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North America » Canada » Nova Scotia » Halifax
October 3rd 2014
Published: October 3rd 2014
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Montreal enroute to Halifax Nova Scotia

It’s a cold and overcast start to the day in Quebec City. After some breakfast at the hostel (which is pretty filling), we walk down to the coach station & the wind is blustering which makes it feel even cooler especially if all you have on is a T Shirt. As the walk is all downhill we do it in good time and after a short wait board the Orleans Express Bus to Montreal.

We actually leave a few minutes early and the coach is pretty full, has fancy reclining leather chairs, charging points and free Wi-Fi (which helps us stay in touch with home & do some research on the New England & NYC trips to come).

The journey is pretty smooth and in 3 hours we are in Montreal and its overcast and dull. To get to the Metro M has to carry the heavy suitcase up a few flights of stairs as there are no escalators which doesn’t improve our impression of the city one bit. Nil point for being so disabled conscious (not) Montreal!

It’s good to see Arnaud at the hostel & we (for which read C) rearrange the travel bags as its distinctly autumnal now and is likely to be cooler in Nova Scotia, our next destination. We’re in the Lime Room this time which is larger & brighter than our previous Rouge Room here before, but up an extra flight so knackering with the bags.

We FT with Romi & John in Brighton and catch up on the latest back home. Then it’s out for a snack as it’s so late for lunch. Starbucks to the rescue and then back to The Auberge Alternative for a light dinner & kip before the early start tomorrow…………

Nova Scotia – Seafood Heaven

Halifax – Provincial capital

We’re up at 6am and watch the sunrise over Montreal, which is quite nice. We are ready to leave by 7am and just about see Arnaud before we go. We’ve left 2 bags with him while we travel NS & PEI.

We walk to the bus stop 15 mins away and catch the 7.18am 747 Express Airport bus. It’s $10 each for a ticket that is valid for 24 hours. We missed a trick and should have got it earlier to use on the Metro yesterday.

The trip to the airport takes about 45 mins. The place is a clean and well organised airport but no frills – just functional & clean. It’s breakfast at Second Cup and then we catch the 10.10am flight with Porter Airlines to Halifax. However, they have a slight mechanical hitch and leave 45 mins late. The communication from Porter Airway is first rate – an email to advise us and good info from the staff. Many bigger airlines can definitely learn from them.

The flight is only 1hr 15 mins and comfortable with snacks and a drink. The time is one hour ahead when we land. We get our rental car from Avis via Canadian Affairs in London. As usual there are a few minor irritations about what Avis will & won’t insure as part of the deal.

It takes us about 30 mins to Halifax (avoiding Toll roads). We decide to stop off to get some lunch by the waterfront. There’s a place in the guide book that sounds great. After scrambling around at the Farmers’ Market we discover that the place has closed down - damn. So we go off in search of an alternative and come across the Waterfront Warehouse and enjoy the most awesome Clam Chowder – NS style and an Ahi Burger. Serendipity. Then after a quick stop at the Visitor Centre we are on our way to Lunenburg.

Lunenburg – Historic Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site & the best seafood fayre around

We arrive 1 hr 30 mins later (65 miles) & check in at the Rum Runner Inn. It’s a great B & B by the waterfront. The room is nice and comfortable – self-contained for a change.

As its nearing sunset we rush to the opposite side of the bay (along the edge of a golf course – so look out for stray balls) where the best views of the Old Town can be seen in all its glory. It’s not the brightest of days but we get a few pics even so. The waterfront is lined with clapboard buildings painted in bright colours and many on stilts above the water. And the whole town is like this, going uphill from the waterfront – clapboard construction and colourful. It looks like images we’ve seen of Greenland.

Dinner is at the Grand Banker Bar & Grill. Lovely Garrison Tall Ship amber ales at the bar while we wait 30 mins for a table. Then it’s a fabulous meal of Acadian Cajun Seafood Stew & the best PoBoy we have ever had (Haddock). We’ll definitely go back there. One issue to watch for is that most places close between 8 and 9 pm – clearly not a place for late nights & wild parties.

