Friday, August 7, 2015

Home again, home again, jiggety-jog!

Ottawa, ON – That’s the little chant we used to say to the kids when we were back from any outing – and that my parents said to me when I was little. It has a comforting ring, plus a little jolt of joy that all is well, and home is the best place in the world to be.

That’s the way Val and I feel today, having completed the last leg of our six-thousand kilometer trek to the eastern edge of our country and back. It was no surprise that we were wide awake at 5:30 this morning back in Drum-mondville, eager to do the standard departure routine and get on the road one last time.

Our route home – so much more direct than the convo-luted out-ward-bound journey we took through the northern US – was smooth (mostly), straight and wide, skirting Montreal on Highway 20, then 30, then 40, past farm fields ripe with corn and other crops, and changing from rural to urban as we got closer to the cities.

The talismans of industry and commerce – shopping malls and hydro towers – contrasted greatly with the charming fishing villages and unsullied landscapes of Newfoundland. Even the weeds and wildflowers growing by the roadsides failed to match the stunning arrays of colour and beauty on Newfoundland hills and fields. Am I prejudiced? Maybe – or maybe the charm and natural allure of Newfoundland and Labrador still have me in their thrall. This is the first time, on coming back to my beloved home, I have felt a tug of nostalgia for what we’ve left behind.

We will be telling and re-telling our adventures and expe-riences in the coming days to any-one who will listen. And to anyone who has considered a trip to Newfoundland, we would say go! You will not be disappointed!
That’s it for now. The Zanin blog will go into sleep mode till the next time. Thanks for joining us over the last seven weeks!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

La belle province

Drummond-ville, QC – One more sleep and we’ll be home. If we had pushed it, we might have arrived home today, but we didn’t want to overdo it and take unnecessary risks. We have had a good travel day, and are settled in at the “Camping des Voltigeurs”, a provincial park by the St Francois river on the outskirts of Drummondville.

The park is huge, with hundreds of sites, and lots of folks are enjoying its beauty and amenities, which include playgrounds, and even a pool for the kids. Most of the sites have electricity, and some have water and power, and there are even three-service sites. We actually got lost trying to find our site! It’s right by the river, and the breeze is whispering through the trees.
We had another early start today, and the sun was shining – a great way to head out on our next to last day of travel. The countryside was beautiful; rivers and mountains as we left New Brunswick, and lots of prosperous farmland as we entered Quebec, with narrow stripes of crops in the typical Quebec arrangement.

The mighty St Lawrence came into view when we turned eastward at Riviere du Loup – wide and brown – and it remained to the right of us along most of the trip, though it wasn’t always visible. Nearly every town or village we passed was named after a saint, but my favourite was St-Louis-du-Ha!Ha! – complete with exclamation marks. I’ve no idea how this place got its name, but it’s certainly unique.
Highway 20 took us past Quebec City, which we only glimpsed between some trees and buildings. Of course, it’s on the north shore so there was a bridge between us and it. The highway was quite good and quite well-traveled as well.  The other nice thing was that the province provided frequent rest stops that were well-marked with generous parking spaces for trucks and trailers.

So, here we are, settled for one last night on the road. After listening to our CDs of Newfound-land music on the way, our heads are swimming with all the wonderful memories of our trip.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

On the open road

Edmundston, NB – It was before six when we got up this mor-ning, per-haps be-cause we haven’t got-ten over that Newfound-land half hour, or maybe it’s because home is getting closer.  In any case, we were pleased to see a sunny morning shaping up.

The Moncton site was one of few campgrounds we’ve visited that had a coin-operated shower. A quarter buys you five minutes, and it meant I had to buy ten minutes’ worth to rinse off that last slippery bit of soap for all of 30 seconds into my second quarter. Somehow that doesn’t look like saving water to me!
We were on the road by eight, and had a very enjoyable trip across New Brunswick and northward alongside the border with Maine. The highway was in good shape and a pleasure for Val to drive without potholes to dodge around. It was also a four-lane the whole way, so we got lovely wide vistas of farmland, rivers, forested areas, rock cuts and…..clouds.

Clouds! Masses of them in wonderful profusion across a huge blue sky – they were amazing! Against a backdrop of pure white ones, there were streaks of wispy, blue-grey clouds and great poufy ones like enormous cotton balls. Off in the distance, we could see some shedding rain in soft grey fingers that caressed the treetops.
We pulled off the highway in Woodstock to pick up a few groceries, fuel up and have lunch. It was actually warm enough to eat on the outdoor patio at the restaurant, although a staff member had to come out and dry off the table and chairs before we could sit down. She said it had rained and stormed so hard last night they were worried that trees might be toppled.

The River-side RV park just outside Edmundston was nearly empty when we arrived in the early afternoon, so we got a good pull-through site. It has since filled up quite a bit. It’s a lovely spot with green, grassy lots, mature trees, and a pretty stream flowing by. We actually pulled out our lawn chairs and sat outside for a while, but it began to cool down and then it sprinkled, so we put them away again.
Into the supper hour, the sun came out, then it rained, then the sun came out again AND it rained at the same time – so I suppose somewhere, there must be a rainbow, but I’d have to get wet to go out and look for it! That’s it for today – with extra room for cloud pictures. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The long sail

Moncton, NB – We’re two provinces away from Newfoundland already – and looking forward to being home! We had another perfectly beautiful driving day, with sunshine and warm (really warm!) temperatures.

