28 August 2012

New-found-land of wonder

our first long distance vacation that was just for us, no visiting friends/family. havent done that in...forever.

we chose st johns newfoundland. thats st johns (with an "s"), not st john (which is in new brunswick)...seriously, its a common correction made of non-local atlantic canadians (i cant see why there would be such confusion...). st johns, the oldest city in north america, is the capital of the sparsely populated island (and its neighboring territory, labrador) and is just ahead of halifax for yucky yearly weather conditions. "of major canadian cities, st johns is the foggiest, snowiest, wettest, windiest, and most cloudy." makes you wanna book your flight right now eh? well, go in the summer, give yourself at least a few days so that you can encounter the sun and you will not be sorry, i promise. the people are nice as heck too. st johns is lovely (even gourmet magazine has shined a spotlight on it) and is actually like a mini san fransisco with its steep hills lined with angled, picturesque housing. and the rest of the island is ruggedly breathtaking (seriously, national geographic even took notice). its also so remote that until 1960 no one had discovered the site of an ancient viking village (the only evidence of viking settlement in north america) at the northernmost tip. clearly, the place is rich in history of which i am not really versed to explain, but it is fascinating.

(on sunday we did point B [petty harbour] and point C [cape spear]; on monday we did point E [torbay] and point F [portugal cove])

-note to self: saturday morning flights do not appear to be popular. the nearly empty airport was a breeze. at the airport and on the plane, anyone overhearing us woulda thought it was our first ever flight. i was excited (so much so that i couldnt sleep the night before) and curious and hopeful. we had mostly clear skies as we flew over eastern nova scotia, which confirmed to me that cape breton really does look like a beautiful place (but thats for another time).

as for porter airline (our first time using that carrier), the service was awesome. it got me thinking about airlines as a metaphor. on porter there is no first class seating (aka everyone is equal). everyone has leg room, a variety of free healthy snacks are offered, and we are served beverages in real glass cups! on the north american mega-conglomerate airlines, they clamber to wipe the asses of first class passengers...they get special lounges, priorities, services, food, seats, etc. and all those in economy getis  very low quality service. this huge disparity is still going on during a time when airline staff are being overworked and underpaid and the airlines are struggling to stay afloat. hmmm, how very interesting...

anyway, our first sights of southern newfoundland were of a nearly barren expanse. as we flew north to st johns it became more wooded and houses appeared. as we made the big turn toward land, we flew over beautiful clear blue/green water and plunging cliffs carpeted in rainbow vegetation (reds/purples/yellow/greens) from the top down to the water. and the buildings of st johns burst out from a blanket of green forest.

-once landed, we got our rental car and drove (sans highway) straight in to downtown for lunch. i dont think ive ever been able to land in a state/provinces major airport and drive only regular surface roads into its downtown. its that small. but oh so cute. the houses lining the residential streets are so cheerful and well-cared for and st johns major streets that are parallel to the water (harbour dr, water street, duckworth st, george st) are adorable and have much character. i suppose it benefits from being, all at once, in one spot, the social, business, tourist, and shopping centre of the town, and basically the whole regional area. in this way it actually felt like it had much more to offer in beauty and uniqueness as compared to halifax. halifax is just big enough to often feel like its spread too thin. the tourist, business, social, and shopping centres are all just far enough apart from each other to make things feel very fragmented and ugly at times.

-in downtown, we chose the bustling cafe/bakery on water street called "rocket". now why cant halifax have one of these places? such a cool atmosphere, and good menu. we got sandwiches and soup. 

-then we drove to our b&b. clinging to the cliff at the mouth of st johns harbour, the place was quite unique and a great scenic location. we were instantly and heartily greeted by all (this proved to be a bit overwhelming for X, and me frankly) and were invited to a short irish step dancing demo from a staff member. X thought it was too loud and needed to move further away, but once in a comfortable location, she loved it. she even befriended the woman. too cute.

(deck of our b&b)

-did a hike from our b&b around and up signal hill. such amazing views and weather. the cliffs at the mouth of the harbour are so rugged and beautiful. X actually hiked much of the trail (calling herself "fritz the sure-footed pony") and then we took a break for a snack. when we started ascending again, she napped in the carrier, conveniently skipping the brutal set of nine million stairs. at the top we woke her up to explore and we meandered down from cabot tower back to the b&b. we were tired!

