A Travellerspoint blog


Cooling it off in the Canadian Maritimes I

It was August and we were enduring a tortuous heat wave in the deep south. Summer was breathing hard down our necks. The grass was dry and brown, crunching under our feet as we made our way to the sweltering heatbox of our cars, hoping we wouldn't die of heat exhaustion before our tired and overworked air conditioners could make the air breathable. Ice melted in our glasses as soon as we put it in, air conditioners and fans groaned to keep up with the rising temperatures, heat waves drifted up from the hot asphalt making everything seem hazy and thick.

We did the only thing we could do. We headed north.

We had always wanted to see coastal Canada, and with friends begging us to visit (and bragging about their cooler temperatures), we loaded up the Seneca with our good friends John and Teresa and headed to the Canadian Maritime Provinces: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.


With images of cool gray seas and rugged coastal cliffs, rolling green hills and miles of unspoiled sand perfect for clamming or sand castle building, we set our sights on Canada with hopes that she would provide a week of blessed relief from the heat, not to mention sweeping coastal vistas, long sandy beaches, winding scenic drives, and buckets upon buckets of seafood.


Saturday: Arriving in St. John, New Brunswick

That morning we had lifted off, waving goodbye to the East TN mountains draped in a heat soaked haze below us. The air was so thick you could barely see the horizon. Now, only 6 hours later, I looked outside the plane window and saw a bright green coastline fringed by blue green waves.


I could already feel the temperature difference as we stepped out of the plane at the small St. John airport. The sky was gray and a light drizzle wrapped around us as I pulled my jacket tight.

"Where is the customs office?" I asked Matt. "I don't see anyone."

"I called them. They are supposed to tell us where to go. They said no one was in the office right now and they'll call me back in a few minutes. They said to just stay with the plane."

Through the fence, we spotted our Canadian friends, Keith and Sydney. We waved "hello," just as a little van pulled up to our plane. A very nice uniformed lady got out and told us she was a Commissionaire for the airport.

"I've just spoken to customs," she said. "They've cleared you for entry. If you want to get your bags, I'll drive you over to your friends' car."

I looked at Matt and whispered, "But we haven't even BEEN through customs..."

He shrugged.

Note to self: If the guys in the Canadian Customs Office have already gone home for the day and don't feel like coming back, clearing customs is pretty darn easy.


As we made our way to Keith and Sydney's house, I heard my first of many Canadisms. This is what I call a word that we either don't know here in the U.S. or that we don't use the same way.

There I was, wedged in the middle of the front seat between Keith and Syd, a large cocker spaniel on my lap when Sydney points to the side of the road and tells us that's where the "girl guy" camp is.

We spent several confusing minutes as I tried to figure out what kind of camp that was..Was it just another way to refer to co-ed? Was it for cross dressers? Was a Girl-Guy a slang term for hermaphrodite?.....when Syd finally says, "You know, GIRL GUIDES..they are what you become after you're a brownie."

"OH..Girl Scouts...." we all said in unison...slightly disappointed..visions of 3-legged sack races and marshmallow roasts between drag queens exiting our minds as quickly as they had entered.





The evening was spent at Keith and Sydney's beautifully wooded home, nestled at the water's edge, the St. John River just a stone's throw away. We had cold beer and a cooler full of live lobsters to steam. After several lobsters each, smoked salmon, bacon wrapped scallops, and molten chocolate cakes, we finally had to throw in the white napkin and call a "surrender," heading to bed in the cool, Canadian night.


Sunday: Boating on the St. John River


Because Keith and Syd live on the water and have a great boat, and because the sun chose to shine high and bright, we decided it would be a boat day.


We loaded the coolers, grabbed some chips, and headed to the boat. It was a little chilly for swimming, so we just soaked in the sunshine and enjoyed the views and each other's company.




For lunch, we stopped at the Evandale Inn for lunch on their outdoor deck. Matt decided to try a cocktail he'd never heard of before: the Caesar. Another Canadism.


My husband manages to find at least one food obsession on every trip. This will be something that he discovers, usually in the first day or two, and then insists on having EVERY SINGLE DAY. For example, in Italy, he became obsessed with Nutella. In Key West, he became obsessed with the $6 Happy Hour Oysters. In Canada...he became obsessed with the Bloody Caesar.

Little known outside Canada, the Caesar is basically a Bloody Mary made with Clamato Juice. Attempt to order a Bloody Caesar outside of Canada and you'll likely be answered with a blank stare, but while in Canada..well...Hail Caesar! Matt quickly became a fan and had to have one everywhere we went.

We had a great lunch of burgers (and Caesars!) and then slowly made our way back toward home.



For dinner, Sydney introduced us to our third Canadism..the Donair. I really don't know how to describe it, but I'll do my best. Imagine a gyro, but instead of the meat being sliced thinly off a large piece of roasted lamb or pork, the meat is shaved off what is essentially, for better explanation, a giant meatball. Ground beef, bread crumbs, and spices are shaped into a massive loaf which is then put on a spit. It's sliced off, just like a gyro, and put on a warm pita. Instead of tzatziki sauce, it has a sweet garlic sauce.


All I can tell you is that it is a gooey, warm pile of garlic flavored deliciousness. Paired with a Grower's Pear Cider, it was another meal to add to my quickly growing list of "Awesome Foods You Can Only Find in Canada."

This was going to be a long list at the rate we were going...

