Posts Tagged ‘Nova Scotia’

Fortress of Louisbourg

October 14th, 2008 at 10:25 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Today was a bit less eventful for us than yesterday. No moose or whale sightings, although we did see an old fashioned musket fired.

We departed mid-morning from Baddeck for the village of Louisbourg, on the east coast of Cape Breton. We tried to stop at a fossil museum in Sydney Mines (a small town in Cape Breton), but as with a growing number of attractions on Cape Breton, it had closed recently for the winter.

We arrived at the Point of View Suites in Louisbourg around 10am, and were a bit surprised to find it was also an RV park. But in fact, there was a large building on a small cliff at the back of the property, overlooking the harbor of Louisbourg, and in that building was our suite. The managers of the property actually upgraded us from one large suite into two connecting smaller suites so that we could each (kids and adults) have our own space. That was something we really appreciated. One reason they were probably so generous was that the property is closing down in a few days for the winter season (when tourism is pretty much dead in most of Cape Breton). In any case, the rooms are spacious, and the kitchens appear well provisioned. But bring your own shampoo and soap, as what they provide is good for only one or two showers.

After dropping off our bags in our room we headed up to the Fortress of Louisbourg. The Fortress, run by the Canada Parks Service, is a recreation of a part of the fortress that was once located on the same grounds during the early and middle part of the 1700s, owned and controlled by the French (except for a three year period where the British ran it). The Fortress of Louisbourg was twice besieged and attacked by the British, and both times the French surrendered after about six weeks, due in part to running out of supplies because of British blockades, and also because the British brought many times more soldiers than there were inhabitants of the fortress. Surrender was an easier out than dying from starvation or being shot. After the second capture, the British pretty much destroyed Louisbourg, and it took a government project in the 1960s to attempt to rebuild aboutt 20% of the buildings that had once stood on the fortress grounds, and make the Fortress of Louisbourg a historic attraction.

Most of the people at the fortress are in period costume, playing the part of a person from circa 1744, but were kind enough to explain differences between that time and the present when asked. We learned an incredible amount about the daily lives of merchants, nobility, servants, and soldiers during the times of the Fortress. We also learned that we would not liked to have lived there during that time as the people endured what we would consider enormous hardships – ranging from very bad winters and poor health care to extremely difficult working conditions, among others.

We also enjoyed an 18th century lunch of soup, cod, and carrots, including a single, versatile eating utensil – a spoon with a curved tip on the handle which could be used to cut and pierce ones food. It was all very tasty.

We had gone to the Fortress of Louisbourg with minimal expectations, and left overwhelmed with new knowledge and information, and thirsting for more. And that’s taking into account that only a fraction of the various buildings were open and staffed because it’s low season here (and the fortress closes down on Saturday for the winter season too – just like everything else). During the summer months, the Fortress of Louisbourg is a hive of nearly non-stop activities, and it’s estimated that it would take at least 18 hours to see and do everything there is to do (not including spending time talking with the in-period docent/actors).

If you have any interest at all in history as well as how people lived and survived in the 18th century, then the Fortress of Louisbourg is a must.

Our dinner was at the Lobster Kettle, one of the only two restaurants still open for the season in the village of Louisbourg. Linda and Krystyana had a fabulous snow crab dinner special while Bas and I enjoyed haddock and halibut – both quite good, and amazingly Bas enjoyed the fish. So far, on this trip, Bas has learned to like lobster and fish. We’re working on him for scallops, but he seems to have set his mind against them for the moment. In any event, we enjoyed our meal at the Lobster Kettle – both in terms of food quality and service – large difference from last night’s meal at the Lobster Galley in St. Ann’s Bay.

Tomorrow we leave Louisbourg for Pictou, where we will take a ferry to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. We’ll be spending a couple of nights there, and hope to visit Avonlea and the museum of Anne of Green Gables, among other things.

For followers of our writings who are also familiar with our home island of Bonaire in the Southern Caribbean, we discovered after dinner tonight that Tropical Storm Omar had formed near the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) in the last day or so, and strong weather conditions have created very large swells and waves on the normally calm west side of Bonaire, damaging numerous piers and soaking some waterfront properties.

There are links here and here on BonaireTalk with more information.

