Where to begin? How about in the early 1960’s? My dad was stationed at Harmon AFB, Newfoundland, Canada back then. It was on the southwestern edge of the island, next to Stephenville, which is on your map below. By the time I was in first grade, something called the Cuban Missile Crisis came up and he had 13 days to transfer the family to his southerly next assignment: Minot AFB, ND.
So I was really too young to remember much about Newfoundland. I could recall a fishy-smelling dock or beach, a strange, muddy back yard (guess who fell into what?) (it was a classmate’s birthday party. I missed out on most of it by having to sit in someone’s laundry room, feeling like I’d done something terribly wrong), playing with the Canadian local kids in a lush field of buttercups, getting scared out of my gourd at some kind of Girl Scout? camp in a shadowy shack with water running underneath it, listening to one of those camp ghost stories; plus some flashes of kindergarten, going on my very first diet (first grade!)… but that was it. My parents had taken an 8mm movie of a boat trip to Deer Lake, so I either remembered the actual trip or I remembered watching it later. (A few years ago I transferred every last one of their movies onto a DVD. I think there was about fifteen minutes of stuff in total.)
A couple years after we moved, people found evidence of Norsemen having settled in Newfoundland, just like the old sagas claimed. Norsemen!!! Leif Ericson was real! At that point I hadn’t heard of Leif yet, nor of his dad, Eric the Red. Decades later that settlement discovery spurred me to search for bus trips through Newfoundland--but they were LONG bus trips. Good grief, why so long? They should be three days at most. It’s just an island! Those tours must be trying to gouge people.
Years went by. Still no short trips to be found. Then every time I turned on the TV it seemed they were showing travelogues about Nfld. It looked really pretty. If I went I’d get LOTS and LOTS of pictures of those quaint fishing villages the travelogues kept showing that could be made into paintings. And remember those Norsemen! Woof!
So even though I’d JUST taken a trip to Alaska in August of 2017, I booked a 2018 July trip to Newfoundland. They’re about the same latitude, I thought. (WRONG: Nfld is much farther south.) I’d be seeing lots of whales again, but what the heck. I could check it off my bucket list.
Turns out that island’s pretty damn BIG. You can drive for hours and hours between tourist spots. There’s also a bathroom problem… But more on that later.
As usual, one has to drag oneself out of bed in the wee, wee hours of the night when taking off from RDU. All my alarms (what if the electricity goes off? What if I didn’t set one right?) went off correctly, I turned off the things I was supposed to before leaving on a long trip, and I made it to the airport, where I had a very nice breakfast.
Toronto has Customs: I racked up 12,000+ steps that first day, though I mostly sat on planes. A good five miles of that was jogging through Customs. (It was even longer on the way back.) If you’re stopping in Toronto between countries, schedule a good half-hour just for this! If you have problems walking long distances, pre-arrange some kind of transportation assistance. I was sweating as I had a fairly quick connection to catch and the walk never seemed to have an ending. Funny thing: When I finally emerged into the terminal proper and looked at the boards, my flight number to Halifax was off by 2. At least my boarding pass had gotten the time correct.
Do I have to say it? There were TWO flights to Halifax, both leaving at the SAME TIME, their flight numbers different by 2. Of course MY flight was at the OPPOSITE end of the airport from the other one. Sheesh! But I skidded in to the gate just in time.
After a brief layover in Halifax’s tiny airport we flew to Deer Lake, Nfld. That and St. John’s and Gander seem to be the only “big” airports on the island, though they aren’t that big at all. They’re even about to downsize Gander because of lack of traffic. Gander was once the largest airport in the WORLD, back when it was the primary refueling stop for air traffic between the Americas and Europe. (Our tour director told us that people plotted the most efficient placement for a fuel stop and sent engineers out on the [then operating] Nfld railroad with orders to hop off at Mile Whatever and begin digging. That became Gander.)
We had a garrulous, semi-retired taxi driver from the airport, whom I sat next to. He drove us by Deer Lake. We passed GORGEOUS views of the lake, plus bare-rock mountains with springs sparkling down their sides. The sun was out; could that be guaranteed when we’d be back this way on the tour? Ah, the shining, happy rivers called to me. I said the heck with it; my vacation had officially begun, and reached for my carry-on to find my camera.
Whirr. Click. Whirr. Whirr. The lens came out and then retreated. Came out and retreated. A red light blinked on the side. I’d seen this before. I think when I was on the beach a couple years back, some hard-blowing sand got into the camera lens extender. Whenever this whirr-click happened, a blast of canned air would keep the camera working. I thought I’d cleared it all out, but now recalled that the camera had been cranky the month before. I’d blown it back into operation then, but now I had no canned air in my luggage.
Hour one of vacation and no camera. (Yes, I have a smart phone, but I hate taking pictures on it. There’s no control, no really good zoom. It’s also extremely difficult to transfer the photos to my computer. Plus I’m afraid of my smart phone.) Argh.
