Newfoundland Stories of the Day (Aug. 2)

It’s whale-watching season on the east coast of Newfoundland. Humpbacks have been spotted from Twillingate down to Trepassey Bay, and while we don’t usually have much luck when we go whale watching (a 4 hour hunt on the Saint Lawerence several years ago turned up not a single dorsal fin), we thought we’d try our luck on the Atlantic. Shipping out at 10:30Am aboard the Gatherall’s catamaran and headed into open waters to search for whales. Man, did we luck out…

a humpback whale breeches and gives us a show

a whale's tail

The tour took us to Witless Ecological Reserve where we also saw 100,000-some birds, mostly puffins. Gatherall’s, like many of the other touring companies, launches from Bay Bulls. A few miles north is the fishing village of Petty Harbour…

Petty's Cove

a fisherman fillets a freshly caught cod.

Petty Harbour is a neat stopping point on the way to Cape Spear — the eastern most spot on North America. Here the winds can pick up so high that children have been lifted out of their parents’ arms. Today, we spotted whales off the Cape and watched the fog roll in off the Atlantic as we climbed the stairs to the lighthouse…

the family stands at the eastern most point of North America

the lighthouse overlooks the Atlantic... can you see Greenland just over there?

We ended the night at Shamrock City Pub, where we listened to a couple of live sets, including Anthony MacDonald. I now know all the words to “The Islander” — I guess that makes me a Newfoundlander now.

performers at Shamrock City

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Newfoundland Stories of the Day (Aug. 1)

We decided to set aside our first day in St. John’s for exploring the city itself. The clouds Environment Canada had predicted hung over the Narrows, threatening Signal Hill. We hurried to get dressed, hoping to hit the center of town before the weather turned against us. But before we could tie our shoelaces, the fog rolled in, bringing with it a persistent mist that kept the day cool and my camera cloudy.

Though it wasn’t the best day for walking around, we still made the most of it, beginning with a visit to The Rooms. Part archive, part history museum, part art gallery, The Rooms overlook the city and offer tourists and residents alike a view into St. John’s cultural past, present, and future. Currently on exhibit is a stunning show of Ed Burtynsky’s photos of the oil industry…

a view onto The Rooms

the view from The Rooms

The next essential destination was Signal Hill, a National Historic Site and important military outpost in the 18th century (not the band). The fog was thick, but it added a certain mysterious romanticism to the sweeping view of the harbour and Atlantic…

fog over Cabot Tower on Signal Hill

a couple stops to take in the view of the Narrows

To some, it might have been a crummy day for Signal Hill, but to my family and one particular bride, it was still pretty awesome...

Newfoundland Stories of the Day (July 31)

With a 710km/440mi of road lying between us at Gros Morne and our destination of St. John’s, yesterday morning was a frenzied scene of packing, breakfasting (warm scones with patridgeberry jam), and car-loading-jigsaw-puzzle solving. It was a typical Newfoundland day — every possible seasonal weather variation passed overhead in a matter of hours. There are few to no services along the Trans Canada Highway once you leave the area near Deer Lake. 200 miles pass with few signs of life besides the cars that periodically appear in your rear-view mirror.

A thick, New England Clam Chowder-like fog hit us as we crossed onto the Avalon Peninsula, slowing us down to a crawl 150km outside of St. John’s…

I'm sure the landscape to either side was interesting... if only I could have seen past the hood of my car

Finally, around 6:30PM, we rolled into town. The drive down Duckworth St. offered us an introduction to the low-story clapboard buildings that characterize the city architecture.

Hungry, we decided it was time to sample some of Newfoundland’s famous fish and chips. Just as we began to head out into the city, the sky lit-up in reds and purples and a rainbow sprung from Cabot’s Tower atop Signal Hill.

the sun sets over St. John's clapboard-lined streets

a rainbow welcomes us on our frist night -- Newfoundland is friendly

Newfoundlanders will argue over who serves the best Fi n’ Chi’ in their capital city, but Ches’s is a St. John’s landmark and most residents agree their battered and fried cod is close to tops. It might look like a hole-in-the-wall kind of joint, but it’s been serving since 1951. 50+ years later, Ches’s is still a family-owned and operated business. Indeed, I’ve never had a fried piece of fish so fresh and so well-cooked. I’m sure it was good for me… I mean, tons of omega in all that cod oil, right? And of course the locally-brewed Quidi Vidi (pronounced: kiddee viddie) Honey Brown Ale is the accompaniment…

the exterior of Ches's, a St. John's institution

real, authentic, delicious Newfoundland Fi n' Chi'


Newfoundland Summer Adventures Photos of the Day

The alarm went off at 6AM, and for the first time since arriving in Norris Point, the sun decided to show off the glory of its morning rays. The sight through our windows made us a little giddy as we laced up our hiking boots, downed some tea, and whipped up some trail mix.

