This trip idea was borne out of both obligation and desire. An obligation to visit my in-laws, and the desire to see Maine in its summer glory. Granted, I’d visited Maine before, but in the winter, in the grim, dark, cold weeks around Christmas and New Years. The world was then covered in grey snow, and we were stranded without our own transportation, captive to our hosts for transportation and entertainment.
This trip would be different. As my darling husband loves road trips, he would get one – he drove his car up two weeks early, so as to have some time with his family alone before I arrived by plane. This not only gave him some time with his grandmother (her birthday was the weekend after he arrived) but gave him some ‘wiggle’ room for the whole trip. Time to himself to visit family, old haunts, etc.
He also had time to learn the quirks and capabilities of his new electronic toy, my dad’s GPS system. And quirks there were to be had.
When I was searching for flights, I was delighted to find that the airfare out of my own city of Gainesville was only a small premium compared to the Jacksonville flight. Usually it is much higher, and the convenience is outweighed by the cost. However, a $30 increase in fare would save me an hour and a half travel each way, so I snapped it up. The fare didn’t waver much for the months near the trip.
I booked a US Airways flight from Gainesville to Charlotte, with a connection to Boston. Jason would then pick me up in Boston, and we would begin the leisurely drive up the New England coast. This would afford me with some delightful views of the coast, plenty of photo ops for lighthouses (so I thought) and the scenic wonders of the ocean.
Saturday, August 11th:
Saturday morning I woke up quite early to make my flight. My father was kind enough to awake in the early dawn with me, to drop me off and save me two weeks of parking fees. Our friend worked there at the TSA, and was kind enough to recommend I not get there before 6:00am for my 7:30am flight – security doesn’t even open until 6:30am, and there are only three gates. It was not exactly a bustling city airport like O’Hare or Miami International.
All went well in security, and the plane came in on time. I sat next to a young lady with the smallest iPod I’d ever seen – perhaps half the size of a tic-tac box; and bright pink, of course. Between that and her white iMac laptop, she was quite the fashionable techno-geek.
When we arrived at Charlotte, we circled for about 15 minutes, but we landed within good time, and I had enough time to get to my gate for the connecting flight. I hadn’t seen the luggage loaded, so feared for it, but clamped down firmly on such negative thoughts and enjoyed the flight.
I was sharing a row with Norma (a garden artist) and Anne (a retired social worker) who were on their way to Stonehill College for a Buddhist Retreat. We did have to wait a while to get our jet way once we landed, and I watched eagerly for my bag to be unloaded (I was seated just over the unloading ramp). Again, I didn’t see it, but this may not have been the only place they were unloading luggage (I hope!)
When the masses were released, I found my husband waiting for me in baggage claim, and glory be! My bag was there. Such negative thoughts were unfounded and unfair… my flight was pretty flawless, and everyone was great in terms of customer service. Well deserved kudos to US Airways. Now, if this simple, normal, problem-free flight was only the NORM in all airlines experience, I wouldn’t get so concerned about checking bags, having connections, or getting through security. It is never the flying itself that brings out my apprehension – I love actually flying in the airplane. It’s all the crap that we have to worry about around air travel, such as getting checked luggage back on time, making my connections, getting through security on time, having our rental car ready, etc. Orson Welles said there are only two emotions in flight – boredom and terror. I think I’ll take boredom and plenty of it, thank you very much.
Since I was starving, we decided to stop for lunch shortly out of Logan airport. Jason wasn’t feeling adventurous – he wanted reliable, so we had some chicken sandwiches at Wendy’s on our way out of the city. I relented – normally I much prefer to sample local places, small mom-and-pop places, local cuisine, etc. However, this wasn’t an exotic vacation to another country, it was simply New England, and so I relaxed my culinary requirements for the trip.
We followed the coastline on our trip back to Maine. We drove through the more touristy areas of New Hampshire, the beaches during the summer. Wow, what a crowd! It looked like South Beach on a winter day. There were throngs of tanned bodies, silly sun hats, carnival-like kiosks and tacky tourist-trap gift shops. It was like a parking lot trying to drive through the mess. I think I shall avoid such sun-worshipping Meccas in the future – just not my bag, baby. The group of Harley-drivers looked similarly disgusted by the display. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the skin that annoys me; it’s the ticky-tacky.
When we finally left the sun-drenched beaches of New Hampshire, and into the tree-laden hills of Maine, we realized that the car was a bit hungry, as well. We drove up 1A, trying to find cheap gas. Jason passed by several stations that were deemed too dear, but when we were stopped by a seemingly eternal traffic jam, we reversed our course and went back to the expensive (though available) gas. We had had enough of small, two lane roads that were wont to jam, so we went on to I-95 for some fast traveling. We found a Holiday Inn Express near Portland, to find a room for the night and continue our trip home in the morning, only to find it was full. The clerk said all the hotels (I assume she meant HI only) were full, though the Bath Holiday Inn had some smoking rooms (yuk).
I was not used to being shut out – I live in Florida, where there are ALWAYS more rooms available nearby. There simply aren’t enough tourists in the world to fill all the hotels in Florida, so far as I can tell. Therefore, we decided to drive a bit inland, to Lewiston, and found a rather expensive Ramada. We also made the mistake of eating at their buffet. Ugh! It was cheap – and deservedly so – at $5.99. That should have been our first clue. It was worse than high school cafeteria fare, but we were tired, we were hungry, we didn’t want to drive anymore, so we ate. Even the dessert was sad and tired. We slept reasonably well, though (we were exhausted), and set off in the morning.
