Newfoundland, l’Anse aux Meadows and Straitsview, Aug 8 & 9, 2008

13 02 2010

Viking Settlement at l'Anse aux Meadows

A Viking Hut

The Viking Trail is called The Viking Trail because it takes you to l’Anse aux Meadows, which is the site of the only known Viking settlement in North America, and indeed proves the Vikings came to North America about 500 years before Columbus. The Vikings didn’t really settle in l’Anse aux Meadows, they would just tide over the winter there, hanging out and repairing their boat, before most of them set sail in the spring. L’Anse aux Meadows is located on the northern tip of Newfoundland, and has incredibly bitter winters, so it speaks volumes of what hardy people the Norse were that they would think that was a great place to seek shelter ‘til the summer months.

A Modern Day Dwelling at l'Anse aux Meadows

Local people knew there were ruins there long before they were investigated by pro’s in the ‘60’s, and because it was discovered to be a Viking Settlement it later became a UNESCO World Heritage site, and Parks Canada has now made it into one of those “living” museums. Some people still have houses inside the park, but when they die or move away the houses will be demolished and eventually the whole site will be a park.

We got there pretty late so we couldn’t spend a lot of time at the Discovery Centre, but you know, there wasn’t really that much to see. A case in the middle displays the various artifacts that were found on the site. These are pretty much a pin, part of a sewing needle, one butternut shell, a broken spindle, a stone oil lamp, and a few scraps of wood. (The Vikings had to make everything so I guess they would only leave something behind if it was useless or lost). There was a little movie with some re-enactments and the story or the Ingstads, the Norwegian couple who originally excavated the site, and a kind of overview of what they think the Norse were doing there.

A Stream Full of Salmon

Fortunately we weren’t too late for the last tour of the actual grounds. L’Anse aux Meadows is on a dryish bog that has a stream running through it, and of course one of what is now the ubiquitous moose. During the time of the Viking Settlement there were no moose and the stream was really crowded with salmon, which back then were not considered edible, so salmon caught in the fishing nets were thrown away—imagine that! There were all kinds of berries like bakeapples growing, and edible plants like Labrador Tea.

The actual location of the settlement has not much to see, just 8 rectangular depressions that had once been the foundations of the buildings. One had been a smelt, where bog iron had been made. This is a tedious process of extracting trace amount of iron from burned bog. During the whole duration of their settlement there, the Vikings produced less than 3 kilos of iron, but they were 3 kilos of vitally needed iron, it is speculated, that was used to make nails to repair their boats.

The Interior of a Viking Hut

Robin Makes a New Friend

A few hundred metres from the actual site is a partial recreation of the settlement, where actors walk around in Viking outfits, and you can go inside the huts and try on armour and stuff. One of the Viking women was eating tiny wild strawberries. I used to find those when I was a very small child and I have always hoped to one day eat some again. I asked her where she picked them and she vaguely gestured to the meadow of bog outside the settlement. I looked a little bit, but I didn’t find any.

To me the most interesting thing found in l’Anse aux Meadows is the butternut shell found in a fire pit, and I’m not alone in that. That’s because butternuts just don’t grow north of Nova Scotia, so here is (as far as I know the only) evidence that the Vikings made it at least that far south. You know what else grows in Nova Scotia? Grapes, that’s what. So a lot of people speculate that Nova Scotia and Maine may in fact be the mythical “Vinland” the Vikings told sagas about, and Vinland may not be mythical at all.

There were some other interesting things at l’Anse aux Meadows that weren’t related to the Vikings. One was a shipwreck you could see easily with the naked eye, grounded on a little island north of the bog. This turned out to be a common site along the shores of Labrador, which we were quite close to. I guess there’s not enough resources to salvage these ships, and plenty of space, so they are just left there.