Monday: From St. John, NB to Prince Edward Island


One advantage to having one's own plane is that it truly makes the world a smaller place. The driving distances between the various locales in the Maritimes would have made it difficult to see all that we wanted to in just one week. However, because we were able to reduce a 5 hour drive to a 1 hour flight, we were able to hop all over the place.

We said "see you later" to Keith and Syd, who would be meeting up with us again later in the week on Nova Scotia, and flew to Charlottetown, PEI.


We only had one day to see Prince Edward Island, which one could easily spend a week or two on, so we had to make the most of it. We hopped in our rental car and headed to another Canadism..Tim Horton's.

A double-double and a bag of timbits later...we were headed toward Greenwich to find the Dunes National Park for a short hike.



A boardwalk snaked for miles around massive parabolic dunes and marshy wetlands, ending at the ocean. Parabolic dunes are formed when vegetation begins to grow on the end of a sand dune, holding the end of the dune in place while the rest of the dune moves ahead, pushed by winds from a single direction.




The landscape was other worldly and simply beautiful. The air was fresh and clean. The sun was warm.


Oh, and there was a bonus...fresh raspberries were everywhere along the trail.


Despite handfuls of fresh, sweet berries, the hike made us hungry and we were in the mood for a proper lunch. As luck would have it, Rick's Fish N'Chips was just a short hop down the road.



Not only did they have the most delicious planks of crispy fried haddock..but Rick's introduced me to another..yes.I'm about to say it..another Canadism.



(Have you noticed that most of my super special "only in Canada" fascinations involve food? Is that at all surprising?)

Poutine is Canada's answer to chili cheese fries. You take a mountain of golden french fries and cover them with gravy and melted cheese. Seriously delicious. It was like combining Grandma's mashed potatoes and gravy with your favorite burger joint's cheese fries. They were better than a greasy funnel cake and corn dog at the Tennessee Valley Fair.

O Canada.you make my tummy so happy.

After lunch, we headed to central PEI to try to find somewhere for Teresa to shop. Shopping options had been fairly limited so far. I remembered reading something about a boardwalk with good shopping near Rustico, so we headed that way.



A few miles down the road and I screamed, "STOP!!! GO BACK!!!!!" causing Matt to make a screeching U-Turn, thinking I must have seen the world's first unicorn or a bag of money lying on the side of the road to make such a commotion.

It was the Cheese Lady! She came all the way from Holland and brought her amazing Gouda making skills with her and I had found her.


Gouda is my #1, all time, very favorite cheese.

We stopped. We tasted. We bought.


The next hour was spent trying to find the mythical "Boardwalk of North Rustico." Apparently, despite what are usually pretty sharp planning skills, my brain had gotten the "boardwalk" that stretches around the pretty harbor at North Rustico (but which has no shopping) with the "Boardwalk" shopping mall that is the epicenter of all things tacky in Cavendish.



In my brain, I envisioned a quaint boardwalk, stretching along a harbor, littered with unique artisans and galleries. What we found was essentially a gussied up strip mall on the side of the highway filled with typical tourist junk like cheap ceramic crabs with "I got crabby in PEI" painted on the side. We didn't even stop. Sorry, Teresa.

It was nearing dinner time and several folks had recommended the New Glasgow Lobster Supper to us. We were only about 5 minutes away and anything with "Lobster" in the name is an immediate win with me, so before we knew it, we found ourselves entering a big square building and buying a supper ticket.

The New Glasgow Lobster Supper is not fancy. It is not cheap. It is not particularly charming. But they have some yummy lobster. Row upon row of long tables lined with chairs filled a rather uninteresting giant room. It's a lot like eating supper in the church basement.

If you went to a church that serves lobster.


You are seated at a table and within minutes, servers start bringing you loads of food. Bowls of chowder, hot bread, salad, buckets of steamed mussels, blueberry pie with ice cream, strawberry shortcake...and lobster. Oh, the lobster.


All of it was all-you-can-eat except the lobster. We most definitely ate all we could.


We headed back to Charlottetown to find our hotel. The Hotel on Pownal was a centrally located, reasonably priced choice, so imagine our delight when we discovered it was also a very new, very classy, very comfortable place. Once we saw quaint Charlottetown, with rows of artsy shops and outdoor patio cafes, we regretted the time we wasted chasing down the Boardwalk that did not exist. Luckily, many shops were still open, so we browsed for a while and had cocktails at Peakes Quay, with live music and a beautiful view of the water.

We went to sleep wishing we had more time on PEI, but having completely enjoyed the time we had.

Tuesday: From Prince Edward Island to Cape Breton

After enjoying the delicious (FREE!) breakfast at the Hotel on Pownal, we were off to Cape Breton. This was probably our most ambitious day.

We were flying from PEI to Cape Breton, then driving an hour from the Sydney Aiport to the Cabot Trail, driving the entire 185 mile winding Cabot Trail, stopping mid-way to do a 5 mile hike, then returning to Sydney for the night...and we had approximately 12 hours to do it.

Ambitious? Crazy was more like it.

The name of this province is Latin for "New Scotland," and I could see why as we flew over. Cape Breton is a large island with rugged mountains, sweeping coastlines, and rolling green hillsides reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. It was simply breathtaking.


As we left the airport and drove through Sydney, we wisely decided to stop in at our B&B to see if we could check in, even though it was only about 10:00 a.m. We knew it would be very late when we returned and weren't sure we'd still have reserved rooms at that point!

