I’ve been meaning to post my reflections on our honeymoon visit to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, but one thing or another kept chasing the thought out of my head. Better late than never. I have to warn you that it’s long, but for those of you who are interested in such things or thinking of traveling to Nova Scotia or PEI, then you might get some good ideas. (I’ll also eventually get a full photo gallery up online.)
The idea to go to Canada for the honeymoon was Melanie’s. She didn’t want to go to a typical “honeymoon” place and laying about in one spot is not her idea of vacation. This is the woman who hiked around Ireland by herself after graduating college.
Our wedding was on Saturday, August 13, but we wanted to wait a day before leaving to give us time to catch our breath and to say goodbye to friends and family. It turned out to be a good idea. We had brunch at our place Sunday morning after Mass, some donuts, bagels, and coffee. A few of our young friends had made it a late night and came over to zonk out on couches. But we opened gifts and said our goodbyes to those who were leaving that day.
On Monday, we had intended to get an early start. The plan was to drive to Bar Harbor, Maine, stay overnight, and then catch the morning ferry. But the best laid plans… We went to 9 am Mass at our parish for the Feast of the Assumption and got a call right after from Melanie’s parents. They were just sitting down to breakfast with her brothers and aunts and uncles at a restaurant near the hotels about 20 minutes away. We headed right over after deciding that it was more important for her to say goodbye to her family than it was to get on the road early.
By the time breakfast was over-—a delightful meal at which I got to know Melanie’s aunts and uncles better; one set of them lived in Saudi Arabia years ago–it was 11:30 and we still had errands to do and a car to pack. (I also had to wash off all the “Just Married” paint blocking my view out the windows. It was overcast and rainy making visibility worse; but it was the last rain until our final day in Nova Scotia.)
Finally we were on the road at 1:15 pm. Our first stop was in Camden, Maine, about 2 hours 45 minutes later. The overcast sky had given way to brilliant blue with pig puffy clouds and the temperature had climbed from mid–60s to high–70s. Camden is one of my favorite places, a classic sailing village that is now an upscale yachting destination. It hasn’t lost its character, though, and its been a family vacation destination for decades.
We were back on Route 1’s coastal meandering path and didn’t stop until we’d reached the Wonder View Inn. (The whole trip had been planned out with a travel agent, which I highly recommend for this type of driving trip. The agent was great: White Point Vacation. I highly recommend them.) (Update: Sadly now out of business.)
The inn did indeed have a “wonder view.” It is built on a hill overlooking the harbor and Frenchman’s Bay and it was gorgeous. After a few pictures from the balcony, we headed into Bar Harbor proper. We wandered in shops, including a bookstore where we picked up a few books (one on Gloucester fishermen for me: The Finest Kind: The Fishermen of Gloucester; a children’s book for Melanie’s sister Theresa as part of a running joke: Llama Llama Red Pajama; and a new notebook for Melanie.)
After more wandering we were near the town common at 9 pm where an orchestra was just finishing a concert with the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. Everyone in the park and walking the streets stopped for the moment. A real piece of Americana.
We finally stopped at a restaurant called Rapununi where we ate outside and I had a dozen oysters and Melanie had a salad and lobster bisque. This set a trend for me of having seafood at every meal except breakfast for the rest of the trip.
The next morning we had to be at the ferry terminal an hour before sailing. The ferry sailed at 8, we had to be there at 7, so we were up at 6. Early! The ferry terminal was only a half-mile down the street, so we drove down and got in line, and went through check-in without a problem. While we waited we prayed the Office and finished just as we drove onto the ferry.
The Cat high-speed ferry is something else. It’s a catamaran and it makes the trip between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth in 3 hours 45 minutes, a trip that would take 10 hours of driving the long way around. The ship itself is fast, about 50 mph, and smooth. The seas that day were pretty calm and though we sailed in and out of a few fogbanks, it was sunny most of the time. The ship has food, some slot machines, a duty-free shop, two movie screens. But the only outside area is the after-deck. It’s where all the smokers go and if you don’t have a following breeze, you’ll smell more smoke than sea air there. Thankfully, on the trip over we did have the following breeze.
