The Anxiety of Not Planning – Two Days in Halifax

October 7th, 2008 at 9:47 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We were woken yesterday morning by the sounds of a bagpipe in the park across the street from our hotel. Seemed apropos in a place called New Scotland (Nova Scotia).

It was a beautiful day outside, and I pointed out to Bas the fact that fall foliage seemed to just be starting here in Halifax, and delighting in the fact that we had not missed the color change. Bas then pointed out to me that he had actually never been through fall foliage before. Kind of a sad thing to realize for a boy who was born in New Hampshire. However, we knew this was a deficiency in experience that we would be able to correct in the coming weeks.

The other new thing for Bas was that that until now he had always worn shoes with Velcro straps or which were just slip-ons. But for this trip, because we expected to do some hiking and simply climbing, we upgraded him to real hiking shoes with laces. So now he’s having to deal with also getting used to tying shoelaces – another new experience.

But the real trauma with Bas arose when he asked me what we were going to do for the day and I responded that I didn’t know. He was quite upset by my response. I asked him why, and his response was “Because you always know what we’re doing.”. Another sad truth for the day – I was raising a child that was just as anal retentive as I was. This spontaneous, unplanned travel thing will take more time to get used to for everyone.

When we first came up with the odd (for us) idea of going to the Canadian Maritimes without a particular agenda in mind, we were concerned that perhaps we might have selected a poor destination for this adventure and would not find enough to do, but as we speak to native Nova Scotians (the guide books refer to them as “Blue noses” but none of the Nova Scotians we spoke to would admit to that nickname), we are finding more and more interesting things to consume what little time we now appear to have here in Nova Scotia as well as in neighboring Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

We ended up with a late breakfast yesterday, then a climb up the hillside of the Halifax Citadel, an old military fortress which is also the highest point of Halifax. We learned quite a bit about the history of Halifax there, and also observed the firing of the noon cannon, a long standing tradition which was used to inform Haligonians (the name for those from Halifax) that it was exactly noon. Certainly one of the more interesting time-pieces we’ve come across.

We then wandered downhill towards the waterfront in the hopes of securing a lobstering tour at Murphy’s On The Water, but our hopes were not fulfilled as it appears to be too late in the season to enjoy such a tour. So we settled for a nice meal at Murphy’s Restaurant instead, enjoying our first bite of Nova Scotian seafood, including Digby scallops, a lobster, mussels, and a few other treats such as three different kinds of small whole potatoes – purple, red, and white. Service was pretty decent too. While the restaurant definitely seems to be mostly tourist oriented, we would recommend it to others looking for a nice seafood meal along the Halifax waterfront. And be sure to try the regional wines from the Jost winery and the sweet potato fries too.

After our leisurely lunch, we headed over to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, where, as Linda put it, “we found out all about history that we never knew existed” including lots of details about the ill-famed Titanic, as well as the Great Explosion of Halifax in 1917 (a ship laden with explosives blew up after a collision and the resulting explosion caused incredible damage and carnage), and the battles against French occupied Louisberg to the north in Cape Breton.

We wandering back to our hotel via streets filled with eclectic shopping opportunities for a couple hour break at our hotel before dinner at one of Halifax’s finest resaturants, Onyx. We didn’t know it was one of Halifax’s best restaurants when we made our reservation, but after dining there, we have to say that the service was top-notch – better than at many “fine dining” restaurants we have dined at elsewhere. The menu and our meals were also excellent. We enjoyed duck, tenderloin, lamb, and monkfish, as well as a variety of appetizers and even a baked apple with a flambé filling for dessert. Onyx is highly recommended by The Traveling Richters.

After a good night’s sleep we returned to our exploration of Halifax, with a visit to the Halifax Natural History Museum. Another excellent museum, featuring a diverse set of exhibits blending information about local fauna, dentistry (great exhibit for kids), results of archeology in old Acadian lands, and mineralogy, among other things.

We walked back to the harbor for lunch at McKelvie’s, another restaurant specializing in seafood. Again, we had excellent service and great food. The seafood chowder was creamy and flavorful, while the seafood salad was close to perfect. And in terms of spice, the Szechuan scallops were just right (using local Digby scallops, of course). Again, another recommended restaurant in Halifax.

After our meal, we spent the afternoon at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia looking at the works of Tom Forrestal as well as Nova Scotian folk art, Inuit art, some very odd photography, and pieces from the Gallery’s permanent collection. We also discovered that the Gallery has a nice cafe by the (in our opinion, unfortunate) name of Cheapside Cafe. Regardless of the name, the Cheapside Cafe has great ambiance, and a very nice selection of desserts and coffees, and apparently serves some mean sandwiches at lunchtime.

Our evening walk brought us to our final dinner in Halifax at Opa Greek Taverna where we enjoyed a leisurely meal consisting entirely of mezithes (appetizers and small plates) and a nice bottle of a Boutari reserva. And again, amazingly, we had excellent service. We don’t know if we just lucked out with the service at the restaurants we chose for our lunches and dinners here in Halifax, or if waitstaff in Halifax just has better training, but either way we’ve been very impressed by the attentiveness and knowledge of the waitstaff serving us. And the food quality has been very good too. Mind you, as a counterpoint, the breakfasts at our hotel (the Lord Nelson) have been merely ordinary, both in terms of the food (weird scrambled eggs) and service (a bit slow).

We finished our final evening in Halifax weary from all of our walking, but pleased with all that we learned and saw. And as a bonus, it appears we might have a rental mini-van at a very good rental price all the way to Bar Harbor and possibly even beyond.

Considering our lack of planning, things went pretty well the last couple of days. Hopefully Bas will learn from that. And maybe I will too…


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