Please note that most of the reports on BonaireTalk are independent observer reports or passed on from those on islands and that there is also a lot of speculation based on water drenched visuals. As we know from the past with large surge actions, until the surge subsides (sometime tomorrow afternoon hopefully), it will not be clear how much damage has actually occurred, and it won’t be clear for days how long any such damage will take to repair.

If you love Bonaire like we do, keep the island in your mind and think positive thoughts. For those concerned about our animals, we understand they are doing fine, albeit a bit shook up by the wind and rain.

To all of our friends and extended family on the island, we hope you are well and safe and dry.

 

Whales, Moose, and Grouse, Oh My! Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail

October 13th, 2008 at 9:34 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

This morning we had our earliest wake-up since we left Bonaire over a week ago – 6am, for an 7am departure from the resort. The reason for the early departure was that I had committed the family to a 9am whale watching expedition in Cheticamp, which was an 80 minute drive away.

Krystyana, Linda, and Bas wear foul weather gear in anticipation of the Zodiac ride

Krystyana, Linda, and Bas wear foul weather gear in anticipation of the Zodiac ride

We broke fast in the mini-van along the way, and managed to arrive in Cheticamp with time to spare, and checked in at Captain Zodiac’s, right on the waterfront. We and our five other fellow whale watchers were given these great big puffy red suits that made us look like (according to the kids) those astronaut chimps. I personally felt a bit like a red Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man (from Ghostbusters). But those suits, for all their lack of style, were incredibly warm and comfortable. That’s a good thing when you’re whipping through a rough ocean at forty miles per hour in chilly air. Which is precisely what we ended up doing.

For those not familiar with Zodiacs, they are a brand name for a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) and look somewhat like the fast craft that Navy Seals use to do beach landings. The benefit of using a Zodiac for whale watching is that they are small and highly maneuverable.

We spent over an hour bouncing around the ocean at high speed until we spotted several cetacean dorsal fins in the distance. As we approached, it was clear we had found pilot whales. Pilot whales are, species-wise, big brothers to porpoises, getting up to about 20 feet in length (at least based on the pilot whales we saw), with big melon-shaped heads.

A pilot whale in the water off Cape Breton

A pilot whale in the water off Cape Breton

The pod of pilot whales we encountered numbered approximately eight or nine, and were spread out over about a square kilometer of ocean near some cliffs a ways north of Cheticamp.

Two pilot whales breach the water off Cape Breton

Two pilot whales breach the water off Cape Breton

Most of the whales were hunting for food in pairs, but came across a trio of whales as well – a juvenile and two adults. It wasn’t clear if the adults were the parents or two large females (including the mother, no doubt), but it was great to see all three on the surface together, and then see them dive and then surface again, always with the juvenile between the two adults.

A juvenile pilot whale is flanked by two adults off Cape Breton

A juvenile pilot whale is flanked by two adults off Cape Breton

The whales got within a couple of feet of the Zodiac on numerous occasions, and it was great to hear them exhale through their blowholes and see their large sleek shapes glide smoothly through the water.

We were also able to hear the whales “speaking” while they were submerged. Unlike larger whales, and more like dolphins, their speech was high pitched – like a whistle.

After nearly a half hour with the whales it was time to head back to Cheticamp and the warmth of our mini-van heaters.

Until we had driven to Cheticamp, incidentally, we had thought that the western part of Cape Breton was all Gaelic in ancestry, but this morning we discovered that Cheticamp is in the heart of an Acadian section of Cape Breton. All road signs there are in English and French.

Anyhow, the plan was to spend the whole day driving the famous Cabot Trail, which Baddeck sits on, as does Cheticamp. We also had great hopes of wandering one of the main trails along the Cabot Trail and seeing a live, wild moose. Amazingly, we didn’t have to wander at all to see moose, however.

Shortly after we paid our park entry fee, we came upon a “moose-jam” – a traffic jam involving people gawking at moose. We joined the moose jam and discovered a pair of moose (or is it “meese”, as the plural of “goose” is “geese”?) – a large bull and a cow, peacefully grazing off the side of the Cabot Trail. Intent on shooting the moose (with our cameras), Krystyana and I got out of our mini-van and made our way over to the guard rail which separated the people from the moose in the wooded gully below. The moose were obscured by the brush and trees, but clearly identifiable as moose.