The Norseman

The other interesting thing is a restaurant called The Norseman, which is rated as one of the 100 best restaurants in Canada. They have really good food, a little art gallery, and live entertainment. I don’t know why they try so hard, since they are actually the only game in town, but I’m glad they do. This is where I ate my first scrunchion, which is a crispy fried cube of pork back fat, and I was sad and glad at the same time. Sad because it was soooo fucking delicious I wish I had eaten them every day, and glad because if you eat scrunchions every day your life would be considerably shortened.

A Picture of Mummers stolen from the University of Missouri's News Bureau...really

There was some fellow singing Celtic songs while we ate, and he sang one about “Mummers”, which is a Newfoundland Christmas tradition where people dress in disguises and go over to the neighbour’s house, terrorise them, and party. The neighbour provides the refreshments. So it’s kind of like Christmas and Hallowe’en and home invasion mixed together. Most Newfoundland towns are so small that it can’t be that hard to figure out who is who, though, even in disguise.

The Norseman was crowded, too, mysteriously. Where did all those people come from? I noticed a table of 3 next to us, where one man ate only soup and I wondered how someone could travel so far and be in such a yummy place and then only have soup? Seems a waste.

It was still fairly early when we finished dinner so we decided to head down the road a short bit and check out the pub in Straitsview. On the way I noticed a couple of people in the bog with their heads bent down and we stopped and walked over and asked them what they were doing. It turned out they were picking bakeapples. Since we had arrived in Newfoundland we had often seen trucks on the side of the road advertising they were selling bakeapples, but we hadn’t given it much mind, and now here we could see the gathering of bakeapples in action.

Can You Find the Bakeapples in This Bog?

A bakeapple (also known as a “cloudberry”) is a little salmon coloured bog berry that looks a bit like a small raspberry. It grows on a plant that is maybe 4 or 6 inches tall and each berry grows about 1 or 2 feet apart, so picking a serving of bakeapples is no small undertaking! At first we thought they were called “bakeapples” because they taste a bit like baked apples, but later we found out the name is actually a bastardization of “baie qu’apelle”, which is French for “What is this berry called?”. Haha…that is so Newfoundlandish!

We talked to the friendly locals for about 45 minutes and they said they might see us at the pub later. The pub is called Skipper Hot’s and it’s a well known pub over most of Newfoundland, because of it’s history of live music and jocularity. Hijinx ensue at Skipper Hot’s!

Beer is Reasonably Priced at Skipper Hot's

We got there kind of early and there were just a couple of locals sitting at the bar. Beer was something like $3.50 a bottle! That is about half what we pay at home. One guy at the bar gestured to the land around. “You know what’s over those hills?” he asked us, “Bogs full of bakeapples. You can get $80 a gallon for bakeapples. $80 a gallon! John O’Neighbour made $2300 last year picking bakeapples.” We were impressed, but not by the incredible entrepreneur opportunity, but that someone could actually pick 30 gallons of bakeapples. Let me remind you these are berries about the size of a raisin that grow widely dispersed 4 inches off the ground. One thing you can say for sure about Newfoundlanders is that they are not afraid of hard work.

An Honourary Townie AND Bayman

The bar filled up a little more and we ended up joining the soup people from the Norseman. It turned out the 2 guys, Chris and Christian, were From Away and Erin worked for St. John’s Tourism. They had been here for a week which explained the whole soup mystery—they were eating at the Norseman twice a day! After a few beers Erin confided in me they were there working on a documentary about Chris Connelly. She wanted to keep that on the down-low; I guess they didn’t want to be inundated by curious locals. You know how people get with anybody connected to show business. But that was fine with us because Step had been a documentary producer for years so suddenly all the guys had a lot in common, and they could talk freely and about shop stuff, too.

Skipper Hot’s was hosting a Screech In, but there was only one guy there who hadn’t already been Screeched In and they didn’t want him to be lonely so they asked Step to also get Screeched In. You’re only supposed to get Screeched In once but after some discussion we all decided it would be okay because 1): The first time had been with the Townies, this second time would be with the Baymen* and 2): his name was spelled wrong on the first certificate.