Sunday, August 12th:
We woke up rested and ready to rock, despite a fairly hard bed. We headed down for some blessedly mundane McDonald’s breakfast (we didn’t want to risk the hotel breakfast after last night’s culinary tragedy), and set the GPS for Pemaquid Point. This was a beautiful area, filled with roses, butterflies, sailboats and cormorants. Spending a while soaking in the relaxing seaside beauty seemed like just the ticket to counteract the hectic beaches of the day before. Jason climbed down to the rocks and the beach, but I only had sandals on and wasn’t quite ready to trust these flimsy footwear to the ravages of Atlantic coast rocks. I stayed at the vantage point over the point, and took lots of beautiful photos, while Jason explored. I befriended some Monarch butterflies, also on vacation.
On the way back from the point, we decided to explore the next point south, and took 129 down. We got lost a couple times, despite the efforts of the GPS. Sometimes it was DUE to the GPS – it insisted there was a road where there was simply a cliff. Was it trying to get us killed? Apparently so. I could swear I could hear disappointment in the female voice as she recalculated our route after turning around. She’s out to get us, truly.
We made it to Rockland, only to discover it was in the throes of a Lobster Festival. That was all well and good, but we simply wanted to sit at a café and eat a relaxed lunch – and there was no parking to be had. The area was bustling with tourists, locals, and vendors, all wanting to hock cheap fair food. We did see a sushi restaurant, a phenomena my in-laws had insisted was nowhere to be found in Maine. However, we decided to skip scenic Rockland and head up the coast to Camden for more serene eating opportunities.
We found such opportunity at a small roadside café called ‘Offshore Diner’, not far from Camden. I had my first taste of New England lobster stew; we had steamed clams, lobster and fried seafood platters for lunch. The food was delicious; the stew was creamy and full of big chunks of lobster, the clams were wonderful and tasty, and I couldn’t finish all the food they brought.
After lunch, we headed inland on route 7, and headed home to my in-laws’ house and antique store (www.ironbellyantiques.com) in Palmyra, Maine. On the way through the bustling city of Newport, we saw what Jason called Holy Rollers (Pentecostals) – girls in blue dresses, boys in shirts and suits. We were home around 3:30pm, and after the initial round of hugs and hellos, we settled into our digs. I greeted their new black Labrador puppy (Chewie), and he gave me the grand tour of the place. Their house is a wonderful old farmhouse, circa 1830-1880, with a huge carriage house that is now an Antique Store, and 14 rooms in the main house. They’ve done a lot of renovating, but are still in the process for the kitchen and downstairs bathroom.
That night Jason got together ingredients to make one of his favorite meals – a cioppino soup made with mussels, clams, and scallops, and spaghetti with ‘Sunday gravy’, an Italian tomato sauce with different meats simmered in it. We ate it up, it was delicious! I think he impressed his parents with his cooking skills – I know his mom asked him for the recipe of the soup.
The Perseid meteor shower was supposed to be visible, but there was so much cloud cover it wasn’t. Too bad, I’d never seen meteor showers before, though I have seen my share of falling stars. The wishes never came true, though – otherwise I would have won that lottery long ago.
Monday, August 13th:
This morning we broke our fast at a northern US fixture, Tim Horton’s. They need one of these in Gainesville, seriously! Great bagels, divine iced cappuccino (and I normally don’t like coffee), donuts, breakfast sandwiches, lunch sandwiches, good old-fashioned recipes. Evidently Wendy’s owns a stake in the company, but the farthest south they have come so far is Kentucky… so I must be patient.
Jason’s laptop decided to make our vacation all the better by dying on us this morning, so we took a trek into Bangor to bring it to the Geek Squad at Best Buy. Since we were on vacation, we didn’t have our Windows disks with us, and Geek Squad said they would need them to reinstall anything. I think this is rather ridiculous – certified repair places should be allowed to purchase some generic repair disk to allow for this sort of thing. After all, laptops are DESIGNED to be mobile – you won’t be at home with them all the time, on purpose. So when it breaks down, you should be able to take it into a reliable repair shop, to be fixed. Right? Wrong. They have nothing to fix it if you don’t happen to have your disks with you, since they are all registered. Geek Squad said it would be 4 days until they could diagnose it – we said we would be leaving for Canada in less than that. We started to leave, they said they’d push it up as much as they could (right).
We drove over to Orono to the University of Maine to let off some steam. This is where my husband attended college, and he showed me the campus, where his dorm was, etc. It was rather deserted for the summer months, and reminded me of some apocalyptic movie scene. Zombies were expected shortly – or perhaps werewolves, as there were plenty of forests around. We went to one of his old dining places, Governor’s, for lunch. The shrimp roll I had was just OK, but the peanut butter/chocolate pie was grand.
We headed home for a rest – it had been quite stressful contemplating the certain death of the beloved laptop, lifeline to his school, games, and life. Jason spied some wild turkeys foraging in the garden, so I went out to try to take some pictures. Then we found the deer grazing in my father-in-law’s ‘deer marijuana’ field – a field of clover and chicory, and other good things deer like to feed on. There were four hanging out for a late lunch, munching away and giving us dirty looks as I snapped away with my camera.