Our first stop on this hazy but bright morning was Western Brook Pond — why Gros Morne National Park was established. Today, the former fjord is a landlocked freshwater lake, surround by mountains that were once as high as the Himalayas.  Access to its base is a 3KM hike from the sea through a bog. Well-run boat tours of the lake operate daily. We managed to catch the 10AM…

a look down Western Brook Pond

From Western Brook Pond, we headed out to Woody Point (a 2 hour drive) for some fish & chips (so good!) before hitting the Tablelands — one of the reasons Gros Morne National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

fish and chips from The Lighthouse Restaurant take-out. Swimmingly fresh and delicious

appropriately greased up, hiking through the Tablelands (a visible section of Earth’s mantle) was a breeze. The Martian-type scenery and unique rocks scattered all around make it a geologist’s playground…

some of our planet's mantle, unearthed!

Our day ended at Java Jacks in Rocky Harbour. Our daily stop-off for lunch or a snack, it was a great place to end the day with some light fare and newly-made friends. Bearing witness to the most spectacular of sunsets wasn’t too bad either…

sunset, Newfoundland, Rocky Harbour

red sky at night, sailor's (and vacationer's) delight

What a way to end our stay on the island’s Western coast.

Tomorrow, a 700KM drive across Newfoundland and into St. John’s… good thing I picked up some date-squares

Eating Canadian

There’s a lot of things I love to do in Canada. With the Rockies and Cabot trail, it’s my favorite place to strap on my hiking boots. With the West Coast’s waterways, the Ontario lakes, and the East Coast fjords, it’s the best place to put my kookatat pfd to use. It’s also one of my favorite places to eat.

A “oui” bit French, a whole bunch English, selectively global, decidedly North American, there is a culinary nationalism in Canada that prides itself on tradition and local ingredients.

Here’s my Canadian diet essentials…

Wild blueberries handpicked on an island in Prospect Bay, NS.

Wild Nova Scotia BlueberriesNova Scotia is the 2nd largest wild blueberry producer in the world (Maine ranks in at #1). Without a doubt, everywhere you go in the province, you’re sure to find some sort of wonderful blueberry-featuring dish. Blueberry teas, blueberry infused maple syrup, blueberry chutney, blueberry pies, blueberry preserves, blueberry ice-cream, and most famously, blueberry grunt (a sort of crisp meets fruit dumpling dessert that’s just fantastic and homey.)

Prince Edward Island Mussels — PEI mussels are celebrated for their clean taste and velvety texture and are shipped out all over North America (I even had some in Atlanta, GA). They grow them on ropes so there isn’t any grit inside the shell. They also know how to cook them up here — simple preparation and not too much garlic (which always distracts). I ate so many the last time I was in the Maritimes that I developed a slight allergy…

Peameal Bacon — This is what Americans think of when they think of Canadian Bacon. It’s delicious and lean, more like ham than traditional strip bacon, and makes the best sandwich-filler. It’s more of an Ontario thing, so when we visit the family, we wander over to Covent Gardens (London, ON) and buy a good pound or two from the butcher.

Black Diamond Cheddar — Hands down the best cheddar you can get outside of England. Creamy and crumbly, it makes the best cheese and chutney sandwiches or mac & cheese base.

Digby Scallops — Everyone loves scallops for their velvety texture and rich flavour. Digby, Nova Scotia is famous for their crop of these lovely little shellfish.

Fish and Chips — Enjoyed on both coasts of the country, but the provincial dish of Newfoundland, Canadians know how to do a good beer batter (Alexander Keith’s is a winner) for their haddock. Oh! and some PEI Potato fries! yum yum yum.

PEI Potatoes — the red soil of PEI produces, hands down, the best tasting potatoes in the world. Trust me, I’m Irish.

the Cows Cow outside the Charlotteville, PEI store

Cows Ice-Cream — Selected as one of the 10 best creameries in the WORLD, Cows is stellar ice-cream. Based on Prince Edward Island, it’s an east coast gem. My favorite flavor is mocha almond fudge, though their pralines and cream is also a winner.