I tried to figure out what time it was. Newfoundland Time is 1½ hours earlier than Eastern. No, I don’t know who came up with that foolishness. Wiki says it’s because Nfld wasn’t a part of Canada when time zones were invented. They’re actually in the eastern half of the Atlantic time zone. So why aren’t they on Atlantic time? Here’s a nice discussion of odd times, beginning with Nfld.
|Our hotel in Corner Brook. Note the, uh, handicapped ramps? Or lack of same.|
We arrived in Corner Brook. I had to attend to the camera problem. The town had two small shopping centers; at least one would have someplace I could get a cheap camera. Cue: Walmart. It was a $10+ cab ride (plus tip) there. Pick up a $99 camera, which was a newer model than a cheap camera I’d had years ago, a camera that had taken both good pictures and lousy ones with no reason behind the two results. This beggar couldn’t be a chooser. Double check the box. Yes, it was rechargeable, so I didn’t need to buy a battery, phew. Got my phone out to call the cab, since I’d been smart enough to get the guy’s business card. Phone didn’t work. Though I’m on the two largest carriers, It. Didn’t. Work. Turns out Nfld isn’t covered by them. Luckily for me, the run-down Walmart had two wall phones that were direct lines to two cab companies. ??? I’d never seen that before. People must take a LOT of taxis in Corner Brook. As I waited for mine to arrive, many drove up to deposit people at the store.
Okay, so it was another cab ride back to the hotel. I get the camera packaging undone and… Wait. I can’t use my SD card in it. It takes something called a MINI-SD. Arrrgh.
Another cab back to Wally World. The clerks in electronics laughed to see me back and also studied the camera paperwork to make sure that I now had EVERYTHING I’d need. Mini-SD that held the maximum memory that camera allowed: $25. Okay. Right? They conferred some more. Right. Okay. They waved goodbye. Hope that one clerk realizes his dream of living in Florida and joining the WWF. (???)
Anyone keep track of what that camera cost so far? Four taxi rides, tips for all, camera, SD. I kept telling myself that this was a trip that was planned as a photo safari. In my head I just added the camera etc. to the cost of the tour, which didn’t make it seem so bad. The tiny camera barely took the first twist of the screw on my camera strap (absolutely the best buy I made to prepare for that Alaska trip), so I took great care to wrap the hand strap around it so it couldn’t fall off. (One month later: You should see the gorgeous replacement camera I got from QVC! On sale! So far I know how to turn it on and off, do the zoom thing, click the pic, and set the time and date.)
We began fairly early. Our hard-working tour director was Annette. Our fearless bus driver was Rod. This was the bus’ first trip, all shiny and new. Let’s check out the big map of Newfoundland. First, the province is properly called Newfoundland and Labrador, NL. On the island (“The Rock”) you’ll notice that there aren’t that many highways. Good roads are new there.
Our route would take us up and down 2/3 of the western coast but we’d use the same highway most of the time. We’d take a ferry to Labrador, come back, hit that highway again up and down and then eventually cut east across the center to take the eastern highway north and south. The west coast has the Viking Trail; the east coast has the Discovery Trail to honor John Cabot. The west coast has its roots firmly with the French; the east coast, with the British. West coast has beaches; east, cliffs.
There are a surprising number of tourism places of interest in NL. There’s l’Anse aux Meadows, which is the veldig kult (très cool) Norse landing spot. There’s the easternmost point in North America. The oldest ceremonial grave in the Western Hemisphere. Bits concerning Capt. Cook and John Cabot. Newfoundland was England’s very first colony, so you see that celebrated. The edge of the world is supposed to be right off the northeast coast but our tour didn’t go that far, drat. After that there’re various fishing/seal museums, one Maritime Archaic, Dorset, Paleoeskimo, and pre-Beothuk museum, whale-watching and puffin-watching tours, as well as a good amount of blue icebergs drifting close to shore. And there are thousands of miles of wondrous beach scenery.
We were told to instruct others not to tour Newfoundland in September or later. Whales, puffins and icebergs are gone by then.
|Harbor at St. John's.|
There are VERY few rest stops. VERRRRY few. In Alaska when you get in the middle of nowhere and it’s been a while since motorists were allowed a rest break, you find pit toilets, which are in effect outhouses with non-flush, metal cones with a toilet seat attached that are cleaned out regularly, and often (not always) come with Purell and toilet paper. I was assured that Newfoundland people didn’t go for that newfangled pit toilet idea. As a result, we had to keep circling back to hit the few flush toilets there were on our route.
Ex: We began our tour with Corner Brook. Then it was back to the hotel for a rest stop. Then out west to a harbor and lunch (toilets in a church), then back to the hotel. When we began to drive north we kept doubling back to hit the same hotels and park centers to use their facilities. Yes, our bus had a bathroom but it’s stressed on every bus tour, any company you take, that those are for emergency use only. And yes, the average age of the people on our bus was likely the upper 60s, low 70s. When you gotta go, you gotta go!
Restaurants and hotels are also difficult to find, though Newfoundland is beginning a tourism boom and is catering to this far more than they did a mere handful of years ago. Bus tours are limited by the number of available hotel beds, or there’d be a LOT more buses.
After a quick stop back at the hotel for toilets, we went out west along the Humber Arm to the Bay of Islands: islands named after Capt. Cook’s ships: Lark Harbor, York Harbor, and such. Due to the lack of restaurants (there’s a story Annette told us about the local “Sandwich Nazi” who had once blessed her out something awful, apologized the next year, but certainly lost Annette’s business), we had arranged for a church to make sandwiches for our lunch (and provide restroom facilities). They only offered two platters of triangular white-on-white sandwiches that didn’t go far with our pack of 33, and instead filled the meeting room with desserts (one of which was FABulous!!) and handicrafts to sell. I don’t think anyone bought any of the latter.
