Posts Tagged ‘tides’

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.


A Taste of Brittany and Normandy – Saint Malo and Mont Saint-Michel

May 17th, 2008 at 3:48 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

On Saturday night (May 10th), after two days at see, we approached the walled city of Saint Malo, France. It was after sunset as Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour neared the lock that would let us into the protection (and higher water level) of the harbor of Saint Malo. We cleared the lock a bit after 10pm, and moored alongside the city close to 11pm.

A lighthouse island as we approach Saint Malo at night
A lighthouse island as we approach Saint Malo at night

There was quite a crowd of locals watching our arrival, apparently because vessels the size of the Endeavour were not particularly common in the harbor.

The National Geographic Endeavour moves out of the lock into the harbor at Saint Malo at night
The National Geographic Endeavour moves out of the lock into the harbor at Saint Malo at night

As we needed to sort through our photos for a composite slide show for the following night, and because we were pretty tired, we opted to stay ashore instead of pursue the nightlife, but heard from others that went that the town was hopping. It was a long weekend in France, and many visitors were in Saint Malo taking advantage of their time off and the nice weather at the time.

Saint Malo at Night
Saint Malo at Night

In the morning, after having to cope with a problematic and chilly lack of hot water for our showers, we were ushered back onto large motor coaches, and driven to Mont St. Michel, about an hour or so away. For those not familiar with Mont Saint-Michel, it is the place where the abbey on top of a rocky island which was made famous by previously only being accessible at low tide. However, at some point in the past, the government built a causeway from the mainland to the island, and now it is accessible pretty much all the time. And there are plans to replace the causeway with a bridge to resolve a major siltation issue.

However, that change does not preempt the fact that the abbey is a stunning piece of architecture, and only in part because of its altitude and precipitous position high atop the mount. Due to various “owners”, fires, wars, etc., the abbey blends gothic and baroque styles, for example. One other thing that we found interesting was that as a result of revolution in France in the late 1700s against the nobility, and as an perceived collaborator the Catholic Church, all of the friezes and statues which feature Jesus were defaced as revolutionaries expressed their resentment against the Church in physical ways.

Mont St. Michel looms overhead
Mont St. Michel looms overhead

Mont Saint-Michel, at low tide, is surrounded by miles of wet sand, some of which can act as quicksand. When the tide rushes in, all 14 meters of it (about 45 feet – one of the highest tides in the world) at its extreme, it can sweep away most anything in its way, as it rises very rapidly, and has been the cause of many deaths of livestock and humans alike. Tides are worst during the full moon and the new moon.

It’s about a 20 minute walk up to the abbey from the bottom where all the tour buses park, and further yet from the areas where cars need to park (an area which incidentally is under water during the highest tides). Little shops, cafes, and museums line the medieval walls along the path on the way up to the abbey summit. Our tour guide, Virginie, gave us the history of Mont Saint-Michel, little of which I could hear because I was always playing catch-up with the group because I was taking photos, but let me just point you to the Wikipedia entry on the subject here.

Krystyana, Linda, and Bas on the terrace near the top of Mont Saint-Michel, France
Krystyana, Linda, and Bas on the terrace near the top of Mont Saint-Michel, France

One thing I do remember was that there were three levels in the abbey in terms of common rooms, with the clerics being on the top level, visiting nobility on the middle level, and commoner petitioners in the bottom level. This was allegedly done to remind the nobility of their place before the Church, and commoners of their position relative to both the nobility and clergy.

After we finished our tour, our guide told us we had ten minutes to get to the buses, even though it was at least a 15 minute hike down (more when one considered the crowds clogging the narrow road down). We ignored the deadline a little bit by stopping at a creperie for an assortment of crepes (chestnut cream, apricot jam, banana and chocolate, and hazelnut and chocolate), which we ate on the bus while waiting for everyone else to show up.

As we ended up leaving Mont St. Michel almost an hour late, we had to also forgo the scenic coastal ride back to Saint Malo, and instead took the highway back. During the bus ride I call our concierge service and secured a late lunch reservation at L’Ankerage, a small seafood restaurant situated along the busy rampart wall on the south side of the town. The meal we had was quite good, and the shellfish platter I ordered was chock full of assorted shellfish, including a large crab, whelks, shrimp, langoustines, cockle shells, and more.

Linda and Krystyana examine Jake's lunch of shellfish in St. Malo
Linda and Krystyana examine Jake’s lunch of shellfish in St. Malo

We waddled away from lunch for a walk around the rest of the ramparts, and then caught a Zodiac back to the Endeavour, which had left the dock a few hours earlier due to the tidal situation.

A man in St. Malo befriends a seagull
A man in St. Malo befriends a seagull

There was a presentation that evening by Massimo Bassamo, the National Geographic photographer we had on board, followed by the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail party (best quote “CPA means Captiain Pays All”, referring to drinks from the bar). We also had our farewell dinner, which was pretty reasonable. I didn’t enjoy much of the evening though because I was stewing about how little time we had had in Mont Saint-Michel, something that was a repeat of most of the other land-based excursions during our Lindblad trip – basically large buses, large groups, and being rushed, just like on a large cattle boat cruise ship (which also costs maybe half of what a Lindblad trip does based on our experience last Fall).

I therefore found myself working for several hours on a letter to Lindblad management about how we felt the trip had not met our expectations, which in turn were based on their marketing materials and discussions with repeat Lindblad clients. I sent the letter in the following morning, and apparently was not the only one, as Sven Lindblad, the current owner of Lindblad Expeditions sent out a mass e-mail apologizing to everyone about the shortcomings of the trip, and a few days later offered either a cash refund for what worked out to about 25% of the fees paid for us, or a certificate in the value of about 50% of the trip fees to be applied towards a future trip with Lindblad. This refund was offered to every passenger on the trip, and I must say that we are very impressed with how quickly Lindblad admitted they had fallen short, and how quickly they came up with what appears to be a pretty reasonable financial apology for those shortcomings.

We’ll be reviewing other Lindblad trip options to see whether or not we go for the cash refund or the credit certificate. Certainly we have heard nothing but good about Lindblad with respect to natural history expeditions they make to places like the Galapagos or Antarctica.