The Colby House was WONDERFUL. With only 3 guest rooms, it was cozy, beautiful, and the inn keepers were sweet enough to go ahead and show us to our rooms and let us drop off our things. My only regret was that I didn't get to spend more time at this beautiful inn.



We drove to Englishtown, which took about an hour. By this time, we were all getting a little hungry, but we had no idea if there was anything to eat nearby. We were headed for the Englishtown Ferry that would take us over to the Cabot Trail when I saw this:


This might have been the cutest little café EVER. We pulled in and grabbed lobster rolls.soft buns filled with cold, delicious lobster salad..and warm cups of chowder.



The ferry provided a much needed short cut and by noon, we were on the Cabot Trail. At the advice of our innkeeper, we were driving the 185 mile loop counter-clockwise. I looked at the others and said, "If I don't see a moose today..someone is getting hurt."

You have to understand that on countless backcountry hiking trips to Montana and Canada, it has been my most earnest desire to see a moose. Yet.on each and every trip...no moose. I planned hikes around the likelihood of seeing a moose. No moose. I had seen grizzlies, black bears, marmots, big horn sheet, mountain goats, wolverines. No moose.

I was so hoping to see a moose.

As we climbed toward the high point of Cape Smokey, the gray skies gave way to thick fog. Despite that, the views were beautiful.steel gray seas crashing onto red rock cliffs, thick clouds swirling in the misty above them.


We'd been driving for a short time when I saw it. A hulking shape loomed up ahead.


It was a moose! No, it was two!

A moose might just be the most awkward looking animal on the planet. No matter, I was ecstatic that I was finally seeing one up close and personal. Not just one..two!

About 15 minutes later, we noticed a "road jam." We learned on our many trips to Glacier National Park that, when driving through a park that has a lot of wildlife, road jams typically mean one thing: wildlife on the side of the road. Sure enough, a mother moose and her two babies were grazing in a field by the side of the road.


Five moose! Mooses? Meese? Whatever. We'd seen five of them!




We spent the next couple of hours driving north, stopping at viewpoints and artisan shops along the way, the fog circling around us and hiding things in the mist. At Neal's Harbor, we found the Chowder House. It was cold, blustery, and gray and it was hard to believe it was summer. Hot chowder sounded perfect. We pulled our coats around us and braved the wind to get a warm bowl of chowder.



It was some of the best chowder I have ever had: creamy and full of thick, chunky pieces of seafood, served with a fluffy warm biscuit.

The next thing we knew, we saw a sign for "Oysters and Campground." Weird, combo, but Matt loves him some oysters, so we found ourselves driving down a series of winding little back roads to Hideaway Camp and Oysters. Mostly a campground, it has a quaint little store with a fresh seafood counter, nestled in the middle of the woods, a million miles from anywhere.



You gotta' love Canada.

As we rounded the north tip of the Cabot Trail, the fog and gray skies gave way to clear blue sky and rolling green mountains. The temperature increased steadily as we wound our way along the coast toward the Skyline Trail

If you don't like the weather in the Maritimes, just wait a minute. It will change.

Needing a break from the car, we did the 5 mile loop hike to the viewpoint at the Skyline Trail. By this time, the weather was beautiful, but it was already 5:00 p.m. I was starting to worry about getting stuck out there pretty late.


No worries.the trail was easy and took no time at all. At the end, the viewpoint was simply breathtaking, with wooden boardwalks built to protect the vegetation and seeming to extend forever into nothing but air high above the sea. The sun was setting over the water and we took a minute to do nothing but enjoy the views.


Only a minute, though. Why? As it opens to a beautiful panorama where you can see the mountains, the ocean, and the Cabot Trail winding it's way along the coast, the viewpoint also opens up to ferocious winds. The wind was so strong, I could barely stand.




On the way back to the car, we encountered a HUGE bull moose munching away in the brush. Despite waiting quietly and patiently FOREVER..he never moved out of the thick trees, but he's in there. Really he is.


Moose #6!


As we drove away from the trail we saw another road jam. This time it was a small black bear making his way across a hillside.


By this time, it was getting late. And dark. It was about 8:00 p.m. and we still had at least 2 hours of driving to get back to Sydney. Worried that we wouldn't find many restaurants that stayed open past 9:00, we blindly chose a little restaurant we happened upon on the side of the road just past Cheticamp. I am not a fan of entering restaurants that I know nothing about. It almost always ends badly. It's how you end up at a place with jelly smeared on the cheap laminated menus and the décor includes a rack of potato chips and cigarettes hanging on the wall.

However, it was late and this was pretty much our last option unless we wanted a convenience store pack of cheese and crackers back in Sydney around midnight.

We stepped inside and were simply enchanted. The interior was warm and cozy, filled with clapping people as a duo of musicians played a keyboard and fiddle in the front of the restaurant. Spontaneously, the two waitresses broke out into Irish dancing at the front and went on for what seemed like forever. The moved so fast, I couldn't even get a picture!


The All Aboard was a family owned place and it showed in the warmth, the wonderful food, and the happy faces surrounding us. We had some local wine, smoked salmon dip, and I ordered up another lobster. For dessert, there was homemade strawberry shortcake. It felt more like eating at a friend's house than being at a restaurant.



If you had a friend that serves lobster.

It had been a long and wonderful day, and we made our way back to our Inn, arriving a little after 11:00, where we enjoyed a long and restful sleep in the most comfortable beds imaginable.

