You may recall me saying that I was going to take a photo a day for the month of August, seeing as it was going to be such a momentous month. Well, here’s my little August gallery. You can see the ones that didn’t make the cut on my Flickr here.
Dad admiring the new paint job on the old Cape Spear lighthouse.
Last day at work in the Lawffice Liberry. For five years this was my exclusive domain.
It was raining, so I painted the bathroom. Apparently yellow wasn’t neutral enough. Oh well.
Still raining. HARD. We stayed inside.
Dad and I went to the Crow’s Nest (a members-only club for naval officers) in January of 2008 when we were thinking of moving here. Today we bookended our time in Newfoundland with another visit. Here is the angle from the “hidden” door down the stairway.
The first Wednesday in August (weather permitting) is Regatta Day, the oldest regatta in North America (195 years old in 2013). This is our view from blueberry picking up behind the Johnson Geo Centre.
After some hectic back and forth, we sent Gren off on the plane to stay with my parents. This is one of the extremely nice and helpful security officers using cable ties to make sure Gren stays put.
We had to re-paint my office to a more neutral colour. I was trying to get excess paint off my brush.
Down to the essentials now in our pantry: booze, Oreos, ramen …
Our house is surrounded by trees, and the moving shadows the sun creates as it shines through the blowing leaves is quite spectacular.
Today I packed up the kitchen. My parents bought these plates at the Denby factory when we lived in England over 30 years ago. I bet they’ve moved almost as many times as I have.
One last walk along the jetty after breakfast at the downtown Cora’s.
I had a job interview over Skype today, so this was where I spent the most important part of my afternoon.
Moving day. The movers were late and when they arrived they were unaware they were supposed to be moving the whole house so it was a little frazzling but we got it done.
Our first morning in Ottawa. Gren was very happy to have us back with him.
Brunch at the new home of Mags and her boyfriend, the Flying Dutchman. YUM FRESH FRUIT!
Best shawarma in the city is Castle Shawarma on Rideau Street. They have spicy garlic sauce that is incredible.
Today we got the Pie fitted for some suits to wear to interviews at Moores. Looking pretty slick.
My dad was painting the woodwork on the ground floor. He may have accidentally painted me in passing.
Our fourth wedding anniversary. Crazy how time flies.
Grenadier reunited with his sister Bakhita at Bruce Pit. Both of them reunited with some mud. This is the picture I took BEFORE Bakhita stuck herself in the middle of an enormous puddle and refused to come out.
Gardened with Mum today. Harvested a ton of rhubarb. Obviously I made pie.
ICE CREAM! THERE’S AN ICE CREAM TRUCK ON MY STREET! ICE CREEEEEEEEEEEAM!
Out for a misty stroll on the Ottawa River Parkway. Reminds me of St. John’s.
As our chapter of Newfoundland living draws slowly to a close (our five years are almost up!), the Pie and I are trying to take any opportunity to experience the good things and the amazing things that this province, and the St. John’s area, have to offer. And this summer, owing to the generosity of my law firm and some fortuitous Groupons, I ended up taking not one, not two, but THREE boat tours of the area, with three different companies. So I thought, now that the boating tour season is almost over, I’d give you my opinion on the whole enterprise, so that if you’re in the area next spring and summer, you can decide if you’d like to try this experience as well.
But first an Ali-cized version of Newfoundland history. As you may know, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has been the location of various fishing colonies from Portugal, France, and England (and a few others) for the past five hundred years. Legend has it that the first Vikings to visit North America stopped here first, and that they could walk from their ships to the rocky shores on the backs of the plentiful cod in the water. All that cod meant a lot of fighting over fishing rights, and after a few switches back and forth, England eventually won out (although France and Portugal still have their own interests). Newfoundland became part of the Dominion of Canada after World War II, and here we are.
In 1992, the cod fishery was so severely depleted that the government declared a moratorium on cod fishing — there simply weren’t enough fish in the sea anymore. This resulted in thousands of fishermen losing their traditional livelihood. If a Newfoundlander can’t fish cod, is he really a Newfoundlander?
Some enterprising fishermen came up with some new ideas about how to put food on their tables. They converted their fishing boats into tour boats, adding seats and life jackets and taking out the nets and hauling equipment. Tourism in Newfoundland began to thrive. And from May to September every year, you can take a tour with one of these companies and see all the sites that Newfoundland has to offer — from the sea. In May and June, if you’re lucky, you can sail up close to a massive ice berg as it makes its way south to melt. In July and August you can sail alongside all manner of local whales as they, too, migrate to other waters.
My first tour happened back in late June. My law firm charted an Iceberg Quest boat to take us from St. John’s Harbour around Cape Spear to Petty Harbour.
