Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Finally . . . The Rest of Nova Scotia: September 19 - 28, 2014

And finally we wrap up our Great Maritime Drive of 2014:

We were sad to leave Cape Breton . . . but were promptly reminded why we like to travel: Because the next place just might be your Next Favorite Place. You just don't know 'till you get there.
On mainland Nova Scotia we found two Favorite Places: the "big city" of Halifax and the UNESCO-site town of Lunenburg. We also visited Peggy's Cove with a lot of other tourists and Yarmouth which is a good place to catch a car ferry to Maine and hear some fine Acadian music. 


Halifax has a rich and sometimes sorrowful history. It was a center for privateers offering entrepreneurial assistance to the British navy in the early 18th century. Later in that century it became a prosperous merchant harbor and home for the largest group of Black Loyalists (slaves who fought for the British during the American Revolution in exchange for transport to and freedom in Canada). The victims of the Titanic disaster were brought to shore there in 1912 and many are buried at local cemeteries. In 1917 Halifax was the site of the largest man-made explosion prior to the development of nuclear weapons - most of the northern end of the town was leveled by the explosion of a munitions ship. 

Today Halifax is the home of six universities and is reported to have the most bars per capita of any Canadian city. Coincidence? We think not. 

A Classier Drinking Hole Than We Had During University . . . 

It also has a lively tourist waterfront, 

Cruise Ship Looming Over Halifax Harbor

a number of interesting museums, some good restaurants and a really, really good small grocery chain (Pete's). We highly recommend Halifax as a place to visit and even as a place to live if you don't mind the cold.


We stayed at a Homewood Suites only a few blocks from the Halifax Citadel where we had a swell harbor view from a 14th floor suite-ette. 

Our Cool, Industrial View

We enjoyed the view, space and kitchen so much that we ate dinner "at home" three of our five nights, which is how we came to know and love Pete's. Ah, the joy of a grocery-store take-out salad and entree after eating in restaurants for three weeks! 

As we were enjoying one of our "at home" dinners we concluded that we prefer recently opened "minimal service" hotels (no restaurant, no bar, no "activities") when we can find them to just about any other type of accommodation that we can afford. They are repetitive (a Hampton Inn is a Hampton Inn is a . . .) but bed and breakfasts - which invariably require negotiating time in a closet-sized bathroom wedged into Victorian era house - do not improve our relationship. 

And these chains offer points to use in the "travel points game" - how cool is that?


Halifax has lots of things to see and do - too many for our five days. But we did our best, and managed to fit in visits to:

The Halifax Citadel National Historic Site:  There's a reason that this fort is Canada's most visited national historic site (or so say certain guide books). Even when it's windy and cold (we speak from experience) it is a fun day for those who like history lite -- enthusiastic young guides; historic reenactments; red uniforms; and big canons.

One of our young guides was a student at one of the area's six universities. In addition to giving us a lot of information about the fort (completed in its current stone-walled star shape in 1861) he explained the most important use of the large (but blunt) dagger he carried -- to keep the back of his kilt from flying up in the wind!  

Our Tough-Kneed Young Guide

One of the big canons is fired on the quarter hour during the changing of the guard. 

The Canon Is Rolled Out . . . 

And Off It Goes

The Changing of the Guard
[Reenactors of Both Genders Stand Guard - How Anachronistic!]

In one section of the fort there is the Army Museum, which describes the contributions of the citizens of Halfax to Canada's (and England's) military efforts. During this year - the centenary of the commencement of The War To End All Wars - a lot of attention was paid to World War I artifacts. We were particularly struck by the beauty of the deadly Gatling Gun on display. 

Putting A Shine On A Deadly Machine

The fort is also apparently used by reenactment enthusiasts of several periods. While we visited some Colonial Era (or Georgian Era, if you're Canadian or European) reenactment enthusiasts were married in the fort's yard.

A Real, Legal 21st Century Wedding -
Complete With Anglican Priest and License

Maritime Museum of the Atlantic:  We are suckers for maritime museums and can attest that the one in Halifax is worth a visit if sea travel and commerce are subjects that even remotely interest you. One of our favorite exhibits was the chandlery - probably because we have spent so much of our own time and money at modern-day chandleries purchasing boat bits for Abracadabra.  Nothing as hefty in size as the boat bits necessary for a 19th Century sailing vessel, of course:  

Now Those Are Real Blocks! 