(signal hill hike)

-went out for dinner at a place called "sprouts". such good, cheap vegetarian. there was a bit of a wait, but it was really great food. X recognized that some of our b&b people were dining there as well. dave was also able to try the local quidi vidi beer.

-back at the b&b...we were pooped! in our room, throughout the night we heard the music wafting across the water from george st (the party scene/pub street).

-did breakfast with the interesting b&b characters.

-drove from st johns to petty harbour (a cute coastal harbour village), and then we drove out to explore cape spear. this is the eastern-most point of canada (and north america for that matter). the location features a lighthouse, military battery, and (off-shore) its a popular whale feeding ground (we didnt see any though. boo). it was a nice day but the area was pretty barren so i wasnt as impressed as i had been with the beautiful st johns we had left that morning. also i was pretty exhausted due to the previous days hike.

-drove back through st johns and grabbed rocket for lunch again. back at the b&b it took forever to convince X to take the nap she so desperately needed (to bed an hour late the night before and up an hour early). after the nap, we finally ate our lunch takeout.

-explored the nearby quaint quidi vidi fishing village. the views at the mouth of their little harbour were great, some of the village buildings were cute and certainly their surrounding cliffs and scenery were awesome, and just over their hill was cabot tower (on top of signal hill) and the town of st johns. we actually could have hiked here from our trail the pervious day...if we'd had more energy.

(the mouth of quidi vidi harbour; throwing rocks)

-drove to the ings family house. dave had worked with steve and we met his wife suzanne and son wesley for the first time. a very nice and welcoming family, they had an impromptu dinner put together for us. X and wesley are both curious, reserved kids but they got along very well. it was interesting to see how go-with-the-flow wesley was. definitely no X! we had local sea trout for dinner. yum.

-breakfast and goodbyes at the b&b. they were a very welcoming, eclectic group.

-did the marine drive (north of st johns): torbay had lovely views from its beach. just past the road to bauline we stopped at duck pond to stretch our legs for a bit. and after seeing very few people for the whole of the morning, we stopped in portugal cove for lunch at beachy cove cafe which had spectacular views of the villages ferry (20 minute ride) to the impressive bell island (sheer cliffs rising out of the water!). we contemplated going, but the timing wouldnt have worked out well. for lunch we tried cod tongue scrunchions (salted pork cubes) as an appetizer. theyre interesting and mild, but i wouldnt get them again. the rest of our food was just "meh" (newfie food is notoriously heavy/fried and lacking in color) but the service was nice.

(fried cod tongue with scrunchions)

-X finally napped on the car ride back ("wake me up when we get to the park" zonk!) to the st johns area. we drove in to pippy park and did the fluvarium. the fluvarium offers an eye level/aquarium-style view of a real riverbed. while it was neat to see under a functioning river, X wasnt engaged for very long. so we played at the playground nearby and then wondered what to do with the rest of our time (about 2 hours).

-ended up having a shitty time on duckworth street. we parked and tried a handful of places on the block, looking for a cold drink, a treat, and shops to browse, but we failed in all respects. we came away with nothing but X diarrhea and a parking ticket. :(

-went to sobeys grocery store to get something for our dinner (which was going to be during our flight). at least we succeeded there.

-back to the airport a bit early (we were that bored and out of things to do)...but our flight was delayed. we played on the airport pirate ship and contented ourselves quite well. X wimpered a bit on the flight home because she was so tired, but the kid can fight sleep like a heavyweight champ. she finally relented to her enemy on the car ride home. she didnt even wake up when i lifted her from the car seat and deposited her in her bed. a first.

*we think future travels will be best served by renting a furnished apartment with kitchenette. its the best way to avoid the hotel feel and get a little uniqueness on vacation. b&bs can be great and unique and provide breakfast, but we still cant take charge of the rest of our meals. also, i cant stand leaving the vacation spot so late in the day (we left st johns at about 7p). its a good idea on paper but we always end up with the last few hours going...ummm, i dont know, what should we do, we dont have that much time left...ack. i think we can leave mid-afternoon (aka check out time plus the travel time to the airport) and still be quite happy.

**all three of us got a stomach bug to take home with us. :( nothing major, just a lingering mild stomach issue.

***link to the full album of our newfoundland trip.

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