Globus (the tour company) had told us to bring about $200CAD to pay for the lunches the tour didn’t furnish. This lunch was $6. I was in line behind one of the three loud-mouthed tour guys (there's always someone), who paid in American money. He laughed as he did it. It was good American money, wasn’t it? The church clerk gave a pained chuckle and said she thought she might know a collector who would take it. Ugly Americans!!! Please, don’t be this guy. I doubt if he’d appreciate if someone paid him in Canadian cash back in Texas. I put an extra tip in their tip jar to try to make up for him.
We passed lots of places where the roads and bridges had had to be hurriedly rebuilt because of recent floods. There had been a LOT of snow in January, followed by a strange and sudden melt that had sent everything flowing to the sea as fast as it could. One town we went through had been cut off from civilization for seven days. Helicopters had to take dialysis patients to treatment and to bring in food.
Nfld had gotten about six inches of snow just two days before I arrived (late June). Despite the summer heat, some still stuck to high ridges.
I walked along the beautiful beach at small, circular Bottle Cove where I could look beyond the bounding ridges and see the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The place looked like I’d imagined the Pillars of Hercules: two rock ridges almost coming together, opening into the larger ocean.
It was windy but otherwise quite nice. We had very warm days and very cool ones and some that were both very cool and very windy. St. John’s, which is on the south side of Nfld, is the same latitude as Paris. Think of the island as about the 50th-plus degree of latitude. Anchorage in southern Alaska is about 60 degrees. It also rains a lot.
All along the route and by all kinds of people we were reminded that many, many Newfoundlanders commute almost 4000 miles to Ft. Murray, Alberta and the filthy oil sands there, along with the supporting businesses. Apparently those jobs pay very well. Many are six months on, six off, and people return home to Newfoundland, which is growing some very nice houses compared to what was there twenty or even ten years ago. The cod industry is still (sorry) floundering, due to the cod ecosystem collapsing thirty years ago. Though there was a moratorium, fishing cod is still difficult. There’s oil out there, though, so many Newfoundlanders (we were warned not to call them “Newfies.” Only a Newfie can say that word) work for oil, either locally or by the long commute to Alberta.
We returned to Corner Brook and the hotel for another night. Walking next to the woods above a small lake there in the late afternoon, I got a whiff of spruce that took me right back to Headless Hattie. That was the ghost story I’d heard way back when in that Girl Scout hut. Brr! It was a variation of the Twain Golden Arm story, but with a sawmill and people whose heads weren’t sawn quite all the way off, allowing great visual portrayal. (Picture Hogwarts’ Nearly Headless Nick, only through a preschooler’s terrified imagination.)
For dinner I walked up and then over, over, over, over to Shez [sic] West (on West St.), which had been recommended by just about everyone but warned that it was expensive. After that walk I was prepared to pay just about anything. Phew! They were open! I was the first/only customer there and sat down.
“What would you like to drink?” the hostess asked me. “Wait. I can tell by your accent [I have an accent?] that you want iced tea. I just finished brewing some.” Aiee! Iced tea – PROPER iced tea – in Canada! And it was GOOOOD. Shez West: recommended! There were mutant carrots in my salad, crosswise cut and a good five inches wide. Oh my, that northern growing season! It was an extremely reasonably priced and tasty seafood meal and I may have stuffed myself a bit more than I should have, burp. THIS was the meal I had imagined filling my vacation, the kind of dining that would take place in Newfoundland. Ah, if only that had been the case…
The next day we began to travel west on a road we hadn’t yet travelled and then north along Route 430, which would become the Viking Trail (“Canada’s Most Scenic Drive”). We stopped for this and that: beautiful harbors, lighthouses, Gros Morne Natl. Park (home of some lovely mountain range scenery). Too quickly all the harbors and lighthouses began to run together. For some we had high wind and bright sun. For others it was chilly, still overcast. Most of the time we saw glorious seascape after glorious beachscape out the bus windows. I was on the ocean side of the bus, yay. On our way back, due to daily seat rotation, I’d be on the land side, but it was raining hard that day so what did I care?
There are so many places on bus tours where you want the bus to stop so you can hop out and take pictures. Nope, you can’t do that. There were just so many pretty vistas! Eastern – or northern, for that matter – Nfld would make a nice place to visit for a prolonged plein air painting expedition some day. THAT’S what bus tours are good for: quick overviews of a place you’ve never been to, so you can decide what needs more exploration later, say, after retirement.
I saw buttercups that I remembered from my childhood as the wind ROARED around a pretty lighthouse. One local tour guide said that because Nfld only had six native mammals, it could make up for it with astounding variation in plant [and bird] life. I only noted the same flowers over and over (except for one show-off tree that was blooming in purple falls of blossom), but I will say that the round dandelion seed heads were the largest by far that I’ve ever seen!
That night we stayed at the Plum Point Inn, which claimed to have wifi. It didn’t work worth beans. Very few hotels in Nfld had decent wifi. I had taken a short video at one beach, and it took DAYS before we stayed somewhere with enough wifi to post it to Facebook.