We had calm waters for our crossing, and a lovely stateroom with windows at the bow of the ship, so we got a great view of the docking process this morning. And last night we had a tasty seafood alfredo dinner in the Flowers dining room – complete with a celebratory dessert.

As we settled into bed, the gentle rock-ing of the ship put us to sleep in no time. Unfortunate-ly, the gentle rock-ing did a number on me; I woke up this morning with a blazing headache and was sick as a dog. Not even my strongest pill had any effect, so I was a very poor traveling companion today.
The trip to Moncton went well – it was great to have a decent driving surface on the TransCanada Highway. It would have saved us a few convoluted detours if the signage about diesel fueling spots had been better – or had actually existed. Anyway, we found fuel eventually and made it to our destination without difficulty.

Val fended for himself supperwise while I took to our bed, but later I was able to eat a bit and I finally started to come around. What a day. Tomorrow will be much better, of that I am sure.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Anchors aweigh!

Argentia, NL – Outside the window where I’m sitting is the Atlantic Vision, a huge ferry docked here for our de-parture four hours from now. We’re second in the queue to board from Lane 11, where we were directed to park when we arrived about an hour ago.

Another sunny day greeted us this morning, to our de-light. We were packed and ready to leave the hotel after our complimentary breakfast, just waiting to get the call from the Mercedez-Benz dealership informing us that the RV was ready.
Dire scenarios continued to roil our minds as we waited. What if…? Then what…? But finally the call came. We were over there in an instant, and Matt at the service desk greeted us with a big grin. The work had been completed, and it was all on warranty, including the labour – and on the worksheet, the final cost came to more than a thousand dollars. All covered! The old “born lucky/born rich” mantra echoed in our minds yet again!

As soon as we were hitched up, we headed out to the TransCanada Highway, heading south and west toward Argentia. Such a relief.
Wistful would describe my feelings as we traveled our last few Newfound-land miles; we have so many wonderful memories of our adventures, of the beautiful sights we’ve seen, the deep and colourful history we’ve learned about, and the dear people we’ve encountered at every stop on the way.  It’s hard to believe the trip is coming to an end – with only a few days of travel on the mainland before we reach Ottawa again.

We’re told the ferry will not have wifi once we board, so I am getting this off a bit early today. Our arrival in North Syd-ney is set for 9:00 tomorrow morning, so we’ll have a full day’s travel on the other side before I can log on again.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures from our travels throughout this lovely place, and some lines from the Newfoundland anthem: "When sun-rays crown thy pine-clad hills/And summer spreads her hand....When blinding storm gusts fret thy shore/And wild waves lash thy strand...As loved our fathers, so we love/ Where once they stood, we stand/ Their prayer we raise to Heaven above,/God guard thee, Newfoundland."

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A day in the sun

St John’s, NL – When we quickly ga-thered clothes from the RV to bring to the hotel, my blue jeans were the only pants I brought, so today, for the first time ever, I wore blue jeans to church. I chuckled at the irony when I joined in singing “Just as I am”!

For the first time in weeks, the day dawned sunny and clear. Everyone we encountered today had to say some-thing about this unusual weather! It sure was uplifting to feel the sun’s warmth on our shoulders, and to dispense with sweaters and jackets.
There were a few tourist attractions we hadn’t seen this time around, so we set out first to climb Signal Hill, visible this morning from our hotel room window where before it had been hidden by fog. Lots of other people had the same idea; the parking lot at the top of the steep incline was full, but we found a spot not far from the top by the roadside.

The view was terrific. The city was spread out below, circling the sparkling blue waters of the harbour, with every landmark clearly visible. A bit lower on the hill, on a flat sec-tion, we could make out a troop of drum-mers practising a tattoo and marching about. On the ocean side there was a dif-ferent sight: a band of blue reaching out se-veral kilometers, and then white cloud wrapped along the horizon like a woolly muffler!
It was interesting for us to read about Guglielmo Marconi’s historic telegraph exchange from this spot with Cornwall in December of 1901, just a day after we learned about the first transatlantic cable message in 1858. I wonder how many of the tourists today, idly glancing at their mobile devices, had an appreciation for the magic they were witnessing and the years of effort and experimentation that preceded this banal activity.

Our next re-quest to our GPS was to bring us to the House of Assembly for the province. Down the hill we went, and into the confusing angles of cross streets, on hills and diagonals, trying to follow the GPS instructions, which included “kweedie veedee” for Quidi Vidi! In the end, as our device announced our arrival at our destination, we were actually in front of the YMCA. No problem, with a bit of unaided sleuthing, we found the spot, which was nearby. It was locked up like a drum, but we had a look at the statue of John Cabot and the impressive coat of arms laid out in polished stone in front of a lookout over the city.
We also had a look at the Lieu-tenant Governor’s residence, an impressive stone building com-plete with a moat and lovely lawns and flowerbeds. Nearby was a waterpark jammed with sun-deprived kiddies and parents, re-veling in the heat and sunshine. There were hundreds of them!