It was a calm and sunny afternoon as we pulled out of the harbour, but once we hit the currents of the North Atlantic, the swells got a bit higher and the spray off the bow was enough to thoroughly soak most of us in minutes.
There were a few members of the party who had to make use of the barf bags on board. I’m sure the open bar didn’t help. I kept getting salt water in my rum and Coke (which actually didn’t end up tasting that bad). But those of us who had our sea legs had a great time.
My favourite moment of this particular tour was when we rounded Cape Spear, which is the most easterly point of land in North America. And at that particular moment, I was more east than Cape Spear.
We did catch a glimpse of a humpback whale off our bow, but it was gone before any of us got any good pictures of it. This is the dorsal of a minke who was too camera shy and gone before long.
There were birds all around us, though, and they were interesting too.
We pulled into Petty Harbour nicely sauced and just in time for dinner.
Chafe’s Landing is a restaurant just a few steps from the harbour and is rumoured to have the best fish and chips on the Avalon Peninsula. And I’m here to tell you that those rumours are TRUE. It was incredible.
We took a bus back to St. John’s as the sun set, all happy, salty, and full of good food.
While the staff were friendly they weren’t all that talkative with us. Perhaps because this was a private charter they weren’t required to give us the rundown on the things we were seeing as we sailed around the Cape.
A particular benefit of Iceberg Quest is that they are the one tour company that sails directly out of St. John’s Harbour, so if you’re in town and you don’t have transportation, it’s the way to go. I think that because it is directly out of St. John’s that the tour cost is probably quite a bit more expensive than those which operate outside of town. Because the firm paid for it, I have no idea how much it actually cost. But the boat was flashy and shiny and big.
My second tour was with O’Brien’s in early August, and the Pie and I got a Groupon for a four-person pass at half price, which cost us about $120. We took Cait and Jul and drove to Bay Bulls one morning for a 9:00 AM sailing. As we left St. John’s and headed south, it got foggier and foggier, and by the time we hit Bay Bulls we could barely see ten feet in front of us. Not to worry. We were experiencing what is known as “capelin weather,” which meant we were in luck. Capelin are tiny fish, about four or five inches long, that provide the main source of food for not only the cod, but many other species of wildlife in the area. Capelin migrate through here in the summer, and are usually the most plentiful (like, you can scoop them off the beach with a shovel) after several hot days in a row followed by a cold, muggy, foggy spell.
Despite the weather being the pits most of the time, Newfoundland is definitely beautiful, rain or shine, and we were quite taken with the shoreline emerging suddenly from the mist, and disappearing just as suddenly.
Then we hit the mouth of Bay Bulls and saw a giant patch of birds, all feeding from the same place in the water. This meant capelin, and so, if we were lucky, it also meant we might see some whales. Then, not a hundred metres from where we were, we heard a humpback take a deep breath. Then, a few seconds later, we smelled it. Whale breath is not a pleasant thing.
Over the next hour or so, we were joined by two more humpbacks, who were very curious about us and the other tour boat next to us. Instead of gorillas in the mist, we got humpbacks in the fog.
Justin, our highly experienced (and musically gifted!) guide, said this was the best year for whales he’d seen, and he’s been doing this for twelve years. He was very good about explaining to us exactly what the whales were doing when we couldn’t see them. You see this round patch of water? That’s the whale’s footprint, essentially. You get that sort of upswell when the whale makes a deep dive. It sticks around for a surprisingly long time.
Whenever we thought the whales would get bored with us and take off, they would surface again and just sort of hang out between our two boats. It was truly incredible.
At long last we had to bid the whales adieu and keep to our schedule. We headed a bit further out of the bay to Gull Island, which we smelled before we saw. This area is an ecological reserve for seafowl and has the largest population of puffins in the entire world. But it’s also home to a huge number of other birds, and we got to see them all.
As we headed back to the Bay, we piled into the cabin for warmth. When you sail through fog it tends to stick to you, so we were all coated with a light, salty mist, and our hands were so cold it made holding our cameras tricky. But it was definitely worth it for such an amazing experience!
My third tour was actually just yesterday (because I’m writing this on the 24th of August), and I wrangled another Groupon package deal for four with Mullowney’s Boat Tours for $110, which was half-price. Trav was staying with us at the time and so the three of us went. I ended up giving the fourth ticket to one of the other passengers. The highway to Bay Bulls is only one lane on both sides with little room for passing and we got stuck behind the slowest person alive on the way there, meaning that we arrived at Mullowney’s five minutes after 12:00 PM, the time the boat was supposed to sail! We thought we had missed it entirely but fortunately, because I had made a reservation, the boat was waiting for us. They had heard from other passengers that the traffic was bad and they stuck around until we got there, which was really nice.