We took a bit of a road trip up through Corinna, Dexter, and to Dover-Foxtrot. On the way we chose a dirt road to drive down to do some exploring, and ended up looking at an incredible scenic vista laid out before us – we could see for miles over the hills. This was late afternoon, so the sun shone golden on the green hills and trees, the battered barns and paint peeled farmhouses. It was truly an awe-inspiring sight. We found out later that my in-laws had considered buying property up on that very hill.
Just beyond is the Guilford covered bridge, a bridge still drivable (though it made me quite nervous doing so). The sun was beginning to set, so I got some wonderful photos of the sun shining on the flowing river below, rapids and stones dancing to the evening breeze.
We visited Lake Wausekeag on the way back down, and had a beautifully serene view of purpling clouds over a calm lake, some silhouettes of branches and trees framing the vision. It was getting quite cool out, but we explored some of the back roads around the camping areas, and then went home for an evening meal of leftovers from the wonderful repast from the night before.
Tuesday, August 14th:
We woke up early, breakfasted, and went into Corrina to buy some fresh grown vegetables at the local farm stand. We picked up Maine new potatoes, corn, some maple sugar candy (gotta feed that sweet tooth!) and other various things. We brought them home and decided to go exploring near Skowhegan for the day. I was beginning to notice the definite preponderance of broken down buildings – be they working farms or stores, houses or barns – and the tendency for the average Mainer to sell anything it can to get buy. I saw junk sales on the lawn, stores offering lobster, auto repair, bait, and massage in the same establishment. I noticed many small farms selling off excess produce, and antique stores at every corner. I realize that Maine has a pretty heavy unemployment problem, but this seemed more a show of strength in the face of adversity than desperation. Or was it? Could these folks move somewhere else if they wished, or were they stuck here by finance and family?
We ended up in Waterville at a Chinese buffet for lunch, and stuffed ourselves silly. We headed back home and decided to call Geek Squad to find out the diagnosis on our sick friend.
Geek Squad basically said (after first telling us it would take 4 days to do diagnostics) that it was screwed, both the hard drive and the memory. Lovely. This was after calling several times, and one clerk said he couldn’t find the computer because their system was down. Jason told them to physically look for it, and he found it in less than 10 seconds. Love that customer service.
Well, this meant an investment in a new laptop. We went back into Bangor, picked up our damaged lifeline, and went comparing new ones. This was not an expense I had counted on! However, we found a good one, and decided to do some research on it when we got home (we’re not that stupid). We had dinner at Olive Garden in Bangor, and while the food was good, it was nothing spectacular. Of course, what do you expect at a chain? The breadsticks and the sangria were the best parts J
After researching the internet for information on this model, it looked like a good deal, so we called Bangor – the only model they had was on the floor. So we called another Best Buy in Auburn, they had plenty (because there wasn’t a floor model – go figure). So, we planned to go there the next day. There were several days of vacationing getting taken over here by computer problems. Sigh. Such is our slavery to the electronic age, I suppose.
I think I should be composing a ballad in honor of the dead laptop.
Wednesday, August 15th:
We headed into Auburn for the new computer this morning – a rather overcast day, but nonetheless nice for its cool weather. We had to call for an address, as the GPS couldn’t find it right away, but find it we did. We bought it, and took it out to the car – where Jason had to take everything out, hook up the battery, and play with it a little first. Ostensibly this was to check that all was in working order – but I know he was just itching to get his hands on it and play. Boys and their toys.
We took the scenic route home, via Skowhegan, and decided to (finally!) try a small local place for lunch. We found a place called the Old Mill Pub on the GPS, and it was in a neat spot, right next to the river. I had a chicken pannini; Jason had a club – good food, nice atmosphere, but a trek up rickety little stairs for the upstairs tables. The table next to us housed a family vacationing from the Isle of Man.
Back at home, I did some research on the costs of the ferry from Bar Harbor to Yarmouth, and discovered to my horror how expensive it would be to transport four adults and one pickup truck – $1100! Wow, that was incredibly expensive for our budgets, so we decided to look into driving overland instead. I remember doing research for the ferries in Scotland, and they are MUCH cheaper.
I went out for a drive by myself that afternoon. Often I will see things I want a picture of, but feel foolish asking Jason (or whoever else is driving) to pull over to get a shot. Trying to shoot out of a moving car is very difficult, even with fast exposure, and 4 out of 5 shots are worthless when that’s done. So I drove up through Corinna, Dexter and Dover-Foxtrot again, and went back to the covered bridge for some brighter shots. I found old crumbling barns, houses draped in Americana, graceful horses and beautiful fields of wildflowers. There truly is a sublime beauty to Maine in the summer, and I am very glad I came.
On my way to Canaan for more of such pictures, I conceived an idea for a new book, about the American Dream. How we are both desperate and ambitious, two sides of the same coin.
I went home for Jason’s home-cooked dinner, with fresh corn, new potatoes and barbecued pork steak. Yum! I am so glad to be married to someone who can not only cook, but cook well. It is truly a blessing.
Thursday, August 16th:
Up early early early! Crack of dawn, here we come! I was up at a quarter to 5 to trek up to Moosehead Lake. I wanted to see a moose, and this was the best chance I had, so off we went.
Of course, we could have been driving right next to entire herds of moose and not known it for much of the trip up – the fog was thick, the pre-dawn light was dim, and the world was quiet in a shroud of cold white and grey.
We headed up the road to Greenville, a trip of about 1.5 hours. We saw chipmunks, rabbits, logging trucks, and moose tracks, but no moose. We saw bear crap (yum) and some incredibly beautiful spots, but no moose. The moose were definitely avoiding me, the fools. I would immortalize them, make them famous, put them on the cover of a book, but noooo – they had to be coy and play hard to get. Bah.