Dutch spectators observe a moose cow on the Cabot Trail in Nova

Dutch spectators observe a moose cow on the Cabot Trail in Nova

After a few minutes, the cow wandered up the hill side, grazed a bit and then looked around. At about the same time, Krystyana had started walking back to the mini-van, and the cow started following her, unbeknownst to Krystyana. There did not appear to be any danger to either of them, and Krystyana finally realized she had a companion trailing her when her brother started gesturing wildly from inside the mini-van. Krystyana slowly got inside as well, and the cow settled down behind the mini-van to snack on more vegetation.

A moose cow grazing on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

A moose cow grazing on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

Meanwhile, the bull started to come up the gully’s slope as well, but stopped at the edge to graze as well, calm as could be even with a half dozen people within 20-30 feet of him (I made sure to put other gawkers between me and the bull moose, of course).

A moose bull on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

A moose bull on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

We ended up with over 10 minutes of moose time and some great photographs as a result. Our day was nearly complete – whales and moose. All we needed was a bear or beaver or other unusual creature to round things out.

After driving on we started encountering quite a bit of rain, but that did not prevent us from stopping at various look-out points to behold the vistas of fall foliage and dramatic terrain.

Lunch was at a small motel/restaurant in Pleasant Bay called the Midtrail Motel and Inn – it had been recommended to us by one of the people at Captain Zodiac’s. We had a simple but decent meal, including some great seafood chowder. And we got Bas to try the local version of poutine, a dish consisting of cheese melted over french fries and then topped with gravy. Not for the low-card oriented diner though.

Fall foliage is peaking on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

Fall foliage is peaking on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting various art and craft shops along the Cabot Trail, a stop at the North Highlands Community Museum (where we watched movie footage from the 1950s about life at a nearby fishing village), and walking some trails in search of a beaver dam (never found one).

However, as the day wound down, we almost ran over a grouse (we believe it may have been a spruce grouse) as it waddled across the road in front of us, got scared by an oncoming car, and then flew up into the air just in time to avoid our windshield. We figured that the grouse would be the closest we’d get to an unusual critter trifecta today, hence its inclusion in the title of this blog. Alas, we did not get a picture of the bird as we were as startled by it as it was by us.

Dinner was at the Lobster Galley in St. Ann’s Bay. Linda and Krystyana enjoyed traditional Thanksgiving fare (Krystyana sans the carb-laden fixings) as it was Canada’s Thanksgiving Day today, while I had a seafood appetizer platter for two (for just me, as a main course). The main courses were pretty good, but the desserts were quite poor – we had an apple crisp and a three berry crisp, and both were gummy and lacking in flavor. And the whipped cream was either DreamWhip or something made with Cool-Whip. Weird texture there too. The lobster dishes some of the other folks had looked like they might have been a better choice, but we were all lobstered out.

Along our travels we realized that paying cash in U.S. dollars meant we were actually paying 10% more for things due to the current exchange rate, so we ended our evening by getting Canadian dollars from an ATM machine with our new Capital One Online Banking ATM cards – they are the only ones I have found so far which do not charge a hefty foreign transaction fee (which seemed to exceed 3% in some cases for our Citizens Bank checking account ATM cards, even when getting U.S. dollars abroad, like back on Bonaire). This change alone should save us a lot of money in the coming year.

Our plan tomorrow is to move up to Louisbourg and visit Fort Louisbourg for a tour of that old fortress. And on Wednesday we make our way to Prince Edward Island. So far we’ve been averaging over 250km per day on our mini-van. That’s a lot for a person like me, who generally hates to drive. But I’m managing.

Footnote: You may have noticed this post, unlike others from Nova Scotia, has pictures. They were necessary. The full trip on-line photo album is still planned, but may be a week away, at least.

 

The Tidal Bore, Maple Syrup, Using Water and Steam Power, and Alexander Graham Bell

October 12th, 2008 at 8:23 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

The breakfast at the motel was pure carbs, so we dined en suite on the various cheeses and cold cuts we had picked up along the way for snacks. It was just about the best breakfast we had had so far on our journey (the breakfast at Cora’s in Halifax on Wednesday was the only one better).