We arrived in Yarmouth, went through customs, and then drove out to Yarmouth Head Light on Cape Forchu, a long peninsula. It was a 25-minute drive through a beautiful picturesque area. We particularly noticed that many of the homes were obviously owned by blue-collar families, despite being on the water. Yarmouth is definitely a working town and gentrification hasn’t hit there.
The lighthouse itself had a spectacular view and we saw the ferry headed back out to sea.
Back in Yarmouth we grabbed lunch at an outdoor restaurant (seafood chowder and fried clams and scallops for me) and then got on the road to Halifax about 4 pm.
The first part of the trip was a small windy road through small towns, but eventually it spilled out onto a main two-lane road. The region was very sparsely populated (as in no towns for miles), there were few cars, and the road was as straight as an arrow for long stretches. This was the non-scenic route, which was about 300 km (200 miles). We had thought about stopping in the town of Lunenberg on the way, but it was getting late and I was tired and just wanted to get to the hotel.
We arrived in Halifax about 7 pm and it reminded me a lot of Portland, but bigger. Our hotel was the Citadel Halifax Hotel, a large business-type hotel. It’s near the waterfront and just down the hill from the Citadel, the city’s old British fort. The woman at the front desk knew we were honeymooners (must have been told by the travel agent), congratulated us, and upgraded our room to a business-class room on the top floor with a nice view. They also sent up a complimentary bottle of Champagne.
The next day our first stop was The Citadel. The current fort dates to 1750 and it was built to protect the seaward approaches to the city. From the vantage point I can quite believe that no one could possibly take the city with that fort there. There were re-enactors of the 78th Highland Regiment (a Scottish unit) going through drill, along with pipers and drummers, and at noon they fired off a cannon, a daily ritual. We also wandered through the Canadian Army museum there.
Afterward, we drove down the street to the Catholic cemetery to see Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel, which is known for having been built in one day by the Catholics of the city. Unfortunately, the chapel was closed and peeking through the window showed it to be fairly bare. (Of course we walked nearly the whole length of the wrong side of the cemetery looking for the entrance before we realized it was near where we parked the car.)
The cemetery had a lot of graves of priests and bishops of Halifax and some had long Latin inscriptions about their lives and what they did. One mentioned one priest’s dedication to his work during the Disaster, an explosion of a munitions ship in the harbor in 1917 that leveled part of the city and killed thousands. Another lauded the deceased as a “priest’s priest.” We also saw the tomb of the first Catholic prime minister of Canada who died in 1874.
Then we headed north for the Prince Edward Island (PEI) ferry in Caribou. People who say the world is overpopulated should see Nova Scotia. It’s natural beauty is not grand like the Rockies or the Sahara, but it’s more of an understated simple charm. It’s not barren either, just untouched.
We arrived at the ferry just as it was loading and drove right on. The passage took about an hour, during which we went through a brief shower, but by the time we arrived it was bright and sunny.
The drive to Charlottetown from the ferry in Wood Island was quick and scenic. PEI is very agrarian, farm after farm after farm, and even more sparsely populated than NS. There are only about 130,000 residents and Charlottetown has only about 40,000, the same as Salem. C’town is much prettier though.
By the by, almost every place we stayed, except for the last place, had an Internet connection available, whether it was motel, hotel, or B&B. It’s a different world we live in.
We drove back into C’town for dinner at Fishbone’s Oyster Bar on Victoria Row, a pedestrian street. A jazz band was playing across the street outdoors, and we ate inside. (I had a dozen oysters, mussels in a tomato broth, and a seafood chowder.)
After dinner we walked down to the waterfront and Peakes Quay, looked in a few stores, and walked back because they were closing. We also walked by St. Dunstan’s Basilica, the cathedral. It was closed, but it looks like they’re doing some renovation work on it. It’s a big old Gothic looking place.
