First, let me say that St. John ROCKS. What a great town, with so much to do and recommend it. Maybe a little off the beaten track, but ABSOLUTELY worth the effort! More on that in a bit. And it is pronounced “New-Found-LAND” with emphasis on the “LAND.” I kept wanting to say “Newfundlund” and was corrected each time.
Once we disembarked from the ferry, there were IMMEDIATELY Several ways you could tell we were not in Kansas Anymore:
MOOSE. Here there are SO MANY Moose that they are more than just visible on Yellow signs. The folks sleeping (snoring) next to us on the ferry mentioned them. We are frequently warned, when considering destinations or drives, to be careful driving. As of yet, we have only seen the two at Cape Breton. But, I did have MOOSE SOUP and saw a sign advertising MOOSE SAUSAGE and a MOOSE BURGER, which implies that there are at least some DEAD Moose on Newfoundland.
HEAT WARNING. I was checking the weather, and discovered a HEAT WARNING in big RED letters on the Canada Weather Site for St. John’s. I thought I had better check this out, since we were planning a longish-hike on the Grand Concourse (more on that below). What I found was MOST AMUSING. It seems the prediction was for temp of 26C. Now, I did the conversion. Twice to be sure of my math. This is 78F. A HEAT WARNING for 78F. Visions of folks hunkered down in their basements while the devastating HEAT WAVE passes over.
½ Hour Time Zone. Yep. Newfoundland Time is 30 minutes ahead of Atlantic Time (which Nova Scotia and New Brunswick use). This was apparently a condition of NF’s agreement to join the confederation without losing their identity and uniqueness; much of which, at least on the surface was lost anyway in the resettlements and “modernization” after confederation.
We soon appreciated that not ALL of the culture was lost, as we spoke to locals about their lives and histories; about how to eat Salt Cod, about the fishing life…wistfully described if we would take a little time to listen. It is CLEAR that Newfoundlanders are VERY PROUD of their history and culture.
Speaking of Local “Culture,” one thing I noted that I heve never seen before: a “Tool Library.” What a GREAT CONCEPT. If you need a specialized tool for ONE PROJECT, you can use one from the library. Not even necessarily a “Specialized” tool…just one you don’t happen to own. A Framing Nailer. A Mitre Saw. Plumbing Rodding equipment – you name it. You pay to belong on an annual basis – not a lot. You use the tool for project, then bring it back. SUCH a good idea!
We have RENTAL places in the USA…but this is for big and expensive tools, and is not cheap. The Library concept is cheap AND efficient. The fella running this said there are a bunch in Canada, and he THOUGHT a few in the USA. I know I have never seen one, and as a consequence have acquired MANY tools I have used just once.
If I were looking for a business opportunity, our 18 months on the road have now given me two: Urban RV Parks and Tool Lending Libraries. Too bad, world; not looking to unretire.
Back to St. John’s. First of all, there is the RV Park – in a large urban park area called “Pippy Park.” SOOO rare that a city of any size has an urban option for RV parking, but St. John’s does, and its awesome!!! Then there is the Grand Concourse – a 200km series of well marked and maintained walking trails that wind their way through the city (mostly) and surrounding region.
This is a truly impressive urban exercise – one that other cites would do well to emulate!! None have, that I am aware of! And for sure not to St. John’s extent. Several of the Trail options actually start at Pippy park, where the RV was, and Liz and I always like to explore a place by walking. So we walked a LONG WAY each day – 9 miles one day and 6 the next.
One of our hikes was to “nearby” Quidi Vidi Village (that was the 9 mile hike). Did I mention that St. John’s is also REALLY HILLY? Reminded me a lot of San Francisco with a smaller bay and pretty trivial bridge. A 9 mile Hike is not trivial in St. Johns, just as it would not be in San Fran.
Quidi Vidi is a picturesque fishing village, and there is an EXCELLENT Brewery there, right on the water at the harbor. And a REALLY nice food truck in their parking lot, which served Fresh Cod Fish and Chips and Poutine…both excellent.
On the way back from Quidi Vidi we stopped at Terry Fox Mile 0 Memorial. Our US readers may not be familiar with Terry Fox…Google him…VERY inspirational and something Canadians are quite rightly proud of.
Above the Quidi Vidi Harbour is a huge hill called “Signal Hill” that guards the narrows into St. John’s harbor. It is also where Marconi set up his equipment to receive the first transatlantic radio communication. We DROVE up there.
Another day we drove to Cape Spear, where there is a lighthouse on the very eastern edge of the continent. There, you can watch the whales, and pretty much nothing else, because the next “thing” is Iceland.
Near Cape Spear is a little fishing village of Petty Harbour.
There we found a “Catch and Release” Aquarium, whose critters are all by-catch of the local fisherman, and are all released after a bit in captivity. This makes for an odd assortment, which is interesting in its own right.
And there was a very nice café, where we found Seafood Chowder (of course), but also a new option: MOOSE SOUP, which was delicious. The Live music helped the whole afternoon’s atmosphere.
Another hike was to “The Rooms,” which is a museum of Newfoundland and Labrador History and Art. This is a SPECTACULAR museum that really sets forth the unique and not well known outside of NL/LAB social and political basis for how things were and are.
For sure we never learned about the settlement of this area by waves of immigrants from France, England and Ireland (if you don’t count the Vikings who were here long before) , of the integration of the waves of Europeans with the various indigenous people and about issues leading to Newfoundland and Labrador joining the confederation with the rest of Canada in 1949.