There were minor differences in the Screech Ins, the most notable one was that the cod wasn’t frozen. Check out this picture of Step practically tongue kissing the fresh cod:

For the Love of Cod

Skipper Hot’s didn’t mind at all if we slept in their parking lot, so we did. The next day we had to head back down the Viking Trail to St. Barbe, where we could get a boat to Labrador. On our way we stopped at Dark Tickle Company and bought some partridgeberry sauce. It was here we also found out about the little garden patches and wood piles we had seen and noted along the highways. These were things so often questioned at Dark Tickle Company they actually posted a print out about them. I have mentioned before that Newfoundland is basically a big rock with a thin layer of topsoil on it. When the highway was built it required a lot of fill to make it level, and locals had taken the leftover fill and turned it into little garden patches where they grow potatoes, carrots and turnips. Then each house had a license for a woodpile. In the summer they would collect and chop the wood, and in the winter they could skidoo to their woodpile and sled some home. I told you they are not afraid of hard work.

Not the First People to Wake Up in the Parking Lot of Skipper Hot's

By early afternoon we made it to St. Barbe where a boat would take us off “The Rock” to Blanc Sablon. Our visit to Newfoundland was over.

The Silver Sea of l'Anse aux Meadows

Footnote: *In Newfoundland, anyone who lives in St. John’s is a “Townie” and anyone who doesn’t live in St. John’s is a “Bayman”. Anyone who doesn’t live in Newfoundland is “From Away”.

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Newfoundland, The Arches Provincial Park and The Viking Trail, August 7 & 8, 2008

10 02 2010
The Famous Arches

The Famous Arches

A Narnian Camp Spot

A Narnian Camp Spot

Not very far north of Gros Morne is the Arches Provincial Park, named after some huge rocks by the sea that have naturally formed arches. There used to be 4 arches but one collapsed and now there are 3. Of course we arrived at the Arches at twilight, and with the sun setting behind them it was a beautiful sight. We decided to camp right in the parking lot, and we weren’t the only people with that idea, as evidenced by a neighbouring Westfalia. Even though technically the park closes at 9pm, no one bothered us or seemed to care about our renegade camping. There were 2 levels of parking and the one we camped in was sort of Narniaesque because it was ringed by tuckamores that were all dead and bone white. In the morning we investigated the arches—this picture of Step on the smaller rock gives you some idea of their scale. There are also little Inukshuks  and rock piles everywhere that other visitors have left.

A Scaling Example

A Scaling Example

In the Shadow of The Arches

Because we were stealth camping we hadn’t put out our gray water pan. Usually we empty our gray water from the pan into a grate or under a bush or something, but we weren’t expecting to do much at The Arches so we were just letting what we thought would be a tiny amount of run off water go right onto the tarmac. But then we ended up doing more washing up than we anticipated and when we left the next day there was a big puddle of soapy water under our van. We always use plant based eco-soaps so we knew we hadn’t really hurt anything, but we were still ashamed and embarrassed by our puddle—that is not following the campsite rule! So sorry, The Arches Provincial Park, we promise to do better. We sheepishly drove away leaving the evidence of our tourism irresposibility behind us.

Along the Viking Trail

The Viking Trail is the road which goes along the west side of Newfoundland to l’Anse Aux Meadows. It goes all along the sea and there are numerous little fishing villages along the way. We lunched in the van at Flowers Cove and after lunch we picked up a hitchhiker who was on his way to St. Anthony to visit his girlfriend. I was glad I was sitting in the back and he was visiting with Step in the front because he had a Newfie accent so strong I couldn’t really understand anything he said. I mean, we were all speaking English but I have a hard time understanding any accent so it may as well have been a foreign language to me. We were on our way to l’Anse Aux Meadows, so we let him off where the road forked.