Out on the road there are not that many choices for dinner, so usually we ordered via Annette’s menus, which she then called in two or three days in advance. Some meals were included; some weren’t. If I had to make a guess, I’d say that the meals that weren’t included were in areas where one could theoretically find another restaurant within fifteen minutes from where the bus stopped, which wasn’t all that great a choice because our meal stops were usually only an hour or so. I suppose the meals where we had really different choices on what to eat were the ones not included. I mean, there’s a daze to bus travel where after a certain point you do what they tell you to do. One hour for lunch. Bathrooms over there. Pay for lunch, don’t pay for lunch. You have three choices for dinner; pick one. Take for example, this one meal where I chose (two days before) the salmon chowder, which was divine. I also ordered the salisbury steak, which turned out to be bleah meatloaf.
There was a guy on the tour who boasted that he had every kind of drug known to mankind in his suitcase, and that if anyone needed anything he could furnish it. He also bought a LOT of booze. He is partially handicapped, I guess, as we got out a wheelchair for him when pavement allowed it. His wife had her bald head wrapped in a scarf. She’d recently had a hysterectomy and one day was not feeling good. We had to call a taxi from St. Anthony (which has a large medical complex) to meet us at the turn-off to l’Anse to take her to the hospital. St. Anthony checked her and said that she was good to go back to the tour, but days later when we all got to St. John’s the couple immediately went to see a doctor. They returned that night. A few days later they were due on a cruise.
Annette told us about one tour with a guy who had chest pains in the middle of the night. She had to arrange for an ambulance. At the local medical facility they recommended he go to St. Anthony, so she arranged a helicopter. Once at St. Anthony, they sent him back to the States for better medical treatment.
She was always scheduling things, making sure we had everything we needed. Meals needed to be ordered three days in advance. She’d call restaurants etc first thing in the morning – as in 4 or 5:00 – to remind them we were coming, then an hour or so before we arrived. This did not make an impression on too many of the establishments we went to, but she could legitimately yell at them if something screwed up and they would try to give her excuses. Some of the places the tour used to frequent had been dropped due to poor service, and we were trying out some new places to see how they functioned. She said she averaged about four hours of sleep a night, and that was all she needed. Her luggage was a tiny carry-on, the size of a large purse.
Yeesh, too many early starts! After Plum Point we had to catch the first ferry to Labrador, which meant for me that if I wanted to be ready to go I had to get up at 4:30, and I wasn’t quite acclimated to the time zone yet. The second time we had to catch the ferry I lounged in bed until 5 AM. Most days I got up at 5:30. On my vacation. Ugh.
One day we’d have roaring wind and rain! The next, as in the day we went to Labrador: fog. The ferry people said they’d had pea soup fog for six weeks. They’d blow the foghorn and it was eerie. The back of the boat saw some whales, but unlike whale-watching expeditions, no one spread the word so I didn’t see them.
We got off the ferry and were in Quebec. This slice of it is in the Atlantic Time Zone, which is ½ hour later than Newfoundland time. We drove about two miles down a road, which suddenly became pitted as we hit the border with Labrador. At that point we were on Newfoundland time. Lots of potholes. Lots. LOTS. And yes, lots of road construction to correct this.
The Labradoran landscape really showed off the Canadian shield: glacier-discarded boulders sat on top of crags like huge, mysterious bubbles. (Wish I could find those photos!) Vistas overlooked beautiful harbors. Quebec had wanted Labrador to consist of something like a 1-mile ribbon from the coast inward, but Labrador got the land from the Continental--or rather in this case, Peninsular--Divide to the Atlantic. So there, Quebec. Labrador is much larger in area than Newfoundland, but Nfld has by far the larger population.
On our first day in Nfld I’d managed to see a TV report about how the new hydroelectric system had just opened up within the past couple days. Seems that there’s a big falls in Labrador. It was too expensive for them to build a plant, so they teamed up with Quebec, people got conned, and now Quebec makes a lot of money off that electricity, but at least Newfoundland and Labrador have a better electricity source. It should have resulted in cheap energy for them, but thanks to Quebec, it’s actually a tad more expensive.
I kept asking: if Newfoundland is surrounded by major ocean currents, and if the wind blows all the time (I was assured it did), why didn’t it go for tidal and/or wind generators? Annette said that for the amount of money the new hydroelectric plant cost, every citizen of NL could have gotten their own personal wind generator. Our guide at St. John’s was pissed off at it all and said, “Don’t get me started,” then promised to tell me his take on it and how that certainly should be the case, but he never did.
|The icebergs were often an unearthly, luminous teal color that made them seem like someone had Photoshopped them badly onto the seascape. I think this shot was in Labrador...|
There was lots more snow in Labrador than in Newfoundland, close to road. There was ice next to my window at our hotel, and across our roof. There also seemed to be many more textures: lichens, boulders, rushing streams, surf, spruce, vines, snow, puddles, fog, clouds. I took pictures of as many as I could. I like textures!
We visited the lighthouse at Point Amour (formerly “Pointe-aux-Morts” or “dead man’s point” due to numerous shipwrecks). Back in 1902, the HMS Raleigh thought the local rivers would be fine for its officers to do a little fishing in. Instead, in the fog, the ship ran aground. Trying to get ashore, ten sailors died. The remaining 700 were cared for by the lighthouse family until help from Montreal came. You can still see pieces of the ship on the beach.