Today when we left Bay Bulls it was sunny and calm and absolutely glorious. We had layered up in anticipation that we would get cold and we actually found ourselves to be quite comfortable, even a little warm, in our jackets. Now, this is the North Atlantic, so for it to be this calm and quiet was extremely unusual. If you do a tour, make sure to dress warmly.
It had been three days since any of the local tour companies had seen any whales, so we didn’t get our hopes up this time. It is the end of the whales’ migratory season anyhow. Because I wasn’t looking for whales, I got to focus a bit more on the sea birds around, and we had a great time laughing at the antics of the puffins, who are the most ungainly flyers I have ever seen. The other birds regarded them with disdain, and chased them down for their fish.
Despite not seeing any whales, we all agreed that we’d had a great time. Mullowney’s takes a bit of a different route from O’Brien’s, so the Pie and I got to see different sides of Gull island than we’d seen before, and it was nice to observe their habitat when it wasn’t shrouded in fog. The pleasantness of the day alone made puttering around on the sea a true delight, and the companionship of our friendly young guide Alastair made for an entertaining trip.
I can’t say that I had anything other than a very pleasant experience with all three of the touring companies I used this summer. The staff were all very friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable about both sailing and the areas we visited, and I know from speaking to several of the employees that the companies are not in competition with each other. That makes for a much friendlier environment, and they help each other out when it comes to spotting whales and bergs and the like.
When you take a boat tour there’s no guarantee that you will see whales or ice bergs or any of the more spectacular things out there. There’s not even a guarantee that the water will be calm or the sun will be shining. But even if you don’t get the jaw-dropping experience of seeing giant whales or colossal ice bergs, you can still appreciate nature writ large as you sail past Newfoundland’s ragged coast line and you hear the cries of hundreds of sea birds all around you. Any day you go, whatever you see, you are guaranteed to have an experience you won’t forget any time soon.
The harbingers of summer here in Newfoundland are not the dandelions taking over the green spaces (although they do that, too), nor are they the rare but blindingly beautiful cloudless skies.
No, they’re icebergs, and their smaller components, growlers and bergy bits. Actually, now that I think about it, that’s pretty typical of this upside-down province: ice is the herald of warm summer days. After all, Gren and I were out in a (short) blizzard just three days ago.
When the Pie and I were here house-hunting in June of 2008, St. John’s was experiencing one of the best years for icebergs in a long time.
Then we moved here, and, true to form, saw barely any ice for the next three years. This year, however, is another good one for ice, and you don’t have to stray too far from town to see it. This one was nestled in Quidi Vidi Bay a few weeks ago.
It was worth struggling over slippery rocks in high winds and sleet to get a better view. Unfortunately I only had my phone with me, so the picture quality isn’t what it could be.
The Pie wasn’t too happy without his touque.
These ones are off the shores of Blackhead, a tiny ancient settlement between St. John’s and Cape Spear.
I wanted to get all three in one shot but they were really far apart.
We headed a little further south to see if we could get a different angle and ended up at Dead Man’s Cove for these pictures.
A very nice lady took our picture with a berg. Unfortunately the berg looks more put together than we do.
Then we found these bits up in Middle Cove.
That’s the Pie down there on the beach.
There were bits of ice all broken up on the beach.
I got to touch a piece. It was very cold. If I hadn’t been worried about the pollution I would have taken it home and put it in a drink.
A little while ago, Doodle came to St. John’s, in a lightning-fast visit crammed between her graduation from the University of Chicago and a hike along Peru’s Inca Trail. Because she normally lives in Oregon, we figured that now was probably the only time we would ever see her on the east coast.
After Rusty and Mags’ visit earlier in the month, the Pie and I tried to glean the best of their lengthy visit into a more concentrated form for the two and a half days Doodle would be in town. So, if you’re ever in St. John’s and you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, here are the absolute must-see, must-do things on your list.
1. Climb Signal Hill and the Battery
LOCATION: Downtown St. John’s
I can’t even count the number of times we’ve been up to see the Cabot Tower. It’s the thing you do when people come to town. You can’t not do it. And to have a historical landmark right in the middle of town (okay, it’s right on the edge, on a cliff, hanging over the ocean, but so is most of the city) means you can’t really justify skipping it. And if you’ve got a stout pair of walking shoes and an extra hour, I recommend wandering through the Battery and taking the North Head Trail up to the top of Signal Hill. Your butt muscles will hate you for it but the view is worth it.For more information about these historic sites you can see the post I made when Cait and iPM were in town last summer.
And the nice thing about this place is it’s pretty even when the weather is terrible:
The view at night is also awesome. It’s our goal some day to come and watch the sunrise here. If it’s not foggy.
My father, sailor that he is, has been to St. John’s more times than he can count, and he will tell you time and time again that a visit to the city isn’t complete without a scoff at Ches’s. Serving fresh, local fish is part of their manifesto, and despite the greasiness of the menu items, you never leave the restaurant feeling gross. Plus every time you eat there you get a free mini-cupcake. Also available for take-out.