Flowers Cove





Newfoundland, Gros Morne, August 6-7, 2008

18 01 2010

Step Enjoys the Bog of Western Brook Pond

Gros Morne is a humungous national park and Unesco world heritage site that takes up a large chunk of west Newfoundland. It is breathtakingly beautiful and mostly trees and bogs and ocean and mountains, but it also has a few fishing communities in it. The park is kind of divided into north and south areas by the giant inlet called Bonnie Bay which almost cuts the park in two. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit the southern area of the park, which features extensive tablelands; the Earth’s mantle pushed up during some ancient earthquake and an area on which very little grows. It’s a northern Atlantic dessert! So our first stop was the Gros Morne Discovery Centre, where we got maps and advice. Step also picked up a souvenir road sign which showed a car being crunched by a moose. (Moose are not indigenous to Newfoundland and had been introduced about 100 years ago. Moose are to Newfoundland what rabbits are to Australia—they have no natural predators there and now there are about 150,000 of them roaming around, and about 8000 are eating the park and being road nuisances. I think someone claimed around Gros Morne the moose population is 4 per square kilometre. That seems an impossible density, but it’s true there was often one within eyesight, so it could be accurate.)

After the Discovery Centre it started to look like dusk was approaching so we had to figure out where to camp. There are 4 provincial campsites and numerous private ones in Gros Morne, and we ended up driving around Shallow Bay (which we deemed too crowded) before doubling back a bit to Berry Hill. I wanted to watch the sunset but we got there too late, and Berry Hill was so densely treed we couldn’t have seen anything, anyway.

We had to get up early (for us) the next morning because we had a date with a boat tour of Western Brook Pond in the afternoon, and there were a few things we wanted to do on the way.

A Marina at Rocky Harbour

The largest fishing village—which actually isn’t all that large—is Rocky Harbour, and we stopped there first for a gawk and phone calls and provisions, but not much else. It was picturesque but a little too touristy for us. Aside from the marina, the town is mainly hotels and resorts, with an few bars featuring the obligatory Celtic bands. We went to another fishing town, Sally’s Cove, which was a lot nicer to hang around in. Sally’s Cove isn’t officially part of Gros Morne—it’s in a wee chunk carved away with Gros Morne on 3 sides and ocean on the other, and it’s a genuine little fishing village, full of lobster traps and rooms. I guess they are used to park visitors because they had some welcoming picnic tables and mown areas of grass where we put a blanket down and had a picnic lunch. It was deliciously lazy to lay on the grass in the sun with a person you love, but we had paid plenty for our boat tour tickets and we wanted to see Western Brook Pond so we soon had to leave.

Sally's Cove

The Vast Bog Approaching Western Brook Pond

As I’ve mentioned, Newfoundland has the charming practice of calling even the largest of lakes a pond, and a more majestic pond than Western Brook I doubt you’d be able to find. Formed during the ice age, glaciers had slowly slid down to the sea, forming the pond and the vast bog that separates it from the ocean. It would have actually been a fjord but once the weight of the ice was gone the area that is now the bog had sprung back up, separating the pond from the sea. To get to the boat tour we had to park and then walk about 3 kilometres through the bog to the boat. You’re not supposed to leave the path and parts of it are built up with boardwalks. There are all sorts of tuckamore trees and berries and flowers and often you could see moose in the distance. I took quite a few pictures of the bog but none of them do justice to the 3 dimensional extensiveness of it all, but I will share them with you anyway and hope you have the imagination to fill out the space yourself.

Boarding BonTours

I have no idea how they obtained the franchise, but BonTours are the only development on the entire pond, and no other boats travel on the water. The only building is the concession stand and bathrooms for the tours, and the only other manmade structure is the single boat launch for the tours 2 boats. The water of the pond is absolutely pristine; weirdly, so pristine that hardly anything can live in the pond. There are very few fish because there is hardly any algae or plants. The water also replenishes very, very slowly….hardly any flows in or any flows out. And the water has a weird ionic charge—the toilets of the bathrooms didn’t work for a long time, the tour guide told us, because the ionic charge of the water affected the pumps and it took them a while to figure out what the problem was.