We drove up Sias Way and Golden Road, and I discovered what a truly bad road can do to your kidneys. There were craters in this road larger than some swimming pools. It made me truly wish I was an A cup, the rattling and bouncing was so painful. However, we found ourselves exploring up logging roads, seeing crystalline lakes and verdant mountains around us, it was worth it.
High-tech signage, Maine style
We went to an area called Lake Caribou, drove past Mount Ketahdin (tallest mountain in Maine) and along the Penobscot River. There were lots of vacationers kayaking, fishing, camping, and just hanging out. The views were impressive, though the clouds kept threatening us with occasional showers. We then discovered that breakfast was a long time ago, and our blood sugar needed an injection of food – so we were thrilled to find a campground with a small refectory. The shop was called “Pray’s”, and I saw several of these around Maine. A sweet old lady (who rather resembled the moose we were so futilely searching for) apologized for having to charge so much for beef jerky. We found a nice place to watch the river rafter’s race down the river, and then found ourselves in Bangor again for lunch. We were tired and beat up from our rides down the logging roads, so we stopped at a safe place for lunch – Wendy’s. Having tried to find another of Jason’s long-ago haunts, Pizza Dome, we found an empty building instead. We drove home after lunch and took a much needed nap before dinner.
The whole family headed to a seafood restaurant in Newport for dinner, called Angler’s. This must be a popular place, as it was quite crowded, but their food was delicious. We had my sister-in-law’s daughters with us as well, and the youngest, Charity, ordered smelts. She calls them ‘the bony things’, and loved them (she’s 8, I think). I had fried oysters and clams, and great clam chowder. The bread pudding, however, left much to be desired – it was more like unsweetened bread mush. L
Friday, August 17th:
We woke early (though not as early as yesterday, thank the gods!) and had some biscuits and blackberry jam for breakfast – my brother-in-law makes great biscuits. I spent the morning helping my mother-in-law with some much-needed laundry, and hung around the house a bit. Jason decided to make some clam chowder for dinner, so we went to pick up more potatoes and fresh seafood, including some steamer clams. Well, we ended up eating those for lunch instead, and Charity (the 8-year-old) joined us. She didn’t even have a problem peeling the skins off.
We went for some ice cream at a local place, the Lake Shore Restaurant, right between two lakes in Dexter. Saw lots of people well tanned from a summer of sun. It’s very odd – Floridians don’t tend to tan much, because they realize the power of the Florida sun, and stay healthy by staying out of it. In Maine, the sun is so much weaker, there is little danger in getting toasty brown much of the summer. Ironic, isn’t it?
We had a delicious chowder for dinner, and went to bed for an early day. Tomorrow we are planning on driving to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor.
Saturday, August 18th:
Well, we got as far as Bangor, and realized that it was simply pouring. Even if we could see well, any photos I would get would be terrible. We reluctantly headed back to the house for some home time, and decided we would go when we get back from next week’s trip to Nova Scotia.
We had lunch in Dexter with Jason’s Uncle Jimmy and his wife Holly, and my father-in-law. The pizza was quite good, which surprised both Jason and me. There are many House of Pizzas throughout Maine, but it isn’t a chain – simply the name many people choose to give their local pizza restaurant.
Back home again we watched some television and did some true relaxing. We also researched our ferry/driving options for Nova Scotia, and decided that it would be better to drive up to Nova Scotia, stay a night in Moncton, and take the ferry from Digby to St. John on the way back. This way we could visit with my mother-in-law’s Uncle Raymond in Moncton, and save a good bit of cash. It would be a lot of driving, but everyone insisted that was fine.
Sunday, August 19th:
We woke up early to get on the road, as it was a long drive to Moncton. However, we ended up getting on the road around 8:30am, which was pretty good. Breakfast was at Tim Horton’s, and gave us the caffeine fix to get through the drive.
We drove to Bangor via I-95, and took Route 9 to Calais (border). Most of this route was simply trees, trees, and more trees. However, the occasional isolated village or roadside stop broke up the monotony and offered some interesting insight into the area.
We stopped for lunch near Alexander at a roadside restaurant called “Nooks and Crannies”. Though we waited a long time for lunch (there was a large party who arrived just before us), the food was good. My in-laws each had Greek salads and souvlaki, I had a burger, and Jason had fried clams. They had some interesting decorations about the place, such as a half of a boat built into the corner of the house.
It took about an hour to get through the line at Calais to the border guard, and through Customs. Since we hadn’t been to Canada in a while, our car was searched, but everyone was nice and quick about it, no harm. Politeness goes a long way, on both sides. As we pulled away and out of the town, Jason and I started singing… “Our country reeks of trees…” with apologies to Ren and Stimpy.
We took Route 1 up to St. John, and stopped by Ossie’s for some ice cream on the way. They had good soft serve, and it really hit the spot. It wasn’t warm out, but the sun was strong in a cloudless blue sky, and it felt good to stretch the legs.
We discovered that our phones all changed times just before we crossed the border, as that part of Canada is on Atlantic Time, rather than Eastern Time. It changed back and forth a couple times, so there must have been dueling cell phone towers, battling it out. Our cell phones all now said ‘Rogers’, so that is evidently the local telecom giant.