A Hand Operated Fog Horn -
For A Much Larger Vessel Than Abracadabra 

The museum has lots of ship models and small vessels on display.

Some of The Small Vessels Look Ready To Go

And of course no maritime museum in Halifax could avoid giving space to the disaster of the Titanic. Among the many sad reminders of the lives lost is a recovered deck chair:

One Of The Few In Existence that
Truly Got Shuffled . . . 

and a model of the ship.

No Halifax Museum Is Complete Without A Titanic Exhibit

Fairview Cemetery:  The other must-visit place for those interested in (horrified by?) the Titanic disaster is the Fairview Cemetery, where many of the victims - including some still unidentified ones - are buried:

Unknown Victim

Many of the crew were heart-breakingly young. Mr. Elliott, aged 24, apparently had family or friends that wished to honor his bravery.

How Englishmen Should Die . . . On Duty
Both the information provided at the museum and by some of the guides overheard at the cemetery (it's a stop on all of the tours) focus on the overarching message of the Titanic -- that this loss of life was largely the result of the greed of the directors of the White Star Line. Something to put into the conversational mix the next time a young family member discovers Ayn Rand . . .

Alexander Keith's Brewery:  The most touristic event we came across in Halifax is the tour of Alexander Keith brewery, which was originally opened in 1820 (a date proudly displayed on one of Bryce's souvenir t-shirts). The tour of the brewery is fun if you let it be (suspend that disbelief) and even if you can't let your self enjoy the corniness it ends in a tasting of Alexander Keith beers.  

Post-tour Beers at Alexander Keith's

The Historic Properties: This restoration project is on many "things to do in Halifax" lists so we went there. It's really an economic redevelopment project - a restored commercial area meant to be a modern commercial area (aka a shopping mall). Unfortunately, and hopefully because we were there in the off-season, the shops didn't seem to be doing well. So - we enjoyed walking around the area but . . . sometimes we just like walking around.

Halifax Public Gardens:  Another good place to just walk around is the Halifax Public Gardens. 

A Garden Moment (Bird Not In Stone)

St. George's Round Church: Halifax has a lot of historic churches to visit, but we only made it to this one. Luckily we were approached by a young member of the clergy who not only told us a bit about the church's history (originally built in 1801 for a German Lutheran church which in 1811 became an Anglican community out of economic necessity) but spoke enthusiastically about the church's present and its place in the community.

Named For St. George and,
For Obvious Reasons, "The Round Church"

A Beautiful and Serene Sanctuary

The church suffered a devastating fire in 1994 when over 40% of the building was destroyed. 

A Remnant and Memorial To The Fire of 1994

Church Weather Vane -- Commemorating
the 1834 Passing of Haley's Comet


There are many places to eat in Halifax, particularly in the waterfront area. Some of them may be good. We ate at Murphy's Restaurant which reminded us of the San Francisco rule: The better the view, the higher the price and the more indifferent the food and service.  

Away from the waterfront, we found Baan Thai thanks to the recommendation of the charming desk clerk at our hotel.  It was a real pleasure to eat Thai food after weeks without - good food, polite service and no shocking prices. [Travel tip: This restaurant and Murphy's are rated the same in Yelp and Travelocity (lots of "awesomes" in the reviews). Trust locals, restaurant reviewers or food bloggers rather than Yelp or Travelocity.] 

Relying on food reviewers, we chose Brooklyn Warehouse for Molly's birthday celebration. A delicious meal is the best way to take the sting out of turning 61!  

Peggy's Cove and Thereabouts

From Halifax we drove along Highway 333 to a must see stop in Nova Scotia - the lighthouse at Peggy's Cove. This is a major tourist attraction, famous for being pretty. And it is. But most days - even during September - this little fishing village is overrun by bus tours (much to the joy of the locals because fishing is a really hard way to make a living). 

Despite the crowds we found it to be a very pretty place and that if one is willing to scramble around on the rocks that surround the lighthouse, one can find some unpopulated vistas.