Back at the hotel, we prepare to leave Newfoundland tomorrow, hopeful that the RV repairs will be completed at the promised time so we can get to our ferry for the five o’clock departure. We will spend the night on the bounding main (well, not too much bounding please!) and wake up Tuesday in North Sydney. Hard to believe our sojourn here is winding down; it has been terrific.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A tiny town links two worlds

St John’s, NL – Our day trip today took us west of the city and up the branch of the Avalon Peninsula that divides Conception Bay from Trinity Bay. We didn’t drive the coast all the way around; once we reached Victoria on the east side, we crossed to Heart’s Content on the west side and down again, with-out going around the top. It would have made the trip too long.

Rain splattered the windshield for the first part of the drive, but it eased up after a half hour or so, and it wasn’t too cold. The map names town after town on Highway 60 out of St John’s, but as we drove they seemed to be all melded together – Paradise, Conception Bay South, Sea Cave.
When we reached Holyrood, we pulled off the road to read the plaques at a lovely little park at the inner basin of the cove. The park was built on the old railway land, and was trimmed with well-tended planters with colour-ful flowers. On the hill behind us was a huge openwork cross above the town, where ambitious hikers can climb for a commanding look over the bay. Squid-jigging used to be a lucrative activity in this area.

Our route continued up the coast, and each town seemed to have its own small bay to nestle around, where a few boats were moored, and well-kept houses looked down on the water from the hillsides. There were little museums in almost each one, but we had seen plenty of vintage sewing machines, musty World War I uniforms and sepia photographs of days gone by. The coastland, inlets, rocky cliffs and wildflowers were more our speed today.
We did stop, however, once we crossed the peninsula to Heart’s Content, to see the Cable Station provincial historic site. This tiny village, by a deep bay shaped like a heart, was the end point of a transatlantic communi-cation cable that joined it to Valentia, Ireland and revo-lutionized international affairs for the entire continent.

The cable station, now a museum, still houses the original equipment used to read and transfer Morse Code messages from over-seas to North Sydney, NS and on to New York. The entrance floor is covered with a large world map, showing all the under-water cables that existed in 1901 – an impressive array!
Muriel, our guide, showed us pieces of the steel-wrapped copper cables that were strung along the Atlantic Ocean floor – some 2,600 kilometers of it. Three huge reels were transported on a specially-built ship, the Great Eastern, that uncoiled the cable in a single piece as it sailed from Ireland to Heart’s Content in 1866. This pro-tected bay was chosen because it was deep enough to receive a ship of its size.

We learned about the determination of Cyrus West Field, who sank all his savings into the project and overcame early failures and public disenchantment before achie-ving success. The museum also described the social change the cable caused to Heart’s Content, where cable company operators made a princely salary and lived in upscale housing next to poor fishing families. It was a fascinating visit.
We enjoyed a lunch of pan-fried cod at the local eatery before continuing south, passing through Heart’s Delight, Green’s Harbour, New Harbour and Dildo on the way back to the TransCanada Highway and our hotel, just in time for a hot cuppa and a cozy evening.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Rooms with a view

St John’s, NL – With the RV at the dealer’s, and likely to be there for at least half a day, we decided to check out of our hotel and explore the city. Our cellphones were actually working here, so we could be reached if the RV was ready. And, if it was ready early enough, we could even hitch up and travel to our next destination, Argentia, and get there before nightfall.

It has been at least ten years since our last visit to St John’s, so we expected changes, but it was nice to see some familiar sights as well, such as the harbour, Jelly Bean Row (the brightly painted row houses in the heart of town), and Water Street and Duckworth Street.
One major “new” attraction was The Rooms, the city’s 10-year-old heritage museum. It was well worth the visit; the handsome building overlooks the downtown and is designed to resemble the fishing buildings of the sea-coast, which were called rooms. The displays inside provide a wealth of information about Newfoundland history, animal life, Irish roots and heritage, beautifully set out on different levels.

When we climbed the staircase to the second level, the landing opened out to a viewing area with walls of glass, with the whole St John’s harbour spread out below! It was a magnificent sight, and we just sat and took it all in for several mi-nutes. The opposite side of the building looks out on Memorial University, with a similar panoramic view.
That’s where we headed next – and we were impressed with its large campus. Pippy Park was right next to it, so we turned in to have a look at its RV campground. If we had our RV, it would have made a great spot from which to visit the province’s capital city.

By this time we were ready for some lunch, so we went back downtown to The Sprout, a vegetarian restaurant owned by Julia and Laura, the daughters of a friend in Ottawa. Both of them were away today, so we missed them, but our meals were outstanding.
Our cellphones were stubbornly silent, so we decided to drop by the dealership to see what news there might be about the RV. There was no news. They were very busy and hadn’t had a look at it yet. It was entirely under-standable; appointments were booked long in advance and we had just shown up at the door, so we were glad they were willing to fit us in at all.

To pass the time, we thought we’d go fur-ther afield and have a look at Torbay. It’s just up the road from St John’s – and we were treated to another lovely seaside vista when we got there. However, we noticed we’d gone out of our cell-phone coverage range, so we didn’t linger.
Back in the vicinity of the dealership, we ambled through the Avalon Mall for a bit and then just sat in the car, waiting.  And figuring out different scenarios depending on what we learned about the RV. Then we got the call: they’d had a look, and a part (which they had in stock) needed replacing, which they should be able to ac-complish by Monday morning. That would give us just enough time to make our ferry crossing at 5 pm in Argentia that afternoon! Whew!