C’town as a whole strikes me as a pleasant place, charming, quaint. It doesn’t feel like the capital of anything and I wish Salem was more like it, which it could be if the Salem business and government leaders put the right effort into it. In fact, C’town feels a little like Newburyport, Mass.
The next day we got on the road, driving the scenic loop road up to Cavendish, which is on the north side of the central part of the island. It was mainly back roads and two lanes. But for all the tourists we saw in C’town, we never saw many on the road or at the various tops. It was never crowded like you see even on the coast of Maine.
It only took about 45 minutes to get to Cavendish. As we came over the last rise before the road turned from north to west, it opened up into a dramatic panorama of wide-open golden and green farmland set against a backdrop of the deep blue Gulf of St. Lawrence. Once again it was another perfect day of puffy white clouds and temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s.
As we drove through Cavendish itself, it was nearly “blink and you miss it.” There’s the Canadian National Historic Green Gables House Site and the Avonlea Village and a set of smaller places and that’s it.
First we stopped for lunch (more mussels!) and then we went back to the Green Gables house. It is a very neat and well-kept place. There’s a barn with some displays of life on a typical PEI farm about the time the Anne of Green Gables books was supposed to take place. There’s also the house, of course, a small building. I suppose the rooms look like what’s described in the book, although I wouldn’t know. Of course, there was a brief introductory film in the visitor’s center, setting the scene of the life of L.M. Montgomery, the author.
The gardens were gorgeous and we also took a walk along one of the trails, the one called Lover’s Lane. It was a nice walk through some clean woods which were set beside a meandering brook.
We also walked a little ways into the Haunted Woods trail, but came back because it was getting late. But not too late for an ice cream cone and a stop in the gift shop where Melanie bought a French translation of “Anne of Green Gables” to practice reading in that language. Did I tell you my wife is very smart?
We decided to bypass Avonlea. While it looked interesting, it was $13 per person and appeared to be a lot like Plymouth Plantation: lots of actors doing stuff of the day and pretending that it’s the turn of the century. It’s the type of place that would be nice to bring kids, but wasn’t for us.
After a stop at a souvenir shop for a sweatshirt for me, we continued along the scenic loop road. We did stop at Cabot Beach Provincial Park to wade in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The sand was deep red, almost ocher, but was fine and compacted firmly. The water was warm, warmer than many beaches in Massachusetts.
We continued on the loop around the center part of the island, seeing lots of potato farms and tiny towns and picturesque churches (lots of churches). We had just a few wrong turns, not many at all, but eventually made it back to Charlottetown by about 7 pm.
We drove right downtown, back to Peake’s Quay where we parked. We had dinner at the restaurant there on an upper deck outside. An orchestra played Sinatra and jazz and some classical while we ate and a rainbow appeared off to the east.
The next day, which if you’re counting was day five, Friday, we got up and went to the Canadian version of Best Buy, called Futureshop. I needed a bigger memory card for my camera, which was maxing out my 64MB card every day. A 512MB card should do just fine. We also stopped in a supermarket to load up our cooler with more road supplies: water, Goldfish crackers, beef jerky, fruit and vegetables. Guess which ones I ate and which ones Melanie ate.
We headed west for the Confederation Bridge to New Brunswick. The bridge itself is 8 miles long. (We kept laughing over the name of a town we passed through: Crapaud. Later on we found out it is French for “toad.”)
Once across the bridge it was another long ride through empty forest and farmland; Long straight roads with occasional long vistas of more forests and farms.
At the border of Nova Scotia (about an hour later) we stopped at a rest area, Melanie mailed some postcards, and we continued on down into Nova Scotia, stopping in the town of Truro for lunch, then moved onto a smaller road for the trip to Wolfville. It took about 2 hours or so from Truro, including some delays due to road construction and two brief stops. One stop was along the Shubenacadie River, which was a deep, deep red from the extreme tides in the Bay of Fundy. It was awesome and you could see the red flowing out into the bay and mixing with the ocean water. Unfortunately, we never got a chance to see the extreme high and low tides. We just weren’t in the right place at the right time.