The Lighthouse

The Rock Climbers

A Long Way Out There For A Guy Awaiting Hip Surgery

The Village of Peggy's Cove

But we will forever remember Peggy's Cove as The Place Molly's Sunglasses Met Their End In The Composting Toilet. [Travel Tip: Do NOT leave your sunglasses on the top of your head when you put the lid down to cover a composting toilet. If you lean over too far it could end badly for your sunglasses.]

Getting to and from Peggy's Cove takes you along some lovely coastline dotted with places that offer lobster by the pound. At Ryer Lobsters Ltd. (Indian Harbour, NS) a 1.25 pound lobster was $9.99 live and $10.99 boiled. We shared a boiled lobster and a pound of mussels. Vegetarians - no need to stop.

A Lobster, A Canadian Flag and A Canadian

The Pure Protein Lunch
(Not A Pesky Vegetable in Sight)

Not far from Peggy's Cove is the memorial for the souls lost on Swissair Flight 111 in 1998. It is in a very empty and sad place - made sadder by the solemn reminders that there were no survivors of this crash.

The Flight 111 Memorial

The little villages along the coastal road are all charming and any one would make a pleasant stop 

Toy Boats

- but as we were running out of driving daylight, we pressed on to our night's destination:


This town on the south shore of Nova Scotia is a UNESCO Heritage Site because of the work that has been done to protect the area's historic buildings. The best thing to do in Lunenburg is to take a walking tour of town

          The Town:  The guide will take you past the community's former public school (our guide went to school there), closed because of the prohibitive cost of meeting modern school safety standards. The building is now home to some local arts organizations (the employees of which are apparently more expendable than school children).

The Lunenburg Academy
(Former Public School)

Also on the tour are a number of beautifully restored homes, some of which are now bed and breakfasts (likely with tiny bathrooms). Our guide explained that the colorful homes of Lunenburg, though lovely and lively, are not historically accurate. In the 18th and 19th Centuries most of these homes would have been white with dark trim. The homeowners were primarily ship owners (merchants or fishermen) and they used the same paint for their homes as they did for their wooden ships. When homes were painted a color other than white during the beginning of the town's restoration process older locals were quite shocked and upset. Today the colorful homes are jokingly referred to as "UNESCO fresco" because, notwithstanding their inauthentic palate, they helped the town obtain its UNESCO Heritage Site status. 


Also on the walking tour is St. John's Anglican Church, an example of "Carpenter Gothic" architecture (the use of wood rather than stone) which was originally built in the mid-1700's. St. John's was badly burned in 2001 and the four-year restoration was paid for by donations from people from throughout Canada. The restoration is a source of much pride in the Lunenburg community - even among the Lutheran descendants of working class German settlers that didn't get along with the original English/Anglican settlers.  

St. John's Church

The tour also includes a monument to a training camp established for some of the sailors aboard the over 1,000 Norwegian merchant ships that were at sea at the time of the Nazi invasion of Norway. After the invasion conflicting orders were sent to the merchant navy: the King of Norway ordered ships to proceed to allied ports and the Nazi-backed government in Oslo ordered them to return to Norway. Not a single ship returned and many of them became part of the allied merchant fleet. Over 1,000 Norwegian sailors were housed and trained at Camp Norway near Lunenburg. 

A Norwegian Monument

          Bluenose II:  On the "things to do" list for Lunenburg is a harbor cruise on the Bluenose II. Bluenose II started life as a replica of Bluenose, famous for winning the 1921 International Fishermen's Race Trophy and defending it against all comers for the next 17 years. The image of Bluenose is on the Canadian dime. Bluenose grew old, got sold, was used as a delivery vessel and eventually scrapped after striking a reef off of Haiti in 1946. In 1963, backed by Schooner beer, a group launched a replica of the original sailing vessel - Bluenose II. Bluenose II was sold to the province in 1971 and several years later was put under the control of a trust charged with refurbishing the ship which was beginning to experience "hogging" (a type of hull distortion). And then the controversy began. Twenty years, $19 million CDN, massive changes (some of which are allegedly beyond "refurbishment") and at least one financial scandal later, Bluenose II was relaunched in 2012. She was returned to the dock almost immediately for repairs, but at least Lunenburgers got a good party first. 

