Newfoundland (and the French Islands)


Newfoundland: a land that is newly found
It is pronounced New Fin Land. Fish have fins. Newfoundland has fish. I am certain there is logic here.
It’s Canada’s newest province, likely it’s foggiest and maybe its friendliest. I don’t know. At Pearson Airport at 6am, I think about the trip that lies ahead. Of course, I packed just before going to bed last night and I have done absolutely zero research. Except for a couple of clients that I am currently working with that sent me a short list of things to see and places to eat and drink in St Johns, I have no idea about Newfoundland. Well, I know that it joined Canada soon after the second world war and I have some foggy memories.
I lived there as a kid for about three years, but that was back in the early 1970s and that is hardly relevant now. We are planning a side trip to my old home town – St Lawrence – just three and a half hours outside St Johns and a world away. That will include a side side trip to St Pierre and Miquelon, a couple of little islands just off the boot of the Burin Peninsula. That’s another world away.
It looks flat and barren. The whole island looks flat and barren, from the photos on the internet.
NewfoundlandMost of what I remember about Newfoundland comes from old photographs. I don’t clearly recall the memories, but I remember the photographs. I Google Earth St Johns, St Lawrence and the Burin Peninsula. Looks like a whole lot of nothing. On the drive down the peninsula a couple of days hence, the scenery is always changing. There are parts that look like an arctic tundra and there are parts that look like Vancouver Island. There are beautiful coves and rocky rolling bogs, mossy and filled with shallow lakes.
Airports are unexciting. I only have carry on and though I should know the drill, I forget. I have shaving cream in one bag. They take my bag aside and search it before letting me through. They don’t confiscate the shaving cream. I guess the can is small enough that it will not to blow up an aircraft. No-one likes someone riffling through their stuff. The guy next to me appears to have the contents of a small electronics shop in his tray.
He says, “you packed quite well.”
“Thanks”, I said, “for noticing.” I’m only mildly perturbed by his comment. We are sharing a mildly unhappy experience.
The pilot flies past Newfoundland, far out to sea before turing around and flying in from the ocean. It appears that St, Johns Airport only has one runway. I’m starting to get the feeling that it is smaller than I originally thought.
It is small. I later google, “What is the population of St Johns?” It has just over 200,000 people and is the 20th largest metropolitan area in Canada. The plane ride from Pearson to St Johns is about two and a half hours. I read a Steven King book and listen to three podcasts.
Because we only have carry on, we wander out the front of the airport. The carousel is just starting up as we get into a taxi for the $28 ride to downtown St Johns.
Downtown, St Johns. That’s an Oxymoron.
The Jag Hotel has a rock and roll theme, free Granny Smith apples at the concierge desk and music in the elevators. It is a five floor hotel and our room is on the penthouse level with a view of a hill, a highway and a colourful assortment of two storey buildings.
The buildings are very colourful in St Johns. The sidewalks are narrow and the buildings front right onto the street. The streets run wiggly lines, contours along the harbour and hills. We walk along Water Street, stop into a place for brunch and then continue up Signal Hill. It is only a 45 minute walk, but steep and windy at the top.
We wander back down the hill, through the rough paths and then along Duckworth Street. Duckworth sounds like a made-up name to me, a street named after a cartoon character. Mayor McCheese, MacGilla Gorilla, Disco Dave Duckworth.
There are nothing but pubs on George Street. We have Guinness and split a caesar salad and then the early morning, the beer, the fresh air and exercise get the better of us and we head back to the hotel for an early night.

NewfoundlandThe greatest thing about traveling, I think is the break from the routine. I would never lounge around all morning at home. There, there is always something to do, routines to become rutted in. Get up, make the coffee, put the dog out, let the dog in, check the email…When you wake up in a St Johns hotel room, your day ahead is completely unknown. You are in uncharted waters. You don’t have to do anything. We sleep in and then go out for coffee and muffins.

