August in Photos: the Skinny

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.

1 August:

1 August 2013 13

Dad admiring the new paint job on the old Cape Spear lighthouse.

2 August:

2 August 2013 2

Last day at work in the Lawffice Liberry.  For five years this was my exclusive domain.

3 August:

3 August 2013 41

Met a very calm snowshoe hare at the Salmonier Nature Park.

4 August:

4 August 2013

It was raining, so I painted the bathroom. Apparently yellow wasn’t neutral enough. Oh well.

5 August:

5 August 2013

Still raining. HARD. We stayed inside.

6 August:

6 August 2013 2

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.

7 August:

7 August 2013 31

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.

8 August:

8 August 2013 4

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.

9 August:

9 August 2013 3

We had to re-paint my office to a more neutral colour. I was trying to get excess paint off my brush.

10 August:

10 August 2013 3

Down to the essentials now in our pantry: booze, Oreos, ramen …

11 August:

11 August 2013 2

Our house is surrounded by trees, and the moving shadows the sun creates as it shines through the blowing leaves is quite spectacular.

12 August:

12 August 2013 2

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.

13 August:

13 August 2013 6

One last walk along the jetty after breakfast at the downtown Cora’s.

14 August:

14 August 2013

I had a job interview over Skype today, so this was where I spent the most important part of my afternoon.

15 August:

DSCN8718

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.

16 August:

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Sun in an empty room. My favourite Weakerthans song (which is based in turn on this painting).

17 August:

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Our first morning in Ottawa.  Gren was very happy to have us back with him.

18 August:

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Brunch at the new home of Mags and her boyfriend, the Flying Dutchman. YUM FRESH FRUIT!

19 August:

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Best shawarma in the city is Castle Shawarma on Rideau Street. They have spicy garlic sauce that is incredible.

20 August:

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Today we got the Pie fitted for some suits to wear to interviews at Moores. Looking pretty slick.

21 August:

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My dad was painting the woodwork on the ground floor. He may have accidentally painted me in passing.

22 August:

22 August 2013

Our fourth wedding anniversary. Crazy how time flies.

23 August:

23 August 2013

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.

24 August:

Two Processor Pies

Gardened with Mum today. Harvested a ton of rhubarb. Obviously I made pie.

25 August:

25 August 2013

ICE CREAM! THERE’S AN ICE CREAM TRUCK ON MY STREET! ICE CREEEEEEEEEEEAM!

26 August:

26 August 2013

Out for a misty stroll on the Ottawa River Parkway. Reminds me of St. John’s.

27 August:

Star Wars Exhibit 27 August 2013

Caught the Star Wars Identities Exhibition at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum. Epic. Like, literally.

28 August:

Cottage Life

We weeded out the path at the back of my parents’ house today, and got to use the weed torch on the remainders. I love setting things on fire.

29 August:

Cottage Life

Hanging out at a cottage with some friends. Gren actually swam voluntarily.

30 August:

Cottage Life

Cottage life: early morning on Mississippi Lake.

31 August:

DSCN9072

The Pie started growing this beard at the end of July, just to see if he could. He’s a little tired of it now so I recorded it for posterity and he’ll shave it off tomorrow.

And that was August!

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On Top of Mount Scio

On Top of Mount Scio 1

On Thanksgiving weekend, the Pie and I decided to take a hike to somewhere we’d never been.  St. John’s has an extensive concourse trail system and in our four years here, we’ve explored a good part of it.  Gren definitely has his favourites, as well.  On this day, though, we left him at home.  He doesn’t have the same energy as he did when he was a puppy, so we knew that he would get tired long before we did.  If you’re ever thinking of getting a dog to encourage you to exercise, don’t get a corgi.  They are so lazy.

Anyway.  We took the Long Pond to Oxen Pond Walk.  One of our regular walks with Gren is the Long Pond walk just behind MUN’s campus, so it was familiar territory.  The trail to Oxen Pond, however, is a bit more of a hike.  In fact, it pretty much goes straight up Mount Scio, which is kind of the backstop for the city.  There are a good many stairs, which my poor battered knees protested before long.  The view once you reach the top of the mountain is pretty epic, though.  You can see all of the North Valley, which is where we live and where Memorial University is.

On Top of Mount Scio 2

You might want to click on the photo above and zoom in on my Flickr page.  MUN campus is in the foreground in the middle, hiding our house, with the Health Sciences Centre and hospital at the left side of the photo. At the centre of the shot you can see the two clock towers of the Catholic Basilica. To the right of that are the red roofs of The Rooms, our museum. On the other side of the Rooms is a giant hill leading downtown, which you can’t see in this picture. The vee of water behind the church and museum is the opening to the Narrows and St. John’s Harbour. The water to the left is Quidi Vidi Lake, which empties into Quidi Vidi Bay. The river that feeds Quidi Vidi Lake, Rennie’s River, actually gets some of its start from tributaries up here on the mountain. And that’s your geography lesson for the day.

From the top, we took the trail along and down a ways until we crossed Mt. Scio Road and entered the MUN Botanical Gardens.  Because we are Memorial students, we got in for free!  Of course, it being October, much of the showy summer foliage has died back, but we spent a good 25 minutes tooling around the edible and medicinal herb gardens, marveling at how people figured out which herbs did what when you ate them or boiled them or steeped them.  This one was of particular interest to me, a long-suffering victim of chronic UTIs.

MUN Botanical Garden 3

Another part of the ornamental garden illustrates the various plants that live in Newfoundland’s climates. Many of these plants adapted well to extremely harsh conditions, and some of the environments in this province have been re-created here. I took a picture of this one because it grows in our backyard (on almost pure gravel) and I can never remember what it’s called.

MUN Botanical Garden 2

Inside a shelter there was also a neat little succulent and cactus garden, with a few flowers thrown in.

MUN Botanical Garden 5

MUN Botanical Garden 6

A little of a last hurrah for warmer weather.

MUN Botanical Garden 9

Once through the ornamental garden we finished the trail down to Oxen Pond. We had self-righteously refused to buy duck feed at the admissions desk, because as a rule we try not to feed wild animals. However, as soon as we arrived at the pond we were greeted by some very hungry ducks.

Mobbed by Hungry Ducks 1

Who soon called in all their friends.

Mobbed by Hungry Ducks 2

From all the way across the pond.

Mobbed by Hungry Ducks 4

Mobbed by Hungry Ducks 6

Eventually we were mobbed and had to leave when they started yelling.

Mobbed by Hungry Ducks 7

With angry quacking ringing in our ears we continued along the trail to the fen, admiring the lush moss along the way.

MUN Botanical Garden 10

In the summer in a bog you can see all manner of cool things, like orchids and lady’s slippers and iris and stuff like that. You might remember some of that from our trip to Gros Morne last summer. But most of those flowers have died back by this time of year. What remains, however, are representatives of the province’s official flower: the pitcher plant. I think carnivorous plants are so cool.

MUN Botanical Garden 11

MUN Botanical Garden 12

I petted this one (though I probably wasn’t supposed to). Those little hairs are quite soft.

MUN Botanical Garden 17

On the way back, we marveled at some more Leslie damage.

MUN Botanical Garden 14

A moose path leading who knows where.

MUN Botanical Garden 16

And some truly epic fungus.  Here is a small sample.  I don’t know why Newfoundland doesn’t have a booming mushroom industry, considering how damp and dark it is.

MUN Botanical Garden 15

MUN Botanical Garden 1

Not to mention this poor tree, which was covered in galls. Galls are reactions to irritants for trees. Like an oyster covers a grain of sand in mineral deposits to make it smooth, a tree grows these bulbous things around stuff like insects and worms and fungus and stuff to protect itself. Neat, huh?

MUN Botanical Garden 21

So even if it wasn’t summer, we still got to see some cool stuff, which we probably would have missed had it been overshadowed by the more ostentatious products of warmer weather.

End of Season Review: My Three Boat Tours

Mullowney's Tour
Our intrepid hero

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.

C&P Boat Tour

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.

Ferryland
Imagine cod cushioning your feet from these jagged rocks.

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?

IMAG0428-1
Who says size matters?

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.

O'Brien's Boat Tour
From whaling and codfishing to eco-tourism.

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.

C&P Boat Tour
View of the harbour, from the Narrows.

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.

C&P Boat Tour
Me and Mel, thoroughly soaked.

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.

C&P Boat Tour
Everyone had to have a Titanic moment.

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.

C&P Boat Tour
East-er than the east-est

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.

C&P Boat Tour

There were birds all around us, though, and they were interesting too.

C&P Boat Tour

We pulled into Petty Harbour nicely sauced and just in time for dinner.

C&P Boat Tour

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.

C&P Boat Tour

We took a bus back to St. John’s as the sun set, all happy, salty, and full of good food.

C&P Boat Tour

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.

C&P Boat Tour

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.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

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.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

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.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

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.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

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.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

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.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

O'Brien's Boat Tour

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.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

O'Brien's Boat Tour

O'Brien's Boat Tour

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.

Mullowney's Tour
Despite it being noon, Trav is not yet truly awake.

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.

Mullowney's Tour

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.

Mullowney's Tour

Mullowney's Tour
Gull chasing a fish-laden puffin. Gulls are huge jerks, apparently.

Mullowney's Tour

Mullowney's Tour

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.

Mullowney's Tour

Mullowney's Tour
Overall:

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.

Mullowney's Tour

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.

More on the boat tour companies in this post:

Iceberg Quest: http://icebergquest.com

O’Brien’s: http://www.obriensboattours.com

Mullowney’s: http://www.puffinswhales.com

How Not to Buy A Mattress

Image via beddingmaster.com

I usually cringe at airing dirty laundry (even if it’s not my own) in public, but this really takes the cake and has pretty much sucked a bunch of joy out of my summer.  So I will say this now, and for the record, that if you ever decide to buy a new mattress, never, ever purchase one from Nasafoam.  I will tell you the story here, because I’m feeling really, really vindictive right now.  Sorry about that.

You may recall me mentioning that the Pie and I had purchased a new memory foam mattress through a Groupon Deal.  It was $500 for a $1700 mattress, and as broke students, that struck us as a really good deal (you can see it here).  The question was, did they deliver to Newfoundland?  Many companies don’t, so I posted the question on Groupon’s FAQ page and received a response that to ship to Newfoundland would be $225.  You can see the posting here.  You will also note, for a later point I will make, that nowhere in the fine print does it say it does not ship to Newfoundland.

Anyway, we were happy with that shipping price so we bought the Groupon and submitted it to Nasafoam.  We typed in our information, everything, and then pressed the “submit” button.  Normally when you order something online you get some form of record of your transaction, whether it’s something you can print or something that is emailed to you later as a confirmation that you actually bought the thing.  Several days later I’d received nothing like that, save the “Thank you.  Your information has been submitted” that we saw after clicking the button.

So I emailed Nasafoam and asked for confirmation that I had actually submitted the order and asked for an ETA on delivery, as well as a final cost with taxes included.  I was told simply that “delivery will contact you with final cost.”  At that point, I left it at that.

A couple of weeks went by and I started to wonder when my mattress would arrive, so I emailed again, and was told that it would arrive in 2-3 weeks from the date of that email. That sounded good.  I started making preparations to renovate my office and all that jazz in preparation for my houseguests.

Spring Shuffle
Future site of my mattress. Oh wait, no, never mind.

Five weeks after the date of that email I still had no mattress, and I was starting to get a little cheesed.  So I wrote to Nasafoam and told them that I was cheesed, and demanded a final bill and a shipping estimate.  I got no response.  I emailed twice more with no results.  Then the Pie discovered that Nasafoam had a Facebook page.  On the page they were telling Groupon customers that the wait for a mattress was 4-6 weeks and at this point I was onto almost nine.  I posted this on Facebook and Nasafoam informed me that they had not been receiving my emails.  I have kept every one of their automated receipt emails so I know that is not true and told them so.  Eventually I sent another, slightly angrier email to every email address at Nasafoam I could find.

The response was unsurprisingly disappointing.  One email response told me that my order would be shipped in 4-6 weeks, which of course indicated to me that the person I had emailed my message to had not actually read it.  I responded of course that it had been nine weeks and received simply a “I see that!  Thanks!” answer to that.  The other response I received was a very frosty one saying, essentially, that they had told me delivery would contact me and that they had no control over when their delivery company would deliver any of their products.

Think about that for a moment.  A company has no control over the delivery of its goods?  What kind of crap company is that?

And of course there was no acknowledgement that I was upset (which I mentioned in a very polite way, of course), nor any final bill (which I had requested for probably the fourth time).

The next week I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.  I felt really good about this.

Nasafoam comes back with the response that I haven’t paid my final bill and that’s why they haven’t shipped.

I respond with the fact that they have not sent me a final bill.

They respond again to tell me I haven’t paid my final bill.  Which they have sent to my email address, so they say.  Which of course they haven’t.

I may have turned into Godzilla at one point in this process.  Also I know I definitely growled out “HULK SMASH” a few times as well.