We went over right away to gather up a few more items from the RV, and then headed back to the hotel we’d checked out of this morning. Would there be room for us till Monday morning? It didn’t look likely when we left after breakfast, but when we went in to check, the re-ceptionist told us some people had just canceled, and yes, there was one room left. Can you believe it?

Two considerably relieved travelers from Ottawa checked in once again, inwardly repeating that well-worn mantra: it’s better to be born lucky than to be born rich!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Plan B, plus RDF

St John's, NL -- Our trip has taken a slight 
deviation; we are here at a hotel, and from our window we can see the RV parked at the 
Mercedes-Benz dealer where it will be checked tomorrow.

When we left Bonavista the other day, Val noticed the yellow 'check engine' light on the display. With the bor-rowed cell phone from our friends Nancy and Morley, we made some calls, eventually connecting with this dealer. They kindly offered to squeeze us in tomorrow, to see what the problem might be.
So, today we set our course for Newfoundland's capital city. It wasn’t really our plan, since we’ve both been here before and we only have a few more days before we sail, but flexibility is the name of the game.

It was already raining when we got out to the main road, Val in the RV and me in the car, on our way to Nancy and Morley's house to return the cell phone with our heart-felt thanks. That done, we hitched up and headed north up the Burin Peninsula.
A stiff wind buffeted the RV and Newfoundland’s sig-nature sideways rain splashed across the highway. Val said we probably wouldn’t see any of those elusive caribou today – they’d be too smart to come out in this weather! Still, I kept my eye on the sweeping flatlands, ever hopeful.

Wouldn’t you know, a few kilometers further on, I spied three magnificent caribou drinking at a pond a few dozen yards from the roadside! Each one had a full set of ant-lers and looked as handsome as any I’ve ever seen. We both stared in amazement, and then we were past them – no time for a photo and no place to pull over for a longer look! Still, we were thrilled to have had this flee-ting glimpse, especially on such an unlikely day.
When we reached the town of Goobies (don’t you love these names?), we turned on to the TransCanada High-way in the direction of St John’s. For a time, the wind seemed to have calmed down a bit, and then the ceiling descended on the hilltops, shrouding them in fog. Our friend Morley told us the term is “RDF”—rain-drizzle-fog! Another addition to our Newfie vocabulary!

Believe it or not, a few kilometers further along the way, the fog lifted, the sky cleared to a bright blue and we were bathed in sunshine – for a good five minutes! And, almost as quickly, fog rolled in again even thicker than ever. It was the strangest weather sequence I’d ever seen.

We made it to St John’s without incident, and now we play the waiting game. We consider ourselves lucky though; the hotel two doors down from the dealership had only one room left when we walked in, and we’re now comfortably settled in it! Perhaps our RV problem will be a minor thing. Let’s hope!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

All the way to France and back

[Tuesday, July 28 and Wednesday July 29, 2015]
Frenchman’s Cove, NL – Our 24-hour trip to Europe was like stepping into an alter-nate universe and back out again! It’s good to be back in Canada again, and in our little home on wheels. I’m going to squeeze two days into one blog post to save you some reading time.

Yesterday the idea of traveling to France for a day did not appeal all that much, simply because we awoke to pour-ing rain and wind that kept on all morning. Our ferry ride wasn’t until 2:45 in the afternoon, but it sure didn’t look promising even by lunchtime.
On the way to the town of Fortune, where the ferry was, we stopped in Grand Bank to see the Seamen’s Museum. Housed in a building that looked like several triangular sails in a row, the collection of nautical artifacts was very interesting to look at. The instruments and boat equip-ment were set out on the floor within roped off sections, so you could have a close look. Similarly, upstairs we saw land-based items such as sleighs, printing presses and other equipment from bygone days.

The rain continued as we drove to Fortune, got our tickets and settled the car in the compound where it would stay till our return today. Our ferry seats were indoors, and the crossing was so rough that boat personnel were scurrying about with barf bags and paper towels for green-looking passengers. It felt like we were riding on a mechanical bucking bronco, but we were OK thanks to Gravol! Today, Val overheard a woman who goes to St Pierre frequently say it was the roughest crossing she’d ever been on.

To our relief, when we disembarked on the island an hour later, the skies had cleared. Our hotel was a short walk from the pier, so we got settled there before going for a short stroll. It was strange to see the French tricolour flag flapping on poles here and there, and all kinds of European cars on the streets.
The town looked rather scruffy, with public gardens gone to weed and buildings with peeling paint everywhere. The streets, sloping uphill from the wharf, were narrow, with brightly-coloured shops and homes tightly packed on either side.

We ate our dinner at the hotel’s restaurant – very tasty, but expensive. Our server, Aurélien, had just come over from France a month earlier, hoping to earn enough money to buy a larger sailboat back in Normandy. He hadn’t seen anything beyond the island of St Pierre yet, let alone had a look at Newfoundland.
He was back on the job this morning when we ate our “Frenchie” breakfast (cornflakes, baguette, croissant, orange juice and yogurt). We were planning to take a bus tour, scheduled for 11 o’clock, so we stopped by the tourist information office and got a map for a bit of a walking tour while we waited. We saw a Basque playing field with a high wall where they play “pelote”, involving bats, a ball and the wall – it will be a busy place next month when the Basque festival takes place.

