MUCH TO SAY ABOUT ST. JOHN’S, NF

This entry is part 8 of 16 in the seriesThe Canadian Atlantic Provinces

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

NO, we haven’t taken a vacation from our vacation in the Canadian Maritimes.  We’ve just been so involved with our trip that I: 1) haven’t had much time to write, and 2) we’ve seen so much worth writing about I’m developing writer’s block about where to start.

Just looking at over the center of St. John's, Newfoundland, brings a sense of excitement. It's a beautiful city with lots to do and learn.

Just looking at over the center of St. John’s, Newfoundland, brings a sense of excitement. It’s a beautiful city with lots to do and learn.

So, although it’s out of chronological order, I will mention St. John’s, Newfoundland.  So many interesting things to see and do.  I’ll start with a picture of Jellybean houses, which

Jellybean Row

Jellybean Row

remind me of Christo Art.  You remember Christo.  He’s the artist who wraps buildings and puts umbrellas along hills for miles. My Jellybean Houses photo tells the story, except to say this was an idea that the city launched in the ‘50s to brighten up their lives.

Then there’s the Veiled Virgin, the most exquisite statue I’ve ever seen.  It’s in the Convent

Incredible Sculpting

Incredible Sculpting

on the grounds of the Basilica of St. John, and open to the public during very limited hours.  It’s a sculpture by Giovanni Strazza from a single piece of marble, with the Virgin’s face behind a veil of marble so thin it’s hard to believe it’s not tulle.  You may not want to base a trip to Newfoundland on seeing that, but if your travels take you in the area, you don’t want to miss it.

Poutine, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, is

Our bucket of poutine

Our bucket of poutine

a local dish of French fries with gravy and curds.  While wandering on Water Street where the city’s classiest restaurants have long lines of tourists and locals waiting to dine, Monique and I were drawn to Smokey’s Poutinerie, which fits into the street like Spike Jones and the City Slickers playing next to the London Symphony.

Being in Newfoundland and wanting to soak up Atlantic Provinces cuisine, we looked in, then went in, then, to our surprise, we ordered one of the 20 or so versions of poutine.  We got the Philly Cheese Steak poutine, which included the basics plus meat, red peppers, onions and mushrooms.  We did this, of course, to be in a position to advise RV.com readers.  Conclusion:  we won’t do it again, but that’s our personal taste.

We spent three days in St. John’s, hardly enough time to really get to know the oldest seaport in the New World, and yet, we did the town up right.  Rather than try to relate it all, I’ll summarize a few experiences:

Geo Centre Planets - 4961The Geo Centre, a very interesting exhibit building that put us literally in contact with some of the oldest geology on Earth.  A beautiful museum that provides an excellent opportunity to  get to know rocks and how the Maritimes separated from Africa.

The stately Cabot Tower reigns over the town as did Queen Victoria year's earlier.

The stately Cabot Tower reigns over the town as did Queen Victoria year’s earlier.

The Cabot Tower, honoring the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign, overlooks the Narrows, a passage from the Atlantic into the harbor, where German U-boats patrolled blowing up merchant vessels heading for Europe.  And across the Narrows is Cape Spear, the easternmost point in North America.

Nearby, a road passes along steep cliffs, famous for the caves where wine was stored at perfect temperatures before being exported.  Not a biggie on

One of the caves where wine was stored is sealed behind a steel door.

One of the caves where wine was stored is sealed behind a steel door.

getting to know the city, but interesting.  And leaving the Cabot Tower, we passed the visitors center, where a reenactment of military hostilities between the British and French was staged.  Lots of drums, fifes and booms.

The Rooms is a museum, whose modern exterior is out-of-place with the quaintness of the city, but inside are some excellent exhibits, all connected by an impressive three-story atrium.  The theme is the historical fishing industry of St. John’s but it goes much further.

We went out on a boat whale-hunting.  We not only didn’t harpoon any, we didn’t see any.  Captain Barry explained that the whales sense bad weather and head for deeper waters.  The bad weather arrived a few minutes later.  A few puffins and other northern birds provided some wildlife experience.

Young troops prepare for battle -- in truth, the actual soldiers were probably not any older than these young men.

Young troops prepare for battle — in truth, the actual soldiers were probably not any older than these young men.