Wednesday: From Cape Breton to Halifax, Nova Scotia

We planned to spend the next 3 days in central Nova Scotia, basing ourselves in the quaint village of Lunenburg. Our plan had been to fly into the small Liverpool Airport to avoid the high fees of the Halifax Airport. This was not meant to be, thanks to the thick gray skies of Nova Scotia. We were directed by flight services to land in Halifax.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First things first: breakfast. Colby House served us a wonderful hot breakfast in their lovely dining room.




Then, like a flash, we were off again, in search of new adventures.

We landed in Halifax and it was an ugly, gray, ugly, dreary, rainy, ugly day. In no hurry to get anywhere, we stopped in town for lunch at the Old Triangle Ale House.


I immediately fell in love with the giant throne chair. And the hard cider.



After some salt cod cakes with chips and deliciously warm and moist home baked bread, we took the long way to Lunenburg, thinking we'd stop at Peggy's Cove on the way.



From everything I'd read, you couldn't visit Nova Scotia without seeing Peggy's Cove, reported to be the most picturesque fishing village in the province. It was also the site of the 1998 tragedy involving Swissair flight 111 where 229 people lost their lives. It was on the way, so we hoped the rain would spare us and we headed that way.


Peggy's Cove was admittedly lovely, with her stately lighthouse and her rambling fishing shacks, but just as we arrived and stepped out of the car to look around, the bottom literally dropped out of the sky.




Rain soaked and weary, we cut our losses and headed to Lunenburg.

The drive over was very picturesque. Everything here was a reminder of the sea, from the craggy rocks that jutted out into the small bays, each bay lined with fishing shacks covered in salt rubbed shingles and hanging with colorful lobster buoys. Nets and traps were piled up beside every structure and brightly colored wooden dories bobbed just out of reach. Even the air blew from the sea, tinged with fish and salt and mist.


When we arrived in Lunenburg, I immediately knew I had chosen a perfect place. The town was small and walkable, filled with colorful buildings, quaint shops, and cozy cafes. We dropped John and Teresa off at their B&B and headed to our home for the next 3 nights, the Boatbuilder's Cottage.

Oh. My. Goodness. Nothing cuter than this has ever existed.


I was in heaven. The cottage was set in a garden filled with flowers. Inside, it was warm and cozy, filled with beautiful light, comfy quilts, gleaming wood, and tiny seaside treasures hidden in secret nooks and crannies.


Dinner that evening was at the Knot Pub, a short walk from the Boatbuilder's Cottage. The Knot Pub might be the only place in the universe even cuter than the Boatbuilder's Cottage.


The interior was adorable, small and warm with cozy booths hidden away in corners and candlelight flickering in the dim. I half expected to see a hobbit come walking out at any moment carrying a pint of ale.

The food did not disappoint. I tried another Canadism: fried pepperoni. What is wrong with Americans???? Why don't we do this back home? As though pepperoni were not awesome enough on its own, these geniuses had the brilliance to FRY IT.


I love Canadians.

For dinner, I tried the sausage and sauerkraut. Both were made locally. Served with spicy hot mustard on a soft roll, it was maddeningly delicious.


Posted by vicki_h 12:05 Archived in Canada Tagged canada maritimes nova_scotia pei prince_edward_island cape_breton Comments (2)

Cooling it off in the Canadian Maritimes II

Thursday: A Day in Lunenburg

The weather was still ugly and gray, and we were exhausted from all the running we'd been doing all week, so we cozied in at the cottage for the morning with good books and thick quilts, as the rain pattered on the tin roof.


For lunch, we walked downtown and visited the Bluenose II (currently inside being "renovated"..I say that loosely because it sure looked to me like the Bluenose II had been dismantled, sold off, and was being completely rebuilt.however they seem to prefer to call it a renovation.) .The Bluenose II is the replica of a famous Canadian sailing vessel that met an untimely end on a Haitian reef. It's the reason Lunenburg residents are often referred to as Bluenosers.

Better a Bluenoser than a Brownnoser, right?


We ate lunch at the Dockside Inn, with fresh crunchy shrimp, bloody Caesars, and homemade carrot cake.


We did a little shopping in the village, sampling the apple vodka at the Ironworks Distillery, buying hand knitted legwarmers at a great shop specializing in clothing only made in Canada, and picking up a cool tote made from old sails.




We wove in and out of the many art galleries and laughed when we saw these two peering out a window:


Late in the gray afternoon, we made the quick 5 minute drive over to Blue Rocks. Little more than a harbor lined with fishing shacks in varying stages of dilapidation, peeling with age and sea and salt, it had an old world charm set against the backdrop of the ominous dark sky.






Unfortunately, we made a poor dinner choice and ate at the Old Fish Factory that evening. Not that it was bad, but this place reminded me of every average tourist trap seafood house I ever ate at as a kid on family vacations to Florida. It was simply nothing special. I avoided the entrees which were vaguely reminiscent of something you'd see on the Myrtle Beach Red Lobster menu and opted for a Caesar salad and the smoked trout cake appetizer with a hearty bowl of chowder. All things considered, it was not a bad choice.



Friday: Mahone Bay Boating


It was our last full day in Canada and Keith & Sydney came over to spend it with us. They had friends with a home not far from Lunenburg and we had all agreed to take their boat out for the day to get a fish eye view of Mahone Bay.



It was interesting to see the landscape from this perspective. The coast was littered with little green islands and boats of every shape and size could be found in every cove. Everything from fishing shacks to giant mansions lined the shore.



We made our way to Mahone Bay proper, tying up at the dock to head in to warm up at the Mug and Anchor Pub with fish & chips and more bloody Caesars.



Fat and happy, we motored back and said our goodbyes to Keith and Sydney. We headed back to Lunenburg, making a quick stop in Mahone Bay for a little shopping. Then, windburned and sleepy, we all enjoyed some down time before dinner.



To make up for the previous night's lackluster meal, I chose Trattoria Bella Nonna in Lunenburg for dinner. We had pretty much stuck with seafood and pub grub for most of the trip, trying to enjoy what was local and traditional in each place we visited, but by this time, I was simply craving some GOOD FOOD.

Trattoria Della Nonna had been one of the most consistently recommended restaurants during our visit to Lunenburg, and I declared we were eating THERE.

Located in the center of Lunenburg on beautiful King Street it is the only authentic Italian restaurant on the South Shore. I love Italian food. I probably love it as much as I love lobster.

It was very late for a reservation, but we called anyway and were able to squeeze in late that night. When we walked inside, the smell of roasted garlic, rich and heavy, wrapped around me like a decadent blanket. As soon as we walked in, we could see that Trattoria della Nonna was exactly what I had hoped for: intimate, cozy, and romantic, with the most amazing smells drifting from the kitchen. The dim lighting cast everything in a warm hue as candles flickered from each table. There were three small floors that were all visible from the front entrance. We were taken to the bottom floor, which felt delightfully cellar-like and reminded me of some of the places we had eaten at while visiting Italy just a few years before.


With a delicious red wine, caprese salad, warm bread with olive oil, and house made gnocchi, I was in heaven.

We finished it off with a chilled glass of Limoncello and called it perfection.

Saturday: Nova Scotia to Bar Harbor, Maine

Going through customs back in the states was almost as easy as it had been entering Canada. After we landed, a truck pulled up to the plane and the friendly customs agents asked us a question or two, glanced at our passports, and said, "Welcome back!"

Next thing we knew, we were pulling up for lunch at Lunt's Gateway Lobster Pound just outside the airport in Bar Harbor, Maine. I had to have at least one more lobster, didn't I?



Our lobsters were steamed in giant vats that sat over hardwood fires and brought to us piping hot with potato salad and cole slaw and a big slice of blueberry pie with ice cream.



Three of us wanted to head to Acadia National Park for the day, so we dropped Teresa off at our B&B, the Acacia House Inn, and drove to the trailhead for the Precipice Trail.


I don't really think this should be called a hike. It's a non-technical climb, meaning you go straight up but you can do it without climbing gear. It climbs 1,000 feet straight up the east face of Champlain Mountain and requires you to navigate a couple of boulder fields, several narrow ledges, and numerous rock climbs with the assistance of metal rungs that have been placed into the rock.


It's strenuous and terrifying and I couldn't wait to do it.


This sign says, ""CAUTION: Only idiots go up this thing. What are you thinking? Go back to your car, head into Bar Harbor, and get an ice cream cone. You don't want to do this. If you do, remember that you should be freakishly fit, will need Superman shoes (and a cape would be super nice), should have some climbing experience with exposed cliffs and ridiculous heights, might have some dislodged rocks fall on you before it's over with but will most definitely vomit from the sheer terror of it all at some point, & will be totally and completely exhausted by the time you get to the top and you still have to come back down the same way you went up, which sucks, really. Oh, and you might die. Don't say we didn't warn you, dumba$$."

Okay, maybe that's not what it actually says, but it should.


Folks are not exaggerating when they say that this trail is a challenge. It was tough. It was nerve wracking. And I'm pretty sure I peed my pants at a couple of the hairpin turns on ledges that weren't as wide as my shoe.


Although this trail is a beast to hike, the pay off is a breathtaking panoramic view of Mount Desert Island that is well worth the effort.



However, views aside, my favorite part was when, after the most intense part of the climb is done, after you've spent about an hour hauling yourself up sheer rock faces using metal rungs that some park genius put about 3 feet apart and shimmying along narrow ledges with your eyes squeezed tightly in fright and prayer, when you are pretty much at the very top, you see a weathered, scratched-up sign. It tells you that going back down is more difficult and time consuming than coming up.

Okay. Wouldn't it have made more sense to put that sign in the freaking PARKING LOT while I still had a choice??????

In my next life, I want to work for the park service so I can put dumb signs like that up and laugh at people too.

Going down was grueling, because we simply had to retrace the same path going down. Gravity was working against us as we climbed down the rungs, shimmied down the cliff edges, and crawled down the giant boulder fields.

We were so proud of ourselves for doing it. Okay, maybe we were just so happy to be alive. Either way, it was a great feeling.


Once our legs stopped shaking and the nervous vomiting ceased, we enjoyed an afternoon of shopping, ice-cream, and dockside drinks in Bar Harbor.


We didn't have dinner plans and town was PACKED so we had to act fast. I knew Poor Boy's Gourmet was supposed to be good so we made a quick phone call. They had a cancellation and gave us a reservation for 7:30. It was 7:00, so we headed that way.


When we got there, the line stretched out the door and down the sidewalk. I watched as person after person walked up to be told it was an hour and a half wait. We walked right up, gave our name, and were immediately seated inside.

Did I feel guilty? Not a bit.

The food was delicious. We had appetizers of lobster bisque, steamed garlic mussels, and a smoked fish dip. Somebody in the kitchen got a little crazy, I think, with the garnishing.