The other stop was at a lighthouse in Walton. The lighthouse was out of service and we could climb up inside to get a look out at the bay,a rare opportunity since most lighthouses are closed to the public. The cool thing was that no one else was there. We had the whole place to ourselves.
We finally arrived at the Blomidon Inn in Wolfville. It is a beautiful, old Victorian sea captain’s house. We received another honeymoon upgrade to the “Annapolis” room, a red-themed room on the front of the house, third floor, with views of the bay. We had an early seating for dinner in their dining room, which has won all kinds of awards for both the food and the wine cellar. In 2004 it won the Taste of Nova Scotia best restaurant award. We shared a country paté and a bottle of 2003 Jost Eagle Tree Muscat. Melanie got the mixed green salad with blueberry vinaigrette and scallops with apples and Sherry cream and fresh vegetables and rice, and I got a spinach salad and a lobster linguine with a horseradish sauce. For dessert, I had an apple sorbet and Melanie had a blueberry and peach crepe.
After such an amazing dinner we walked around the gardens a bit, seeing where they had grown the vegetables we had just eaten.
We awoke early and made it in time for the breakfast. We had homemade blueberry muffins and fresh melon. At the table next to us were two elderly British couples who made the whole Victorian feeling complete. It was like they stepped out of a BBC TV show, complete with accent and dry upper crust conversation. It was like they were reading from a script.
After checking out, we backtracked to the town of Grand Pré and the Domaine de Grande Pré winery. We took the tour, which showed us the grounds and how they grow the grapes. Afterward they had a wine tasting, including their whites and reds, a sparkling blueberry, an apple wine, and a hard cider. We bought nearly one of each bottle, plus an ice wine and a sparkling maple.
Next was the Grand Pre historical site, including a half hour video on the expulsion of the Acadians by the British. We then walked around the grounds, including the memorial church, the statue of Evangeline, and the gardens. It is a beautiful, if sparse, place that has more the feel of a memorial than of a historical park. This was where so many French-speaking Acadians were unjustly expelled from their homes for refusing to give up their neutrality between the French and the British.
It was interesting to hear the “other” side of history: the historical information made it clear that New Englanders regularly formed raiding parties to attack and pillage Acadian villages. Never heard that in my history classes.
What made it all so interesting is that I have ancestors who lived in and were expelled from Grand Pré, including my great-great-something grandfather. Eventually, after long hardship, they returned to Nova Scotia, but not to Grand Pré. They settled on Ile Madame off Cape Breton.
Feeling hungry, we went back into Wolfville and picked The Tempest restaurant at random and it was a good choice. I had a lobster corn bisque and a papardelle pasta with chanterelle mushroom sauce and Melanie had a yellow tomato gazpacho with avocado gelato and then southwest crab cakes. It was delicious and a definite gourmet delight. What are the odds of chancing on such a delicious meal just walking down a side street in the small town of Wolfville?
The drive west to Annapolis Royal, where we were to spend Saturday night, took some time. It was more than 80 km and it took about an hour or more.
Annapolis Royal itself is a pretty small town. The Annapolis Royal Inn is nice, like an upscale motel. There was no Internet access, however, to my chagrin and Melanie’s amusement. It does have a nice view of the Annapolis River.
We toured the St. Anne Fort and its museum. The town is the oldest settlement in Nova Scotia, originally called Port Royal, and I had ancestors who lived here as well. It was very interesting going through the museum, seeing the history of the transfer from Scottish settlement to French colonization to British rule. The fort itself is still present although mostly worn down into large berms. I can see why the capital was moved to Halifax. The fort was built in the wrong place; not on the approaches to the harbor, but deep inside which let the enemy land nearby and attack from land and sea.
The town itself is tiny, with not a lot to do there. We had dinner at Newman’s Restaurant. The menu looked promising but the food was only so-so. I had a seafood corn chowder and a poached salmon with tarragon mayonnaise. Melanie had a mixed green salad and sole amandine. The service was very slow; so slow in fact that Melanie begged me not to order a dessert because we had already been sitting on the outside patio for two hours.