Image (c) Marvel, via “Without Envy”

Rather than smash my head into the wall at the ridiculousness of this situation (and I’m in Portland at this time, mind you, so I’m using my dad in St. John’s as proxy while I try to type out all this nonsense on my smartphone), I suggest that my father call them with my credit card number and we can sort this out.

He calls.  The guy who answers, according to my dad, is an idiot.  He tells my father that  I apparently filled out the form wrong, and put in Nova Scotia as my mailing address instead of Newfoundland.  He had the form right in front of him, he said (which is nice for him.  I never got a copy of my order form).  I’d like to point out here that I have been working in the legal world for almost a decade and as such am an extremely conscientious form-filler-outer.  I do not make mistakes like that.  I double-check everything.  And the Pie was sitting next to me as I filled it out.  He also double-checks.  And, as I pointed out to Nasafoam, Nova Scotia postal codes start with B, while mine in Newfoundland starts with an A, and I sure as heck didn’t mess that one up.

Their response?  “Groupon is aware that we do not ship to Newfoundland.”

Really?  Could have fooled me.  I sent them a photo of the Groupon FAQ page where I asked them the shipping cost to Newfoundland.  Their response to that was just that I had made a mistake and should have been aware all along that they do not ship to Newfoundland.

And it just went on and on, response and rebuttal through the BBB where they simply ignored everything I said and made me look like the bad guy.  I pointed out their contradictions and blatant lies and they told me I was an idiot (or at least that’s how it felt to me).  The final verdict from the BBB was that Nasafoam was standing by their decision (to do nothing) and that they (BBB) were sorry that I was unhappy.  At least the BBB apologized. I’m in negotiations with Groupon right now to get my money back, and they’re being remarkably helpful, if a little slow, which has kind of renewed my faith in business.

When we returned to St. John’s, the Pie took a screen capture of the Groupon FAQ page where they give me the shipping quote for St. John’s and juxtaposed it next to the section of the BBB complaint where they tell me that I was “well aware it was for nova scotia only” (what? It was an Ottawa Groupon!) and posted it to Nasafoam’s Facebook page with a short paragraph about how not only did Nasafoam make us wait double the shipping time to receive our order but they lied to us and didn’t ship it to us at all.

The Pie’s graphic, with this commentary: “Nasafoam made us wait 11 weeks before telling us they would not ship us our mattress to Newfoundland. They also insist that we knew they only shipped to Nova Scotia but we were quoted a price to ship it to St. John’s, Newfoundland. They refuse to acknowledge any mistakes on their part and blame us entirely. Now a refund will only get us groupon dollars back and not our money back.”

Nasafoam deleted the comment and graphic the next day and closed their page to further posts.

Long story short, the Pie and I ended up sleeping on the floor while my parents were in town so that they could have our crappy old mattress.  The day after we returned to St. John’s we went to the lovely people at Cohen’s, and, for $600, purchased a similar memory foam mattress.  Add in $50 for delivery and they brought it right into our bedroom just a scant week later.  That’s it in that picture up there.  Isn’t it pretty?

Sorry for the venting here, folks, but I really hate it when people lie to me, especially when it’s a local Canadian business.  If you’re curious to know more about the crap that Nasafoam has put me through, send me a message and I can forward you our long and convoluted correspondence, together with the BBB complaint form (as I said, I keep meticulous records).  And if you’ve had a similar experience with some company who refuses to acknowledge any wrong doing, please feel free to rant in the comments below.  I’m ready and willing to listen.

A Weekend in Gros Morne

Today is a holiday in Newfoundland — Orangemen’s Day — so I thought I would share with you what I did on my last long weekend (which was just last week, actually), when the Pie and Gren and I went with Miss Awesome and Ranger P (formerly P-with-an-E) to camp in Gros Morne National Park.  What a trip!

While not a fan of car rides, Gren was a trooper for the trip.

We were only there for five days, and two of those days were spent traveling to and from the park (it takes about 8 hours, with pee breaks, to get from St. John’s to Gros Morne), so our time there was short.  We were also limited in the places we could go, because Gren is still young and doesn’t yet have the stamina he will develop when he’s full-grown.  There are also places in Gros Morne that dogs are not allowed (like on Gros Morne mountain itself), so we had to choose carefully how we would occupy our time.  In addition, though the weather forecast predicted rainy days with a high of 15°C, we ended up getting full sun every day and highs nearing 28°C, so we were all hot and tired after even our short hikes.  None of us thought to bring shorts.  Summer just isn’t like that in St. John’s.