The main reason we stopped for the night in Truro was so that we could observe the Truro Tidal Bore in action. The tidal bore is a rapid tidal change caused by tidal waters surging up a narrow channel, the Salmon River in this case, so instead of waiting for hours to see a difference in water levels due to the tide, you can see it in minutes. The tidal bore in Truro was schedule to occur at 10:21am in the morning, but we had been warned not to have huge expectations as many factors affected the rapidity with which the tidal waters would flow upriver. We hoped for a nice wall of water, but ultimately what we saw was the water rise about four feet in about ten minutes, without a lot of visual drama. It was pretty cool to be watching the water in the river serenely flow downstream and then all of a sudden realize the whole flow of the water had reversed course and was now rushing upstream. But it wasn’t breathtaking.

We headed north after the bore of the tidal bore, and as we left Truro, Linda spotted a bald eagle on a tree off the side of the road, so we got as close as we could and took pictures of our one major live wild animal find for the day (we saw lots of cool road kill – a deer, porcupines, skunks, an opossum, pets, etc., but Bas said dead animals didn’t count).

We stopped en route at Sugar Moon Farm, a nice log cabin structure in which you could have breakfast all day, featuring locally grown and made products, including maple syrup made right there at Sugar Moon. After a hearty early lunch of red fife wheat pancakes (healthier carbs than white flour by a long way), a frittata, home-made granola, and a variety of excellent sausages, the co-owner of Sugar Moon, Quita Gray, gave us a tour of the facilities as well as an orientation on how sugar maple sap is collected and processed. We learned that the local Indians first taught the European settlers how to harvest maple sap, and that Canada is now the world’s largest producer of maple syrup. We also discovered that collecting maple sap by buckets is a thing of the past (except for people with only a few trees), and that larger producers of maple syrup use plastic tubing to create a delivery network that brings the sap directly to the processing vats.

Maple sap, which is generally as clear as water (probably because it is over 95% water in the first place), is collected during March and April each year. At most, each sugar maple tree would have two taps, and each tap will typically output enough maple sap to produce one pint of maple syrup. The ratio of sap to syrup is about 40 to 1, so there’s a lot of water that needs to be evaporated to condense the sap to syrup. We learned a bunch of new things at Sugar Moon Farm we had not expected to be enriched with, so it was a truly worthwhile visit – never mind the great food as an added bonus.

Our next two stops were the Balmoral Grist Mill Museum and the Sutherland Steam Mill, both run as part of a network of Nova Scotia Provincial Museums.

At the Balmoral Grist Mill we had a docent explain the milling process as well as the history of the mill itself. We discovered that raw oats look nothing like what we expected – they are actually rather ovoid, seed-like things. We also found that buckwheat is not a wheat at all, but instead a relative of rhubarb, and during the milling process, the outer shell is removed entirely, making the inner endosperm (the part that is milled into flour) rather void of complex carbohydrates. Same for oats. The only flour which retains some of the complex carbs along with the refined (and really bad for you) carbs would be whole wheat flour, as that includes the bran (the outside casing) of the seed of the wheat. I will get into the whole issue of refined carbs and the diseases they help spur along in homo sapiens at a later date when I write up a review of Gary Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories” – a real eye opener which relates incredibly well to my personal dietary experiences.

Sorry, I digressed, again.

At the Sutherland Steam Mill we had another docent-guided tour. Here we learned about how steam-powered saw mills operated over a half century ago, with both insightful and witty commentary by our guide, Andrew. It’s pretty amazing how resourceful people can be with limited resources and not much oversight from the Occupational Safety & Health Administraton (OSHA).

Our final stop of the day prior to trucking on to Cape Breton was at The Pork Shop for some protein for the road (great German-style cold cuts).

We had a nearly three hour drive up to Baddeck (pronounced “Bad-ek”), in the Cape Breton area of Nova Scotia. Cape Breton has a strong Gaelic cultural background, and all the road signs are in both English and Gaelic. We surmise that the “Breton” refers to the “Bretons”, Celtic folk who settled in Brittany in France as well as Scotland and Ireland. And it’s no coincidence that just 25 minutes from Baddeck, in St. Ann’s Bay, is the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts & Crafts, nor that there is an annual Celtic Colours Festival here (going on right now).