 Two more eating opportunities.  Walking out the back door of the Geo Centre, we happened upon a small field of blueberries lining the pathway.  We munched our way back to the truck.,  The other – a stop by a recommended local fish & chips chain restaurant.  We did not find that it added to the flavor of our visit, primarily because we didn’t detect any flavor at all.  But,

Picking berries

Picking berries

they did give us a certificate commemorating our first time at the restaurant. Water Street would have been a better choice.

What have you learned here?  Don’t miss St. John’s.  I’ll have some more tips on our journey among one of North America’s most attractive and attracting lands.  As our caravan draws to a close in a few days, I can say we are finding that almost everyday brings new interest and excitement, which I will draw upon for the next few blogs in this series.

At North America's Easternmost Point

At North America’s Easternmost Point

P.S.  Before ending, I want to clarify one of my misstatements.  I assumed that all those bays, inlets, coves, fiords, etc., I wrote about earlier were salt water because they empty into the ocean or its tributaries.  I have since learned that many are fresh or brackish water.   I’ll say again the shorelines along those little villages and remote areas are some of the most enchanting scenery you’ll see anywhere.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

ACTIVE AND PASSIVE SIDES OF NEWFOUNDLAND

This entry is part 5 of 16 in the seriesThe Canadian Atlantic Provinces

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

The stone lighthouse bathed in a misty cloud was worth the climb

The stone lighthouse bathed in a misty cloud was worth the climb

We were “C.F.A.”s — now we are “Newfies.”  We are in Newfoundland [pronounced New’finLAND], which, along with its sister Labrador, is one of the places I was most interested in visiting on this six-month journey.

Okay, before getting to the topics of this blog, I’ll explain that a “C.F.A.” means to Newfoundlanders that we “Come From Away,” local jargon for tourist.    We qualify as “Newfies” because we have been “screeched-in,” meaning that we participated in and survived a ceremony that tested our mettle in this rugged area in the North Atlantic.

OUR ACTIVE ENDEAVORS

We continue our travels through the Maritime Provinces of Canada, staying busy with

Like Moby Dick, the giant white ferry swallowed up dozens of RVs, cars and trucks

Like Moby Dick, the giant white ferry swallowed up dozens of RVs, cars and trucks

exploration, discovery, history and culture, thanks to the itinerary of our Fantasy RV Tours caravan.  Two days ago we boarded a monster ferry boat for a 5½-hour passage across the Gulf of Cabot from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland.  After passing a lighthouse perched on a jetty, for the remainder of the trip we were enveloped in fog.  That may sound like a downer, but the ferry is practically luxurious, with very comfortable seats and features like TVs, Internet, a café, a restaurant, a gift shop and more.

Can you imagine a giant parking garage on the high seas?  Our 50-foot-long truck-trailer rig was swallowed up in the immense parking area on Level 3, along with cars, motorhomes and commercial 18-wheelers.

It was pitch dark when we disembarked at Port Aux Basques.  We followed instructions for about 25 miles to our campground, where we were greeted by owner Dennis Keepings, who instructed us how to reach our designated campsite.

A very few hours later, we were up again boarding a bus for a tour of the southwestern part of the immense island of Newfoundland.  An astounding fact:  the province (without Labrador) is larger than Japan.  And another one:  There are 1,000 communities in the province, some of which consist of just a few houses in the wilds.

The tour took us many miles along isolated two-lane roads.  Predominant scenery was the dark blue and green-blue ocean on one side, with very green rolling hills on the other, and stunning glistening ponds of all sizes and shapes in between.  Presenting our lesson in Newfie culture on the tour bus was Alice, wife of Dennis, a multi-talented hostess and six-generation (at least) local.

After the tour, the fun began!  Alice and Dennis teamed up to conduct the Screech-In.  Rather than regale you with the details, I’ll save that for your visit.  What I will say is that it was a hoot!  Even the most complacent in our group were roaring with laughter and enjoying the passage from C.F.A. to Newfie.

Part of the rigorous induction ceremony at the solemn Screen In involved exertion and careful stepping.

Part of the rigorous induction ceremony at the solemn Screen In involved exertion and careful stepping.

Yesterday we discovered another North American time zone.  In addition to the four in continental U.S., and another in Alaska, we went through Atlantic time and have now set our clocks/watches ahead another half-hour for Newfoundland time.  Yes, there is a Newfoundland Time Zone, so when it’s 8:30 here, it’s 7:00 in New York.  No one seems to know why.

