North Atlantic Adventure: St. John’s, Canada Part Two
by Dr Anthony D. Cliffe
In this adventure i explore St. John’s and the surrounding areas. I visit the most Easterly edge of North America, i climb a windy mountain, eat fish and chips and hide from the cold in a museum!
After a very comfortable night’s sleep and being completely unaware of the 80+ mph winds that battered this part of the world overnight I woke up, had my shower, and headed down to breakfast. The breakfast was served in the bar area of the hotel that was adorned with a giant picture of Mick Jagger while easy country rock drifted across the empty tables. I was greeted at the entrance by Lindsay, a really lovely and chipper server who looked after me for the following three days. Always nice to have breakfast with a smile and one day just sat down to have a chat as it was quiet!
After bacon, eggs, sausages and blueberry jam (yes together they taste good!) I grabbed my things and headed outside to await my tour. I booked onto it when I arrived on the Island for $80 for a half day trip, the reviews looked good and they were very accommodating letting me join the already pre-booked tour at short notice! The hurricane that had passed through had left not a cloud in the sky but a brisk wind. Stepping outside to wait for my 9 a.m. pick up the hat and gloves were very much needed at 2 degrees! A man sat down next to me and started smoking before taking a phone call while I watched the odd car in the distance. This part of the world for a city at 9 a.m. was pretty quiet! Not before long McCarthy’s tour bus arrived, a fancy looking mini bus to where the driver, John, got out and gave me a huge firm handshake and a welcome on board! He reminded me of your typical North American Dad! He was from the word go a legend and throughout the tour his passion for this part of the world, his jokes, his humour and his honesty was something that made this one of the best tours I had ever gone on. He introduced me to the rest of the tour who were all here as part of a conference. They’d all come up from Toronto and they all made me feel very welcome to. He let me sit upfront with him. As I buckle myself up he goes “Holy Mackerel where you just sitting next to Anthony Bourdain!?” I give him a quizzical look as I didn’t know who that was “Ah you guys my wife will go nuts! She loves him. I’m going to go ask him for a picture I’ll be right back”. And away he went, inside the hotel to get a picture with Anthony Bourdain. I ask the rest of the tour who he was to which they tell me he’s a very famous Chef, especially in this part of the world. Sadly since writing this blog I know he died recently which is a shame!
He came back and sent his wife a picture and that was a running joke for the rest of the tour! Our first stop after a beautiful scenic and informative drive was to Cape Spear. The most Easterly edge of the North American Continent. To mark the location is a large lighthouse that warns seafarers of land ahead after many miles of open harsh Atlantic waters. I love anything like this and I loved walking around the area, especially when it was so quiet at this time of the morning. It felt a lot like Cornwall! I like visiting the far edges of places I always think it’s pretty cool!
After half an hour we headed around the coast to a little fishing village called Petty Harbour. This was your typical postcard Newfie village and it was impossible not to see why some people call this rugged part of the world their home. Nestled up on the rising cliffs where the brightly coloured houses that are so famous in these parts, their colours a juxtaposition to the dark waters of the bay. Seagulls called and fishermen shouted as they pulled in their days catch. In summertime this harbour is a good place to watch Whales. Maybe I’ll come back this way one day!
We drove back into the city and up Signal hill, the location of the first wireless message across the Atlantic, paving the way for communication as we know it today. Despite this historical significance, it’s actually called Signal Hill due to its elevated mountain position, the harbour could be forewarned of approaching enemy ships into the harbour by the signalman, hence the name Signal Hill. From this high up you could see out across the Atlantic for miles! I had a walk around the lookout tower and the views across the city and then the deep harbour nestled between the two giant mountains. I noticed one or two hikers and after talking to John he explained that instead of driving up there is a hike that winds its way from the harbour all the way up to the summit that some people like to do. That was my afternoon sorted then! As always I always find the highest thing in a city to climb, this is perfect for it!
Our final stop was a small village which had the peculiar name of Quidi Vidi! Again, another body of water nestled between two giant cliffs. It seemed like this was the norm here to have quaint pretty little fishing villages wherever they could! On the way back to the city he explained that the Duke of Duchess pub in town did the best fish and chips in the world. A bold claim.