So anyway, a bit about the park.  Established as a reserve in 1973, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and then recognized as a national park in 2005, Gros Morne is the second-largest park in Atlantic Canada, and the mountain itself is the second-highest in Newfoundland, belonging to a branch of the Appalachians and dating back about 1.2 billion years.  “Gros Morne” literally translates from the French as “big sombre,” but “morne” is also understood to mean “large mountain standing alone.”  In Portuguese, “morne,” roughly translated, means bleak and dismal, and considering that the mountain in question is rather bald and often enshrouded in cloud, the name fits.

The park plays host to a number of natural and historical wonders.  The geology of the park is incredibly varied across the breadth of the park, and often serves as a benchmark for geologists seeking to understand the way the earth works.  Many geological features in the park offer supporting evidence for plate tectonic theory, while others provide clear examples of the process of glaciation.  In one afternoon you can go from barren desert to lush peat bogs to stunted tuckamore forests to glacier cut fjords.  All in one spot.  And if you’re lucky you might see a moose.  From a safe distance, of course.  And the flora in the park is just astonishing.  I saw so many plants that I had never seen before.

So now, our trip, in as few words as possible.

Berry Hill Pond

We stayed at the Berry Hill campground, near the wee village of Rocky Harbour.  On our first morning, the Pie and I took Gren on a morning stroll around Berry Hill Pond.  The trail is really not much more than a moose track, winding its way around the 2km circumference of this still pond, but in the quiet of the early morning, even the mosquitoes were tolerable as we got our first taste of the western coast of the province — which is as different from the east coast as another planet.I simply adore these rocky shores.Gren on the moose track, surrounded by crackerberries (not to be confused with crackberries).

Woody Point

We stopped here to have a bit of a wander and enjoy a quick picnic.  First settled in 1849, Woody Point displays to best advantage many historical buildings.  What’s neat is Woody Point is one of the many enclave communities within the park and yet separate from the park.It’s definitely a picture-postcard kind of town.

The Tablelands

From Woody Point we headed to the Tablelands, a section of the earth’s mantle thrust up to the surface.  We got to take a little GPS video thing with us.  You can watch it here.  Because of the chemical composition of the peridotite forming the mantle, it is hard to support life in that area.   Weathered peridotite is brown and rusty-looking, while unweathered rock is dark green and kind of waxy.

It is amazing, however, what can survive in the harsh surroundings.  These rare yellow ladyslippers are most commonly found in areas containing lime.Barren conditions mean that plants have to work hard to get all the nutrients they need.  These wee carnivorous plants were about the size of my thumb.

And let’s not forget the official provincial flower, the pitcher plant.

Creeping juniper is Newfoundland’s answer to the bonsai tree.Newfoundland Zen garden:

It was like being on the moon.  We were all absolutely gobsmacked by everything we saw. 

We went off-trail and followed a glacier-fed stream up to its fall point.

Gren tried to save us all.

And followed the trail into a canyon.  It was extremely windy.You should go there.

Norris Point/Neddies Harbour

Next day we headed out to Neddies Harbour, an offshoot of Norris Point in Bonne Bay, to visit Miss Awesome’s Auntie, who is pretty awesome in her own right.  She took us down past the Neddies Harbour Inn to a wee beach, where we enjoyed some sunshine.It was a very relaxing day, and after saying our goodbyes to Auntie Awesome, we headed up to the Norris Point Lookout to see the whole town.

Western Brook Pond

On this day we had to say goodbye to Miss Awesome.  She had to head back to Town to go on with her lawyer job.  It was just the dudes now, and me.  We had been told that Western Brook Pond was not to be missed, and, although we couldn’t afford the boat tour (nor did they allow dogs on the boat), we could readily enjoy the 3km hike to the dock and back.

The vistas on this trail, from the very beginning, were absolutely breathtaking.  We joked that we expected to hear the Jurassic Park theme playing while dinosaurs grazed in front of us.  The pond is in a fresh water fjord surrounded by peat fens and everywhere you look there is something beautiful.

Lush vegetation.

Everywhere.

Even in the peat fens.  These are dragon’s mouth orchids.When we got to the pond itself, Gren had a great time splashing about in the wavelets and rolling in the sand.  It was a great way to cool him down after the walk in the blazing sun.And then of course we all took pictures on the way back of things we’d taken pictures of on the way in.  There was so much beauty we’d forgotten what we’d already seen.

