In case you might have been worried about us falling (or driving) off the face of the earth, rest assured that we’re alive and well and presently in the city of Moncton in New Brunswick.
We left Louisbourg on Cape Breton on Wednesday morning for Pictou in mid-Nova Scotia, intent on timing things well for the 4pm ferry to Prince Edward Island. We stopped off at Harbor Quilt Company, a quilting store and gallery outside of Antigonish, and then had lunch at Gabrieau’s Bistro in downtown Antigonish.
Gabrieau’s had an interesting looking menu, but the we found the service to be pretty terrible. Our waitress mis-heard a couple of our orders, and when asked about it, explained what she thought she heard and then left without offering to correct things. She was also quite slow and difficult to flag down. The food that we ended up with was also underwhelming. The spicy Thai beef salad used deli-style roast beef, which gave it an odd flavor. The Caesar dressing lacked any real flavor. The Asian baby back ribs and vegetable and chicken stifado were better though. And the two different cheesecakes we had were a disappointment too. We did note that a table with a different waitress appeared to have had a much better experience, but that was little comfort to us, and a different waitress would not have improved the food at all anyhow. So, if you’re tempted by Gabrieau’s when in Antigonish, contemplate your alternatives first.
One of the issues with the service at the restaurant was that we were now getting concerned about making the ferry, as time was starting to get a bit tight. Turns out to have not been an issue at all because I misread the ferry schedule, and the ferry left at 2:45pm (which we had, by then, missed), with the next one at 6pm.
To burn time, we ended up taking a leisurely stroll through picturesque Pictou (with the only thing marring the pretty harborside being a factory of some sort across the bay) and then had some tea before heading to the ferry terminal.
At the ferry terminal, while waiting for the ferry to arrive, we came across another rather distinct wild creature – a real, live fox. Turns out this fox has become an opportunistic feeder and waits for ferry travelers to toss it food scraps. The fox provided us with about 20 minutes of entertainment before it scooted away with the arrival of the ferry.
A fox at the Caribou Ferry Terminal near Pictou, Nova Scotia
An hour and a half later we were driving off the ferry in Wood’s Island, on Prince Edward Island on our way to the island’s largest city, Charlottetown, and also the most unique and attractive of all the various accommodations we have had so far on this trip.
We had booked two nights at The Great George, which is a collection of suites and buildings spread out over a block or two. The main reception area looks and feels just like one might picture a club room at a posh British gentleman’s club. The staff at the hotel was excellent and efficient, and within a short time had directed us to our lodging – a standalone house called The Dorchester.
The Dorchester was a two story house with two large bedrooms and excellently appointed bathrooms upstairs, along with a den, a living room (with fold out sofa), a kitchen, and another bathroom (this one with a washer and dryer) on the main floor. And all at a price cheaper than some single rooms we had stayed in so far. And the king size bed (one of the few we have encountered in the Canadian Maritimes) was perfect in terms of comfort – nice and firm without being hard.
Should you ever visit Charlottetown, The Great George is where you have to stay.
We arrived pretty late – around 8pm – but the front desk staff was able to suggest a couple of restaurants for dinner, and we settled on Sims Corner Steakhouse and Oyster House. Nice ambiance, but very spotty service. The food itself was quite good, with excellent appetizers and decent main courses. A particular favorite were the extremely fresh and plump PEI mussels. I also had some local oysters, and Canadian rib eye. Linda and I also enjoyed a very good Margaux with our meal. The food is definitely worth a trip to Sims, but be aware the service may be lacking a bit in terms of efficiency (and we’re used to island-time service back on Bonaire, and this was worse).
Our next day was spent driving around the center of Prince Edward Island in search of Anne of Green Gables and other diversions.
First, let me say that PEI (as Prince Edward Island is known) is beautiful and pastoral – outside the city the buildings are far apart with large fields separating them, lots of the fields used as farm land, with sprinkles of cows and horses here and there.
However, being the middle of October, we found just about every retail store and accommodation we drove by closed until next May or so. It appears that the main season for any sort of activity runs May through September – five months. The rest of the year things just close down and hibernate. The same applies to places like Cape Breton, as we noticed this past week.