And about the basically forced resettlement of most of its inhabitants to cities and places where civilization could reach. This was done to “help” the people in the newest province by efficiently delivering infrastructure, healthcare, utilities, etc., which could NOT have been delivered to the thousands of little “Outports” where small groups of people had lived for many years. All of this told in artifacts and stories. And even by a local guide, who walked us through the Cod Fishing basis of european-based life here.
It seemed to me she teared up a little telling stores of how life was in Newfoundland even as recently as the 1930s and even though she did not personally see any of it, being too young. The fishing legacy runs deep here…it is pretty easy to get someone talking about the Cod, about how it is caught, eaten, etc. Very pragmatic, though, when discussing the moratorium on fishing imposed by Canada in 1982…”We used up the resource…its our fault. ” But there is an unpleasant undercurrent concerning industrial fishing by other nations just outside the Canadian waters…those folks are NOT thought kindly of here.
Then there is George Street…2 blocks of Bars (mostly) and restaurants, many with Live entertainment. In fact, just as we were leaving St. john’s, the George Street Festival was commencing (timing is everything). One cover charge, CAD$15, gets you into all the bars and a bunch of outdoor stages set up for the festival. NEXT TIME!!!
Also next to George Street was a nice Brewpub. There a total stranger (Barbara) spent about an hour developing our itinerary for the next week.
One day we found a restaurant with a really pleasant patio where we stopped for lunch. Communal tables; and our new friends sharing that table were a local who manages ANOTHER restaurant and a women who is a cook on oil rigs. 3 weeks on and 3 weeks off. She was getting ready to fly out for her “ON” stint. St. Johns has a very active port – an important one in both World Wars, and which now services the Deep Water Oil Industry on the Grand Banks…lots of supply ships being loaded.
They HAD brought us our beers immediately!
Anyway, at one point in our delightful afternoon, the waiter came over and apologized PROFUSELY. Said it was inexcusable how long our food was taking to arrive, and it was therefore ON THE HOUSE. I looked at Liz and she at me and we said, “Long? We have hardly noticed, the patio and our tablemates are so pleasant… (and, they HAD brought us our beers immediately!)” I said there was NO WAY we were going to have lunch on them; that just wasn’t right! The waiter insisted…said the owner was in, and ALSO insisted.
I stuck to my guns (even though they are not appreciated in Canada) …said we’d have to find a compromise; and I finally figured one out… Instead of paying for our lunch, which they refused to allow, I would buy a gift certificate for the McDowells, who are planning to be in St. Johns in about a month, and leave it at the restaurant for them! This will be just about the time Mike will be realizing the Pirates will NOT be winning the World Series this year, and a “free” (to him) Chardonnay will help take the sting away. And Fran will like the food. And the Restaurant, which was so welcoming to us, will get a couple more customers who may very well buy more than the gift certificate I acquired on their behalf. Everyone wins!
At the Pippy RV Park, we had DELIGHTFUL Neighbors. Sharon and Klaus, who live in London, Ontario and were travelling Eastern Canada for the summer with her Nephew, Noah. And their AWESOME dog Liebe. Before I even noticed how friendly the humans were, the dog stood out. I asked Klaus if this was a sheep dog or actually a sheep? He said maybe both – a hybrid? Then he smiled at the biological impossibility, and said Liebe was a Hungarian Guard dog – A “Komondor.”
A huge oaf of a dog…which was definitely “on guard” — barking incessantly when I approached to shake Klaus’ hand. Klaus gave me a treat to assure the dog, and then assured me that Liebe means “Love” in German and she was just talking to me. He must have been right, because I still have all my fingers and eventually Liebe was plopping all 100+ pounds on my feet upside-down for a belly rub.
The dog immediately liked Liz with none of the barking or pretense, who could not imagine such a furry mountain in our bus, much less their tiny trailer.
Our friends at the restaurant, as well our neighbors at the RV park described for us an important ceremony we had to take part in. Called getting “Screeched In, ” it is a significant cultural milestone whereby one becomes an “official” Newfoundlander. Getting “Screeched In” involves reciting certain incantations in the local dialect, drinking local Rum, and the coup de grâce: KISSING A COD.
There are apparently several St. John’s establishments that specialize in this; with published schedules, official certificates, etc. One can also do it in some of the remote regions, where the local pub (and the bartender-officiante) performs these functions as necessary. We intend to do this as we wander around Newfoundland for the next 2+ weeks.
Upon arriving at our campground in St. John, I noticed a HUGE chip in the windshield of the Smart Car. Not really sure what to do…in the States, repairs to chips have been covered by insurance for free under the argument that that is a lot cheaper for everyone than replacing the whole windshield when it ultimately cracks. So I called my State Farm Agent.
He was confused by my location. Newfoundland? Hmmm.
Him: Well, just take your car to a Safelite…they will fix it for free.
Me: No Safelite here, pretty sure.
Him: Let me check
Him: There is one in O-n-t-a-r-i-o (he spelled it out, not sure how to pronounce, I guess).
I said: Well, to get to where we are from Ontario, you drive about 1,500 miles east. Then you get on a ferry and you go 17 hours further east. We are closer to ICELAND than to ONTARIO.
Him: Oh. Well, just get a receipt…
Which is what I expected, but you have to play the game. In this case, “Where in the world is Dan Harris?” Anyway, I found an Auto Glass place near the campground and took the car in. They smiled and IMMEDIATELY fixed the chip.
UPDATE: Got a receipt, and insurance agent now sez: NOT COVERED, NEVER COVERED. Despite the fact that I have had free repairs done twice before! So it depends on the company and the policy…and the devil is in the details.