It starts as a rainy day so we take our time getting ready. We pass on the ridiculous $3 discount at The Scuttlebutt for breakfast. This won’t even buy a coffee and we’re not sure what the point is.

At about midday its stops raining & it starts to clear up & the sun breaks through. We go to Savvy Sailor for a coffee and end up having an awesome Maritime Benny – that’s a Lobster (and plenty of it) Benedict for only $16 – amazing. We will be back here too.

It’s then time to explore the Old Town. It is regarded as the best planned and preserved British colonial settlement (since 1754) in north America. We walk around the highlights of the historic centre starting with the waterfront where there is a replica of the Bluenose II tall ship. This was a famous ship from the early 20th century which won many races. We also learn about the Rum Runners of the area during the depression when liquor was banned in the US & the Canadian Fishermen took booze across to the US coastlines as this was more lucrative than fishing.

There’s plenty of evidence of the historic fishing past of the people, including a poignant memorial of granite stones carved with the names of those lost at sea. What stands out is how families would have been decimated by lost boats, but also the expectation that more will be lost; there are 2 sides of one stone empty, waiting for names to be added.

The Fisheries Museum is undergoing renovation and is closed to the public but you can still go on some of the fishing boats they have moored there. As we wander around we notice that many buildings/houses are up for sale – not sure this is a good sign or a positive advert for the town.

Many of the buildings look like they are in need of TLC & we are not sure where the funds from UNESCO go. This is definitely the least pristine of all the UNESCO heritage sites we have seen around the world.

At the top of town, St John’s Anglican Church is pretty impressive having been rebuilt after a massive fire in 2001. There are many pictures of the place alight, being dealt with by the fire brigade etc. and the graphic before, during and after restoration pictures. They did a good job. Further up the hill is The Academy School building – a legacy of the old style schooling that took place in the town.

Later in the afternoon the sun really does come out and we drive to Port Medway – an alleged photogenic town 70 kms away. It takes an hour to get there and on arrival we are not sure why we bothered. Other than a cute lighthouse at the edge of the bay there is not much to recommend it. After some pictures we head back and then do a little detour to Blue Rocks, a small fishing harbour about 8km from Lunenburg. It’s awesome! A really pretty little place overlooking a small natural harbour, that is great for photo’s. And on our return we find the sunset lighting on Lunenburg is brilliant – so more pictures from the golf course before dinner.

Having enjoyed the Grand Banker last night we return to enjoy some other items we liked on their menu – specially the twice smoked pork chop with red wine & wild blueberry reduction. Blueberries are a big hit in Canada – much sweeter than back home and they make loads of products from them. We also go for the scallops and risotto. Not bad. We aim to be back again for the Acadian Seafood Stew tomorrow – yum. (There are lots of other places to eat here which we did plan to go to but somehow the Grand Banker menu seems the best to us).

Our final day in NS for the time being. As the weather is kind we go to The Kejimkujik National park 1.5 hrs drive across the island. Some of the trees have changed colour to bright red and we can only imagine how fantastic the scene will be in the height of autumn. Keji as it’s known locally is named after the Mi’kmaw First Nations people of the area and means ‘little fairies’. The National park is a mix of waterways, islands and forest. The best way to enjoy the area is by canoe as the ancient ones did.

After a quick trip to the Visitor Centre & 2 shorts hikes by the waters edge – the autumnal light is good, it’s getting on so we make for Annapolis Royal which seems a nice town from the google images and the guide book description. First stop is Vicki’s for lunch where we have awesome fish and chips and local Digby scallops. The town is pretty small with not much to see in truth– a long way to come for not much we feel. It’s definitely pumpkin season and Halloween is in the air as some of the houses are decorated with pumpkins and autumnal harvest displays.

We drive back via Bridgewater which has a couple of places selling brightly coloured easy chairs – a feature of the area especially by the river and seaside. Also there is an enormous boat that was in dry dock but had fallen over a bit onto the boat yard causing some damage but looks spectacular in the sunlight resting against the large boathouse. All good for pics.

Dinner as planned is Acadian Seafood stew and haddock & salt cod fish cakes - a nice way to end the day and our stay here in Lunenburg.