We also had a look inside the large cathe-dral, and then headed back for the bus. It was parked near the square, so we went over to climb aboard, but the driver told us it was fully booked by a tour group and we’d have to wait till 1:15 for the next tour! Back to the tourist office we went, and they kindly called Le Caillou Blanc tour company to come and pick us up instead. So we got a personalized tour in a small van with Maryvonne, a very friendly woman whose “Anglophone” tour was 80 per cent French and 20 per cent heavily accented English, but very informative nonetheless.
It was great to go through the narrow streets with Maryvonne at the wheel, explaining everything we were seeing, and then to go around to the other side of the island to see where the fishermen used to sail off in their dories, where horses graze on grassy fields, and where more affluent citizens live in gracious homes. We could also see the islands of Langlade and Miquelon across the way. These are joined by a narrow isthmus which was formed in part by the accumulation of some 600 shipwrecks over the years!

We also saw the new airport, where 737 aircrafts can now land – though rare-ly – and the new hos-pital, built on the old airport location. Maryvonne drove us back into town in time for us to have lunch at Joséphine’s tea house, where we enjoyed quiche Lorraine, salad and tea, for 42 Euros, or about $60! Our neighbour at the next table was a young French woman named Aurore, who is an engineer in town for a week to check on the construction of the town’s water treatment plant.
In no time, it was time to board the ferry for the return journey, and this crossing was much calmer, thank goodness. We’re glad we went, but home is awful nice too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The boot of Burin

[Post for Monday, July 27, 2015]Frenchman’s Cove, NL – One of the more pres-sing items on our list of priorities this morning was to get the car washed; it was streaked with mud, and the visibility out the side windows was almost nil. Marystown had a carwash, we discovered, so we emer-ged looking much spiffier, and rolled on over to Tim Hortons for lunch before we began our circuit of the Burin Peninsula.

Like Italy, the peninsula resembles a boot – or perhaps a Christmas stocking –  and our route took us down the calf and around the heel to begin with. The route includes some interpretive “parkviews” from time to time where aspects of local history and geography are laid out on storyboards, with viewing platforms and a couple of benches or picnic tables nearby.
When we got to St Lawrence at the bottom of the heel, we stopped to visit the Miners’ Museum – easily identified by a giant miner’s helmet and lamp set atop the roof. Inside, we learned about the mines that were started during the Depression, when the cod fishery was failing (a tsunami in 1929 had devastated the cod spawning grounds on the sea floor). A rich deposit of fluorspar, used in the chemical and steel industry among many other applications, offered a livelihood to local residents.

Few safety precautions were in place for the men who went underground, and in ensuing years many suc-cumbed to respiratory diseases. Compensation for the widows and their families was also non-existent until one woman petitioned authorities with such doggedness, they relented and paid her and other bereft families.

A marine disaster in 1942 demonstrated the community’s generosity, when two US military ships heading for Argentia ran into a storm and were wrecked just offshore. Townsfolk managed to rescue over 100 victims, under harrowing conditions, and cared for them in their homes. One survivor, a black American named Lanier Phillips, was deeply moved by their compassion. The women who bathed his oil-soaked skin had never seen a black person before. He said he had never been treated so kindly by white people, and maintained a longtime relationship with St Lawrence until his death years later. The US government also donated a hospital to St Lawrence as a gesture of gratitude.

The museum gift shop had lovely fluorite gemstone jewelry for sale. Our guide, Roberta, brought us into the workshop where the rough fluorspar stones are shaped, polished and made into the jewelry by workers with developmental disabilities. The stones come in some 30 colours ranging from blue-green to pink. Roberta cut a piece of stone and showed me how to polish it – and then let me keep it!
We continued our drive around the boot, enjoying glimpses of blue sky over the offshore islands of St Pierre and Miquelon on the horizon, and checking out the ferry location in Fortune for our trip across to St Pierre tomorrow. We’ll be spending the night there – so the next blog instalment will be a day late, as we’re making the crossing without the car, bringing hand luggage only. Au revoir!


Monday, July 27, 2015

The sunny south

[Posting for Sunday, July 26, 2015]
Frenchman’s Cove, NL – We’re on a new penin-sula tonight – the Burin – in a pine forest at Frenchman’s Cove Provincial Park. Once again we lucked out with an electrified site, after booking an unserviced one. Just as we drove up, an electrical site that can’t be reserved came free, so we got it. As my mother always says, better to be born lucky than to be born rich.
Our day started very early when the weather band on the radio let out a loud beep at 5:30 am and announced a weather warning for St John’s: “possibility of frost in low-lying areas”. We had some distance to cover, so the early wake-up call just got us going a bit earlier than planned.

We traveled southwest from the Trinity area back to the TransCanada Highway, turning south and eastward past Clarenville, and then onto Highway 210 onto the Burin Peninsula. The terrain was noticeably different, with wide grassy meadows dotted with ponds and only a few evergreens; quite a contrast to the mountains and dense forests we left behind. We fully expected to see caribou prancing through the fens, but I guess they were taking Sunday off.
After passing through one fishing village after another in the Bonavista area, this region felt quite remote, with few cars on the road and fewer towns. The sky was fairly overcast most of the way, with spitting rain in the earlier part of the day.