After I got back to my hotel and put my hiking gear on I headed out to test this claim out! Even though it was Saturday afternoon the city was still fairly quiet but lovely as the sun beat down despite the wind. The pub was nestled up a side street and when I got to the outside it certainly didn’t look like an establishment that would serve the best fish in the world. Upon entering it reminded me of a classic old English pub with beamed ceilings and dull light. Liverpool FC were playing Newcastle United (my two favourite teams!) on a TV screen so I decided to plonk myself down and order my drink and fish and chips.
Well, it didn’t look like the best fish and chips in the world but my word it was AWESOME! Kudos to John for the tip. The fish is caught every morning and it showed. Excellent price and food. I watched Liverpool win and then suitably stuffed headed the mile along the harbour to the foot of the climb. I stopped into TImmies again (turned into a true Canadian now) and made my way to the start of the hike. The hike was stunning if not a little scary at times! They had built walk ways and bridges but some parts of the hike you had to shimmy along tiny ledges and hold on for dear life!
The views as you got higher were amazing and I find nothing better than being in quiet alone up a mountain. It gives me so much energy and relaxation, I just love being outdoors and this mountain had it all. I took my time up it, taking pictures and enjoying the views and tried my best to not get blown off the cliff in the wind! After the final steep climb to the summit I arrived to stunning views.
I found a little alcove and just sat for just over an hour watching the ships head out into the setting sun of the North Atlantic. The temperature had dropped as the sun began to set and the wind blew but the sky was so clear and so pure that I didn’t want to leave!
Heading down the mountain was a lot easier going up and helpfully giant red chairs where placed along the route to celebrate the birthday of Canada. I can think of far worse places to rest that’s for sure!
I headed back down the mountain and to my hotel just after the sun had set, a spectacular day. A day I enjoyed from start to finish and was one of my ‘perfect days’. I just loved everything about it!
The next morning the clear blue skies had given way to dark grey clouds and a wind chill of -5 degrees. The wind was biting, the wind that cuts right down into the bone. Today was most definitely an indoors day if possible. After a great breakfast again and with me wrapped up I went to go get my coffee. I spotted a little board walk on my way home last night and found it again this morning. I drank my coffee to warm me up as a large cruise ship entered the harbour.
I watched this beast manoeuvre itself before I headed back up the mountain again. I walked through the little walk ways I didn’t do the day before and I even headed into the Geoscience museum which as a geographer I found to be amazing! I spent two hours in there before venturing back out into the freezing cold to get some more pictures and my last look at this oddly captivating city.
I walked for 12 miles that day! I ended up in a place called “the rooms” which was an excellent museum of this part of the world. It was also an art gallery and a theatre all set into this very modern tall glass building. Completely at odds to the rest of the city. I decided to pop in to get warm and for only a few dollars it was well worth it and I highly recommend a visit.
By time I left it was mid-afternoon and the temperature really had that winter bite to it. It’s one of those days that feels like winter and gives you that special winter feeling! On my way back to my hotel I chose a nice looking bar in George Street and had a fantastic burger and fries to refuel after a long day walking in the cold.I retired to my bed early after one of the longest and hottest showers I’ve ever had!
Tomorrow I fly out to much warmer weather, 25c in fact as I head to Charlottetown via Halifax. Tomorrow was to be a long day of travelling as I headed a few hundred miles south to an intriguing Island that has always been on my bucket list. I was super excited but I was also sad to leave this part of the world. St. John’s and Newfoundland touched me in a way I didn’t think it would. I had done a complete 180 since arriving. Those first few hours I was unsure of the place, its rugged and quietness, its weather and scenery I didn’t know what to think. As the days went on and the time I spent here I fell in love with its unique beauty, its harshness, its industrial but quirky feel, its bright coloured buildings and its stunning landscapes. I didn’t want to go. Above all else the people I had met in this place from John the tour guide to Lindsay the babe of a waitress to the many people who said hello in the street to the cashiers in the convenience stores who welcomed me to their town and asked about life in the UK. Everyone was super friendly. People in this part of the world clearly look out for one another, despite it being a city. They welcomed me with open arms and the well-known hospitality of Newfoundlanders was so evident to me.
Thank you St. John’s for a unique and interesting experience, a place I am never likely to forget in a hurry. That town nestled in that stubborn rock in the harsh North Atlantic Ocean that took a bit of my heart!
Next blog: If St. John’s took a bit of my heart, Charlottetown took the whole thing!
To catch up on the adventure so far: