Thursday, August 31, 2006

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia—when planning to come to the Maritime Provinces of Canada, this is what we were looking for: beautiful sea coasts, incredibly blue oceans, hiking trails, cool ocean breezes, wildlife.

We spent several days relaxing near Truro, NS, where we saw the Tidal Bore. That is apparently a common term, but we had never heard it till we came here. It describes a wave of water going upstream in a river when the tide comes in. Because the of the shape of the Bay of Fundy, which is between Nova Scotia and the eastern shores of New Brunswick and Maine, the tides are very high—15-20 feet in some places. At Truro, we watched this wave come up and the tide rose somewhere between six and 10 feet in about 30 minutes.

We have enjoyed eating locally-grown produce, especially corn on the cob, blueberries and potatoes. Blueberries are always expensive in Colorado, but here in season they are quite reasonable and we have bought them several times. They even sold them in the campground store at Baddeck.

We spent a week at the Cabot Trail Campground in Baddeck on Cape Breton Island, which makes up the northeast part of Nova Scotia. We used it as a base to explore the Cabot Trail. In 1497 John Cabot of England discovered North America as he searched for a route to India. Tradition says he touched land on the northern coast of Cape Breton. Most of the island has a Scottish heritage. We attended a Fiddler Festival where we heard violins and guitars playing Celtic music. The festival was first organized to keep the Cape Breton tradition of fiddling alive and they can now bring together 200 fiddlers at one time. There is a Celtic College hear Baddeck where people come from all over to learn Celtic music and crafts and how to speak Gaelic. We have learned a Gaelic word, ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee), which means party or gathering. There are ceilidhs weekly in several communities around Cape Breton.

Bras d’Or Lake is a very large body of water in the center of Cape Breton. On the west shore of the lake near Baddeck we visited the Alexander Graham Bell Museum. Bell, who (if you remember your history) invented the telephone while living in New York, built a home on Lake Bras d’Or (pronounced bruh-door and meaning arm of gold in French) and lived and worked there for many years before his death. At the museum we learned a great deal about this amazing American inventor. His wife was deaf and he spent many years working to improve the lives of deaf persons. A hydrofoil boat and an airplane were among his inventions.

The first Europeans to settle here were the French, who built a fortress near the northeast corner of the island to protect from British invasion. Unfortunately, the two times the Louisbourg Fortress was attached by the British, it was from the landward side and both times the French were defeated—the last time in 1758. While eating lunch in a restaurant that served 18th century food at the living history restoration of the Louisbourg Fortress, we came to appreciate that we are able to travel the way we do. After ordering our lunch—heavy bread, split pea soup, and grilled cod, two women came in and sat at our table. At that point we had been on the road for 2½ months, 1½ in Canada. They were on a bus tour of the Maritime Provinces that lasted 8 days. They envied our ability to go where we wanted, when we wanted. Soon another couple also sat at our table. They had just completed 10 weeks in Newfoundland and Labrador, places we hadn’t had time to visit. We really connected with them and shared experiences. And the two women from the tour groups didn’t have a clue about our lifestyle. We caught our love of travel from my parents, who always traveled on organized tours. We know they thoroughly enjoyed their travels, but are grateful for our footloose and free way of doing things.

The coast of the island is dotted with isolated fishing villages, such as St. Margaret on the northern tip, and attractive harbors, like Pleasant Bay. After Baddeck we spent five nights in a campground in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The northern portion of the island has several mountains rising over 1200 feet from sea level, which reminded the Scottish settlers of the homeland. The scenery is spectacular and the wildlife wonderful. As we have driven across Canada, we have seen many signs warning us to be careful of the moose, but it wasn’t until Cape Breton that we actually saw them—11 in two days, plus four black bear. What a treat! Most of the sightings were early in the morning and we didn’t get good photos, but a few came out.

We have been able to make several hikes in Nova Scotia, mainly on Cape Breton. We often feel we could be hiking in the Colorado mountains, with hills, rocks, roots in the path and evergreen trees. But then we see the many different mushrooms and ferns and see the blue, blue ocean and hear the ocean waves crashing below and we know we aren’t in Colorado. This is a country with lots of moisture and therefore, lots of green. The mushrooms were especially prevalent and diverse as we hiked at Thomas Cove near the Bay of Fundy in early August. The Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park gave us views of moose, as well as a boardwalk over an open headland with a magnificent view of the ocean and nearby Cheticamp, a small fishing and tourist community just outside the park.

We are ending our time in Nova Scotia with a week on the southern shore of the country. Peggy’s Cove has a much photographed lighthouse on St. Margaret Bay near Halifax, the capital city of Nova Scotia. Our RV park overlooks the bay, which is beautiful.

Most of our travels in Canada have taken us to RV parks used almost exclusively by Canadians—either people on holiday or people who park their trailers there for the season and spend every weekend there. We are hearing that tourism is down considerably, in part at least due to high gas prices. Since coming to Nova Scotia we encountered tourists from the US, almost for the first time. It is interesting to see how we gravitate toward one another and share our experiences. We haven’t found most Canadians terrible friendly.

We also are learning about gas price regulation, which New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia have implemented this year. A month ago, we were paying $1.23 a liter for gas—that translates to $4.67 a gallon. By August 31, the price in Nova Scotia was down to $1.01 per liter and on the new we heard prices in Ontario were as low as $0.67 per liter. We know prices in the States are high, but not as high as here and we don’t experience such large price swings—56 cents per liter or $2.55 per gallon in two months. Whatever gas costs when we go back to the states, it will be less expensive than here.

On Labor Day we will take a ferry from Yarmouth, NS, to Bar Harbor, Maine, and begin our exploration of New England.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island is wonderful! The farm fields make you think of paintings by Grandma Moses. The roadsides are lined by flowers—both wildflowers and cultivated gardens. And right now the empty fields are filled with wildflowers and pink flowering clover. The wooden farmhouses come in various colors—white, cream, yellow, blue, gray, green.

There are great shops—we saw wonderful hand knit sweaters, some made of alpaca yarn, others fine sheep’s wool. Pottery and woodwork items are sold in small shops along the country roads.

In addition, the coastline is lovely, with blue waves, red clay cliffs and narrow beaches. We drove along the coast in the Cavendish National Park on the way to Green Gables, the historic site dedicated to the writing of H. M. Montgomery, best known for her book Anne of Green Gables.

Montgomery and her creation, the red-haired Anne, are central to PEI. They have given the island its moment of fame and its identity. The book Anne of Green Gables was inspired by a house in the Cavendish area and published in 1908. Green Gables is part of the Cavendish National Park, as is the land where Montgomery grew up with her grandparents. It was interesting to visit. The site and the play that is put on there during summer months are central to PEI tourism.

The AAA tour guide to this part of Canada describes PEI as a quite, laid back place to visit and relax. We know why. In one day we saw much of what was new and different there; in a second day we visited Charlottetown, the capital. It is an interesting town (about 35,000 people) with a pretty harbor, lots of expensive pleasure boats, and some attractive old buildings. We also walked on the Confederation Trail, walking/biking trails along abandoned railroad rights of way.

We stayed in a busy destination campground. Many people place their trailers there for the summer and commute to work or come up on weekends. Their children have summer friends there and they celebrated Halloween the weekend of Aug. 12-13.

We did a lot of relaxing, like AA suggested. Not much else. We never should have planned so many nights there, since we had already had quiet time the previous weekend. Oh well, you live and learn. We got in some good walks. And the people were very friendly and helpful. We also ran into Bruce and Nancy, a couple who full-time that we had met previously in Ottawa and Quebec. We had some time to visit with them.

Unless you have traveled with animals, you can not imagine our trip to PEI from Nova Scotia. We drove about an hour to the ferry. PC and Partner ride in the truck when we are driving. Then we put them into the trailer while we waited for the ferry to arrive and for the 75-minute ride across the Northumberland Strait. As soon as possible after driving off the ferry, we stopped and moved the cats back into the truck for the hour-long drive to our RV park. We have a litter box in the truck. In the next 20 minutes we had one puke (Partner was apparently seasick), pee and two poops. Then, have you heard the term “hissy fit”? We had, but we had never fully experienced one till we were slowly driving down a bumpy road to the campground. Partner had had enough. He sat in my lap growling and hissing for 2-3 minutes. I think a hissy fit is the cat version of a temper tantrum.

Monday, August 07, 2006

New Brunswick

For several weeks now we have been vacationing with Canadians. We have been staying in RV parks and state parks where the locals spend their weekends, their holidays, or the summer season. Canadians who don’t have cottages buy an RV and park it somewhere they can stay for the summer or on weekends and holidays. We have encountered very few RVers who are traveling and seeing different parts of the country. Most of those in these parks live within a few miles (or kilometers), or at the most somewhere within the same province. We’ve known a few people in Colorado who owned cabins or condos, but we’ve never before experienced this kind of RV park. It gives us a real insight into a different lifestyle.

When we left Quebec we drove through an incredibly beautiful Matapedia valley where we saw lovely farms with lush green, long narrow fields bounded by bushes and dotted with large rolls of cut hay covered in white plastic. Then we followed the Matapedia River, obviously a mecca for fly-fishermen. There was even an Orvis shop on one town along the way.

Our first stay was at Parc Malybel on the North Shore of New Brunswick. The province is officially bilingual (French and English) and so signs are in both languages and shop people speak both languages. It has been easier to function here. The highlight of our stay there, in the town of Beresford, was a visit to Village Acadien, a living history park where we could experience the lives of the French who first settled in this part of Canada in the 1600s. The French were defeated by the British twice in the 18th century and the Acadians--French settlers--were deported, forced to leave land and possessions behind. Eventually, after feelings cooled, they were able to come back and live quietly in the rural areas. Not till the 1900s was their language officially accepted. The village had staff demonstrating life at various periods over the centuries and we learned about growing hay in salt marshes, making shingles, tinsmithing and fishing. It was really well done and very interesting.

Canadians come to New Brunswick to spend time on the beaches. We have seen more women in two-piece bathing suits--all day long--who have no business wearing them except in the water. And men going all day in swim trunks or shorts with no shirt on, who would do us a favor by wearing one. We think swimsuits are for swimming, not living in. Oh well, what do we know?

The last few days in the province were filled with some of the problems of living on the road. At our RV park in Cap Pele, we had to move from one site to another in order to extend our stay for two extra days. The second site was right in front of the washrooms and other campers kept walking through it. Then we drove into Moncton to get the mail Eric had sent on to us. We planned to read it while the truck had its 3,000-mile servicing, which normally takes 30 minutes. This time we were at the dealership for 3 ½ hours. Who knows why? We didn't receive that much mail. So we read the local newspaper and got our exercise walking around the parking lot.

Then we drove to St. Martins, where we had reservations for five days. But when we arrived they said they had left a message on our cell phone that we could only stay two days. Our cell phone doesn't work well here and costs 30 cents a minutes, so we haven't checked messages. This is a holiday weekend--New Brunswick Day--and they are full.

The waters off the coast of New Brunswick are warm, "the warmest waters north of Virginia" they say. Ocean breezes make kite flying a natural occupation. Because we have been on the Northumberland Strait and then the Bay of Fundy, the waves have been gentle, the beachcombing uninteresting. But New Brunswick is beautiful and we've seen potatoes growing for the first time--at least that we are aware of. We also bought a cooked lobster, which we struggled to eat in the trailer. Hot lobster with lemon butter is good, but cold lobster without the proper tools to access the meat leaves us cold. We’d rather have a good streak, thank you.

St. Martins is an old shipbuilding community on the Fundy Coast, north of St John’s. One day we drove about 80 miles to Blacks Harbor (the headquarters for fish smoking and herring export) and took the 9:30 am ferry to Grand Manan, the largest of Fundy Islands. The 90-minute ferry ride to the island is free. The return trip, round-trip fare is $10.20 per adult. On the island we hiked to the Swallowtail lighthouse on North Head, then back into town for lunch, then returned on the 1:30 ferry. It was a cool and cloudy day, but we enjoyed the ferry rides and the hike. The wooden lighthouse is called a salt shaker lighthouse. We saw seals around the herring weirs along the Pettes Cove shore and many porpoise during the day.

We also hiked the Fundy Coast Sentier trail for about 5 ½ miles. Another misty cloudy day, great for hiking. We felt we were in a rain forest. Then we went to sea caves, carved out by the extreme tides of the Bay of Fundy. Ontario and central Canada has been experiencing a heat wave. We’re glad to be on the Atlantic coast, where it’s been cool.

Liquor stores in Canada are operated by the provincial governments. The names changes from province to province. When we wanted to buy wine in Ontario, it is LCBO--Liquor Control Board of Ontario. In Quebec, SAQ. Don't know what that stands for. In New Brunswick, NB Alcool. What will it be in Nova Scotia? I wonder why anyone would want to buy wine or beer here. Beer is $10-$12 for a six-pack, plus bottle or can deposit. Boxed wine is $30-$40 for four liters.