3. Stand at the Most Easterly Point in North America
LOCATION: Cape Spear National Historic Site, 20 minutes’ drive south of St. John’s.
Because really, why not? It’s not like it’s far. This is another place where I’ve been so many times I’ve lost count, but it never gets old. I’ve seen it in all weathers: in fog, rain, wind, sun, storm, and even a blizzard. Beautiful every time.
I like to go stand next to the edge and look out into the wide empty space of the ocean. The Pie doesn’t like it when I do that, but I ignore him. I’m not really that close to the edge.And the waves crashing into the coastline are truly spectacular.For more information on this historic site you can see the other post I made last summer.
Now, if you’ve got yourself a wee bit more time and access to a car, here are a few more places you should visit.
I’ve only been here once, for a few minutes, but I would like to go back soon for a guided tour. We arrived in the pouring rain but a nice young man told us all about the five trained seals they have on site and answered all our questions. He even let us play with the local fauna in a touch pool that was really neat. The Pie wasn’t too enthused about the nobby sea cucumber but I thought it was cool. The institution itself looks like something out of a Jules Verne novel.Plus can you imagine going to work every day with a view like this?Sheesh.
5. Take a Ferry Ride
LOCATION: Portugal Cove-St. Phillips, 20 minutes’ drive north of St. John’s, straight down Portugal Cove Road.
Take an afternoon when it’s sunny and head up to Bell Island, my second-favourite place on the Avalon Peninsula. Hop on the short ferry and sail on over. We’ve been there three times now, and every time we see something different. Here is the post about our first trip, and our second trip. The third time I didn’t think you needed to hear all about it. And yet here I am, typing away.
But seriously, it’s worth a few hours of your time, especially if you like looking at things that are pretty.
6. Have a Picnic
LOCATION: Ferryland Head Lighthouse, Ferryland, 1.5 hours’ drive south of St. John’s.
Now my favourite place on the whole of the Avalon Peninsula. I think I gushed about it enough here, but I’ll tell you again that you should go.
On our visit, Doodle and I paid the $9.50 each to go through the interpretation centre, which was a little bit of a bust (unless you like looking at pot pieces in drawers with little explanation of what they are), but it meant that we got a little booklet that explained all the numbered archaeological dig sites in the area, and gave us access to a period kitchen where we talked to a nice lady dressed in costume about spinning wool by hand, and how you bake bread in a fire.
And of course we had our picnic.You can’t go without having a picnic.
And that’s just stuff to do on the Avalon Peninsula. Newfoundland is an absolutely HUGE place, with tons to do. Stay tuned for our camping excursion in Gros Morne!
The sun was still shining when we got back from Bell Island so we decided to head south and check out Cape Spear.
This is the site of the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland (only the second one built on the Rock), and this wee point of land is actually the eastern-most geographical point in North America. We like to go to extremes here, obviously.
You can literally stand on the edge of the world here, and the view is incredible.The Pie doesn’t like me standing so close to the edge of the world, however, so he turned his back on the whole thing and checked out the old lighthouse.The old lighthouse has been restored to its 1839 appearance, and they’ve got it set up inside just like someone would have it if they lived there. Rumour has it that when they were doing the restoration, contractors discovered that the rooms were plastered six inches deep in wallpaper. Not having much else to do so far from civilization, lighthouse-keepers’ wives would simply redecorate. Often.
The light itself wasn’t a brand spanking new addition when the lighthouse was constructed between 1832 and 1836. It had been shipped from Scotland, second-hand, and had been in use since 1815.
“Curved reflectors concentrated and intensified the light rays from seven Argand burners, named for their Swiss inventor. Lamps and reflectors were arranged on a metal frame, which rotated slowly to produce a 17-second flash of white light, followed by 43 seconds of darkness. The movement of the light was controlled by a clockwork mechanism.
As technology progressed, the light underwent many changes. The last of the lights that resided in the old Cape Spear lighthouse was a glass dioptric system, installed in 1912. First lit by oil, acetylene was adopted in 1916, and electricity in 1930. In 1955, the dioptric system was moved to a new light tower, not far from the original lighthouse.”
Seems complicated.There are all sorts of winding trails in and around the lighthouses. Some of the trails lead through bunkers left as a reminder of the Second World War. They were constructed as defense posts and barracks when German submarines and raiders threatened the island between 1941 and 1945.
Today the barracks and bunkers serve as sheltered places to observe the immense natural setting around you. The exposed environment of the Cape has made everything around here tough and weathered, and all the vegetation grows bonsai style.From Cape Spear you can see the whole world stretching before you in an immense span of blue sea and blue sky. You can really get a feel for what it felt like when the first European explorers landed here and surveyed the vast unknown.