We did find one shop open – Rustico Bay Wool Sweater Company, where the owner, the aptly named Kathy Winter, was also getting ready to close down for the season. Kathy was among the few people we had encountered on our trip who had heard of our home island of Bonaire. We ended up getting Bas a set of very soft and warm Alpaca wool gloves and being offered a couple of nice PEI apples (which tasted like Cortlands) on our way out.
We managed to find the PEI Information Center in Cavendish barely open – brochures were being boxed up in anticipation of closing down the center for the season this weekend. We did get some good advice on things still left to see, and then headed to the nearby park to explore some fabulous sand dunes.
Cavendish is one of the places where Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of the Anne of Green Gables (and numerous other books featuring strong female heroines), lived for a good bit of her early life, and many of the settings in her books, as well as the characters, were drawn from her own experiences and observations on PEI in the Cavendish area.
What we found fascinating was how much of the local tourism industry had evolved around a fictional teenage girl from a book published in 1908. In addition to the house used as the model for Green Gables, the birthplace of Lucy Maud Montgomery, and a couple of museums, a vast number of commercial enterprises had all hopped on the Anne bandwagon. We saw Anne of Green Gables chocolates being promoted, the Kindred Spirits Inn (using an oft repeated phrase from the Anne books), and several amusement and theme parks all based on the characters and stories of the various Anne of Green Gables books.
Anyhow, after the dunes we visited the Anne of Green Gables Museum near Shining Water. The museum was actually a museum about Lucy Maud Montgomery, and situated in a house owned by relatives of hers where she had spent a fair bit of time during her younger years. In addition to furnishings and memorabilia actually mentioned in some of her books, we saw excerpts from her journals, signed first editions of her books, and photos and stories documenting Lucy Maud Montgomery’s life. Pretty interesting. We also learned that the book Anne of Green Gables at one point was required reading in Japanese schools, and thus the whole area, and the museum in particular, was a major Japanese tourist attraction.
Amusingly, we found that a not insignificant number of the tourists to the area believed Anne was a real person instead of the fictional character that she actually is. That said, Anne certainly seems to have a life, and following, of her own.
After the museum we continued our scenic drive, ultimately ending up in Summerside, another city, about an hour from Charlottetown. We were starving by the time we got there, but sadly had no idea where to look for a good restaurant (not having brought our Fodor’s or AAA guides with us, foolishly), and ended with experimenting with “Chinese and Canadian Cuisine” (the subtitle for every Chinese restaurant we had so far seen in Nova Scotia and PEI) at China Star Restaurant in the heart of a rather desolate Summerside. The food was not bad, but as we had ordered a couple of Szechuan dishes, we had hoped for more spice and flavor. A fine place to go if you’re hungry. By the way, the “Canadian Cuisine” thing is apparently something that is almost required if you’re serving foreign foods in this area, as we’ve learned, as it tells less adventurous diners that it’s “safe” to eat there – they can get their sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, fried fish and scallops, and french fries in addition to whatever else might be on the menu.
We continued our scenic route back to Charlottetown, with the sole highlight being a farm for miniature horses, several of which were out in the yard by the road. They were absolutely adorable, and quite friendly. Bas was convinced we should go buy one right then and there, but we explained that we only had four seats home, so if we got the small horse, he’d have to stay behind. He wisely decided this might not be the right time for a miniature horse after all.
I had a conference call to attend to when we returned, and we then attempted to do a little bit of shopping in the pretty historic part of Charlottetown, but our efforts were brought up short when it turned out that all the shops, with one exception, closed at 5pm, which is what time we had gone out. We did find one shop, Firehouse Studios, which was open a bit later though. Firehorse is a shop specializing in artistic glass – including fused glass, stained glass, and the like. Some beautiful work there. Plus they also have classes and supplies for making your own glass art. The person working the shop was kind enough to provide us some tips on how to fuse glass and we hope to be able to give it a try ourselves once we get the necessary materials and dust off our kiln.
For dinner we chose Lot 30, which we had been told was the best restaurant in Charlottetown. We left Bas behind at The Dorchester, well fed from leftovers from lunch, and Krystyana, Linda, and I headed for Lot 30. We found the menu interesting and tried to make sure to each order something different so we could do our own tasting. Our waiter was a bit slow and hesitant in responding to our questions, but much better than the one from the previous night at Sims. We enjoyed our appetizers immensely – I had foie gras with scallop and shredded beef, Krystyana had a turnip and apple soup, and Linda had fried local oysters (which were the best appetizer of the three).