We drove up to Moncton and found our hotel thanks to the GPS. It was a Best Western I found through Hotels.com (http://book.bestwestern.com/bestwestern/productInfo.do?propertyCode=64007), and Uncle Raymond and Aunt Nancy met us there. They had us follow us to the other side of town(s) for dinner at one of their favorite restaurants, Le Paysan. Wonderful seafood and steaks, much more food than I could finish! Uncle Raymond is a hoot; I liked him a lot – full of fun and life, even in his 80s.
We went back to the hotel after dinner, pooped after a long day of highway hypnosis and cramped leg muscles. My in-laws have a Ford F-250, and it is very roomy, but sitting for 8 hours in the day still cramps you up some. The hotel beds were dead hard, and none of us got great sleep.
Monday, August 20th:
Today we travel to Halifax. We wandered around a bit, looking for a drug store in vain. We did find a topless dancing place next to a Catholic School – no wait, no lines, come right in! Armed with our GPS (changed to a man’s voice for variety) we headed on – and on – and on. Straight highway, lots of trees. I thought there were lots of trees in Maine, I really did. Ren & Stimpy weren’t kidding when they said Canada reeked of trees. Each hill we crested I imagined would show Halifax in front of us – and at each hill I was disappointed. It sure doesn’t SEEM like that long of a drive when you are looking at it on a map. I stand humbled and corrected L We almost broke the GPS – we tried to calculate the route to Halifax, but had it in ‘avoid highway’ mode. Well, there is no way to avoid highways to get to Halifax, not over the land bridge. It froze, we had to reset it.
We stopped at Tim Horton’s again for breakfast (go figure) in Amherst, and discovered that they use jet engines instead of hand dryers in the ladies room. I had to struggle to keep my hands under it! But it dried me off quickly.
We stopped at one town off the highway to get gas, and had a lovely drive across the swamp to get there. The river beds were low, and the mud looked like it would be alligator heaven. Luckily, it’s a bit chilly up here for such creatures. Put it in Florida and you would have a swamp party.4-+
As we got closer to Halifax, we saw more farms than trees, but such big farms they were! We weren’t talking the little family farms of Maine, but large industrial farms with 4 or 5 silos, acres and acres of land, big nasty tangled farm equipment at every corner. Definitely a bread basket area.
When we got to Halifax, we went over the scary bridge (well, scary to our driver) and made the mistake of listening to the GPS rather than following the map. The blue line, we have discovered, is much more accurate than the spoken voice, and this is of great importance when navigating around the wharf in Halifax. One run red light later, we found the Marriott Harbourside, and were delighted (and relieved we made it in one piece). I found this hotel via Priceline for $75 a night, and it was great. The lobby was clean and beautiful; it was right on the water, next to great little touristy shops and restaurants. The rooms were spacious, and oh, the beds were so heavenly soft and comfy. Especially after the monk-like pallets of the night before. Bliss! (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/yhzmc-halifax-marriott-harbourfront-hotel/)
They couldn’t fit the big truck in their normal parking garage, so we were asked to park in the receiving area. Odd that, you wouldn’t think a pickup truck too tall, but there it was. Perhaps they haven’t yet caught on to America’s love affair with SUVs in Canada. Or, at least in Nova Scotia.
We settled into our rooms, and picked a place for lunch from the information left in our rooms by the hotel. I finally got a ‘local’ place, at my insistence, but mainly because it was within walking distance. We really didn’t want to venture out with the car again if we didn’t have to, as the hotel is on a one-way access street, and difficult to find again.
We chose O’Carroll’s (http://www.ocarrolls.com/), an Irish-style pub, for lunch – it was about a block away from the hotel. It was a charming place with nice old ironwork on the radiators and tables. Jason and I had a wonderful steak-and-kidney pie, not so great calamari, and the in-laws both had salmon. I finally got my long-awaited pint of cider, and loved it. We had dessert (divine!) and chatted with the staff about live music that night.
We wandered around the market shops near the wharf for some touristy shopping. I picked up several post cards for gifts to my co-workers, and saw a pirate ship launch from the quay. There were several local artists selling their wares, lots of shoppers and diners at the food court, and boats skipping across the harbor – from tugboats from a children’s show to pirate ships. Ahoy!
We decided to go explore Peggy’s Cove after lunch, so off we go into the arms of a spiteful GPS. Apparently my mother-in-law drives too fast to allow the GPS to recalculate after her wrong turns, and it led us on a merry chase through the heart of traffic-filled Halifax during rush hour. While the street we were stuck on was quite pretty with lovely Victorian houses, we were much relieved when it released us from its grip and deposited us on the highway out of town. I believe the street was Connaught Street, ironic as I know the lonely, rolling moors of Connaught in Ireland is quite different from this distinctly urban area.
It was a nice one-hour drive to Peggy’s Cove, full of twisty, turny roads achingly reminiscent of Irish coastal roads. There were small fishing villages strung along the road like a string of pearls, each one with quaint plastered all over it. We even passed one road called ‘Round Tuit’. As we got closer to the lighthouse, we drove through an area where it was patently obvious glaciers had visited – and deposited its load of boulders on rolling hills. It definitely reminded me of the west coast of Ireland, with miles of boulders among green pastures. The Irish dig up the rocks and make fences out of them to allow the land to be used. The Canadians evidently just leave them where they are and fish instead.
When we arrived at the fishing village that housed the lighthouse called Peggy’s Cove, we were amazed at the extent of the boulders on the shore, and resolved to climb them. Charity would have had a blast, climbing to and fro – we would likely have never found her again, lost in the white endless maze of rock.
