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 (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

Summer Vacation Photo(s) of the Day

Hello folks!

I’m sure you’re all anxious to know what I’ve been up to since I crossed the border. It’s been a music filled, scenery filled, new experience filled, friend-making filled few days, and I’m in no hurry to get home. New life plan: French Culinary Institute followed by an advanced degree in adventure tourism, then find a nice bit of property in Newfoundland, open an Inn with a stellar restaurant, and lead my guests on sea-kayaking tours. Anyone wanna join in?

While I’m building my notes, scribbling in my travel log, and mentally drafting a proper write-up on this Nova Scotia-Newfoundland adventure, I thought I’d give you a little peek into daily adventure.

Since I’m already several days into my trip, the first installment of Vacation Photo of the Day will actually be several photos, featuring a highlights from my 3-night stay in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

a ghost ship?

Our first full day in Halifax was foggy and misty (above) — you couldn’t see past the docks. But the night cleaned up beautifully…

Also that night, we caught the Newfoundland-born, Halifax-favorite band Signal Hill play a great set of covers at the Lower Deck pub…

Even though we stayed out well past 2AM, we still woke up early to paddle the bays south of Halifax near Lower Prospect.

pulled up on an island for a wee bit of a break

after our glorious paddle, we headed a few klicks south to the photogenic fishing town of Peggy’s Cove…

the famous Peggy's Cove lighthouse

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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