When we got to our hotel in Baddeck, the Inverary Resort, we discovered that while we had connecting rooms, they each had only one bed, and not enough room to fit an extra bed in either room for our second child (since there’s no way a 13-year old girl will share a bed with her 11-year old brother). The front desk staff were very understanding, and managed to arrange an alternate room situation for us even though they were sold out last night. But we were still a bit grumpy from the experience and the long drive. And we got grumpier when we found we had to wait almost a half hour for a table at the resort’s Lakeside Café. However, once we got to having dinner, it completely wiped away all grumpiness. The food was just fantastic. My tomato seafood soup had the most perfectly cooked shrimp I can recall eating in a very long time, and the white wine garlic sauce for Bas’ mussels was devine, as were Krystyana’s local scallops. And Linda says her trout was also perfect – moist, slightly pink, and delightful. Only my pork chops did not meet this new standard the restaurant had set for itself, in that they were a tad dry. But their flavor was quite good. An excellent meal, and one which completely overcame our travel weariness-based unhappiness with the original room situation at the resort.

This morning we dined in the main dining room and had a passable breakfast (on the house, however, so that made it a little better) before venturing forth into Baddeck to go and do a week’s worth of laundry at the local laundromat.

We then spent a couple of hours at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site and Museum. We had at first wondered why this was located here in Baddeck, but it turns out he had a home in Baddeck, and did a lot of his research work here too.

It was endlessly fascinating, as we learned that while the invention of the telephone is what Bell is best known for, he also developed and invented countless other devices and technologies, and was involved with research in a variety of areas. For example, he co-invented the gramophone (cylindrical model) as an improvement over Edison’s recording/playback device as well as an operational high-speed hydrofoil. He also helped develop Canada’s airplane program.

Bell’s wife Mabel, whom he met as her teacher – he taught deaf children to speak using a special visual language system – was also a very strong and intelligent woman, and many of his successes can be credited to her support of his efforts, both emotionally and financially (she was the majority stockholder in Bell at the time).

Definitely visit this museum should you get to Baddeck.

We had a late lunch at the Telegraph House (where Bell apparently stayed before he had a home in Baddeck). They had good chicken wings, and a very nice turkey soup, but the other food was a bit disappointing – my seafood casserole was mostly mashed potatoes, and the peas served as my vegetable were canned peas.

The rest of the afternoon was spent driving up to St. Ann’s Bay to see the foliage and visit a few artisans’ shops.

We ended with a very nice dinner at Gisele’s across the street from the Inverary Resort. Great lamb (according to Linda), a nice prune stuffed chicken breast for Krystyana, and a turkey dinner for me (tomorrow is Canada’s Thanksgiving Day). Bas only had dessert, but enjoyed it greatly.

Tomorrow we’re due to drive the Cabot Trail, as well as go out on a Zodiac to find whales. It will be a very long day, as the Cabot Trail is nearly 200 miles long (and scenic and windy). We’re also hoping to finally spot some wild moose.

 

Lobsters, Cheese, Wine, and Views along the Bay of Fundy

October 12th, 2008 at 1:14 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Sharing a single bathroom among four people, especially when one of those people is a teenage girl, is a bit of a challenge, at least when you want to get moving in the morning and everyone has their own priorities. But we managed it nonetheless, and were actually checked out and on the road from Lunenberg by 8:30am this past Thursday. Less than a half hour later we had discovered the quaint Saltspray Cafe Chowder House in nearby Mahone Bay, where we enjoyed a hearty breakfast and friendly country service.

Our further travels took us over Route 12 to the other side of Nova Scotia, to the small village of Port Williams, and more particularly to the Foxhill Cheese Farm. We had already found a brochure for the Foxhill Cheese Farm at a Nova Scotia Information Center in Peggy’s Cove, but had the opportunity to actually meet one of the owners, Jeanita Rand, at the small farmer’s market in Lunenburg yesterday. Jeanita was full of information on cheese making, and we hoped to get a small tour at her farm today. And we were not disappointed.