Jason used the binoculars to whale-watch (he saw one spume of water in the distance), while I concentrated on not falling (again in the sandals – I don’t learn) and catching dramatic shots of the area without too many people in it. The clouds behind the lighthouse were wispy, and made it look like there was smoke coming from the top of the lighthouse. With the sun beginning to set behind, it made for dramatic silhouettes. The cries of the seagulls and the crash of the waves drowned out the jabber of tourists on that lonely outpost.
I wandered down to the village for some more interesting photographs while everyone relaxed for a while. Evidently I had the right idea, as several other photographers also came down to take similar shots. There must have been about a dozen of us at one point; great minds think alike. Then we got back in the car and reversed our route to Halifax. We giggled again at ‘Round Tuit’ road, and opined on what it would be like to retire to this area. As beautiful as it is, I’d likely go batty pretty quickly with so little to do.
We were going to have dinner at the hotel pub, but the fare looked very staid and uninviting, so it took not much persuasion to convince the group to head to O’Carroll’s again for some dining adventure. Lunch had been a bit pricy, but dinner was even more so. There was some live music, but nothing wonderful – the same set of popular songs I’ve heard over and over, done not much better than our local medieval group bardics. However, the dinners were delicious. I had the salmon with chili maple sauce; it was incredibly savory and delicious.
It had been a long, tiring day full of driving and climbing, exploring and running red lights, and we all went to a deep sleep in our heavenly pillow-top beds… sigh!
Tuesday, August 21st:
We woke fairly early, but decided not to go exploring the Citadel this morning as we had originally planned. We did discover that last night’s dinner was charged four times on the credit card. However, the waitress had said she’d had some problems getting the charge through – hopefully the three bogus charges will drop away. (They did the next day)
We stopped for gas around the Shubanacadie Canal, and grabbed something to eat at our mainstay, Tim Horton’s. We took the more scenic southern, coastal route to today’s destination, Pictou. There were countless beautiful coves, lakes, and lots of roadwork and orange barrels to break up the scenic monotony. Monotony, you say? Yes, monotony. There are only so many picturesque coves and trees you can see until you say: Nay! Enough!
We had lunch at a small roadside diner called ‘Your Home Away From Home’ which was also a motel. The chowder was incredibly good (had mushrooms) but the lunch and dessert was merely acceptable; burgers and lemon pie. The setting was nice, right on the river, with hummingbirds visiting the feeder while we waited. The owner also told my mother-in-law all about Cape Breton Island, and how we needed to visit in September and October during the Festival of the Colors. Evidently this is when the leaves change color, and the normal tourists have gone home. Those that are left are invited into people’s houses for ‘kitchen rackets’ and ‘frolics’, dancing and singing. People hop from place to place all evening long, throughout the festival. Sounds like grand fun to me, anyone else care to join us? Not this year, though.
We headed north across country and made it to Pictou around 5pm, despite efforts by GPS to misdirect us. I was a bit apprehensive when the street of the B&B didn’t show up in the GPS, but I should have saved my worry – we found the street very close to the harbor, and went up to our rooms – on the third floor. Oh, my aching knees! My father-in-law and husband’s knees were complaining as well, I could hear them. However, we settled in, chatted with our warm and friendly hosts (Debby and Jamie MacLean) and got a recommendation for dinner at the Salty Sea Restaurant. (The B&B was called the Willow House Inn; www.willowhouseinn.com)
We wandered down to the harbor, and went to the Salty Sea – wish we hadn’t. The appetizers were ok, but the dinner was definitely NOT. The seafood was all very overcooked, and the service was rather slow. We had salmon and fried clams, but it was practically burnt. They also had no cider (boohoo!)
We wandered back on the pier, and had some ice cream, which did much to set our attitudes back to pleasant. I had Puppy Paws ice cream, and it was yummy. We also saw an older gent come into the harbor on a bright blue motorboat – and then out again. He had a bright green parrot in the middle of the boat. We therefore dubbed him Parrot Poop Pete, the Pesky Pirate of Pictou. Arrrr!!!!
The view across the harbor was beautiful as the sun set. We sat and watched the birds play in the water, and the folk walk up and down the pier for a while. The only part of the vision that marred it was the out-of-place factory across the bay, spewing out factory smoke, breaking up the perfect skyline of trees and sailboats.
We enjoyed seeing the Hector, a reproduction of the ship that brought Scottish settlers from the highlands to Pictou in the 18th century, after the highland clearances. There were several McKenzie passengers on the list, and that was my great-grandmother’s name, so I had some relatives on the voyage. (All the McKenzie’s come from the same origin, so we’re all related).
There is summer music every evening in Pictou, and we heard some bagpipe music wafting over the pier as we watched the sunset. To me, it was the most relaxing, enjoyable part of the trip. The music seemed to skip over the rippling water.
On our way back to the B&B in the growing twilight, we walked past a group of three children selling pony bead jewelry for ’10 cents… or less!’. We bought a couple for a quarter each, and went on.
We spent a pleasant couple hours chatting with our hosts and other visitors to the B&B about our travels, our homes, the wine our hosts made, and many other things. I slept very well, with soft beds and cool weather.
Wednesday, August 22nd:
Breakfast was tasty, made by Debby and cheerfully served by Jamie. He made his scones (with candied fruit, as you find in fruitcake) and they were absolutely delicious. And I’m picky about my scones! There were homemade jams of crabapple, peach and strawberry. There was also a croissant sandwich made with herbed scrambled eggs. All in all, it was a very tasty breakfast.