For dinner, I couldn't help myself..I had one more lobster.


Actually, I just did it for the bib. I think I look hot.


As I was eating my brownie a la mode, I realized I had broken a personal record. It was my 4th dessert in a single day.

Go me!

Sunday: Time for Home

The Acacia House served a phenomenal breakfast. Unlike any other B&B I have been to, they had individual tables set up on a sunny enclosed porch. After bringing you coffee and juice, they actually took your order. You could choose from about 8 selections and they made your breakfast to order. I had blueberry pastries, fresh fruit, and the most wonderful little silver dollar pancakes with fresh strawberries and a lemon cream.




Such a sweet way to wrap things up.

It had been an adventurous week. I felt like we had been all over these islands with their windswept hills and lush green valleys, salt-crusted harbors and colorful wooden towns.



When I think of the Maritimes, I'll be forever delighted with visions of bright yellow and blue wooden lobster buoys clanking noisily against the shaker shingles of a fishing hut, long stretches of golden sand running alongside cool blue gray waters, waves crashing madly on brilliant red cliffs as seagulls cry overhead and a solitary lighthouse stands sentry, fields of blueberries and raspberries that are wet with dew and are ripe for picking, children in rolled up pants with plastic buckets digging clams in the gray sand, or bright yellow sea moss draped across smooth gray stones like a lacy evening gown.


I'll remember that you can buy a Coffee Crisp for about a loonie, that homo milk isn't what it sounds like, and that cereal cream is pretty good stuff. I'll remember that their Smarties are our M&Ms and that our Smarties are their Rockets. I'll remember NOT to eat Rappie Pie but to always eat Poutine and that you can get anything at Canadian Tire.



I'll think of lobsters cooked beside the deck as the sun sets soft and golden on the river and the loons call out. I'll taste the crisp, cold rush of a pear cider and imagine the soft, warm bread of a Donair dripping with sweet garlic sauce. I'll hear the happy music of a fiddle as the quick feet of a young girl leap into the air again and again. I'll miss the laughter of good friends floating gently on the air as the wake of the boat sends ripples toward the shore.


It was a week well spent.


Need more pics? http://www.flickr.com/photos/42427255@N00/sets/72157627653809238/

Posted by vicki_h 12:00 Archived in Canada Tagged canada maritimes nova_scotia pei prince_edward_island cape_breton Comments (7)

Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

A Hiking Trip, September 2008

overcast 3 °C

Each September I take a hiking trip. For many years, I have gone to Glacier National Park in Montana. While the views in Glacier would be pretty hard to beat, I felt like it was time to see something new. This September I went to Banff National Park in Canada. While Banff did not manage to replace Montana in my heart, it was a beautiful place and had many wonderful things to offer.

Day One: September 4, 2008 - Travel Day

Travel Day is just plain hard. Especially when that travel involves getting up at 4 am to catch a 6 am flight from Knoxville to Charlotte, followed by a 4.5 hour flight from Charlotte to Phoenix, followed by a 3 hour flight from Phoenix to Calgary, followed by a 2 hour drive from Calgary to Banff National Park. Talk about exhausted! Between the early hour that I woke up, the many hours of flying/driving, and the multiple time changes, it was only 2:30 pm when I arrived, but I felt like I had been up for days!


Did that stop me from getting a little hiking in on the first day? Not me! I am the energizer bunny. I keep going and going and going. We arrived at Johnston Canyon Resort inside Banff National Park around 5:00 pm. I grabbed my pack and headed up the short Johnston Canyon Trail. The trail is part hiking trail, part suspension bridge - a feat of engineering suspended in a gorge. It was beautiful. The water had the deep blue color so common in glacial areas, a product of "glacial flour," super fine rock particles that are suspended in the water giving it an unnatural blue color that is simply beautiful. The blue water rushed down the center of the gorge and bright green moss grew up the rocky sides. The colors were bold and took my breath away. The gorge was deep and cool and after being cooped up all day, the walk was exactly what I needed.


After a couple of hours, it was time to clean up for dinner. Dinner was at Baker Creek Bistro, about 10 miles up the road into the park. The bistro was a cozy log cabin with a soft candlelit interior and a roaring fireplace in one corner. I tried a Grower's Pear Cider, something new to me and absolutely fantastic! Light and fizzy, it tasted like a crisp, fresh pear, and it packed quite a buzz too! For an appetizer, I had their oatmeal crusted trout cakes. They were out of this world. Dinner was a bison meatloaf with mashed potatoes and onion straws. Dessert followed, a blackberry, blueberry, and apple crisp topped with ice cream.

I could have died happy after that meal. It was simply perfect.

The night was spent at Johnston Canyon Resort in a simple, cozy cabin. After what seemed like about 97 hours, Travel Day was finally OVER.


Day Two: September 5, 2008 - Lake Louise/Plain of Six Glaciers/Highline/Big Beehive/Lake Agnes Hike

The day started at the Lake Louise Chateau. Today's hike would take us along the shoreline, up the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail to a hike-in Teahouse. A small backtrack part of the way down the mountain would then connect us to the Highline Trail, an ungodly steep switchback trail up to the Big Beehive Lookout. From the Big Beehive Lookout, another steep switchback trail heads down and around Lake Agnes to the hike-in only Lake Agnes Teahouse. From there, the trail makes a short descent back down to Lake Louise and the Chateau.


