Newfoundland, St. John’s, July 28 to Aug 4, 2008, Part 2

4 05 2009

The Jelly bean Houses of St. John's

A typical downtown scene

Now came a whirlwind week of East Coast culture and wonder. One of the best things about hanging around for a whole week for a wedding is it’s a very social time for the whole household, so we really got to know a lot of great Newfoundlanders, although I got the impression the people of St. John’s are generally very social and community minded anyway, so it might have been the same even if there was no wedding. Before things got really wedding-hectic I spent some time wandering around downtown. I have already mentioned St. John’s signature “Jelly Bean” houses and the fact that the harbour front is right downtown, but the city has many other attractive features. One thing I enjoyed was how playful a lot of the businesses were. For instance, a restaurant would be called “Get Stuffed”, and the cobbler “Modern Shoe Hospital”. A place we had occasion to visit many times was “Mighty Whites”, the local laundrymat. Some of the main streets have cobbled and staired side alleys that if you walk up you can discover shops and bars.

The food is generally pretty good, if you abandon your idea of “fresh” and “vegetables” being a component of good food. Newfoundlanders make silk purses with what they’ve got, so any seafood I ordered was scrumptious and not overcooked, and there were generally potatoes involved, and perhaps a turnip or two. A brisk business is also done in pork fat, which many things are cooked in and in fact “scrunchions”, which are cubes of crispy  fried pork fat, are a local delicacy which I regret first trying only late in my Newfoundland visit, although my heart health was the better for the delay. Another local dish I had many times was “fries and dressing”, which is St. John’s answer to poutine, and it consists of French fries and gravy topped with bread stuffing. It’s magically delicious!

Downtown St. John's

Downtown St. John's

Babes of the Beach

Babes of the Beach

Yet another thing that was different than what I was used to was the Newfoundland “beaches”. For the stag party the guys all got together for an amazing whale watching excursion and some Texas Hold ‘em, and Undrea’s sister Nicole arranged a day at the beach followed by a game party for us stagetters. We went to Undrea’s favourite beach which is in a place called Portugal Cove. It was surely beautiful, and the water was sweetly warm, but the sand was oddly prehistoric, with the grains being all an inch big or larger, because they were rocks. Yes, Newfoundland is not known for sandy beaches. But it is known for whales and we didn’t miss out on our own watching because all day we could see playful Minke whales out in the ocean. We had the beach to ourselves until a group of people came to snorkel, and one handsome dude got nude in front of us in honour of the stagette nature of our outing. Whoo hoo! I almost got a pic with our Rebel XL but the bridesmaid Janina grabbed it from my hand. Sorry to disappoint, but I probably wouldn’t have posted his pic here, anyway, although I appreciated the show.

Undrea Swimming with the Minkies

Undrea Swimming with the Minkes

For some crazy reason I hadn’t brought my Crocs with me and the rocks hurt my feet, but Elizabeth loaned me her flip flops for a while and I went into the water. It was warm, so warm, something you don’t expect from the Northern Atlantic, and I really enjoyed that. (From here on in you will see a lot of names thrown into the blog because we met so many people in St. John’s and they were so friendly we suddenly had at least a dozen new friends and more extended community while we were there).

Later we went home to get changed before part 2 of the stagette. Like in Halifax, the women of St. John’s take their outfits seriously. I’ve mentioned before that I find it hard to drum up an interest in make-up and clothes, and once again I was glad for the polyester dress I bought in Montreal because at least I had something to wear that wasn’t my uniform of a T-shirt and skirt. Indeed, the first hour of the all-girl party was spent comparing hand bags and shoes, but in a really nice way. No one was snobby about it or anything.

The stagette part 2 was a few blocks from Bart and Undrea’s place on Bond Street, at a colleague of Undrea’s who had bought 2 Jelly Bean houses side by side and renovated them into one, which made a very nice house. There were plenty of snacks and some fairly decent East Indian food was delivered and Nicole had bought just about every stagette game there was so we made a lot of penises from playdough and the like. There were so many penises I hope it didn’t ruin the surprise for Undrea when she saw her first live one on her wedding day!