The Majesty of Western Brook Pond. (the white dot is the other boat)

Robin in Wonderment

The 2 tour boats were filled to capacity and the tour took about 2 hours. All there is to see is water, trees, and mountainsides, but it didn’t get boring—it’s a wonder of nature! Even the Celtic music playing from the boat speakers failed to annoy. The tour guide every now and then would tell us a little story of the time part of the mountain fell into the pond, and point out various formations that looked like faces or animals and stuff. That sort of thing is always lost on me—I can never see how the mountain looks like a lion or a sleeping giant or whatever—but I enjoyed the feeling of being up close in towering, rugged, stoney nature, in a lazy way that doesn’t involve having to hike up a mountainside or anything.

A Tuckamore Tree

The walk back across the bog was just as nice and when we got back on the road we saw a bunch of people stopped to look at a family of moose and so we stopped and looked, too, but then we got tired of that and left pretty much before anyone else did, only to drive around a corner and narrowly miss another moose that had decided to cross the road in front of us. Probably native Gros Morners get tired of Moose sighting induced traffic jams the same way Alaskan truckers tire of tourists stopping traffic on the road in order to look at mountain sheep.

On our way towards leaving the park we stopped in another largish-for-Gros Morne community called Cow Head, and ate at the only little café/gift shop where we were presented with the worst and sloppiest fish burgers it has ever been my misfortune to encounter, which, as well as being a culinary disappointment was also a surprise, because, as I have mentioned, the seafood we had been served since entering eastern Canada was consistantly the best I’ve ever had.

The Not So Wild Mooses of Gros Morne





Newfoundland, HWY 1 from Clarke’s Beach to Gros Morne, Aug 5-6, 2008

6 10 2009
Famous Lounge at Gander Airport

Famous Lounge at Gander Airport 

Colonel Sanders

Colonel Sanders

Aside form the natural beauty of Newfoundland, and the funny names of some of the towns, the only thing of real interest on the highway from St. John’s to Gros Morne is Gander International Airport. In the early days of trans-contintental air flight, all flights stopped at Gander, since it was the commercial airfield closest to Europe. And so the airport has all sorts of historical interest, as well as many autographed pictures of famous people and Old Time Movie Stars who had passed through, such as Colonel Sanders and Bette Davis. It turns out in modern times only a few planes stop at Gander daily, so when we went to rubberneck the airport was weirdly empty—indeed, we didn’t see any other people the whole time we were there, although everything was open . (My Grandmother had not been doing well, and so at Gander I talked to my brother on a pay phone for at least an hour, and we also used the airport’s wi-fi, so we were there for quite some time). Gander has all kinds of aviation displays, and an amazing lounge which had been styled in the ‘60’s and kept intact since. During the World Trade Centre crisis of 2001, the town of Gander hosted almost 7,000 stranded air travelers for several days, and the population of the town is only 10,000! It’s a good thing Newfoundlander’s are such welcoming people to begin with.

Impressive Mural

Impressive Mural

After Gander we drove in the dark a bit and finally camped next to the highway, on a plot of dirt by a car garage. There was an old Winnebago next to us, but we couldn’t tell if it was occupied. Even though we slept pretty late, no one bothered us. Later, we stopped at Grand Falls-Windsor to eat (the town has 2 names together, for some reason). The Lonely Planet said there were 2 decent places to eat. The first we tired was ­­­­Kelly’s Pub and Eatery, but it turned out they had closed their eatery a year before and were now just a pub. We asked for a nosh recommendation and one of the customers eagerly suggested Subway for a sandwich. That wasn’t quite what we were after so we tried LP’s other suggestion, the Robin Hood Hotel. Their kitchen was closed but the clerk said we could get something good from Bill’s Takeout. We explained we wanted something sit-down and of good quality, so she reluctantly told us 48 High (located, oddly enough, at 48 High Street—what a coincidence!) was good, but liberally sprinkled the suggestion with warnings that it would cost us in the pocketbook. When I saw the lunch menu, I laughed out loud, because nothing was over $10. It’s a different world than the one we come from, that’s for sure. Anyway, I had a very excellent clubhouse sandwich with a fresh salad, and that made me happy.