We wandered off to the Hector ship, and I went into the interpretive center to explore. My father-in-law came as well, though I think he was more interested in examining the post-and-beam construction of the building than anything else. They have a nice tableau of things around the voyage, including life before and after the journey. The ship itself was great to explore. There was a blacksmithy and carpenter shop set up, but none of their goods were on sale, pity. There was a gift shop, but it had the usual tourist stuff, very overpriced, and the place was sweltering inside. The outside was a cool 65 degrees, so no excuse for the heat.
I found my mother-in-law shopping in one of the downtown shops, and picked up a replacement wool McKenzie scarf for the one my husband washed and dried several years ago (I had bought the previous one in Scotland). Then we headed out of town towards Digby, tonight’s destination. Pictou was a sweet little town, certainly touristy, but in an understated way. I don’t believe they get the droves of tourists that Halifax gets, but rather the determined travelers – those that are truly searching for a local experience, rather than a tourist feather in their cap. I would certainly enjoy another, longer visit someday – perhaps with some time up in Cape Breton Island.
We had a few things to take care of before getting on the highway – breakfast, gas, and snacks. We found a Shell station by asking one of the locals – he knew we needed a diesel station by the sound of our engine. We picked up some odd snacks, including sweet chili Doritos. We passed on the Ketchup flavored Lay’s (ugh).
We drove down to Truro, and saw the basin of the bay at Walton Lighthouse. Everything was at low tide, so it was red mud flat for as far as you could see. I climbed up to the top of the lighthouse, but it was only about two stories up, not a huge differential. I was less than impressed with the size of the lighthouse. I had always been under the impression they were tall, round structures, not this short, squat, square thing. The only other lighthouse I had seen in person was the one at Cape Florida on Key Biscayne. This seemed rather puny in comparison. Of course, the Cape Florida lighthouse is on sea level land, while the Walton Lighthouse is on the edge of a tall cliff. Makes a bit of a difference, don’t you think?
We found a couple antique stores along the way to Digby, but the items offered were much more expensive than my in-laws could sell in Maine. They asked if there was a dealer’s discount, and were told no. Buh-bye!
Wolfville was our place for lunch, at – you guessed it – Tim Horton’s. It’s a great thing I decided I didn’t want new experiences for each meal on this vacation. Normally I revel in trying new places, pubs, drinks, diners, etc., and stay away from chains, but I wasn’t driving, so the driver chose the food. And perhaps I am occasionally too militant about my desire to not try or do anything I can try or do at home. Ok, perhaps not 😛
This city housed Acadia University, and there were some very interesting people who came through while we ate. The guy sitting next to us kept reading a book and drawing strange things – the same thing, over and over, sort of a cartoon with rocks on the bottom of the page, and the word ‘staff’ written across the middle. Very odd.
We drove 101 down to Digby and Annapolis Royal – we had done the coastal route thing from Truro, and just wanted to get to our destination now. Besides, it was getting a bit late, and we needed to make up time. The land along the highway was uninspiring, but pretty nonetheless. As we approached Annapolis Royal, we stopped to explore the town a bit. I went to go into the Gardens, but the price was too dear – $8.50 seemed a little steep for gardens that looked less impressive than the ones in Ireland did. The others weren’t interested anyhow, so we went down to the dock to explore some more. There was a quite, peaceful waterfront walkway under the Cliffside, and a very large tugboat hulking in the harbor. I also found what I am firmly convinced must be the only Celtic Cross in Nova Scotia – it was in a cemetery not far from the wharf. There was also an intricately wrought iron star grave marker right behind it.
We went on to Digby, having explored Annapolis Royal a bit. Digby was an odd place, with a very historic, touristy dockside area, and a very commercial suburban area. We found our B&B on the waterside, and checked into our suite. The B&B was the Harmony Inn Suites (http://www.harmonybedbreakfast.ns.ca/), and we had our own room in behind the main house. Breakfast was evidently just some pastries in a bowl left for us for the morning, but the beds were somewhat comfortable.
We settled in and I signed onto the internet to get our ferry tickets for the next day. We went down to the recommend ‘Fisher’s Galley’ for dinner. Digby scallops were supposedly world famous – I was looking forward to trying them. The wharf was great – very much the typical fishing village. The tide came in and rocked the boats, the sun set, and the gulls cried.
We went upstairs and had dinner on a deck overlooking the harbor. There was a band called B-Town Boys playing bluesy rock music (Stevie Ray Vaughn, Green Onions) down below, and the wharf was very pretty. The gulls were playing in the harbor.
The chowder had been highly recommended by our B&B host, Heather, and she was not lying, it was absolutely delicious! It was stuffed full of succulent seafood, creamy and good. I don’t think I had one bowl of chowder this vacation that was anything but wonderful. For dinner I got lobster and Digby scallops in garlic butter, and they were incredibly good. The lobster was a little tough, but the scallops lived up to their reputation. Lobster isn’t my favorite seafood – I think shrimp and crap hold that title, though great scallops will give them a run for their money.
We closed the place down, evidently, the last to leave. We went back home because it was getting rather chilly, and quickly! We watched some television, and went to sleep.
Thursday, August 23rd:
We were up around 9, though we had been shooting for 8. Our ferry was leaving the dock around 1pm, so after breakfast at our usual place, we wandered towards the ferry. Or, what we thought was the ferry – the GPS insisted that the Pizza Delight store was the ferry, so we navigated the old-fashioned way – by sign. Luckily it was well marked, and we got to the ticket booth.