Alexander Keith’s IPA — Canadians do good beer, and the Halifax brewery happens to be a very good one.

Buttertarts — mini pecan pies without the pecans, but dotted with plump raisins. These are more of an Ontario treat and are hands down my favorite Canadian specialty.

Date Squares — These are one of my all-time favorites. A hearty, stick to your ribs sort of dessert/snack, Date Squares are a layer of chunky date puree sandwiched between two oaty, crumbly, brown sugar-laden crust layers. When I’m on the go, I enjoy them with my cafe au lait for breakfast.

Nanimo bars with a cup of coffee... yum, yum, yum

Nanimo Bars — From Nanimo, BC, but universally enjoyed across Canada, they are a chocolate coconut brownie-like base, vanilla cream center, and chocolate ganache topping. What more could you want in a dessert square?

Oatcakes — a Nova Scotia specialty. Think a less sweet, more durable oatmeal cookie that is best served with a bit of jam, or dipped in chocolate.

There’s a serious shortage of vegetables on the East Coast, where I’m currently located, but the super fresh seafood makes up for it…

Projected Frolicking in “Nuphunland”

my preferred way of getting around

It’s been two years since the Reckling clan took a proper vacation together, but no matter how much time elapses, if there’s one thing the three of us know how to do with flair, it’s organize an adventure. Our 2010 family holiday is a two-week one packed tightly with new sights, overland trekking, seascape paddling, and regional cuisine consumption. As expected, our Land Rover Discovery will be the principal method of transport, while ferries, hiking boots, and kayaks will take us to more hidden locales.

This year, we’re off to the Canadian province of Newfoundland (pronounced Nu-phun-laand), site of the Shipping News (both an excellent book and great movie).  It’ll  be romantic and wild, fresh and invigorating.  I’m giddy just thinking about it.

Given that it’s some 20 degrees cooler out on the island (this heatwave ravaging New York has grown tiresome), and that for every day of sunshine you get two days of rain, our suitcases are packed with everything from bikinis to tank-tops to sweaters to raincoats. Our GPS had to be totally overhauled and updated with maps for the Atlantic time zone. Two years ago, when we last traveled to the Maritime Provinces, our Magellan when black as soon as we crossed the Canadian border. We had entered uncharted territory… literally.

Our travels begin on Friday, with a 380 mile drive to Lincolnville, ME and the Inn at Ocean’s Edge. It’s a short overnight before heading out on Saturday along Route 9, which will take us out of the US and into St. Stephen’s, New Brunswick, Canada. Our Saturday destination is Halifax, Nova Scotia — 850 miles from our back yard.

We’ll be based in Halifax for two full days. We’ll stock up on missing gear at Mountain Equipment Co-op (I’m a

Peggy's Cove, taken on my last visit in 2008

“Life-Time Member”) before heading back to Peggy’s Cove — the most photographed village in North America.

My father flies into Halifax on Monday, then the 3 of us pack up and drive 253 miles to North Sydney, NS, where we’ll catch a ferry to Port-Aux-Basques, Newfoundland.

After a 5 hour crossing that gets us onto the island at 10PM, Tuesday night will spent in a small hotel near the ferry terminal. Wednesday, we drive to Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’ll set our suitcases down in Neddies Harbour Inn and use the next 2 or 3 days to explore the fjords, table lands, forests, and waterways that define the unique topography of the park.

Next, it’s on to St. John’s for the George Street Festival and Royal Regatta. Also on our agenda is some more kayaking, wildlife observing (whales and puffins!), and perhaps some more hiking.

We still have to work out our plans for the return — there’s only one road around the island, and it more or less ends at St. John’s, which means that to get back to the ferry, we have to completely retrace our steps.

We plan to eat plenty of fresh fish… most likely in the form of fish and chips, which is apparently the provincial specialty. I’m also pretty excited for my post-excursion cup of tea on the porch over looking the woods/coast/harbour.

Earlier in the week, I spent a day with National Geographic photographer Ira Block, who critiqued some of my photos and advised me how to take even better ones. He also convinced me that it was time to upgrade my Canon Rebel XT to a Rebel T2i. So, I’m now armed with a new camera and the know-how to take great pictures with it… which means I’ll be more annoying than ever, running off to snap a dozen shots while my party slowly leaves me behind in the woods.

I’ll be posting as I go, or at least will try to, so keep an eye out!

always armed with a camera, a Yankees cap, and a backpack, whether at Chichen Itza, Mexico, or Gros Morne, Newfoundland

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