Prince Edward Island – Lobster Island

Charlottetown

A lobster benny for breakfast overlooking Lunenburg harbour seems a pretty awesome and decadent way to start the day– and that’s exactly what we did before leaving for the long drive to PEI.

It’s a nice morning but the drive is nothing much to write about as we pass Halifax and Truro & stop at Bedford and then Port Elgin in New Brunswick for a break, change of driver and gas. This area is littered with English names & this continues into East Hants County, then Cornwall etc. We eventually cross the Confederation Bridge which is 14 kms long across the Northumberland straits; an amazing feat of engineering.

The history & heritage of PEI is a combination of English, Scottish, Irish and French. This shows in the architectural landscape of the island and the cuisine and cultural events throughout the year.

We stop off at Victoria by the sea, a quaint ‘English village’ from the early 20th century with just 100 inhabitants who work together to keep the community alive. Then it’s on to Charlottetown, the capital of PEI, which is pretty spread out with a few large Malls and most of the American Motels represented here.

We are booked into the HI Hostel in Charlottetown, where we have a room in the roof. A good breakfast is included which is served at a big communal table in the kitchen so we get to chat to quite a few folk from across the world which is nice. It’s pretty central but then downtown Charlottetown isn’t very big anyway and is quite walkable. We wander around Charlottetown as it’s warm and sunny. There is a harbour area which takes in Cruise Ships. Queen Street is the main drag where there are a lot of eateries, bars and shops. What is a mystery is why so many restaurants have Indian meals on the menu (Chicken Madras, Chicken Tikka Masala etc.). There really aren’t that many Indians or people from Asia living here – even if there is a small building called a Mosque on Queen Street. We later find out from a culinary student that it’s the recent fad – an attempt to be different. Nuts!

We have lunch at the local seafood institution ‘Water Prince Corner Café ’ and have a great Scallop Burger, however, the lobster roll was disappointing. Later in the week we try a chowder here which was crap – all this reflected in our Trip Advisor review of the place. What would we do without TA – a very useful tool for travellers and consumers.

For our first outing to the countryside we take a drive to St Peter’s Bay area in the north east which is pretty but quite small with not much to do. The Village is quaint and has a small harbour and is spread out over both sides of the estuary. We make for Rick’s Seafood Café which has a good reputation. It’s really a small wooden shack but does good business. The Fish & Chips are great; however, the deep fried clams were disappointing.

The countryside is quite rural & reminds us of Devon & Cornwall back home. Most of the countryside is agricultural land. The area near Oxford is famous for its wild blueberries which are really awesome and very sweet (also very cheap here).

Its pumpkin season and we pass a number of farms and shops with pumpkins for sale at pretty low rates. Also it’s the lead up to Halloween and many of the displays have dolls looking like country yokels standing by the crop. Even Starbucks get in on the act with Pumpkin Loaf slices which are really good for the Fall season.

Next day it’s a drive to Greenwich which is in the PEI National Park area by the sea. We walk by the beach and sand dunes in the NP and it looks quite beautiful especially as the sun is out. However, the impressive looking Interpretive Centre like quite a few businesses in PEI is closed for the rest of the year which is a surprise.

The area of Cavendish nearby is famed for being the inspiration for the Anne of Green Gables series of books published first in 1908 & written by Lucy Maud Montgomerie who grew up in the town. There’s a large NP Heritage site, which we get into free as we have NP Passes. In the site you have a short video presentation about the history of the place and the author. The grounds have the location of the house, stables, woods, etc. that are mentioned in the books. It’s surprisingly nice and a pleasant trip. We get a few things for little Olive back home from here.

Then it’s off to North Rustico a few kms away. It is definitely the prettiest village we have come across in PEI and a photographer’s delight. It is an active fishing village with a commercial harbour and a small one by the lighthouse. There are some shops and eateries here and we try The Blue Mussel Café for lunch – mussels in wine, chowder & Haddock Burger (recommended by the server). It was all fantastic.

The new owners are a young couple from Toronto who gave up corporate life to run this place 6 months of the year and spend the winters in Honduras (in the Caribbean). Nice one! Unfortunately the weather changes rapidly and soon its pouring with rain so it’s back to the hostel for us.

For dinner we treat ourselves to a discounted Lobster from Sobeys – a local supermarket. Another night we got some awesome large shrimps (also discounted) which were great as burgers with spinach. You can eat well here – even as a backpacker!

Back in the UK it’s the big decision day - It’s ‘The Scottish Referendum for Independence’. The issue has had quite a lot of coverage in Canada in recent weeks, and the press are definitely are in the NO camp. They know a thing or two about independence referendums; Quebec have had 2 over the last few decades and the NO camp won each time.

All this seems quite ironic to us as Charlottetown, which boldly claims to be the Birthplace of the Confederation of Canada because it staged the first meeting here with allies from the maritime provinces and GB here 150 years ago – were largely (and still are) people from Scotland, Ireland & England. While the UK is tense about the outcome of the vote – we chill out with coffee at the Kettle Black.

(FYI – the Scots voted 55% to 45% not to leave the UK and become an Independent country – not without the London politicians promising the Scots a lot more autonomy – so they will do well out of it either way!)

On our last day we take a trip to Rocky Point on advice from Charlotte a German backpacker. It’s across the bay from Charlottetown and is quite pretty. It is also famous for the location of an historic site called Fort Amhurst, which is now just a mound. But in true PR fashion the locals make a big deal of it & during the season they have performances with folks dressed as British soldiers etc. Later we do some shopping for the girls back home as the weather takes a strange turn – with rain, then hail, and finally high winds.

Eventually, when the weather has cleared and the sun comes out we head to North Rustico again – the sun is out this time and the place looks lovey. Then we move on to sample a local Island Tradition –a Lobster supper. We choose St Ann’s Lobster suppers, which is held in a room adjacent to the Catholic Church. This all started as a way to help the church pay off the mortgage – that was 40 years ago and the tradition continues.

It’s a simple but pleasant affair. Seafood Chowder, Mussels and whatever you choose for mains (we go for the Lobster & Steak option – awesome!) followed by afters (massively sweet). We are entertained by a young singer songwriter who is very good & has a voice that reminds us of Adele & Missy Higgins. It’s an expensive evening (relatively) but well worth the visit for the experience.

Olive (our beautiful granddaughter) awakes us at 3.30am by pressing the FT button while playing with Mum’s ipad in London. We think it’s the 6.30am alarm going off – then as we are about to go for showers we notice that it’s only 3.55am so back to sleep after an urgent apology message from Olive’s Mum (Louise) & the whole scenario becoming clear.

We leave well in time to catch the Northumberland Ferries Ltd ferry from Wood Islands to Caribou in Nova Scotia. It’s a 45 min drive to the port but takes over 75 mins and plenty of stress as the main road out of town is choked with traffic as mad Canadians stop along the road for Yard Sales that seem to be at every house, farm etc. along the way. There are no signs or adverts for this situation, and there are no traffic stewards or police presence to manage the chaos that results. The drivers dip in and out of traffic and sometimes to only make it 10 yards closer to the selling spot.

What a f***ing shambles and any respect we had for these folks just evaporated as they behave like complete morons; totally out of control with no thought or respect or consideration for the other drivers on the road. In the end we (and many others) had to go down some strange country lanes to avoid this mess. Anyway – we got to the port just in time to board and set sail.

Halifax – again

The Ferry Crossing takes an hour and 15 mins - smooth & uneventful, then a 2 hour drive to Halifax same, same but slightly different road to Truro, then on to Halifax where the iPad GPS systems loses its marbles for the first time ever and takes us initially to the wrong address, then via a very long winded route to our planned lunch place, Phil’s Seafood Café. The guide book says it has the best fish & chips in town. It’s on Quinpool Street where a lot of eateries seem to be. It’s about 3pm and we are starved. The food is pretty good and inexpensive (the chowder unusual as it had no vegetables in it).