But the main courses were a bit disappointing, perhaps in that each of our plates shared key accompaniments with one of the other main courses on the table. For example, my scallops had a vegetable medley which was identical to that for Linda’s duck, and mashed potatoes just like those with Krystyana’s pork belly. And the girls both had another type of vegetable in common as well. First, the flavors of the accompanying items, while possibly better suited to one of the dishes did not translate well to the other in terms of a flavor combined, and second, it seemed to be a bit, well, lazy, at least in terms of creativity. And it also didn’t quite mesh with the descriptions of the dishes on the menu. One area where service was excellent though was in food delivery, in that they always made sure that each person at a table got their course at exactly the same time. However, on the flip side, the food was delivered without explanation, which considering how the food was not as described in the menu, was a bit off-putting.
If Lot 30 was supposedly the best fine dining restaurant in Charlottetown then Charlottetown has a ways to go in terms of fine dining.
Our final day of our three day, three province experience, namely today, started very early, as we needed to drive for about two and a half hours to make it to the Joggins Fossil Institute in Joggins, Nova Scotia for a 10am walking tour. This involved, other than an early departure, driving a number of kilometers over the Confederation Bridge (which also charges a hefty toll of CA$41.50) into New Brunswick, and then back into Nova Scotia. So, in fact, we hit three provinces in about two hours.
The Joggins Fossil Institute consists of a newly built (opened April 2008) museum and research complex atop the cliffs in the village of Joggins. Joggins is a recently certified UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the location of the discovery of the world’s oldest reptile fossil, all the back from the Carboniferous Era around 350 million years ago.
Our tour turned out to be a private one simply because no one else showed up, so we had Brian Hebert, the Chief Interpreter of the Joggins Fossil Institute, all to ourselves for two whole hours. Brian walked up up and down about one kilometer of shoreline (it was low tide in the Bay of Fundy, which Joggins abuts), showing us examples of fossil trees, veins of coal, rock stratification and collapse, details about tidal erosion, and all sorts of other good things.
While it was freezing out (at least for us thin blooded types), with high winds causing a biting chill factor, we braved it out and by the end of our tour were able to find all sorts of interesting fossils of our own in the limestone debris littering the beach below the museum. Unfortunately we didn’t find anything unique enough for the museum to want to put in its depository of fossils. Brian was an excellent and enthusiastic guide, and, as it turns out, one of the most prolific discovers of new and unique fossils in the area. He had recently found the only fossil of a scorpion ever seen in the Joggins area, for example.
After warming up a bit with hot Chai and coffee after the tour, we finished exploring the museum, “donated” to the gift shop for a number of new books, and then made our way back into New Brunswick and the Schnitzel Haus in Aulac, right across the border from Nova Scotia. We had a good hearty German lunch (with pretty reasonable service, for a change), and then made our way to the city of Moncton and the Crowne Plaza hotel here.
There was no clearly marked entrance to the hotel, at least not for bringing in luggage, so we ended having to call the hotel from a nearby parking lot for assistance with our growing pile of luggage. Our room was nice and big enough for all of us to sleep in, but we’re not impressed with the rest of the hotel. The corridors outside our room reek of cigarette smoke (apparently because the rooms themselves are supposed to be smoke free with fines for those who light up in them), and the hotel is located in a kind of grungy part of town, just a block away from a nicer section with lots of restaurants.
As Krystyana is still tired of seafood, we opted for a Thai-Vietnamese restaurant, Vien Dong, on Main Street. I found the food pretty good, but Linda wasn’t thrilled with her soup or any of the rest of the dishes we ordered, commenting that this was basically repackaged Chinese food – she may have been right to an extent.
Service again was quite slow though, but this time possibly because the restaurant was quite busy and there was only one waiter. We also found the beverage options (at least the ones on our menus) rather limited. The portions were huge compared to what we had experienced so far in the Canadian Maritimes. If you’re desperate for Thai food in Moncton, Vien Dong would not be a bad choice in any event.
We got back to our room and started planning our next day, which involves trying to go experience the Magnetic Hill, see the Hopewell Rocks, and then make our way to St. Andrews, near the Maine border.