Today she sits at the dock awaiting reinforcements to her keel and during our visit wasn't available for harbor cruises or dock tours. We stood at the dock and contemplated how much less expensive Abracadabra's repairs now seemed and that, like Abracadabra she can get underway again soon.    

Boat Bits - They're Expensive

          Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic: Yes, another maritime museum - this one focused on fishing and staffed with a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic group of docents. While there we took a "lobster class" -- did you know there are left-handed and right-handed lobsters?

Our Hour At Lobster School
 We also toured a fishing boat with a retired fishing captain who self-identified as a Nova Scotian - but with a very strong Newfoundland accent. Molly was enchanted by his accent and kept asking questions just to keep him talking . . . and is now lobbying for a trip to Newfoundland, hoping that everyone there talks that way.

Our Newfie Captain and The Next Tour 

          The Mariner King Inn:  Our stay was very pleasant largely due to the Mariner King Inn. The inn is very well located and offers a nice buffet breakfast. Our room was tiny but attractive and the bathroom was new and spacious enough. The inn occupies three separate buildings, one of which has an elevator. At week four of our trip we were happy to be staying in that building as our luggage seemed to getting heavier and heavier . . .. We would be happy to return not only to Lunenburg, but to the Mariner King.

Our Last Days In The Maritimes 

From Lunenburg we drove along the coast road to the far southwestern tip of the island. Our drive included stops for more lobster rolls

Anticipation . . .

and a stop at the picturesque waterfront of Shelburne for a walk and some coffee:

One of the Preserved Buildings In Shelburne

Our destination was Yarmouth, the departure point for the car ferry to Maine. We hadn't anticipated that there would be much charm to Yarmouth. However, even with lowered expectations we were disappointed in our hotel, the Rodd Grand Yarmouth. If the hotel hadn't been the site for the local Royal Canadian Mounted Police Ball during our stay we would have had nothing to say about it other than it was . . . clean. The ball at least provided fun uniform watching for an evening. Yarmouth may be one of those places that a B&B is one's best option . . . even with a small bathroom.

We did experience a good meal and even better Acadian music at Rudders Brew Pub on Friday night. And Yarmouth appears to be a good launching point for some pleasant site seeing. 

We visited the Cape Forchu Lightstation

The Lightstation

Real Road Trippers!

Bringing Greetings From The Pacific Ocean

And Takin' A Walk

and spent a few hours at the "Living Wharves" exhibit at John's Cove Wharf on the Yarmouth Bar.

John's Cove Wharf

The "Living Wharves" program is staffed by people employed in the fishing industry and each of the seven locations offers a look at a different aspect of that business. We got a chance to meet a woman employed as a lobster grader, and to hear a lot about the commercial shipping aspect of commercial fishing.

Our final act of Canadian tourism was to take the Nova Star Cruises car ferry to Portland, Maine. 

The Nova Star

We couldn't help but be fascinated by the little boat that ferried the behemoth's stern lines to the dock. We would not want to be that close to that big ship in that little boat!

Docking Assistant

The trip to Maine is ten hours long and the Nova Star offers cabins. Because we were traveling during the day we decided to just book assigned seats. It turned out even that wasn't really necessary because the ship was only half full - probably because it was so late in the season - and there were plenty of seats among the three different bar/coffee lounges.  
Nova Star travel tip #1: If you're not traveling during high season, check the availability of the restaurant or buffet. On our trip the restaurant was closed. We were not enthusiastic about the buffet and dawdled to avoid getting in the long line . . . only to find that the buffet was only open for two hours. We ate packaged sandwiches for both lunch and dinner that day which of course does not constitute starvation, but wasn't the festive meal we had anticipated. . . . 

Nova Star travel tip #2: Don't sit close to the automatic piano in the piano bar. It's programmed to carry its jaunty show tunes throughout the bar.


Well - if you've stuck with us through our many posts about this road trip, we thank you. And we hope we've managed to convey how much we enjoyed our drive through Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. We hope to return there someday, to enjoy more hiking and Celtic music and perhaps to sail around the Lac Bras d'Or.  You might want to think about that, too . . . !

No comments:

Post a Comment