L’Anse (l’anse = “cove”) Amour also has another historic site. The rough drive to the lighthouse from the highway takes you past an almost unnoticeable mound. It’s the gravesite of a Maritime Archaic teenaged boy. He was buried in a ceremonial fashion with artifacts. The grave is from 6100 to 6600 BCE, and is the earliest known funeral monument in the Western Hemisphere. RIP. I think they said he had been about 16.
There are gorgeous rivers, cliffs and harbors in Labrador, but darn it, we couldn’t stop to take pictures. By this time I’d discovered that every tourist stop had the same souvenirs. None seemed particularly take-home-able. Tee shirts didn’t have the same panache as the ones on my other bus tours. NL should work on this!
That night we dined in the hotel. Our poor waiter, Mario! Thirty-three pre-ordered dinners and only he was taking side orders, distributing the various courses, and serving hot drinks. The last table got their entrees 45 minutes after we did, and tea didn’t arrive until just before dessert was served. Who arranges the staff like that? We were taking bets that he was also doing the cooking back there.
The next morning we caught the earliest ferry to return to Newfoundland. It was Canada Day! It was also Newfoundland Memorial Day, as they remember the 700 soldiers who were lost on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. At noon after the memorial services are over, the Canadian flag is raised, and Canada Day officially begins in the province.
This time the sun was out. We turned left/north at the highway and headed past more glorious coastline (you could see Labrador in the distance) for a few hours to an area where a large sign by the road said, “Welcome to Vinland!” They’re serious; that’s what the region is known as these days. You start seeing Viking words as part of bar names and car dealerships, umlauts over Os in English words, and Mjolnir shows up on signs here and there, along with cartoon Viking types sporting horned helmets. Though I looked hard, I never saw Chris Hemsworth, darn it.
At l’Anse aux Meadows I SAW LEIF ERICSON’S FREAKING HOUSE!!! It’s just the foundations, and keep in mind that archaeologists have been there and excavated 3 feet below ground level and then filled things back in, but you can clearly see the house’s outlines. Our guide told us that as an employee of Canada Parks she couldn’t say this was Leif’s house, but if we went to ANY of the archaeologists in the area they’d be glad to assure us that this was so.
Leif was Eric the Red’s explorer son who discovered Vinland, the land of grapes and forests. Nowadays people don’t think l’Anse aux Meadows or Newfoundland is Vinland, but rather a repair point for Norse ships traveling between wherever that was and Greenland. Read about Leif, the first European in the Western Hemisphere, on Wiki.
Canada Parks has a reconstructed Norse complex with a few costumed actors (and a guy in a Canada Parks beaver suit) strolling about, explaining things and posing for pictures. People had really been crammed into the houses back then. I finally discovered what a sod house was. I’d read about such in American history, as many prairie folks built them, but I could never figure out just what they were talking about. You take thick-sodded ground and cut into it, making very hefty, rectangular bricks of solid dirt that holds together. Then you stack them as if they were bricks, making sure you alternate them so seams don’t match up. At l’Anse these bricks were quite thick! I could see how they would keep the elements out.
I almost talked a cute Viking – excuse me, Norseman since these guys weren’t warriors – into coming home with me, but he said that Norsemen needed good healthcare, and he couldn’t get that in NC. Darn it!
This place had a lot of scrub and lichen, with tiny streams running this way and that down to the beach. We were told that 1000 years ago there were good forests and deep water in the cove. It would have been the perfect place to set up a station to repair Norse ships. In a few days at the site a group would try smelting bog iron like the Norse had. Back then they’d made it into nails. I think this would be the second attempt since L’Anse was discovered. I haven't been able to find out how this time went.
The first European kid born in the Western Hemisphere was a guy named Snorri. I need to research to see if he was the one who recorded some basic Norse myths. Probably not; it might have been a common name.
We detoured to catch some great iceberg shots. Annette had an app that tracked icebergs. We spotted some moose as well as whales. There were also some home flag poles wrapped with lights to celebrate Canada Day, plus one inflatable lawn decoration (just like our Xmas yard decor) that depicted a moose in a Canada tee shirt, holding two Canadian flags. Oh, Canada!
After the beautiful afternoon, fog quickly began settling around us in higher areas. We saw an iceberg just off the edge of the land near St. Andrews (which FYI has a large medical community), but could barely make it out because the fog was so thick. As soon as that fog hit the land it disappeared. Weird. Newfoundland and especially Labrador had the BEST fogs and clouds. Dramatic! Reaching down and touching the ground here, yet leaving things clear just over there. It looked unreal, fantastical.
We went back down the west coast because that was the only good way (there’s another highway circling around, but that road is supposed to be really bad), and because this way had the bathrooms. At lunch I had my first cod au gratin. So good! I’ve since gotten a recipe and prepared it at home. Yum! Our guide in St. John’s said that cod was the fish that ships best of all of them. It packs well, stores a very long time, and can be reconstituted easily. Any culture can put their own signature on cod as well. He also said that not only did over-fishing kill the cod industry back in the 80s, but also completely and unnecessarily destroyed the ocean floor and habitats there. It’s still doing that today. He’s furious about it.
Trivia: Newfoundland is populated primarily by the descendants of only two cities in England: Bristol and Waterford, plus the Chinese who came in to help with the railroad and the Mi’kmaq, who first showed up in the 1600s (possibly before the Europeans, possibly just after). The new province voted for right-hand driving in 1947. This was because they could only get cars and buses from the US.