You know what’s a good East coast breakfast for the morning after? Toutons. Toutons (pronounced “towe”—rhymes with “ow”—tens) is a roll of dough cut into slices and then fried in butter. You eat them with syrup and stuff like a pancake. Yes, it can kill you, but what a way to go! After the death defying breakfast Step and I dropped the Boogie Bus off at a garage for a check up and tune up, and then we went for a little walk.

Life at the Guv's

Life at the Guv's

Bond Street is near the Lieutenant-Governor’s Mansion, and we noticed they were having a garden party with pomp and circumstance and a lot of people wearing fancy hats, so we went in and were served tea, crustless sandwiches and pastries. (When I see people wearing those giant furry black helmets it always reminds me of my childhood because I love canned black olives and as a little kid I would put pitted ones on the tips of my fingers, pretend they were soldiers, and then bite off their heads). The mansion had lovely gardens and some off-limits greenhouses that I so wished I could go into because I enjoy stuff like that. There were also some guys in black uniforms on black horses, but I neglected to find out who they were, like a special guard or what, and some marching bands that I think came from Signal Hill Tattoo. I regret not asking more questions at the time since internet information is scant on this topic, so this blog had the potential to be a useful resource on the Lieutenant-General’s annual Garden Party, but alas, instead it is another opportunity squandered.

The Turning Point

The Turning Point

This Ocean Commands Respect

This Ocean Commands Respect

Cape Spear is the eastern-most point of North America and a short drive from St. John’s. When we went there the next day I was filled with an indescribable but light-hearted sadness, because until this point we had still been traveling east, but now there was no denying we were turning around and traveling west. Cape Spear is rocky and the waves are violent and there are all kinds of warnings to not stray off the paths because if you go to the shore a big wave might come and sweep you into the ocean. It’s a real danger, with 8 deaths in the last few years, and there’s even signs warning “People Die Here!”. The Atlantic Ocean deserves respect.

Cape Spear has the oldest lighthouse in Newfoundland, with a little museum filled with its history and drawings of other Canadian lighthouses, some of which we had seen live already. There is also a WWII gun battlement with underground rooms and a damp passageway that I found sort of creepy but Step liked because he, it turns out, is not-so-secretly into things military.

Jigs Dinner: the After Shot

Jigs Dinner: the After Shot

Beef in a Bucket

Beef in a Bucket

Bart’s Peops had arrived from the west coast and in honour of that Undrea made “Jigs Dinner”, which is a one pot meal of salted beef, carrots, turnips, potatoes, pea puddin’ (made in a special bag!) and greens which are boiled turnip tops. It doesn’t usually have chicken included but Undrea makes that with it as well. Jigs Dinner is a traditional special occasion type meal and I have to say the idea of eating salted beef out of a tub wasn’t appealing but it turned out to be super delicious. The picture of the dinner here is an “after” shot—I didn’t think of taking one before—so it doesn’t fully represent the splendour of the meal. The Peops were staying at a hotel, but Lindsay, another friend of Bart and Undrea’s, was now staying at the house with us and when she got home late that night was disappointed there was only one wee bit of beef left—yes, it was so good we had eaten it all.

Lindsay Performs

Lindsay Performs

Lindsay had come from Wakefield, an English speaking town in Quebec which I will write more about later as it was one of our homeward bound stops, and it a free-wheelin’ singer songwriter who had spent a few years in Newfoundland and would perform in the wedding. She also had several gigs scheduled around St. John’s in the next few weeks, and we attended one after Jig’s Dinner, and I enjoyed it, especially an accapella song she sang at the end. (The next day when we stopped for a bite in a pub called Duke of Duckworth we overheard some locals talking about Lindsay and how awesome they think her music is—if you’re curious, you can check it out here: http://www.lindsayferguson.com/). Even though Bart and Undrea had stayed home, by this time we had met so many St. Johners we weren’t lacking company, with Janina and her fiancé Adam there, and Undrea’s good friend Todd, who I especially enjoyed during our east coast visit. I was amused to note how well put together the ladies in the bar looked, yet the men were Crocs with Socks all the way! It must be a cultural thing.

Todd: a Stand-Up Newfoundland and Labrador Friend

Todd: a Stand-Up Newfoundland and Labrador Friend

Read Part one of St. John’s here.

Read Part 3 of St. John’s here.

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