POUTINE … IT RHYMES WITH CUISINE

Tonight’s dinner for caravan members was moose stew.  It tasted exactly like beef stew.  But not “everyting” (that’s how they talk up here) … not everyting to eat is what you’re used to.

We haven’t tried “poutine,” nor are we eager to.  Poutine is an indigenous concoction of the Maritimes that starts with French fries covered with melted curds (or cottage cheese).  Over that is poured gravy, and then other things are added to individualize it.  I found out that poutine probably is derived from the Middle English “pudding,” to which it has no resemblance.

Dulse.  UGH!  This is not only an acquired taste, but even handling the smell is a challenge.  Dulse is seaweed, specially prepared as a snack.  It is even used in tea, but it’s certainly not my cup of …  and we have yet to see a “fiddlehead,” but it has been described to me as a sort of asparagus with a top that is in the shape of a fiddle.

I’ve mentioned lobster rolls in an earlier blog, found throughout Coastal New England, which is primarily lobster with a bit of mayo on a bun. Today we had our first “McLobster Roll” under the Golden Arches, “From the waters of Atlantic Canada, succulent lobster meat combined with celery, green onions, and light mayonnaise-style sauce with a hint of lemon, on top of a bed of shredded lettuce.”  We like Monique’s version better.

PASSIVE NEWFOUNDLAND

Ponds and hills form the beautiful serene countryside of Newfoundland

Ponds and hills form the beautiful serene countryside of Newfoundland

We walk through museums (several on this trip), viewing paintings and sculptures contemplating what the more interesting ones mean to us.  Sometimes the name of the work indicates the artist’s intention, but not always, and often it’s something like “Woman in Thought.”  No help.

Caravan travel like ours includes tours of cities and rural areas, where we get to visit places of local importance or beauty.  We could do that on our own, of course, and it would provide a conceptual memory for us, but like having explanations with artwork, we find greater value in knowing what’s around us through facts and yarns.  In most cases, we would not have embarked on multiple tours on our own; yet, when the group boards a tour bus to sightsee, we almost always learn a lot from the guide’s narration.

Traveling the winding roads through Southwestern Newfoundland, we had a sampling of what the area is all about.  We walked up to a stone lighthouse; saw a countryside that is beautiful and fascinating.  We constantly passed small dark blue freshwater lakes and ponds with a backdrop of hillsides and even mountains with patches of snow still evident in mid-July.  A few waterfalls, a few rushing brooks.

Alice, our guide, assured us that the people are the friendliest here, always willing to help their brethren.  I saw five fishermen sitting atop tables along a dock and ventured forward to chat with them.  After my initial introduction of “Hi, I’m a tourist” (which causes Monique to cringe), I was surprised to find them very congenial, answering my questions and asking about me.  Alice was proven right.

DOZENS OF OPPORTUNITIES

One point I want to emphasize is that although we are with a group following schedules made up far in advance, we still get to venture out on our own, such as today’s side trip to see The Arches, a dramatic rock formation at the seashore.  There aren’t that many towns along the way, but we are able to stop as we please, shop as we please, or just move on to the evening’s destination.

Quietly enjoying the grassy hillside along the Gulf of Cabot was a lone caribou.

Quietly enjoying the grassy hillside along the Gulf of Cabot was a lone caribou.

We continue to develop friendships with our fellow travelers, still having to overcome not remembering all the names, but we seem to know who is interested in what and even most of the dogs by their masters.  We enjoy the companionship, while still taking advantage of chances to often be on our own.

A final note.  I really enjoyed reading the book “Shipping News” (made into a movie) about a family that moved to Newfoundland.  According to Alice, it could have been set anywhere in the province, but probably was totally made up.  A disappointment, but at least we got to see Jesse Stone’s bridge in Nova Scotia.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

NOTE: As we prepare to board a ferry to Labrador, I have had a few minutes to prepare this article AND Internet connection.  At each stop, we grapple with the question of whether we will have WiFi and cellphone service.  In at least half, we’ve had both.

COMMENTS to previous blogs:

[Excepted] FROM MARY HANSEN — “As of today, Saturday, we have been to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland-Labrador, with Prince Edwards Island scheduled for two weeks from now.

And thanks to CHARLIE WEBBER for his advice to travelers:  “We also work at the Halifax West KOA and know that their reservations for the summer are going heavy at present, so that might be an indicator for other campgrounds in that part of Nova Scotia. Having in mind your planned travel to the Canadian Maritimes you might want to consider reservations.”