We had a dinner invitation at the home of Nancy and Morley, friends of Val’s brother John and his wife Fawn, whom they met in Florida. When they’re not being snowbirds, they live, oddly enough, in a town here called Winterland! John and Fawn introduced us via e-mail and that resulted in this kind invitation. On the phone, Nancy promised me there would be sunshine, after our many dull days.
We stopped briefly in Marystown to glean some information about the area at the visitor centre, and pick up some local maps. This large centre serves many of the communities further south on ‘the boot’, as this peninsula is sometimes called. Armed with fresh material, we managed to find the provincial park and our evening’s destination.

It was great getting acquainted and enjoying a delicious dinner with our new friends. And, as we sat looking out on their deck and lovely back yard, the promised sunshine came into view! After supper, Morley and Nancy took us to the Winterland Ecomuseum, where a boardwalk and walking path took us through forest and wetlands where migratory birds congregate and plants and flowers flourish. Built by members of the community, this park is a lovely resource for recreation, and also serves as an educational facility for school groups. By the time our hike ended, the evening shadows had crept in and a golden sliver of moon was peeking through the clouds.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Joyce's cod cheeks

Bonavista Peninsula, NL – A dull but much calmer day greeted us this mor-ning. For our last day on the penin-sula, we decided to have a look at a couple of movie sets. Trinity East was the location for a film with Gordon Pinsent called The Shipping News. It’s some time since we saw it, so the sleepy town on the cove wasn’t familiar, but it was picturesque just the same.

Salt box houses clustered by the shore and grassy yards were casually dressed in daisies, buttercups and purple lupines, against a backdrop of dark green hills sloping down to the water. Like nearly every town we’ve seen, it had a small white church and a graveyard with weathered, tilting headstones. There was even a clothesline filled with bright-coloured laundry drying in the breeze, and fishing boats bobbing next to the dock.
The second film set was where the mini-series Random Passage was filmed, an 18-km drive in from Highway 230, along winding roads with plenty of curves, potholes and blind hills. After covering some distance, we began to wonder if we’d missed a sign (we’ve learned that signage is not a strong Newfoundland trait), so we turned down a road where there were some houses.

I noticed a group of people on a wharf who seemed to be cleaning a fresh catch of fish, so we stopped and went over to see – and get directions at the same time. “We’re from Ontario and we’ve never seen a cod right out of the water,” I said. They were more than pleased to show us – and they had caught some big ones!
Glen and Jerry were busily filleting the fish on a table next to the water, while other family members watched. Once they dropped the fillets into a bucket, they tossed the heads and guts into the water where a strong current washed them back out to sea and the waiting otters and eagles that were awaiting a free lunch.

On the table were some triangle-shaped bits they told us were cod tongues. We’d sampled some at the Viking dinner theatre in St Anthony. I asked about cod cheeks, just as Joyce arrived – she confessed to us that she never liked fish even though she grew up here, but the one thing she would eat was the cheeks. She stepped up to the table and went to work on the cod’s severed head, jamming her fingers into its eyes to hold it still and slicing away the flesh on both sides in the hollows just below them.
Before we left, Gerry pulled several fillets out of the bucket and put them in a plastic bag for us to take with us. We were delighted to be able to bring them back to the RV for a fresh feed – and Joyce told us just how to do it: dredged in flour with just a bit of salt and pepper, and fried in oil – “but not for too long!”

With our lovely gift and clear travel directions, we headed on to the movie set. After enjoying lunch in the tea room where the tickets were sold, we went on to the site. Although it was built in 2000, the cluster of log houses looked weathered and old, and only a grassy footpath led from one house to another. We bought a DVD of the mini-series, since we haven’t seen it, so now we’ll recognize the setting of this tale of Irish immigrants coming to a new found land.
Our next destination was back in Trinity, where the Rising Tide Theatre group was putting on a pageant about the town’s and Newfoundland’s history. It’s a unique presentation that brings the audience on foot from one venue in the town to another, telling tales of the fishery, the church, the court and everyday activities with a cast of quick-change actors who are pirates, washerwomen, choristers and historic characters. There was lots of humor and pathos, and it was fun to recognize the actors we’d seen at the play a couple of nights before.
Back at the RV, Val donned his apron and tackled our beautiful mess of fresh cod, dishing up a delicious smelling feast, as fresh as it possibly could be. Thank you, Glen and Jerry!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Chills and thrills

Bonavista Peninsula, NL –It was so cold and windy today we needed sweater, scarf, parka and gloves. If we had them handy, toques would have helped too. As we drove out from the camp-ground, lashings of rain whipped at the car, and the pond near the exit was torn with whitecaps.