But, before I wander off in the direction of dairy production, let me say that Nova Scotia does a brilliant job in promoting all that the province has to offer to tourists. There are numerous Nova Scotia Information Centers scattered around the province, in key tourist locations, staffed by very knowledgeable people, and filled with a variety of free maps, brochures, guides, and other useful materials. Among these is a thick tome called the Doers & Dreamers Guide, and it’s loaded with suggested accommodations, lists of attractions, national park listings, advertisements, and more. The Doers & Dreamers Guide is organized by provincial region, and each section includes a list of must-see attractions, must-do activities, calendar of events, and even rainy day activities. Many hotels also have these guides freely available. In any case, should you be visiting Nova Scotia, make sure to visit one of the Nova Scotia Information Centers and load up on all you need to explore this gem of the Canadian Maritimes.

Back to dairy existence… The signs to Foxhill Cheese Farm were clear and visible as we made our way up from Wolfsville through Port Williams, and we arrived to find Jeanita in full protective gear (gloves, apron, hair cover) at the farm store. After having us sample a variety of the cheeses – they make several varieties of Gouda, a Parmesan-like cheese they call Parmesran (so as not to infringe on the Parmesan trademark, and because Jeanita’s last name is Rand, so it’s a slight play on that), and German-style “quark”, a cheese that’s half way between sour cream cream cheese. They also make fresh gelato. And everything we sampled – and we sampled a lot of cheese and gelato – was very good. Jeanita also gave us a short tour and overview of the cheese-making process, and we are now inspired to at least make our own curds at home. We left loaded with a bunch of cheeses and gelato for the road.

After a stop at the Look-Off – a high point overlooking the entire Annapolis valley (a what a nice view it was!), we made our way to Hall’s Harbor, a place known for some of the most extreme tides in the world. When we got to Hall’s Harbor we found that the tide had mostly already gone out and a number of lobster fishing boat were literally high and dry. We lunched at The Lobster Pound, where we got to pick out our own lobsters, and then have them cooked for us while we waited in the petite dining area. The kids split a 2.75 pound lobster, Linda had a pound-and-a-half one, and I had one just over two pounds. It took about a half hour to cook them all, but the wait was worth it. We had an excellent though rustic meal.

Our next stop was at the Domaine de Grand Pre Winery, just a bit northeast of Wolfsville along Route 1, where we took a short tour followed by a tasting. Grand Pre is owned and operated by a Swiss-German family, and thus appears to run quite efficiently. The grape varietals they use, such as L’Acadie Blanc and Marechal Foch, are ones that are better suited to the shorter growing season available in Nova Scotia. They also produce three different eisweins (also known as icewine, a sweet dessert wine) – a Vidal, a Muscat, and an Ortega. One thing we found interesting what that their primary red wine production is using steel barrels, something which we found to make those reds rather less complex (and for us, not enjoyable). They do offer a couple of reserve reds which are oaked, and we enjoyed those quite a bit more. Part of the lack of development of the regular reds might have also been that the tastings involved rather young, 2007 vintages. We ultimately ended up with a collection of three aged, oaky Foch reserves (a 2001, 2003, and 2004), a bottle of the New York Muscat icewine, and a couple bottles of an apple-based apertif sweet wine (Pomme d’Or) which Krystyana thought might go well with cheese.

In terms of Nova Scotian wines, we have had a number of different reds from the Jost Winery (which we will not have a chance to visit during our current travels), and found those to generally be quite good. Grand Pre was a bit of a disappointment in contrast, however, as we had to work harder to find enjoyable wines.

From Grand Pre we took the scenic route between Windsor and Truro, along the coast. The countryside was beautiful as we enjoyed fall foliage and great ocean vistas. One of the stops along the way was at the lighthouse in Walton. The lighthouse might more appropriately be called a light-shack, as it’s very tiny, maybe 20 feet high. But it was cute. Walton also claims the distinction of being the place with the highest tides in the world. We’re not sure if this is true, but certainly our wanderings among some broken down piers near the lighthouse during low tide suggested tides were very high in this area, as we saw damp seaweed far above our heads on the pier. During this particular exploration we almost lost Bas to the mud. He had decided to investigate a few feet off the gravel we had wandered onto and ended up nearly losing his shoes due to the suction of the still very damp and thick mud where he stood. Krystyana and I had to pull him out gently so that his shoes stayed on his feet.