We started early, mainly to avoid any crowds and had the trail to ourselves. Well....for a little while. Hearing something rustling behind us, I turned to see a grizzly bear had taken up behind us on the trail. He was young, maybe 2-3 years old, and about 300 pounds. Holy Shit.


Not really knowing what to do, we just kept walking forward. It wasn't really like we had a choice. The bear didn't seem really happy about the whole thing either. We were all just sort of stuck. The trail was bordered by the lake on one side, so there was no exit that way. The other side rose up a steep rocky embankment, so no exit there. The only exit was to go all the way back to the trailhead at the beginning of the lake. Well, the bear was between us and the trailhead, so I sure wasn't going that way. The trailhead was at the Chateau, where about 40 busloads of Asian tourists were milling around snapping pictures, so the bear sure as hell wasn't go there either. We were all forced to just keep moving along.

Eventually, the bear found a place where he could peel off and he did. For the next 2 hours, I swear, I must have looked behind me every 5 minutes.

The walk up through the Plain of Six Glaciers was beautiful. It was a cloudy day, but there was a mist hanging in the mountains and the mountaintops were shrouded in clouds.


As we neared the Teahouse, the trail became a series of steep switchbacks on a rocky ledge. About the time my calves started SCREAMING for me to stop moving already....I saw the Teahouse. I think this guy was the official welcoming committee.


What a treat! The workers at the Teahouse hike in and stay 5 days at a time. All of the cooking is done with propane. They have no electricity. Just about the time we walked in, it started to snow! Good timing. I had a hot cup of Chai Tea and it was just what the doctor (and my screaming calves) ordered.


Unfortunately, what goes up, must come down. It was hike-in only and that meant hike-out only. With a light snow falling around us, we made our way back down the steep, rocky switchbacks. I swear, I think going down is actually harder than going up for me. My 38-year old knees don't like it! There were cables in the rock along some of the narrower spots, but I didn't really see why. I'm pretty clumsy and even I could manage to walk on that ledge without a cable.


We trudged up and up and up the Highline Trail just to find that when we arrived at the Big Beehive Lookout, it was a whiteout. It was snowing hard and you couldn't see anything. Our original plan was to stop and eat lunch at the Lookout. Well, it was cold and wet and I decided I wasn't hungry enough to sit in the mud. Even though it was past lunchtime, we kept walking. Now it was down, down, down steep switchbacks from Big Beehive to Agnes Lake. The snow and clouds pretty much obscured any view, but I could see enough to know how absolutely gorgeous Lake Agnes must be on a clear day. We wound our way around the lake, getting wetter by the minute, and finally arrived at the Lake Agnes Teahouse.


With visions of a warm, dry seat by a crackling fire, even if it meant I had to buy a $4.75 cup of tea and a $5 scone, I bounded up the steps with new energy....only to be totally deflated when I realized there were about twice as many people packed into that little Teahouse as there were seats. Apparently, it's a pretty easy walk up from the Chateau and every idiot in a pair of Reebocks and Parka was packed in there trying to stay dry. I saw people in dress shoes, for goodness sakes. Grumbling to myself that "real hikers" should get some sort of special priority seating, I waited my turn to get a cold, wet seat outside so that I could eat my lunch. No one even came to wait on us, they were that busy. Oh well, what are you gonna' do?


We made our way down to the Chateau and pushed our way through HOARDES of tourists. I mean, this place was like Disney on crack. So freakin' crowded. I hate crowds. I also hate people that show up to a National Park and never get farther than the lobby of their fancy hotel. Who sit inside a restaurant eating prime rib and apple pie in front of a large picture window, looking at the beauty that is so close to them, but never actually setting foot out in it. I don't understand those people. And suddenly, I was surrounded by THOUSANDS of them. I would have preferred to be with the bear again.

To soothe my nerves and warm my hands, we slipped into the Glacier Saloon. After a glass of warm Canadian whiskey, I was good to go. And go I did. I got the hell out of there.

Dinner was at the Outpost Pub in the Post Hotel. It was a good, casual meal in front of a big fire, which was nice. The food was good, but nothing spectacular. We checked into our cabin at Paradise Lodge and it was perfect. Quiet & cozy, I spent the rest of the evening curled up in front of the fire with a good book.


Day Three: September 6, 2008 - Sentinel Pass Trail

After breakfast, we headed over to Moraine Lake to hit the Sentinel Pass trail. It was cloudy again...and cold. The first stretch of the trail was a healthy climb and about 30 minutes into it, I realized something bad. Very bad. I had left my camera battery in the charger. In the cabin. 30 minutes back down the stinking mountain and a 15 minute drive back to the cabin.

I had to have it. I literally jogged all the way back down (ouch, knees, OUCH!), ran to the car, drove like a madwoman back down to the cabin, got the thing, drove back, and jogged back up the trail. I was heaving like a beached whale by the time I got back, but I had the battery. Much to my dismay, the first several miles of the trail were steep switchbacks up. Aren't there ANY trails in Banff that don't go straight up???? There were a lot of people too. I hated that. After several miles, the trail leveled out a bit in a beautiful valley literally surrounded by towering, snowcapped peaks. It was majestic. It was still cloudy, though, and I hated knowing just how beautiful it must be on a clear day and knowing I wouldn't get to see it.


After a while, we came into an open area with huge mountains on every side. There were a couple of small lakes. The entire area was rocky and covered with.....SNOW. Yep. Snow. About that time, the snow started falling. I looked up ahead and saw a steep climb with the faint zig zag of a switchback snaking it's way to the top. I laughed and actually said, "Look, some idiot decided to go all the way up there...." That was just about the time I realized that was MY trail and I too, was about to be an idiot going "up there."