During dinner, we were seated near a party of two couples, older people, very much in the WASP mold. We overheard one of the women telling her companions that she went to Budapest once and went to a Turkish bath. She recounted how she got into the first hot pool between “a couple of big mommas with big ‘boo-boos’.” I nearly spit up my drink and tried not to laugh or show any change of expression so that they wouldn’t know I was listening and laughing. Melanie wasn’t helping because, with her back turned to them, she was able to silently laugh hysterically.
The whole town seems to roll up the sidewalks at night. There’s just no night life so it was back to the inn and sleep.
We wanted an early start out of Annapolis Royal so that would have time to stop at L’Eglise Ste. Marie in Church Point. We had to be back at the ferry terminal in Yarmouth by noon for a 1 pm sailing and we had many kilometers to go before we got there.
Unfortunately, I forgot to fill up on gas in Annapolis Royal. After we were on the road for a time, I noticed we were nearly empty, so I began looking for a gas station. I grabbed the next available exit (they are far and few between on that road). It didn’t say there was a gas station, but it did say there was an industrial park and surely there would be a station. Not so.
We got back on the highway and a few kilometers down the road I saw an exit sign with a gas station symbol. We drove for mile after mile along the Bear River, all the while hoping not to run out of gas. I was even putting it in neutral to coast down hills. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, but was only about 5 or 6 km, we came to a little gas station and it was blessedly open at 9:30 on a Sunday morning.
We backtracked to the highway and went on our way again. The rain became more steady as we drove and there was at least one scary moment when it felt like the car would hydroplane. However, Melanie read Morning Prayer and the Office of Readings out loud while I drove which helped me concentrate.
We got off the highway near Church Point and we drove past one Catholic church, St. Bernard, where Mass was going on and then eventually came to L’Eglise Ste. Marie, the largest wooden structure church in North America and the seventh largest in the world. People were just arriving for 10:30 am Mass. Unfortunately, by this time I was afraid if we stayed for Mass we’d miss our ferry so we prayed for a bit and headed out. Not ideal and entirely my fault.)
As we continued on our trip Melanie read and translated the French missalette we picked up as well as the devotions in the back.
Eventually we arrived in Yarmouth and the ferry terminal. It was very foggy and the ship was delayed a little, but eventually boarded and sailed about 1:30. It was foggy the whole way and the trip took longer than normal. We didn’t get in until 4:30 (Eastern time, as opposed to Atlantic). There was a big cruise ship sitting in Bar Harbor with the mist and fog draped all over it. It was very dramatic.
The trip south down Route 1 started out foggy and cloudy, but eventually clouds gave way to intermittent sun and then completely sunny skies, while the fog remained over the water and on fields. We arrived at my sister and Mom’s house about 8, where they had a dinner of homemade baked beans and ribs waiting for us. After all the fancy dinners, it was nice to have a home cooked meal.
The net day we relaxed, swam in the pool, then went horseback riding, just me, my niece Mary, and my sister Francesca. It was fun and sedate. I like horses. We also picked up lobsters, including a couple of big 3-pounders for me. I couldn’t eat both, so I saved one to take home to make bisque and lobster salad. Very economical, right?
We finally returned home on Tuesday morning, after having driven about 1,500 miles. Including the three ferry rides, I figure we traveled over 2,000 miles in nine days.
It was an awesome trip and we definitely want to go back, perhaps taking our time to see some places we skipped. Looking back, I think including PEI was a bit overambitious. I loved going there, but to do it all in such a short time was pushing it. Perhaps next time we’ll go up to Cape Breton and take our time checking out the southern coast between Yarmouth and Halifax. All in all, Nova Scotia and PEI in the summer are a great way to great away from the crowds and see some beautiful country.
The whole time, especially in PEI, I kept looking at the place and thinking, “Hmm, How much do these homes cost?” Then I remembered the confiscatory taxes, the Socialist style government, and the immoral laws and decided that despite all her flaws the old USA is still the best place to live. But Canada’s a nice place to visit!