Maybe it was the time zone change. Maybe it was the early morning flight, the long walk up Signal Hill, the fresh air and the cold beer, or just my mind and body shutting down, knowing that I am on vacation, but I slept in, seriously on the first full day in St Johns. That is good. Travelling is all about breaking habits and experiencing life in a different way. That’s why I like it so much I think.
I’m a list maker and a routine follower. Everyday I do many of the same things in the same way, day in, day out, winter, summer, fall and spring.. I get up and make the coffee, check my emails, read the news, write for my blog. I try not to see any clients until at least the early afternoon and in the late afternoon and evening I am out showing houses. It is an efficient routine but it is a routine and that though effective is not conducive to creativity.
We decide to walk to Quidi Vidi Brewery for a late lunch and we set out slowly on a 35 minute hike across St Johns. It really is a picturesque place with it’s scrubby flora and fauna, lakes and rivers, hills, mounds, slopes, inclines and mounts. Uphill in is windy. Downhill is hard on the legs.
The brewery does not serve food, but there is a tour that just started (which we decline) and picnic tables out back that we can use to enjoy the view of the small harbour and a couple of cold beers made using glacier water. We are joined by a couple from Ottawa. Everyone is on a great adventure in Newfoundland. They spent the morning hiking in the fog around Cape Spear. They spent last week dodging potholes on the Trans Canada Highway and kayaking around Trinity.
Next. It is near the end of the afternoon and we still haven’t eaten. Mallard’s cottage is on the list (from my clients) and it just happens to be a two minute walk away. Great luck, it’s lobster boil Monday night and we are first in line for an awesome meal.
On the walk back to our hotel, there are motorcyclists hanging out in front of The Second Cup, a nature movie being projected onto the side of a building and blocked off street in front of that. There is a long line of traffic turing off of Water Street and onto Harbour. There is a holiday atmosphere in downtown tonight.
I’ve noticed that the drivers are polite and cautious. They actually stop and let you jaywalk across the street. We are not in Ontario anymore.

NewfoundlandStarbucks is the great destination of our generation. Previously, it might have been MacDonald’s with its clean bathroom, previous to that maybe the local train station or ferry port, I don’t know, but when you are traveling and you need a place to start your day, Starbucks in the go to place. Order a $5 coffee and you are set for an hour or more.
I spend about an hour in Starbucks and then I get on with things. I have things to do, nothing earth changing, or life changing or important at all. I’m on vacation after all. I answer an email from a freelance writer about what fools home buyers into buying. I didn’t give him the answers that he was looking for unfortunately, but you never know. He may not use it. At least I can turn it into a blog post.
I buy a hat. The men’s haberdashery is a hat buyer’s paradise. It takes me a long time. I went in for a porkpie, almost buy a panama and end up with a short brimmed fedora. Nice hat. It will go with everything on vacation.
Lunch is fish and chips and a couple of beers. I have a short conversation with a couple of locals coming out of a pub, about the weather. I change money, buying euros for the trip to France and I buy a coffee at a gas station.
Gas station coffee isn’t very good.
I chill out in the hotel room. For a couple of hours. I am getting well rested.
We go out think about joining a pub crawl but instead go out for Korean food and then a hike around Battery Hill and Signal Hill.
There is a movie – Spotlight on TV and I stay up and watch that. It is an historical drama. It was an academy award winner, but really it is kind of slow.
We had a couple of pints after the hike. Windy, was the hike. Although it was only a Tuesday night, the town was quite rowdy.
“Nice hat”, someone says as we walk by the Shamrock.