It was cold. It was rocky and slippery. It was long. It was worth every step. Once on top, the views stretched to infinity in every direction. Deep valleys and jagged peaks were visible on every side. A 360 degree, stellar view was my reward.



The trip back down was hard on the knees, but I made it. The hike was a "there and back" hike, which I don't like as much as a loop, but the scenery does look different going in the opposite direction. It was snowing hard by the time we got back down and snowed on us all the way back to the trailhead. I was wet and cold again, so we headed into the Moraine Lake Lodge and grabbed a hot bowl of potato soup to warm up. That hit the spot. After I made my way through about 300 tourists standing beside their tour buses snapping photos of a mountain they would never know the joy of setting foot on, we headed back to the cabin for some much needed down time.


The Baker Creek Bistro was so good, we headed back for another dinner there. I was hoping magic would strike twice, and it did. I ordered a cedar plank baked brie with garlic marmalade that was served with fruit and bread, the "cheese monger's mac n'cheese," and a ginger sticky cake with toffee sauce and beer ice cream for dessert.

After all that walking and all that food, I was done for.

Day Four: September 7, 2008 - Icefields Parkway Drive & Wilcox Pass Hike

After 2 days of hiking, my knees needed a small break, so we decided to drive the Icefields Parkway and do a short hike only. First stop was Laggan's Bakery to pick up a lunch for later. I grabbed a roasted turkey and cranberry sandwich and peanut butter brownie to go.


The Icefields Parkway is an incredibly scenic highway that runs from Lake Louise to Jasper. Every few miles, the scene changes, new mountains emerge, ice blue lakes pop into view, small waterfalls flow toward the road. It's a feast for the eyes.




We only drove as far as the Icefields Center (not all the way to Jasper). We made a stop to view the Athabasca Glacier. They actually shuttle people up to it and let them walk on it. It seemed sort of cheap and touristy to me. Instead of a beautiful, natural glacier, I saw a big, dirty, muddy ice chunk obscured by buses. There were some beautiful views of the mountains and glaciers from the Center.


We headed back toward Lake Louise and stopped to do a short hike, Wilcox Pass. Promising to offer long hike views in a short hike distance, it lived up to its promise. The beginning of the trail wound through a quiet, mossy green forest, the trail crisscrossed with the roots of the enormous trees. After a short climb, the trail opened into a a gently sloping meadow up to a pass. The views were phenomenal in all directions.


I stood at the top and the wind blew against my back. I couldn't hear any sounds except the wind and my own breathing. I stretched out my arms, and I felt like I was flying....


After getting back to Lake Louise, we headed to the Lake Louise Station for dinner. The restaurant is inside an old railway station and is filled with beautiful, antique woodwork and glass. A large fireplace warmed the room from one corner. I had a giant bison burger and fries. I can't explain it, I was just craving a burger. For dessert, it was a strawberry-rhubarb pie. Good stuff!

Day Five: September 8, 2008 - Citadel Pass Hike

First thing, we stopped at Moraine Lake to walk to the top of the rockpile and see the views. On the way there, we happened upon a black bear having some breakfast.



On our last hiking day, we opted for Citadel Pass. You have to take a shuttle up to the top of Sunshine Village, there is no road access. After being dumped by the shuttle, everyone else headed for the easy Rock Isle Lake trail and we had Citadel Pass all to ourselves. FINALLY! I had gotten rid of the crowd.

The first few miles of the trail went through a flat valley, filled with beargrass and surrounded by mountains. It seemed to stretch forever and there wasn't another person as far as the eye could see. It was close to heaven.


After several miles, the trail descended steeply to Howard Johnson Lake. The view simply took my breath away. Mountains towered in the distance, the lake glittered in the early morning sun below, and the tiny puffs of beargrass caught the light and shimmered on the hillside.


After reaching the Lake, the trail continued for many miles up toward the pass. With each mile, the views became more amazing. It was hard to take it all in. It also got steeper and seemed to take a really, really long time to get there!


Finally, we reached the pass. It was beautiful. Snow covered mountains surrounded us on all sides. The green hills rolled and tumbled down into the valley. Huge rocks were strewn about the hillside. It made a perfect place to stop for a while, eat some lunch, and just enjoy the beauty and solitude.


A "there and back" trail, we then turned and made the long way back. This was the first truly clear, sunny day of the trip and the views in both directions were stellar. We only saw about 3 other people the entire day.


We shuttled back down the mountain and stopped in Banff for dinner at Melissa's. I had Canadian Stew and bumbleberry pie. Is it just me, or do I eat a lot of pie?

Our flight was early the next morning, so we drove to Calgary that night and spent the night in the Delta Hotel at the airport. When I had to get up for my 6 am flight the next morning, I was really glad I had made that decision!

Day Six: September 9, 2008 - Time to Go Home

The bad news was, it was time to fly the 9 hours it would take to get home. The good news was, we had First Class Seats. That sure softens the blow!

I liked Banff National Park overall. The scenery was great and the people we encountered were as nice as any I have ever met. There were also much better dining and lodging options than you find in Glacier National Park.

The downside: crowds, crowds, crowds and way too many "touristy" things. I could do without that. It just seems wrong and out of place to me in such a pristine environment.

Unfortunately, it was back to the "real world."

At least until the next trip.....

Posted by vicki_h 18:56 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

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