Undaunted, we continued northward, aiming for Cape Bonavista, at the extreme tip of this peninsula, where tradition claims Giovanni Caboto landed in 1497 in his ship, the Matthew. Ye Matthew Legacy is the name of the interpretation centre devoted to Caboto’s story. Visitors can follow the adventures of Jacomo, the ship’s barber-surgeon, as he journeys to England and meets our intrepid traveler, looking for the support of Henry VII for an exploratory voyage to find a western route to the Orient.
Sacks of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, peppers and licorice root were on display – the sought-for spices from Cathay. So were navigators’ tools, such as an astrolabe, a special rope with lead weight to plumb the water’s depth and sample the sea floor at the same time, and a knotted rope which, used with a float and hour glass, could determine the ship’s speed – in knots, of course.

The final display was a full-sized replica of The Mat-thew that visitors could board and explore. The museum building had enormous back doors that could open and allow the ship to float in the harbour behind it, but it’s now kept indoors to keep it from deteriorating. In all, it was an excellent exhibit.
Fighting a fierce wind all the way, we headed for land’s end and the Cape Bonavista lighthouse. The gale ripped at our hair and clothes on the way to the lighthouse, but once we were inside it was quite cozy. The first two floors housed the keeper and his family, and then we climbed up into the light room itself. A revolving wheel of silver reflective dishes allowed lights to shine red or white in succession to beam out the signature flashes that would help sailors identify their location.

Outside once again, we battled the gale to snap a few pictures of the pounding surf and the tiny black spots in the sky that were puffins in flight! We could just make out the birds’ white bellies as they trotted about on the rocks, but they were too far off to see clearly.

Not far from the lighthouse was a statue of Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) with a plaque in English, French and Italian explaining that this spot was a best guess at his landing point.
A little further around the coast – still broiling with frothy breakers crashing up against the rocks – we came to The Dungeon, a rock formation carved out into two arches by the sea over the centuries. We grinned at fellow tourists who struggled to keep standing on the way to the viewing platform. Brave souls!
Elliston, just south of Bonavista, was our next destination. “The root cellar capital of the world” has another attraction: a place to see puffins up close.  We found the place and, as we headed for the path, a man got out of his car to warn us about the danger when walking on the high cliffs in this wind. Val and I held hands tightly as we negotiated our way over grass, rocks and muddy bits out to the point of land, while blasts of wind continued to whirl around us.

There was the puffin colony, dotting the grassy top of a second cliff, sepa-rated from us by a deep chasm. It was too dangerous to get closer, so we were tantalized by their distance from us. I wanted to see their beady eyes! Just then, one small puffin landed on our side, just a few yards away! He was a darling little thing, strutting about, with his black feathers fluffed by the wind. He stayed for several minutes before leaping into the gale and flying away. We were spellbound and thrilled to have this special encounter.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Bonavista Peninsula, NL – The steady drumming of rain on the RV roof drilled into our sleep overnight. When mor-ning came and Val swung his feet to the floor to get up, they landed in water! A small opening in the bedroom slide at the back of the RV was just big enough to let a trickle come in and seep across the carpet on his side of the bed. We placed the blame on Newfoundland’s renowned side-ways rain.

We were hitting the road today anyway, so I pulled in the slide and sopped up the water with our handy-dandy ShamWow, a great device for just such a purpose.
The rain continued to pelt down as we drove to the dumping station before leaving the camp. By the time we’d emptied the waste tanks, refilled the fresh water tank, and hitched up the car, we were almost soaked to the skin. Val was standing with the hose at the fresh water intake, dripping wet, when he grinned and said “this is one of those precious memories we’ll think of when our RV days are over!”

Our route today took us south, out of Terra Nova Park, and then eastward toward the Bonavista Peninsula. We had reservations at Lockston Path Provincial Park for three nights, but could only book a non-serviced site. However, our hope was that an electrical one might be available once we got there.
The “path” part of that park name referred, I think, to the 17 km gravel road that led in from Highway 230, which on this wet day spewed rain and mud at every pothole we passed. At least we only had to cover 5 km to the park entrance. When we pulled up at the registration office, the gents at the wicket were most kind, scrolling through the computer information to find us a free site with electricity, even for one or two of the three nights we’d be here.

We were pleased when they offered us one night at a serviced space, with the possibility of another that would become vacant tomorrow. So instead of our reserved Site 29, we happily went to Site 53.
We didn’t spend a lot of time setting up because we wanted to get in to Trinity as soon as possible. Our friends Len and Wendy had recommended a play at the Rising Tide Theatre there called “No Man’s Land” and the only show we could get to was tonight’s, so we wanted to be sure to get tickets.

Trinity is just 20 minutes from the campground, and it’s a small seaside town that has been resurrected from crumbling ruins into a vibrant history lesson, with restored buildings turned into mini-museums, such as a blacksmith shop, cooperage, general store and others.

By the time we got there, the rain had let up, so we could get out and walk in relative comfort. We landed the tickets right away, to our delight, and then went off in search of lunch. We spent the early afternoon ex-ploring some of the buildings and enjoying the old world charm of picket fences and bright clumps of wild-flowers.
As we drove back to the park and headed in to our campsite, two of the park staff were heading out in their truck. When they got closer they signalled for us to stop. Apparently a camper had given up on the weather, so his serviced site was now available for the entire length of our stay. We turned around to re-register our location and then moved from Site 53 to Site 38! Good thing we hadn’t settled in too much at our first stop! We were very pleased with their kindness, and with our new location. There’s a lot to be said for electricity, and for thoughtful Newfoundlanders.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A happy adventure

Terra Nova National Park, NL – Bob is an old friend of our friend Carl, and he lives in Gander but has a trailer at Eastport, which is near here. Bob invited us to drop in when we were in the park, so we gave him a call this morning and arranged to meet him at lunchtime.