NewfoundlandTime starts to slip away when you are on holiday. One day blends into the next. There are restaurant meals and walks along the main street sidewalk. You venture a little further afield and you double back to familiar places.
We have great weather. The sky is blue and the clouds are clean and white. The sun is hot but the wind is strong. We rent a car a drive over to Cape Spear and it is cold and foggy and windy. The roads are windy and hilly and you can’t get anything decent on the radio.
The food is salty and now that I have had a fair share of good beer, I can’t drink the stuff that comes from the big beer factories, where ever those might be. Beer has to be local and fresh, just like seafood.
I’ve had some great seafood, but not a lot. I’m not a guy who goes looking for trouble. Trouble sometimes finds me. The same can be said for seafood.
Today we get out of town.

NewfoundlandThere is no traffic in this province. The entire population is about the same as Waterloo Region’s. Also a lot like Waterloo Region, no road goes in a straight line for very long. We drive out of town, merge onto the Trans Canada Highway and eventually hang a left and go down the boot of the Burin Peninsula.
We stop for coffee and muffins and then stop again when we see a moose lumbering through the bog.
Marystown, the hub of the peninsula has a Walmart, and a McDonald’s. It’s big time. Most of the other towns down here are nothing but a church and a collection of houses, automobiles, boats and shacks.
We catch the ferry to St Pierre. It is a bumpy ride and a small collection of people get seasick. The crew comes around with paper towels and seasick bags. The crossing takes only 55 minutes, but it certainly seems longer. Its like getting stuck on a ride at the fair. It just keeps going and going.
The town of St Pierre is really picturesque. The buildings are brightly coloured. It has a European feel to it. It is small. There are no franchises.
Someone should really open a Starbucks.
The hotel is newly renovated. I go out and buy a bottle of wine and then we have a nice seafood dinner.
The next day we wander around town, taking pictures of the lighthouse and the harbour and the view from the top. It was a beautiful morning, but then the fog rolls in. The temperature drops when the fog rolls in.
We go for lunch: quiche and salad and Earl Grey Tea. Breakfast was coffee and a baguette and a strawberry tart.
It’s fun just wandering around town, going into shops, thinking about what it must be like to live here.
They drive french cars. They eat french food. Spend Euros. They are fishermen. The tourist trade is undeveloped. Our coffee was from a regular kitchen drip coffee maker on the counter of a shop selling everything from wine to knick knacks. We keep bumping into the same tourists, buying coffee, eating lunch…
There are french tourists and english tourists, tourists from Newfoundland, Ontario, Quebec, maybe even France. There seems to be a great connection between Montreal Quebec and St Pierre. Our server at lunch, goes to a polytechnic school in Montreal and a shop lady told us that she used to live there and her husband is from there.
The boat ride back is through the fog and uneventful. No one gets seasick. The ocean was not roiling like it was the day before.
One thing about this trip is that everything is smaller than I thought it would be. St. Johns is puny. It is spread out, but sparsely populated (again, a lot like Waterloo Region). We drive around the coast, sometimes through the fog, sometimes with the sun. We visit St Lawrence, a town I lived in for about three years, forty years ago. It hasn’t changed much. The old school is completely gone, as is the mine where my father worked. But otherwise, everything is pretty much as it was. It is not any bigger. It is actually smaller. And everything seems smaller. The roads aren’t as steep. I have the memories of an eight year old boy. The reality is close but different. Memories are funny things.
We have fish and chips in Marystown and then drive back through the fog to St Johns arriving at about midnight.

NewfoundlandWe are tired from our French adventure and spend the afternoon at the airbnb sipping wine and reading novels. I’m not sure what the proper etiquette is for staying at an airbnb, but I make myself at home, playing records and lounging around the living room. It is a rainy afternoon and the beauty of travel is that you do what you want and right now, we want to do this.
We were out in the morning buying fresh seafood and other stuff to make a nice dinner. We cook up a seafood feast. Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is like camping.
The weather gets better and we hike, for the fourth time around Signal Hill and Battery Hill. It is about an hour and a half hike and when we are finished, we are exhausted again.
So it is fun to get away and hang around in unfamiliar towns and rooms. I can be happy anywhere. Travel is easy. It doesn’t even take much planning.

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