We went to sandy (no rocks!) Shallow Bay Beach that was either IN Gros Morne or very close to it. It was windy but the water was a pleasant temperature, and people were out in the surf having a good time.
Our tour had four women from Singapore. Though friendly, they kept pretty much to themselves, but they took photos of EVERYTHING. All the time. The four had to pass their dinner plates to the chief woman, who diligently took photos. On the bus that woman kept dropping her camera because she couldn’t bear to set it down, maybe (gasp) stop taking photos, while she dozed. Over and over and over that camera would fall to the floor. In St. John’s she was so busy taking pictures at this one “let’s look at a fishing boat” stop that she wasn’t watching where she was going and took a pretty nasty spill on the dock. She was up and about at the next stop, furiously taking more pictures. When is too much?
We finally got off the Viking Trail highway and set off east across the middle (or northern middle) of the island. After a very long while through scrubby forests we stopped at Great Falls to see the salmon ladders. They said something about a lot of rain so they’d closed off some of the ladders, but I still saw one fish leap (WOW!) into the ladder above it, and another one try at a closed one. The place had a museum of salmon, including tanks of babies. They’d had a temperature malfunction the day before and all the babies had died. How does a scientific facility fail to keep fish tanks safely cool?
We learned that Atlantic salmon didn’t have as much oil as their Pacific cousins, so were much drier to eat. They return again and again to spawn because they’ve got a special gland or something that releases salt when they’re in fresh water, keeping them alive. There’s only one type of Atlantic salmon, whereas there are five types of Pacific. None of the Pacific salmon survive their first trip to spawn. Hunh.
We kept seeing flags striped pink, white and green. Turned out these were the Republic of Newfoundland flag, a protest of NL belonging to Canada. The vote back in (mumble… 1947?) had been fairly close. Recently NL had designed its own flag. It’s got a kind of negative Union Jack in it, since Newfoundland was England’s very first colony. There are two red triangles, one to symbolize Newfoundland and one for Labrador. Plus there’s a yellow arrow “leading to the future.” Anyway, we all made note of the fact that since that flag was designed, Labrador has come up with its own flag as a way of saying "Nyah" to Newfoundland. After that the Republic flag began to pop up.
In Great Falls they’re offering incentives to pretty-fy houses and businesses, hoping to attract tourists. Let’s face it, the east-west highway in Newfoundland is BORING. I got a lot of reading done (Neal Gaiman’s Norse Mythology— Splendid, fast-moving! RECOMMENDED!!!!! ), and Annette put on a video about Gander and 911. There were a handful of airports who helped people stranded during 911 (a Vancouver tour director drove her stranded senior clients well over 1000 miles back to their US homes, then drove herself back), but Gander was the place where the community stepped forward with personal touches. They did laundry, offered mattresses, let people shower in their homes, set up high schools to take care of everyone, cooked meals for them, etc. Later, people from the planes donated to help Gander’s emergency services and to set up scholarship funds. Some became BFFs with the Gander folks.
Annette also showed us some great videos about a lady in Newfoundland who will cook any varmint her hunting husband brings home (although that beaver tail disintegrated when she set it in a campfire) and one with a woman in her late 80s who did EVERYTHING around her house: hunt, maintain fences, shovel four feet of snow off the roof. Her husband sat in the living room in his La-Z-Boy. I thanked heaven that her son and grandson lived nearby to keep track of her. We watched avidly because central Nfld. was all forest, forest, forest, up and down, up and down.
Our tour director assured us that Gander is NL’s most boring city. At least there our hotel was actually somewhere.There was a strip mall across the street! For some reason it closed very early except for the Dollar Store. I shopped there for some paper and, it turned out in a second trip, socks, as I’d luckily (thanks, Guides!) taken a few minutes to rearrange ye luggage and discovered just in time that I hadn’t packed enough! Now I have socks out the wazzoo! Also: the Gander hotel had decent wifi. Finally!
We took another left and traveled up to the Twillingate (Fr: Toulinquet) Islands, a bunch of small islands connected with bridges. It was a fairly pleasant area, with nothing special… except THE EDGE OF THE WORLD!!!
Darn it, we drove past the turn-off to the Fogo Island ferry. If we had gone and then driven an hour or more north, we could have arrived at Brimstone Head. Here is where one of the four corners of the Flat Earth lies. Or maybe it’s just off the coast. Something like that. Anyway, we MISSED IT. If you want to read more, here’s an article. Looks like the locals have a lot of fun with the concept. Fogo’s also the island where one of the locals struck it rich and returned to help around the community as well as build a very hoity hotel that is the ultimate foo-foo. Okay then.
|No, this isn't at the edge of the world. This is at Bonavista.|
|...and this is why.|
At Terra Nova or Cape Bonavista or somewhere we learned that a chunk of the Canadian Shield broke off a few million years or so ago. There was a piece of Africa hanging around and the two bonked together. That’s why Newfoundland has three distinct geologic areas: the west coast (shield), the east coast (Africa), and the sedimentary rock they squeezed up between them.
Somewhere we went for a boat ride (we had a lot of those) to watch for whales and look at puffins. There was only one whale we could really see, and when I looked, I couldn’t see the puffins’ colors, though it was mating season and colors should have been at their brightest. However, I could see that puffins’ wings flap twice as fast as the other birds’ in the area. Puffins can’t fly worth beans, we were told, but they can dive deep into the water like anything.