Before we did that, we drove further into the park to see Ochre Hill, a walking trail that promised an excellent view from the lookout at the top. When we reached the end of the road and parked the car, we could see an observation tower that clearly would provide a commanding view. The daunting part was the hundred or so steps to get to the top – if indeed the public was allowed to do so; we didn’t hike over to find out.
Instead, we took the path to the side that started out with some gentle steps before depositing us on the rocky pathway upward. That was when we spotted a pair of bright red Adirondack chairs, set on a promontory, just asking for us to take a front row seat. Having read some of the park literature, I knew these were part of a project throughout Newfoundland (and national parks across Canada) where people are invited to take pictures of themselves with the chairs and send them in. We happily snapped ourselves with the automatic setting on the camera, and then had a seat.

It was delightful to be still and gaze out on a panorama of trees, meadows, lakes, mountains and sky, with no other sound besides the whispering breeze through the ever-greens and the lone piping tune of a woodland bird. As we sat, the cloud cover thinned, allowing beams of sunlight to play over the scene below. I don’t know how long we sat there, with the entire place to ourselves, but it was a magical visit.
With our lunchtime rendez-vous approaching, we headed north and out of the park, turning eastward toward the villages of Sandringham, Eastport, Sandy Cove and Happy Adventure. Bob welcomed us into his trailer for a chat, and then the three of us headed for the Happy Adventure Inn to taste its renowned fish and chips.

The hotel’s dining room windows provided a lovely view of the harbour below, where fishing boats were heading out to catch more of the fresh cod we were about to enjoy. The recreational cod fishing season has just opened, and for a limited time, so lots of people were out getting their allotted numbers while the getting was good.

Well-stuffed with our delicious feed, we headed out for a tour of the area with Bob as our guide. He’s been staying out here for years with his late wife Betty, so he knew all the twists and turns. We saw the beautiful beach at Sandy Cove, a soft arc of seaside dunes where kiddies build sand castles and older ones jump in the waves when the weather is hot – which it wasn’t today. We also saw the Eastport beach – and its more aggressive surf. Bob says the two venues usually have opposite swimming con-ditions, so if one is too rough, everyone goes to the other.
It was a pleasure seeing this little corner of Newfoundland with one of its own. We could certainly see why so many people come here every summer.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A big man with a small name

Terra Nova National Park, NL – Need to cool down? C’mon over to New-foundland! An ice cream shop in St John’s says this is their worst summer for business in twenty odd years, accor-ding to the local news. At least we aren’t getting rained on, though people are saying there’s a great need for it here. I must say it has sometimes occurred to me that, if something did fall out of all those grey clouds, it could be snow.

We’re settled in a lovely campsite at Terra Nova Park, after a fairly short travel day on the TransCanada Highway. We had a leisurely start to the day, arriving in the small town of Gambo just before lunchtime. On the TCH before the turnoff, we stopped at Joey’s Lookout, a viewing station that gave a marvellous vista of Fresh-water Bay, an inlet of Bonavista Bay. Then we drove in to the Smallwood Interpretation Centre.
The sign on the door, to our dismay, said “Closed daily from 12:00 to 1:00 pm”, and it was five minutes before noon! Still, we went inside, and the two young women inside said it would be no problem; we could go ahead and visit. When I signed the guest book and saw we were the first visitors of the day, their decision made sense.

The bilingual display panels described, in great detail, the life and times of Joseph R. Smallwood, first premier of Newfoundland, who was born in Gambo on Christmas Eve in 1900. He was the first of 13 children born to David Smallwood, an entrepreneur from PEI who built the first sawmill here, and when it burned down, the second one – this time powered by steam.
As we worked our way through the panels about Joey, we learned of a man who had enormous determination and drive, starting out as a newspaper reporter, branching into radio, traveling to Great Britain and New York to learn more about how Newfoundland could fit into the world of the ‘30s and ‘40s. At one point, he walked 700 miles from Port-aux-Basques to St John’s along the new railway bed, meeting rail workers all along the way and discussing the important changes he felt Newfoundland needed.

Joey Smallwood wanted to see an end to self-serving, corrupt practices that kept the people of Newfoundland from fulfilling their potential. He had a vision for his homeland that he shared tirelessly with anyone who would listen, and he overcame setbacks and defeats along the way. It was inspiring to see how devoted he was to making a better life for Newfoundlanders, and in making many of the hard decisions he had to make as premier – such as the resettlement of 30,000 people from isolated fishing villages to larger centres – he made enemies as well as friends.
We had a look at the statue of Joey Small-wood in the park across from the centre after we ate our lunch in the RV, and then headed out to Terra Nova Park.
The visitor centre of the park had some great displays of marine life, including a touch table – a shallow box filled with water and loaded with dozens of sea stars and crabs that people were invited to touch or pick up. There were also tanks with other sea creatures, and staff members had lots of little kids crowded around them as they presented their nature talks.

We have a full day here at Terra Nova tomorrow to explore some of its trails and sites of interest. We are hoping, as we are every day, for good weather.