Our leisurely drive ultimately brought us to the Willow Bend Motel in Truro, and probably our least expensive room night of the entire trip, with a $125 “suite” featuring two queen beds and a queen sofa bed. The motel was in good condition, but Linda wasn’t wild about the location – halfway between a silo and the local bus station.

Let me digress a little here and say that one pleasant surprise so far has been that every accommodation we’ve had in Nova Scotia so far has included free Internet service, typically both wireless and wired. I usually prefer the later because I plug-in my Linksys wireless access point travel router and then can get a stronger wireless signal in our room for both the notebooks we are traveling with, but having the access be free is a nice little additional treat in any case – far better than the $10-15/day that many U.S. hotels we frequent charge for access (although with my Boingo membership, that’s usually waived).

Dinner options in Truro seemed a bit limited – lots of fast food, as well as a Chinese restaurant offering “Canadian Chinese Cuisine”. We ended up at Fletcher’s, a small diner offering what’s typically referred to as “hardy” food – loaded with starches and carbs, with bits of protein mixed in. Even the grilled haddock was covered in pancake batter (we managed to get some “naked” haddock). Reasonable prices, but low-carb oriented people (like us) should eat elsewhere.

Thus ended our Friday in Nova Scotia.

 

Appreciating Nature in Off-Season in Nova Scotia

October 9th, 2008 at 10:25 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, is dead quiet now as it’s low season here, and we’re loving it. All the shops and restaurants are open, but quiet. There are no crowds. The only mild downside is that the weather is a little brisk, and the skies were overcast today (in contrast to the beautiful sunny skies yesterday), but it’s still pretty wonderful here.

We finished yesterday with dinner at the Tin Fish, which happens to be in our hotel, the Lunenburg Arms Hotel & Spa. The service at Tin Fish was charming and pleasant (thank you Sarah!), and our meal was excellent. And the hotel is really charming and well-located too. We have a very large room with two queen beds and a queen size sofa bed on the top floor of the quaint hotel. We could use a second bathroom, but otherwise things are great. The staff here is very friendly and helpful, and we’d recommend both the hotel and the restaurant.

This morning, we enjoyed a leisurely late breakfast at the Historic Grounds Coffee House, and then headed out to the weekly farmer’s market at the Lunenburg Community Center. We bought some cheese and some sugar free preserves and had some interesting conversations with some of the market stand operators and owners before driving about 20 minutes to visit Ovens National Park.

The “ovens” referred to in the name of the park are large caverns and caves carved out of the cliff side by the ocean over many thousands of years. Trails along the cliff’s edge take you down to some of the sea caves – either into them, or on a platform so you can view them. Amazing what nature can create. The rock formations and striations were pretty incredible too, with almost all colors of the rainbow represented during our hour long walk.

What was also nice, again because of low season, was that Ovens National Park was closed for the winter, but a sign at the gate suggested anyone willing to make a donation to the park and assume all risks for being in the park was welcome to come on in and wander about. So we did. We never saw another soul – at least not a human soul. We did see a number of local birds, but better yet, as we were leaving the park, a large female deer walked across the path, not more than 30 feet in front of us (sorry – too dumbfounded to take a picture in time). The combination of the might of the ocean with all the flora and fauna around us was exhilarating and we all had a bit more spring to our step as we left.

We drove back to Lunenburg for another nice meal, this one at The Grand Banker Seafood Bar & Grill, right along the waterfront (and about a block from our hotel). Best seafood chowder we’ve had so far, although the lack of broth with the mussels was a bit disappointing. There was also an excellent Acadian Cajun Seafood Stew – the Acadian inhabitants of Nova Scotia are the primogenitors of the Cajuns of Louisiana, and were kicked off their lands in Nova Scotia by the British in the Great Explusion of 1755, as we learned a few days ago. Back to the point – we would recommend the Grand Banker for a nice lunch or dinner.

The rest of our day was spent at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, where we learned how to launch a newly built ship, how to properly design a lobster trap, the difference between Atlantic and Pacific salmon (the Atlantic salmon spawn multiple times, the Pacific ones only once), and countless other bits of useful and not-so-useful information and trivia about sailing, fishing, and Nova Scotian history. What impressed us – and no doubt this was again the benefit of being in Lunenburg during low season – was that there were docents readily available everywhere in the museum, and they all really knew their stuff. We spent perhaps 20 minutes with a gentleman of obvious Acadian background who showed us how to make a duck decoy and lobster trap buoys, and then regaled us with lobstering stories and history. The museum was an excellent way to spend a drizzly afternoon in Lunenburg. If you ever get to Lunenburg and have limited time on your hands, go to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic – you won’t be disappointed (at least during low season).