Then it’s to the HI-Heritage House Hostel in the centre of town. It’s large & roomy. We have a private room with ensuite for $79 per night but no breakfast. The room was great but the kitchen lacked a lot of utensils etc. The staff were helpful though, and as it was the weekend we could park free till Monday at 8 am. The hostel has parking for $8 per day but we made do with off street parking where it’s allowed for the few hours we were here on Mon and early Tuesday before we had to return the car and fly out to Montreal.

We went shopping at Atlantic Superstore 5 mins away and bought largely picnic stuff which we had for dinners while eating out for lunch which seemed the best option for us. The city is a significant ‘Student Town’ (many are foreign students from India, China & SE Asia) and the store is busy with students stocking up for the new term.

One thing we haven’t mentioned is that Jamie Oliver seems to feature in a number of different supermarkets either by selling his products there or endorsing/promoting better eating for school kids. The Empire expands!

We spend the afternoon just wandering around Halifax. It’s not somewhere we would recommend for more than a day. We notice among the ordinary and sometimes boring landscape that some of the buildings have French, English/Scottish Architecture and are quite impressive. But you have to look hard to notice this among the crap that has been put up over the years since.

There are quite a few people living rough and begging here – we assume as this is the Provincial capital it probably has its share of such problems. Interesting how begging & sleeping rough has become a way of life in the West over the past 10 years when once this seemed the ‘preserve’ of the poor in ‘Third World’ Countries. Maybe the West don’t have it so good and all the answers…………?

After a good night’s sleep, breakfast and showers we set off for Mahone Bay which is supposed to be a nice coastal town and we want to make the most of the sunshine as the weather forecast is a bit iffy for today and tomorrow.

On the drive out of the city we are really surprised at how lovely the outer areas are. The homes are lovely – mainly clapperboard construction and the neighbourhoods clean and well maintained with a lot of green and tree lined streets.

We stop off in Chester and spot The Rope Loft Inn by the bay. The town could be one of many in Devon in the UK. It’s really striking how many places in NS and PEI remind us of Devon and Cornwall (though obviously they don’t have the clapperboard houses and the traditional wooden churches with tall spires shining above the trees). The countryside is littered with these cute and quaint churches – 99% painted white that look very rural and idyllic. Chester has a lovely spot on the estuary with some lovely houses around and quite a few homes and fishing businesses on stilts over the water. It’s very photogenic.

After a few pictures we drive to Mahone Bay which is famous for 3 churches literally side by side on the main road into town, opposite the estuary. The place is busy as it is Sunday with church goers (one lot having a BBQ – the sun is out so someone answered their prayers!). There’s a car boot sale in the centre of town and we stop at Jo-Ann’s Deli (a lovely colourful store) with heaps to choose from and loads of home cooked food. Lunenburg is only 11kms from here and we didn’t visit when we were there – dumb of us.

As we have arranged to Skype with Ben (son in law to be), Louise and Olive we rush back to Chester and dine at The Rope Loft Inn as it has free Wi-Fi and on this glorious day has a good menu to enjoy sitting out on the deck in the sun. We enjoy Clancy’s Amber Ale from New Brunswick, a seafood pizza/flatbread (really nice) and a Lobster Benny – not as good as Savvy Sailor in Lunenburg though. The family are also enjoying lunch by the riverside in Hammersmith, London. Olive is asleep and a bit unwell but it’s good to chat to Ben who’s had a good weekend celebrating his birthday especially as his team West Ham actually won at home beating Liverpool.

Next we make our way back to Halifax but this time via Peggys Cove which is a popular place to visit with its lighthouse on a rocky outcrop. At a place called Indian Harbour we stop at a picturesque cove for some pictures and notice a place, Ryers Seafood place, doing Lobsters, Oysters and Mussels – take out or eat in. All fresh caught. We are tempted and buy a big Lobster for dinner ($16) and try an Oyster each as we haven’t had any on this trip at all (remiss of us!). Wow they are good but we are full from lunch so this will have to do.

