmes — lookin’ good, champ!” (a slight lie), and he sort of grunted in acknowledgment before going on his way.
Music: We saw a traditional Celtic fiddler at the Red Shoe, a pub that specializes in that kind of thing. Not bad, but it felt more like a re-creation of the thing, not the thing itself.
We also saw a pretty decent cover band at a Royal Canadian Air Force hall. They played a mix of 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s material, which got all the oldsters dancing. And in a surreal development, one of the Legion halls we visited was having a karaoke night. Trust me, you haven’t seen serious entertainment until you’ve seen elderly Canadian military veterans singing country tunes. (No, we didn’t sing, although the New Girl was tempted.)
The Scottish thing: Scots comprise the largest ethnic group in Nova Scotia, and we saw lots of evidence of Scottish culture, including a bagpipe college, a kilt shop, and several links courses. People’s accents were a mix of Canadian and Scottish, which I found intoxicating. You can get a sense for how strong the Scottish element is by checking out the extremely “Mac”-centric officers’ listing for one of the Canadian Legion halls we visited:
The French thing: We passed through several Acadian regions and did hear a few folks speaking French, but the whole French/Acadian/etc. thing turned out not to be much of a factor. Mildly surprising.
Lodging: We booked our first and last nights in advance and made all our other lodging arrangements as we went along, which worked out fine. (If we had gone later in the summer, this probably wouldn’t have worked, but it wasn’t yet “high season,” as they say.) Five of our eight nights were spent in fairly standard motels; another was in a slightly too-cutesy B&B; and then there were two really wonderful B&B experiences that were among the highlights of the trip.
The first of these was in the home of the completely charming Margie Goodacre, who has a little seaside house in the tiny town of Port Bickerton. She has only one guestroom (complete with a “1″ stenciled on the door), which we were lucky enough to have for our first night on the road. She and her sister Paula invited us to play Scrabble (with Canadian spellings — “colour,” “centre,” etc.), shared some wine with us, and basically made us feel like they’d adopted us. Thanks so much, Margie — we’re proud to have you as our new friend:
The following night we stayed on a working farm owned by 69-year-old Isaac Smith, who raises Red Angus steers for beef and lives in an 1830s farmhouse built by his great-great-grandfather. He showed us around the property (where we saw two red foxes) and introduced us to his herd:
Isaac said he sells his beef locally, and I was hoping he’d serve some for breakfast — steak and eggs, say — but it turns out that he doesn’t do that. Dang.
Wildlife: Jackpot. In addition to the two foxes we saw on Isaac’s property, we saw several deer, another fox, two snakes, a gorgeous toad (yes, toads can be gorgeous), lots of scampering little woodland rodents (one of which failed to scamper as we drove by and ended up as roadkill — oops), and more. But the highlight was definitely the day when we went hiking and saw two moose! This one was only about 25 feet from our trail and let us watch him for seven or eight minutes before he ambled off into the woods:
A few days later, while on a different trail, we saw this beautiful ruffed grouse. It foraged for a few minutes, maybe 10 feet from us, before flitting away:
We also went whale watching. There were lots of tour operators to choose from — some with “big boats” (which aren’t so big) and some with Zodiacs (little speedboats that are fast and maneuverable but give a much rougher, wetter ride). We went with a boat run by the amusingly named GuaranteedWhales.com, which lived up to its moniker. We saw several minke whales (rhymes with “pinkie”). They moved fast, so it was tough to get good photographs. Believe me when I say it was more exciting than this photo suggests:
While on the boat, we made friends with a couple from Maryland. We bumped into them again at dinner several towns down the road, and yet again the following morning at breakfast, which I guess is the kind of thing that happens when you’re traveling in a narrow region. (We also made friends with a UK couple during the ferry ride to PEI. They actually invited us to visit them in England! Seems unlikely, but you never know — could happen.)