We wandered around Lunenburg and viewed several of the various gift shops – all of which were interesting and somewhat quirky – no chain retail stores here before settling down at Magnolia’s Grill for dinner. The front desk staff at our hotel had recommend them, and we were not disappointed. Magnolia’s Grill is tiny – it has seven tables, and half the menu is scribbled on a large chalkboard on a wall in the main dining area. There were almost a half dozen soups of the day, along with another half dozen other dishes and a separate board featured several desserts for the day. We had three of their soups (a spicy peanut cream, tomato and cheddar, and French onion) and all were perfect. We added a shrimp stir-fry over brown rice (all ingredients cooked to perfection in terms of crispness, but not as flavorful as expected), some bacon wrapped shrimp with a phenomenal garlic aioli, and then finished things up with a pumpkin cheesecake and a chocolate peanut butter mousse cake. Oh, and Linda and I enjoyed a couple of their excellent martinis with our meal too. Great dinner and pretty reasonably priced. Very highly recommended.

After returning to our hotel, we put Bas to bed (actually, we need to start calling him Sebastian now, or so we’ve been informed), and went to the bar at the Tin Fish for some wine (for me) and coffee (Linda) and tea (Krystyana), sitting in front of the warm fireplace to work for a bit on our various tasks (e-mail for me, math schoolwork for Krystyana, day journal for Linda).

We’ve got an early start tomorrow as we head up to the Bay of Fundy, with plans to visit a look-out point, an artisanal cheese maker, a premium vineyard, and finally ending up in Truro so we can observe the Truro Tidal Bore on Saturday morning.

 

New Approach for One-Way Car Rentals and Nova Scotia Travels

October 8th, 2008 at 10:35 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

For those of you wondering if we would finally get our rental vehicle situation worked out, we’re pleased to report it worked out wonderfully – in fact, better than expected. Our travel agent at American Express managed to secure a mini-van for us for two weeks at a Halifax Hertz downtown location, initially with a return back to the same location. But our travel agent managed to confirm with the Halifax Hertz airport location that a one-way rental to the U.S. would be possible for a one-time drop fee of CN$695, but that that would have to be arranged at the Hertz pick-up location.

When we went this morning to pick up our rental, the agent was a bit skeptical, but once he confirmed the drop fee with the other Hertz location, we managed to also get him to change the rental duration and the drop off location to Boston, so we now have a single rental for the entire duration of our travels, at a weekly rate lower than we were getting for the U.S.-only rental we had arranged, and a lot cheaper than the one-way rental we had arranged for the full size sedan.

As best we can tell, it turns out that the central reservations desks for rental car companies don’t have a way to tack on a drop fee for one-way rentals, so they add a significant surcharge to the daily and weekly rates to compensate for the drop fee. For a short rental, this might be reasonable, but for long rentals it could get exorbitant. If you can instead check with the rental location on the amount of a drop fee, you might find it cheaper to book it as a local-only rental, and have the rental location modify the reservation with the one-time drop fee.

Anyhow, once we picked up our vehicle and loaded it up with luggage (and we now have room to spare because it’s a mini-van), we drove down to Peggy’s Cove, a picture perfect scenic fishing village south of Halifax. We had lunch, explored the glacier rock formations, and took lots of pictures before heading further south to Mahone Bay to learn how pewter was cast and formed as well as to view the remnants of their annual Scarecrow Festival.

We ended our day taking sunset photos over the waters outside the harbor of Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where we’re spending the next day and two nights.

At some point we’ll get the photos up here on the site for all to see.

Tomorrow we’re scheduled to see some spectacular (so we’ve been told) caves made by ocean action, as well as the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic.

On Friday, we’re planning on visiting a cheese makers, see the world’s greatest tides in action, and ultimately end up in Truro so that on Saturday we can see the famous Tidal Bore before heading up to Cape Breton for a few days.

More later as these plans solidify, and maybe with some pictures to show all we’ve been up to.