We stopped for the night at Clarenville, a “test” hotel for Globus. I loved my room. It had the most comfortable reading chair of the trip, complete with a foot stool, ahh. But my dinner salad had broken glass in it. I think. I peered at the largest piece I’d spat out. It was hard, the size of a pebble and clear, made up of layers of clear material. Glass? Quartz? It came with a lot of sharp grit, seemed like a good teaspoonful.
I called the lady in charge of the dining room over. She took my napkin, into which I’d spat everything, to the chef. He declared it was a radish. “We get them from the farmers’ market but really, it’s rare that we add them to a salad. That’s the way they are.” Seriously? If radishes were like this, like eating broken glass, why would you use them?
I’d heard other people talking about how the young wait staff had no idea how to do their job. (Bus tour people can get MEAN about things. We've been cooped up.) I’d seen TV shows where the wait staff made the salads. I suggested that perhaps the restaurant needed to train its staff to wash veggies better. This woman got red-faced FURIOUS: “How dare you insult my staff? The waiters don’t prepare salad!” instead of apologizing for what had been in my salad. No, it was MY fault for blaming her people.
“It was a radish,” she insisted. It was GLASS. Or something very akin to glass.
The guy on our tour who used a wheelchair when he could and his wife, the lady just coming off chemo, had called when they’d booked the trip to make sure all hotels had handicap-accessible rooms. Yep. They’d called this particular hotel a week before, personally, to make sure. Yep. They’d called that morning. Yep. Do I even have to tell you that the room they were given was NOT accessible? They went to the front desk, which told them oops, here’s an accessible room. It wasn’t. But there was nothing else available, so they did what they could with it.
Clarenville Inn, Clarenville, NL. I mean, FYI. Globus had stopped using the other hotel in town because of problems. How bad could those have been?
I’m sorry, but by now EVERYTHING was running together. One of our crew, a nice British lady, told me that when she’d toured Italy they’d gotten a “day off” in the middle just to lie on the beach, walk around town, or maybe even lie in their beds all day. Sounds like a good idea to me. I can recall others (including me) on my Alaska cruise saying that after a certain amount of time they were “glaciered out.” Things in Nfld just turned into more coasts and more coasts and here’s yet another fishing museum and such. I was getting numb.
|Trinity church.It's been used in some movies.|
We came to the town of Trinity, which was one of Annette’s favorite places. How I wished we’d been able to stop above the town to take pictures! Lovely. (Or was that the town at Bonne Bay where we took yet another boat ride?) Like all our lunches, the one here had been arranged and ordered days before. Annette had been in touch at least twice this day, telling the owners of the Dock Marina Restaurant when our bus would arrive. We arrived when we said we would. And sat in the dining room. And sat. I never did get half my order. This one tall guy just STOOD behind the counter in the corner, glaring at us. I was going over to complain, but what would that do? We only paid for what we actually got.
Annette had a FIRM discussion with the owner afterward. Turns out: Locals had been complaining that buses got priority at his place, so he’d hired a Consultant to figure a way to serve both kinds of customers. Consultant was Staring Guy. This was the first day of implementation. Things were going as wrong as they could go, and nothing was done to adjust The Plan.
Since I’d missed out on half my lunch, I walked across the dock and got some GLORIOUS, hand-made, chocolate-covered liquid caramels. Aunt Sarah's Chocolate. Oh my, they were decadent! Best ever!!! I then went strolling with the tour group and local guide but became aware of Certain Immediate Needs and made my own path to the public restrooms. Which were locked. By then maybe I could hold it until I got back to the restaurant, but there was a gift shop above that restaurant that I wandered into. They advertised facilities for tourists, thank you very much! They also had some really nice artsy as well as craftsy stuff. There were some paintings in a style I’d begun to recognize. This artist was excellent, and apparently getting good coverage across the island, but I’d swear that one particular painting I’d seen before. His prices were also much lower than I’d think for a smartly-matted and framed painting.
|No, this isn't the painting. I'm trying to space out shots to break up the copy here.|
“Is this a print?” I asked, and was told it was. In that case, his prices were damned high. Well, maybe he was having to pay a high commission. Some places charge 50%, you know. The label should have indicated that this was a print and told how big the edition was. The print itself was not labelled as to number. Wah-wah. Cheating customers, naughty. Still I took a business card because their jewelry was lovely. (Their website isn't working or I'd post it.)
Around the corner and up up up a hill and then down a bunch of steps was another gallery, Mirabella, run by a woman who made the wide variety of things in it. Some GORGEOUS jewelry. I took a card there as well because I’d recently gotten a bunch of jewelry (I had a thing going for about a month there, ca-ching), and I really don’t have anywhere to wear the stuff. But it was indeed GORGEOUS and not that expensive.
One of our group, Svetlana, turned 80 on the first day of our tour. You could barely understand her, as she was raised in Poland or some such. (She sounded like Dr. Ruth.) She was always fussing over her husband, who is 89 and doesn’t get around well. Mostly he either found a bench or sat on the bus, as he did this day. After his wife tried unsuccessfully to get him to eat cherry ice cream, his favorite, he privately told me with a quiet smile that he goes on these tours to make his wife happy. Aww!