Lobster Cove Head

With some time on our hands after the short Western Brook Pond walk, we headed to the historical Lobster Cove Head and its teensy lighthouse, which guards the rocky and unstable shores in the area.  If you’re interested, the flags on the pole in this photo spell “SHIFT”.

The lighthouse grounds also play host to a miniature tuckamore forest, stunted balsam firs beaten (but not broken) by the harsh winds and the salt spray.And then we ran out of time, and had to go home.  You could easily spend a month in Gros Morne and not see it all.  We’ve got to go back.

You can check out more of my many, many pictures of our weekend on my Flickr site here.

For more information on Gros Morne, check out these links:

Encyclopedia of Earth: Gros Morne

Gros Morne: Wikipedia

Gros Morne National Park: Wikipedia

Gros Morne Teacher Resource Centre

Newfoundland Express

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.

2. Eat at Ches’s Fish and Chips

LOCATION: Downtown St. John’s plus four other locations — see website: http://www.chessfishandchips.ca/

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.

4.  Look at the Seals!

LOCATION: Memorial University Ocean Sciences Centre, Logy Bay, about 15 minutes’ drive north-east of St. John’s, past the dump.  Open to the public 1 June to Labour Day.  Donations appreciated.

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!

A Trip to Ferryland

The day dawned foggy and damp but we were convinced it would improve, so the Pie and I piled Rusty, Mags, and Gren into our rented car and drove an hour and a half south of St. John’s to the town of Ferryland (population: ~529).  This was the third time the Pie and I had made it to Ferryland, but the first time that we were really able to appreciate it.  On previous occasions, we had arrived in town after an afternoon of iceberg hunting and were too tired to take the time to walk around this historical settlement.  This year is a bad one for icebergs, however, so we were rested and refreshed and raring to go.

I’ll give you a little background on Ferryland.

Originally an acclaimed fishing location for migratory French and Portuguese fishermen at the end of the sixteenth century, the area, known as “Farilham” by the Portuguese and “Forillon” by the French, was granted to the London and Bristol Company in the early 1610s.  “Ferryland” is the Anglicization of those names.

In 1620, the land was granted to George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore (there are nearby settlements called Calvert and Baltimore, respectively, and yes, this is the same Lord Baltimore of Baltimore, MD).  In 1623 Calvert appointed a dude named Edward Wynne to establish a colony there, which grew into one of the first successful European establishments in North America.  In 1623 as well, King James I granted Calvert a charter creating the Province of Avalon.  This gave Calvert carte blanche to control all administrative and territorial matters in the area, and he chose Ferryland as its principal settlement.

Like many settlements in Newfoundland, the rich fishing grounds around Ferryland were much sought after, and Ferryland suffered a raid from the Dutch in the 1670s, before being decimated by New France in 1696.  It was soon reoccupied, and has remained so to this day, predominantly by Irish and English descendants.  There is an active archeological dig site, which shows you how Lord and Lady Baltimore lived nearly four hundred years ago. 

There is lots to see in Ferryland.  Unfortunately, when we went this time all of the exhibits were closed due to a water problem.  Still, the historic Ferryland Museum has an immense collection of artifacts recovered from the dig site, and is a historical artifact itself, dating back to 1916.

The principal attraction in Ferryland, however, is the Ferryland Head Lighthouse. 

A two-kilometre walking trail stretches across The Downs and along a narrow strip of land sandwiched between two green coves. 

A stunted forest opens onto a rocky promontory, atop which sits the lighthouse itself, a sturdy red tower with a squat white house attached.

If you go into the lighthouse, you’ll meet the Lighthouse Ladies, who, for $25 a person, will provide you with a scrumptious picnic lunch.  

They’ll give you a signal flag and a picnic blanket and send you outside to find a good spot in the cushy undergrowth to have your lunch. 

Once you’re settled, they’ll bring you your lunch in a basket: hearty sandwiches on thick oatmeal bread, rich pasta salad, melt-in-your-mouth desserts, and fresh, tart lemonade, served in Mason jars.  Just some more shots of this amazing al fresco meal:

After your post-lunch nap (the ground really is nice and soft here, believe it or not), you can explore the area around the lighthouse.

This is Rusty and Mags getting their first taste of the North Atlantic.

Some radioactively green algae:

A rusty thingamajig:

An awesome example of geological strata:Then you have the long trek back to civilization.  But so worth it.

Check it out for yourself!

Lighthouse Picnics

Ferryland Municipal Website

Ferryland Wikipedia Page

Colony of Avalon Archaeological Site

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism Ferryland Page