We noticed that the region is infested with huge, black crows, spewing their “caw, caw, caw!” chatter. (By coincidence, one of the CDs I brought along for the trip was the Unholy Modal Rounders’ 1976 classic, Have Moicy!, which includes the “caw, caw”-ish tune “The Black Crow and the Red Newt.”) The area also has hummingbirds, and one of the restaurants we stopped at had a hummingbird feeder in the window. I’d never seen hummingbirds before except on TV, and I found myself completely mesmerized by the activity around the feeder:
One type of wildlife we could have done without: bugs. The insects were pretty thick at times, even after we used repellant. The mosquitoes quickly deduced that the New Girl was the more delicious of the two of us, and her legs were badly bitten by the end of the trip (some of these bites were delivered through her tights):
Landscape and natural wonders: We encountered most of that aforementioned wildlife while hiking on trails in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The park and the roadway running through it, called the Cabot Trail, were spectacular, providing lots of cliffside ocean views, waterfalls, lakes, spectacular sunsets, and so on. My photographic skills aren’t up to the task of capturing this level of wide-scale beauty, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I say much of the landscape was jaw-droppingly beautiful.
We did manage to get some nice shots of this waterfall, which I stuck my head under (very cold!):
One natural phenomenon we were eager to see was the Bay of Fundy’s tidal bore, which is what happens when the incoming high tide literally changes the course of a river. There are a number of places in the Maritimes where you can see this, and we ended up seeing it in the town of Truro, where the Salmon River runs. We arrived at low tide, chatted a bit with some of the other people who’d come for the same reason we had, and then watched as the bore tide came in, right on schedule. Within about 20 minutes, the water level had risen 15 feet (there are some other viewing spots where you can see it rise more than three times that much) and the river had changed directions. After another hour or so, the tide began emptying back out to the bay and the river had resumed its normal course.
I shot this video of the bore tide arriving. At this point the river was flowing out, away from me, but the bore tide turned it around. I love how it looks like a living entity, going where it wants to go:
I’m sure a good photographer could do a better job of this, but here are two before/after photos I took from the same spot. The first one, taken just before the bore tide arrived, shows the river at low tide; the second, taken about half an hour later, shows the water level after it had risen 15 feet:
It totally blows my mind that all of this is caused by the moon! Good thing I learned that when I was young and impressionable, because there’s no way I’d believe it if someone told me now.
Abandoned motel: Our viewing spot for the tidal bore was across the street from an abandoned, boarded-up motel, which we spent a bit of time exploring. A few of the rooms were unlocked, so we poked around a bit (I took a leak in one of the dilapidated toilets), feeling the odd mix of pathos and exhilaration that always comes with abandoned structures:
It was particularly strange to find this decaying facility adjacent to where we’d seen the tidal bore. Wouldn’t the location make for good business? I later did some Googling and found that the motel had shut down when the owners retired a few years ago. Surprising that nobody has bought the property since then.
Other attractions: We checked out the Alexander Graham Bell museum (good but not great), a farmers’ market (small but good), a lighthouse (always nice), a small whale
museum interpretive center (mainly just used their bathroom and WiFi and bought some postcards, but the desk clerk did give us a few whale pointers), a used bookstore with two very friendly cats (don’t tell Tucker and Caitlin), and probably a few other things I’m forgetting. My only regret is that we didn’t get around to kayaking.
Commercial signage: Brutal. There was almost no neon, and most of business signs and billboards seemed almost like they’d been deliberately designed to look boring. One happy exception was this diner, where we had our last breakfast before heading to the airport to fly home:
We also came upon an intersection that featured two good-looking eateries — an ice cream shop and a fried chicken joint. They had similar names (same owner, we figured), one of which was slightly lascivious:
One final thought: In the men’s room of one of the Legion halls we visited, I saw this sign promoting the then-upcoming festivities for Canada Day Eve:
Barbecue and cupcakes at midnight? Sounds like the kind of holiday tradition we Americans could learn from.
My thanks to the many readers who provided tips and advice when I first mentioned that we were thinking about this trip — we took many of your suggestions. Double-plus-thanks to Phil for keeping the site running while I was away. And über-thanks to the New Girl for a sensational getaway that I know we’ll both remember for a long time to come.
Or maybe he just gained a little weight: Got an interesting note from reader Justin Bates, as follows:
During a recent game, Cubs play-by-play guy Len Kasper mentioned that the team’s road uniforms shrink faster than their home uniforms, because of the way they are laundered, and that this presents a problem for pitcher Edwin Jackson, who prefers a baggier look for his pants.
Kasper said Jackson had complained to the clubhouse staff that his road uniform had shrunk and was not as baggy as his home uniform, and they explained to him that it was because of the way the uniforms are washed on the road, which is usually done by the host team’s clubhouse crew. He said Jackson has requested a member of the Cubs traveling staff launder his uniform the same way they do at Wrigley, so that he could have it to his liking.