Finally we were on our last full day of the tour. On the way to St. John’s Annette played The Grand Seduction, a movie that had been filmed in the Trinity area. It was a chuckly thing, but I missed a few bits because, well, we were on a bus and Annette kept speaking over the soundtrack with discussion of our increasingly interesting surroundings. Finally as the movie, which was about how an entire town was trying to con a doctor into moving there so they could fulfill that item in a contract with an oil company so citizens would be able to work again, anyway where was I? As the movie was getting to the Big Black Moment, Annette shut it off because we were approaching civilization and she wanted to talk full tilt.
|Cape Spear. I think I took this pic not only to show the platform, but the far bit of land there, where you should be able to see Cabot Tower, but I really don't see it in this photo. You could spot it very well in person.|
That was where we headed to next, in St. John’s. On the way I asked Annette if we could see the end of the movie. She seemed surprised that we’d want to know how things turned out for the town and the doctor. She took a vote and we got to watch. The movie ended just as we arrived in St. John’s, but I missed the big turning point and couldn’t figure how things ended as they did. I’ll have to track down the film and watch it.
St. John’s Cabot Tower is high above the city and its protected harbor. The freezing wind was also quite strong here – so strong that I didn’t walk beyond the main building there in fear of being blown off the side. There was one skinny teenage girl who was walking on the top of some low walls that had warning signs on them. I don’t see how she survived. Looking for a Darwin Award?
John Cabot was the Italian buddy of Columbus (he anglicized his name when he went to work for the English) who discovered Newfoundland and made it England’s very first colony.
|View from Cabot Tower. Watch out for that first step...|
St. John’s is a nice little city with interesting buildings and a harbor that makes a sharp turn. Its cliffs have been drilled to create warehouses to store all kinds of things through the centuries, including munitions during WWII. Our hotel was located right on the edge of downtown, but was under Major Redecorating Construction.
That afternoon before dinner I ambled over to the room bathroom and had to stop in the doorway. Something was off. I looked under the sink. I checked for hidden doors in the cabinetry. I called the front desk. “There’s no toilet paper in my room.” “Oh, the maid didn’t leave you any?” “No, likely because there’s nowhere to put it.” There was no toilet paper holder! Soon enough Housekeeping showed up and giggled that the maid must have forgotten to supply the room. (!) I practically had to drag the woman in to get her to see. She giggled some more. “Some of our rooms don’t have toilet paper holders yet.” “Why are they putting people in those rooms then?” Giggle. Shrug. I was the only one on our tour who didn't get paper, but almost everyone didn't have TP holders. Pshee!
The next day there were costumed bands, reinactors and such around the Cabot Tower celebrating (mumble mumble; can’t recall the special day) but the kids in them were really enthusiastic and quite good. Right below this area is a geological museum where I bought a nice crystal. It’s plain quartz, but it’s blue. Cool. But we only went to the museum because it had bathrooms and they would let us in to use them (and the gift shop) without having to pay admission.
I kissed a cod. (And I didn’t like it.) But I’m now an official Newfoundland screecher. The previous night’s dinner (not a part of the tour) in the hotel restaurant was superb from first bite to last. This night we had our farewell dinner in a special room. The chowder was bleh so I was looking forward to the steak. We’d had the worst steak ever a few nights before. Tonight’s was only better than that in that it was a bit thicker. Ah, bus tours!
Our entertainment was an insanely talented singer/guitarist from a local improv group. She set up inches behind my chair. If I’d known, I’d have sat on the opposite side of the room so I could have enjoyed the music. After she took off we held the Screech Ceremony, where you have to learn to say something like a Newfoundlander (which means you have to say "by" [b'y: "boy," the equivalent of the Canadian "eh"] a lot) and they pass around a dead fish to kiss. Then everyone drinks booze.
As we left, the couple next to me just happened to mention that the hotel provided boxed breakfasts for those who were leaving early. We both were departing in the middle of the night so I got one, utilizing my final tour breakfast ticket. As was pointed out by others, the box contained many substances that would not make it beyond the first security point. I ate what I could before then, and took the rest (packaged bars, an apple, etc.) in my carry-on. It was all tasty stuff, so thanks, Delta Hotel! May you get everything fixed soon.
|Quidi Vidi ("kiddy viddy"), a suburb of St. John's renowned for its beer microbrewery.|
At Toronto before the final leg home, I didn’t know if the walk to get to Customs, much less get THROUGH it, would ever end. I didn’t see how those with walking problems would make it. Thankfully toward the end I found an elevator and went downstairs to access the US gates, but even there it was walk walk walk. There were only two cafes open for all US traffic to use, and lines wound back and back.
Got a lunch and sat down. Eventually I noticed an actual unattended bag sitting two chairs away. I looked around and couldn't see any security personnel to contact, so I spotted a guy in a pilot's uniform and told him. He seemed as confused as I as to whom to contact, but I’d done my job and reported the problem. My plane was boarding. Where was security?
Got home, whew. 1113 pictures of the trip. Surely I can get some paintings out of them? I checked out a lot of them saying, "Where the heck was this?" Taking photos of place signs ("Welcome to Killgutt" or "Barfbag National Monument") is helpful and I noticed that quite a few others on the bus also used this method. Sometimes I didn't have access to a place sign, though, and by the last days of the trip had burned out on taking notes. Guess I’ll have to assign some to folders titled “pretty beaches” and “interesting houses.”