Then I realized I had bought tickets for the next day instead (grr!). Not to worry, they had room (barely). However, I later discovered why this happened – my husband’s new computer was set one day ahead, so when I checked today’s date, and bought tomorrow’s tickets based on that, it was all screwed up. Bah. That’s what I get for trusting technology! Luckily, the folks at the ferry were all very nice and helpful, and we got it all straightened out.
We had about an hour before we would get in line for the ferry, so we went up to the observation lounge to relax. When it was 12, we went down to sit in our car. And sit. And sit… we were the last row to go on the ferry, beginning to think they had forgotten us. But, eventually we were motioned on, and parked inside the ship.
Now, my only other ferry ride ever had been a small passenger-only ferry from Doolin to the Aran Islands in Ireland the previous summer. I’d never been on such a large ferry before, complete with two cafés and on-deck seating.
Once on, we went up above decks, and watched for wildlife. Over the course of the three hour trip, we saw about a dozen schools of dolphins, lots of seabirds, and Jason thinks he saw a pilot whale at one point. It was very mesmerizing to sit and watch the ocean drift by, seabirds diving into seaweed floating by.
They had a café on board, and I had some fried clams and fries. I also tried my mother-in-laws poutine (poo-TIN) – the fries with gravy and cheese kind. I quite liked it! There are evidently two kinds of this Canadian dish. One is the aforementioned fries; the other is a sort of potato pancake with pork. I think I will prefer the fries.
As we came into St. John, I saw another lighthouse on a rock, and took sufficient photos to fill a photo album; though again, this was a small, short lighthouse, disappointing to my ideal.
Out towards St. Stephen and the border we went! It only took a short time to get there, but it took an hour to get through the border. This was mostly because people kept cutting in line from the other direction. We noted that many of the businesses in that main street were dead or dying – I can’t imagine it’s good for business when no one can get to your store due to backed up border traffic.
On the other side of the border, back in the US again, we stopped for snacks, and I got my own dish of poutine, to share with Jason. It was tasty, but didn’t go with the ice cream the others got. We got into Bangor around dinner time, tired and cramped, and settled for safety – McDonalds.
Friday, August 24th:
Well, today we were supposed to go to Acadia, as our previous trip was rained out, but the weather was once again determined to stop my trip, it was raining all day. We relaxed instead and did some laundry, worked on my in-laws website, and hung around. We drove up in the afternoon for some homemade ice cream at Butterfields in Dover-Foxcroft. I ordered moose track ice cream – and got barely any chocolate. The moose are even avoiding me here! Grrrrr.
We went back to the house for some yummy deer meat for dinner. Life is good.
Saturday, August 25th:
Today we take our leave of our thankfully tolerant hosts, my in-laws, and head down to the booming metropolis of Boston, for my morning flight back home. With teary farewells and warm hugs, we went on our way through the foggy and rainy day. Since we were unable to make it up to Bar Harbor/Acadia this trip, we decided instead we would explore Salem on the way to Boston. We got on the road around 9:30, and got to Salem around 1pm. It was a cool town, but there were three different festivals going on at once. There was a church festival, a boat show, and an antique show, so all parking was well taken. We stopped at a park just outside town, reprogrammed the GPS, and decided to get lunch in Boston after all.
We found the Courtyard by Marriott in Revere (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/bosrv-courtyard-boston-revere-saugus/), and wow, what a mess! Not the hotel itself, but the road it is on. US1 at that point has a fenced median – so turning around means exiting and re-entering the road. Getting to the other side, you need to do the same thing. It’s a mess.
We found a Fuddruckers, which I hadn’t had in a long time, not far from the hotel. We went there for lunch, and relaxed back at the hotel. Jason was driving out early in the morning to bypass New York traffic, so we went to sleep early.
Sunday, August 26th:
End of the road! I got up early and took the airport shuttle, and took my uneventful and delightfully boring flight back home. I had lunch in the Charlotte airport (Quiznos) and was home by 3pm. Throughout both flights up and back, US Airways staff was efficient, friendly, and helpful to me and others.
On the first flight back, I noticed a family was rather split up, so I offered to change my window seat for the mother’s window seat so they could sit together. She thanked me profusely, and made me feel all good inside J
Maine is a beautiful state, but not for those that must have touristy things. Yes, there are plenty of tourist traps on the coast, but there is incredible beauty inland, as well. Get past the mainstream and find the down home in the woods. Search for moose (if only in vain) and find the Indians. Glimpse the rabbits and woodchucks in the hedgerows, sample the little roadside diners, and revel in the natural beauty of ‘vacationland’.
Nova Scotia seems like a different world, a strange marriage of Canada and Scotland. You see doormen with kilts, but speaking with French accents. You see dishes like poutine, chowder, and steak-and-kidney pie on the same menu, and wonder at the rich heritage from which this springs. Glittering bays with dozens of white triangles sailing on the surface, cut by millions of trees. It is truly a wonderful part of the Maritimes, and beautiful beyond words.
This was an unusual vacation for me, as I am used to seeing and doing whatever I can in an area. This vacation had more driving and relaxing than I am used to and it was hard to adjust. My mindset had always been that you can sleep and relax at home, why fly hundreds of miles to do that? But it was nice to relax and watch the sunset at Pictou, or Digby. It was fun watching for moose in the marshes of Moosehead Lake and Greenville. It was great to see the crumbling barns and newly restored Victorian houses along the way.