Faaaascinating. I’ve never heard of differing shrinkage rates (or, for that matter, differing laundry methods) at home versus on the road. I want to know more, so I’ve asked the Cubs if I can speak to Jackson and to someone on their clubhouse staff. Stay tuned.
A little-noted footnote to a baseball life: Frank Cashen passed away yesterday. He’s widely known for three things: (1) Being an Orioles executive during the team’s late-1960s heyday through the mid-1970s. (2) Transforming the Mets from a laughingstock into a powerhouse in the 1980s. (3) Always wearing that freaking bow tie.
But Cashen is also responsible for something many fans aren’t aware of: During his time with the Orioles, he came up with the idea of playing rock music during the seventh inning stretch. This was a new concept at the time — ballpark music up until then was still the province of live organists. Who’da thunk rock and roll would be brought into the fold by someone who looked like he was on his way to see a chamber music quartet?
So all that loud music we now hear at the ballpark — that’s because of Cashen. You can decide for yourself if that’s a good or a bad thing (you can probably guess what I think), but either way, it is arguably his biggest, most lasting legacy, even if most people aren’t aware of it.
Tick-tock: Today’s Ticker was compiled and written by Garrett McGrath.
Baseball News: Today is Canada Day, which means the Blue Jays will be wearing their holiday jerseys for their afternoon game against the Brewers. … “The Reds are giving away a Joey Votto ‘military-themed player tee’ to the first 20,000 fans at Saturday’s game (7/5),” says Greg Hotopp. “The picture doesn’t show it, but it does have Votto and the number 19 on the back, also rendered in camouflage. Since Votto is Canadian, choosing him for this promotion strikes me as kind of strange.” … The El Paso Chihuahuas, the Triple-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres, unveiled their stars and stripes uniforms for their games before Independence Day (thanks, Phil). … The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the Brewers’ Single-A affiliate, are wearing the most American jersey ever (and that’s not a good thing). … Here’s a look at the Korean Baseball Organization’s All-Star Game jerseys (thanks, Phil). … The Chattanooga Times Free Press covered the Tennessee Vintage Base Ball League yesterday (from Michael Vines). … Keeping it old school: Jon Bravard sent in a picture of the State College, Pennsylvania, baseball team from 1893! … Raul Ibañez’s armband number didn’t match his uni number last night (Phil again). … Also from Phil: The Vancouver Canadians are using an old-school bullpen buggy.
College Football News: The Colorado Buffalo team will continue wearing the classic look of the 1990 national championship team this fall (thanks, Phil).
Hockey News: “Yesterday on a Connecticut news channel, there was a televised interview with Peter Good, the graphic designer who designed the Hartford Whalers logo,” says the Hungry Hungry Hipster. “He showed some Whalers prototypes that not many outside himself and the Whalers organization have seen. Some of them are pretty mind blowing for one reason or another.” My favorite quote from Mr. Good has to be: “I was bothered by the idea of harpoons very much because their mascot is a whale. Why would have a symbol that suggests killing your mascot?”
Soccer News: The United States will be wearing white today against Belgium in their World Cup game. … Infographic of all of the World Cup Final stadiums (from Adam Vano). … English Premier League champions Manchester City 2014-2015 home and away kits have both leaked online (thanks, Phil). … The home, away, and 3rd kits for the Arsenal 2014-2015 season were also leaked (thanks, Phil.
NBA News: Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, and Roy Devyn Marble — the three new draft selections by the Orlando Magic — have selected their uniform numbers (from Kyle Speicher). … The two new members of the Boston Celtics, Marcus Smart and James Young, have their uni numbers as well.
Grab Bag: The new Atlantic 10 Conference logo was released yesterday. Some are thinking that it looks similar to other conference logos. … We all know fans of team sports do wacky things, but it’s a little surprising to see a tennis fan at oh-so-proper Wimbledon going with this hairstyle (thanks, Phil). … Tennis Magazine has rated the best- and worst-dressed players at Wimbledon (thanks, Brinke). … Here’s a great interactive history of the Greyhound bus company, complete with a fantastic photo of their 1930s company baseball team (thanks, Phil). … A softball team in Minnesota has the players’ own faces on the backs of their jerseys (thanks, Phil).