By that I mean I’m still trying to maintain that easy going differently-paced attitude. I don’t want to imply Newfoundlanders are a laid back bunch — in fact they’re quite the opposite. I don’t know if there’s a more hardy, hard-working bunch actually. Perhaps it’s all the hardships they have faced, but you won’t meet nicer people in the world.
We were in for a bit of a shock when we landed; we left 30+ degree heat and arrived to 10 degrees and overcast, with rain on the way. We did bring clothes expecting all kinds of weather, but I still don’t think we were quite prepared for it to drop to 5 degrees.
We stayed at the Leaside Manor, a gorgeous B&B within walking distance of downtown. Of course as soon as we got settled we had to go have a beer. Our meal was pretty terrific too — fish cakes and roasted halibut.
Our hosts told us that Tom Cochrane was playing in town on George Street as part of Canada Day celebrations, so we decided to check it out. We were quite disappointed to see that every single bar on the street had been obligated to sell only Labatt products as part of the sponsorship deal (the party was sponsored by Bud Lime). Which meant we were stuck with drinking crap beer all night. Even the places carrying YellowBelly weren’t allowed to sell it. Boo Labatt.
The Bud Lime girls were giving out all sorts of swag, including t-shirts, ball caps, mardi-gras beads, sunglasses, etc. They were dressed in baby-T’s and must have been freezing cold. All I wanted was a hoodie and a toque. Did I mention it dropped to 5 degrees?
The rain came down for about 10 minutes while we happened to be warming up in an Irish pub, but thankfully held off until about the last 20 minutes of the show when it started misting. We’re both really glad we held out through the big chill because it really was a great show.
The next day we headed to Cape Spear, the easternmost point in all of North America. The spot was also a military base during WWII, and the remnants of the vanishing guns are still there (these guns could be raised and lowered, hiding them from view).
Our next night was at Fisher’s Loft Inn in Ship’s Cove, Trinity Bay (near Port Rexton). This fabulous estate is made up of several buildings with suites, as well as a dinning area, pub and lounge. There are beautiful potager gardens where they grow much of their own produce, although in early July many things were not yet planted and it was like May is here — lilacs in bloom, tulips still going; I’ll never complain about our short growing season again.
Isn’t that greenhouse to die for? Oh and their soil is pretty rough — lots of rock mixed in. I guess it’s called The Rock for a reason.
Then we checked out Elliston, the ‘Root Cellar Capital of the World’. And that it may be, but just as fascinating is it’s population of Atlantic puffins.
We actually saw root cellars in a few of the small towns we visited, but in Elliston there are 135 of them, both publicly and privately owned, some of which are over two hundred years old. I’ve been reading up on root cellars lately so these were very cool to see.
You can walk out on a small peninsula of towards Bird Island, which used to be the name of the town. Across from the end of the peninsula are nesting Atlantic puffins, which build burrows to raise their chicks. These birds are fantastic. We saw them about 8 miles away flying over the ocean while we were whale watching, and our guide told us they had come down that far mostly by flying under water.
Our next night was spent not far away in Trinity, on Trinity Bay (there are like three towns called Trinity in Newfoundland so you have to be specific) at the lovely Maidment House B&B. This town is built with a strict adherence to maintaining heritage techniques, so it’s pretty hard to tell what is original and what is new. From the folks we talked to, most folks don’t spend their winters here (the windows are old-school single-pane glass…brrr!). It’s a gorgeous spot though, in a very well protected, deep bay. Apparently the whales will often come right into the bay when the capelin are rolling (spawning on the beaches).
We did go whale watching from Trinity with Kris of Sea of Whales. We opted not to take our camera, since while it is weather resistant Canon specifically warns against sea water, and the boat we were going out on was fairly low to the water. In the end we had almost mirror calm seas and we would have been perfectly fine, but instead we simply enjoyed the experience. Kris was fabulous — has been fishing with his uncle since he was a kid, and has studied and toured people to see whales for more than 17 years.
We saw two or three different minke whales (pronounced ‘mink-ee’), the fastest and second smallest of the baleen whales, spotting them quite frequently even before we got far from Trinity Bay. After about 45 minutes we found a pair of humpback whales, just lounging about. While we never really got to see them breach, we did often get fairly (respectfully) close — close enough to even catch a whiff of their breath — and they are enormous, beautiful creatures. They were a male and female, and after a while they moved in towards Spaniard’s Bay and Pigeon Cove, where the capelin (a small fish, like smelt) were waiting for the opportunity to spawn. They fed for a little while and it was really fun to watch them on the move. Pigeon Cove was a flurry of seagulls, bald eagles and other opportunists. We hung out with this pair for hours, while Kris served up some hot chocolate and cake, and as we were heading back a third humpback was making its way into the bay. I highly recommend Sea of Whales if you’re in the area and want to meet some of the ocean’s residents — Kris was a fountain of local and whale knowledge — he is clearly passionate about what he does.
Still high from our wildlife encounter we sadly set on the road back to St. John’s for our last night. Along the way we checked out the Random Passage site, where the mini-series was filmed and now the site can be toured to see what life would have been like in a Newfoundland fishing village in the early 1800’s. Let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t live back then.
Once we got back to the city, we located our B&B, the Duckworth. Now, I’ll warn you — from the street it doesn’t look like much. It’s a somewhat dilapidated area, one very large and obviously condemned building is just a block down the street. I was worried it was a dud when we pulled up. But inside it was very clean and tidy, and the room was very nice. The place could use a little more decor in the halls and walkways to charm it up, and obviously needs some work creating curb appeal, but the very charming owners have just been in the biz a couple years, so they’ve probably got lots of work they plan to do. They’ve definitely got a winner as far as being well-located (minus their derelict neighbours); the B&B is literally a block from George Street and other downtown attractions.
After we got settled we decided to go for a walk; I was suffering some wicked heartburn, and we had yet to see Signal Hill. Chris’s GPS said it was a 30 minute walk. IT LIED.
That was probably if it were FLAT. Which it is not. Nothing in St. John’s can be described as flat, and I don’t think the walk up leveled out once. I was dying for a drink about halfway there, while cars and motorcycles (they love their bikes out in Newfoundland) whizzed past us up to the top.
Regardless of my nearly dying, it was well worth the effort, and let’s face it, I could use the exercise. And we timed it perfectly, ending our last full day with a gorgeous view as the sun set.
And I can’t wait to go back again.