Peggys Cove is a sheer delight and we are a bit disappointed as the weather has closed in and we can’t enjoy this lovely fishing village in all its glory. The harbour area is picture perfect and the lighthouse the star turn. It starts to rain so we move on. However, we decide that we must come back tomorrow if the sun is out even a bit and have lunch of Oysters and Mussels as it’s our last day in NS. So fingers crossed for tomorrow.

The drive to Halifax takes us about 50 mins. Even though it’s raining the places we pass are really pretty and it’s a shame we didn’t come here earlier when the weather was better. The big attraction for NS is its great countryside. We take the country lane to Peggys Cove on a few occasions and it’s lovely as it hugs the seaside for much of the way. We stop a few times to take some nice pictures.

Back at base its laundry, admin, blog, etc. We do however, have a lovely Lobster to look forward too for dinner though…….yummy.

Halifax is a port base for cruise ships (Cunard are based here & Cunard the man lived here & there’s a statue of him on the waterfront!) and had 3 there on one day during our stay. This nearly created havoc with our plans for lunch at Indian Harbour. When we arrive the place is full of cars – mainly cabs full of people from the cruise ships. Largely they are having lobster. We suspect that this is bonanza day for the cabbies in Halifax as they drive the folk for a trip to Peggys Cove, then for a meal here and back to the ship for sailing out later that day.

We are staggered at how dumb some of the folk are e.g. one guy stands around for ages chatting to others then complains about how long his meal is taking to prepare - he hasn’t even ordered (as the owner said “how do we know what you want?”); and so many walk in the middle of the road without a care in the world and totally oblivious to the traffic around, almost like they’ve forgotten they’re not on a ship anymore!

We manage to get an order of Mussels (not quite enough) & because of the rush they are not doing the oysters – damn. So we decide to go to Peggys Cove and return when all these folks have left by about 3.30pm.

We drive the 4kms to PC village and hope that the sea mist that has been hanging around all morning has lifted. On the way we pass a memorial to the Swissair 111 which crashed here in 1988 on its way to Switzerland and all 259 people on board perished. Loads of folk visit it.

At PC the sea is looking pretty rough with big waves crashing against the rocks. From a distance the village looks really atmospheric. The mist clears and the sun comes through, and we get some more great pics before the mist swirls in again. Later at about 4pm we head back to Ryers and do enjoy the best ever ½ dozen oysters and Mussels again. Well worth the wait and we would recommend anyone to come here.

Back at the hostel we Skype with Satish & Kaka back in London as they will be leaving for India at the end of the week. It’s likely that this will be Kaka’s last trip to London as he is getting a bit frail and is now walking with the aid of a frame and is using a wheelchair. We won’t see Satish until he returns in March 2015.

Then it’s off to explore the Waterfront. As it’s the weekend and start of Uni term, the vibe around is quite different. There are a few loud gigs around, including one at the Warehouse Café we had lunch at when we passed through the first time. The area is pretty touristy but looks stale and tired. As it’s our final night we decide to go for a drink at the Henry House across the street which is a terrific Victorian building and a very traditional English style pub.

After some breakfast the next day, we say good bye to Halifax & NS as we head off to the airport, hand in the car at Avis and check in.



Porter Airlines is a small airline but have a very efficient checking in system. The big boys could definitely learn a lot from them. They pre book your seats for you & email this information in advance. They also have a simple checking process which is very efficient, while all the other lines get customers to do self-check in and end up having more staff trying to sort out all the problems!!

Montreal

The return flight in was comfortable and we got served some wine with snacks which was nice. At Montreal we paid $10 each for the bus into downtown which took about 45mins. The positive is that the ticket is valid on all local transport for 24 hours so we use it to get us to Marche Jean – Talon where we have the smoked salmon crepe again and buy some fish which we had for dinner with some bread & almond tart also from the market.

They have an interesting custom here where the stalls tend to have cut fruit and vegetables available for tasting on large plates for all customers. So someone could definitely have a good lunch of fruit and veg free if they played it smart. Great idea though – they ought to do this in London.

Then it’s back to the hostel & the Rouge room. We have a lovely dinner before an early night as we need to be up and ready to catch the Metro for the Greyhound Bus trip to Boston in the US.



Boston & USA here we come…………


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