Newfoundland Stories from August 5

Channel-Port aux Basques is nicknamed the “Entry” city. It’s here most people grab the ferry to the mainland or drive through as they exit the docked ship. It’s a colorful little port that is celebrating Come Home Year this week with colorful flags and concerts…

along the Port aux Basques Harbour

the locals waiting for the concert to start

Port aux Basques is a stay-one-night-leave-the-next- morning kind of village. The Trans Canada Highway starts and ends at its  ferry terminal, stretching only north west towards the northern peninsula before turning east towards St. John’s, where it begins and ends again. Most visitors to the island don’t realize there are signs of life east of Port aux Basques. We arrived early at the St. Christopher, giving us a good half day to fill with something. It was suggested that we take Route-470, head east 40km and explore the town of Rose Blanche and its lighthouse.

Having visited the lighthouses atop the gusty Lobster Head Cove and the far-easterly point of Cape Spear, we didn’t have very high expectations. Yet, as we drove along the twisting road, through undulating hills coated in a fuzzy green shrub and speckled with marbled granite boulders, we decided this might be one of the most stunning places on the island.

Rose Blanche was a lovely spot and its reconstructed, historical granite lighthouse a more than worthwhile excursion…

a view onto the Rose Blanche Lighthouse, an amazing setting

a cluster of homes in Rose Blanche

Appropriately, we found our final dinner at the Friendly Fisherman Cafe, a small family-run place overlooking the fishing boats at Rose Blanche. Fish and Chips and fishcakes. yum, yum yum.

my "healthier" fishcakes, made from bacaloa. note the frozen veggies

a final plate of Fish and chips for the father

The fog thundered in as we began the drive back to our hotel in Port aux Basques. The wind picked up and the rain clashed against the windshield. Our ferry was due to pull out of the dock at 8:30AM, Newfoundland time. Check-in was at 6:30, and so with lots of cod in our bellies, and warm memories playing through our minds, we trundled off to bed early, not in any hurry to leave the island that had taken hold of our hearts.

We may have said good-bye to Newfoundland, but there still lay 1,600 miles of road between the ferry terminal in Nova Scotia and our driveway. There was still some vacation left…

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Newfoundland Stories of August 4

Photo of Canadian Junior National Hockey Team hopefuls, courtesy of "The Telegram," St. John's newspaper

As the Sheraton elevator hauled my half asleep butt up to the 6th floor for breakfast, I noticed I was surrounded by a pod of 6-foot tall, middle-aged men all wearing black Under Armour polos with red maple leafs over their left pectoral. My, how patriotic, I thought. After rubbing the previous night’s George Street Festival mascara out of my eyes, I noticed the silhouette of a hockey player set against the bright red of the leaf. They looked official. As I turned from the elevators and made my way down the hall, 4 tall, Abercrombie and Fitch-esque, barely-legal aged young men chirped well-synchronized hellos in my uncaffeinated, still bed-headed direction. I may not have been awake enough to use a hair brush, but I was awake enough to know a good-looking guy when I saw one. I confess, I did a double take, watched them until they turned the corner, and in the process, walked smack into wall.

Later, I found out the Canadian Junior National Men’s Hockey Team was in town for a training/development/selection camp and were using our hotel as home base. Every guy staying at the hotel wanted to know where the boys were playing. Every woman wanted to know how if the players were of legal age yet…

The first Wednesday of August is the famous Royal St. John’s Regatta — the longest running sports contest on the continent. Fixed-seat, coxswained skulls of 6 or more rowers hit Quidi Vidi lake at 9AM and race all day until 9PM. In the morning, the officials check the weather. If it’s a good day, the Regatta is a Go and the city of St. John’s shuts down — Regatta day is a civic holiday with a rain-date.

Sunny with scattered clouds, the 4th was a perfect day to watch a boat race, but we opted out of a day a local said “means sunburn and bratty kids with cotton candy” and headed for Springdale — a midway stop between the capital on the east and the entry/exit town of Port aux Basques, where our ferry to Nova Scotia was scheduled to depart on Friday morning. Springdale boasted a 4.5-star luxury establishment called the Riverwood Inn and it seemed like the ideal place to begin the end of our vacation. The Inn’s website displayed pictures of beaches and boat tours, gourmet picnic baskets and luscious views of an expansive river and picturesque harbour. The photographer for the Riverwood Inn’s restaurant deserved an award for spin-master of the year.

The river was a creek. There were no kayaks or boat tours. There was no restaurant in the hotel to make our picnic basket. The whole surrounding area was under development, with construction workers tromping through the inn’s small yard. The “beautiful village of Springdale” was several miles away. The Inn was located a quarter mile from lumber yards and gravel pits. The nearest restaurant was at a dingy-looking motel next to one of the aforementioned gravel pits.

We didn’t stay at the Riverwood Inn.

Nor did we stay at the Marble Inn “Resort” two hours down the Trans Canada Highway.

My mum and I travel often together, and whenever I call home, the first question my father asks is not “how are you,” but rather “Has your mother changed rooms yet?” It’s a running joke in the family. Well not only did we change rooms twice today, we changed hotels… not once, not twice, but 3 times.

The three Recklings finally found ourselves in Corner Brook at a less-than-the-Holiday-Inn motel named the Mamateek Inn. Outside the door, some bikers were passing a joint and a heard of ATVs grumbled and bounced into the parking lot. The motel was nondescript, but the guests had character.

The door keys didn’t work. Then when we did get working keys, the door was wedged closed and required excessive quantities of shoulder-shoving to get it open.

We may have just checked in to the worst hotel on our Newfoundland vacation, but we were about to have the best dinner since leaving home.

The Bay of Islands Bistro is a small house restaurant that prides itself on using local organic ingredients (apparently, they DO grow lettuce in Newfoundland). Fresh, clean, and delicious, everything on the menu was something I wanted to order. We were thankful for the lobster cakes and the smoked spare ribs, grateful for a piece of fish that wasn’t fried. Don’t get me wrong, the fish and chips have been well-worth the calories, but after a long day of driving, mishaps, and shanty-shacks, the gourmet finish to the day was much deserved.

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

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 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

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