Later we stopped in Deer Lake to visit the Visitor Welcome Centre and buy supplies. (There were a couple of teenage girls working at the Centre and you could tell one of them thought we were total freaks and she wasn’t happy about that. Her attitude picked me up and threw me back into  Junior High smalltownland. I guess people are free to be as intolerant as they want, but maybe Town Greeter isn’t the right job for them). There wasn’t anything to special about Deer Lake that we found, other than a statue of a moose in front of the gas station that had an enormous toolbox. We didn’t dawdle in Deer Lake, and moved right on into Gros Morne.

Statue at Deer Lake

Statue at Deer Lake





Newfoundland, Clarke’s Beach, Aug 4-5, 2008

8 08 2009
Business as Usual for Phat Tank

Business as Usual for Phat Tank

Michelle and Daughter

Michelle and Daughter

The old house at Clarke’s Beach on Conception Bay used to be 2 houses really close together that had been turned into one, and Peter and Michelle live there with their 4  electro-energised daughters. Bart had been there many times before, and Step once, and the lively girls had given them a lovely makeover, so as soon as we arrived one by one the men were beautified again. Step became Stephanie—although he did refuse to shave his facial hair—-Bart became Bethany, and to complete the Phat Tank trio, Chris because Christina. I thought this was a good opportunity to take some Phat Tank promotional pictures, so I got them and the kids to sit on the steps and pose with beer bottles. Too bad I was having a user problem of getting my hand in the way of the flash a lot, but I did end up with a few workable photos.

The girls then hatched a plot to go to the local grocery and pretend to not know the Phat Tank, and Stephanie and Bethany and Christina would offer to buy them candy. It was all to get the free candy but it was still a good idea so the plan was followed through. The boys also bought them a couple of cases of beer. Clarke’s Beach is a small community and the kids are well known so I don’t think the clerks were fooled but I hope they were at least entertained.

Christina and Bethany Go Shopping

Christina and Bethany Go Shopping

Dinner was a variety of barbecued meatiness. We had started the Cross Canada Boogie Bus Adventure of 2008 almost vegetarian, but as we had traveled east, we began eating more and more meat, and at this point in the trip we were not only eating meat 2 or 3 times a day, but now were eating several varieties of meat at each sitting! Salad had become the bit of tomato and lettuce you put on the burger. I’m not complaining—it was a primal pleasure to succumb to our meat eating instincts, although I worried if we hung around on the east coast for too long we would soon be eating all meat all the time.

A Bonny Bonfire

A Bonny Bonfire

Another Phat Tank show was staged in the living room after dinner—Phat Tank; Girls Love It!—and then there was a bonfire. Although it seemed a bit ominous when Pete walked by with a can of gasoline, I was only slightly singed, and the sight of the 20 foot high flames as the tinder dry Christmas tree burst into flames was worth the pain. I even had a tinder go straight into my eye, but the moisture of my tears of pain soon extinguished it. Just kidding, about the pain part, anyway. I was singed and a tinder was extinguished by the moisture of my eye but it was not painful, rather it was magical, as was watching the old furniture and other unwanted items of the household burn.

I went to sleep in the Boogie Bus before anyone else, and was disappointed the next morning that out of consideration no one had woken me to say goodbye, as most people had left early. We were now headed northwest to Gros Morne, and wouldn’t see our St. John’s friends again on this trip.

Step, Deegan, and Greg enjoy the Fire

Step, Deegan, and Greg enjoy the Fire





Newfoundland, St. John’s, July 28 to Aug 4, 2008, Part 3

16 05 2009
Chris and Step enjoy a Classic NL "Boil Up"

Chris and Step enjoy a Classic NL "Boil Up"

The day before the wedding we picked up our Vancouver friend, Chris, from the airport, and Andrea, another bridesmaid, arrived from Ontario. Instead of a rehearsal dinner—-because there was no rehearsal—there was a “boil up”, which I imagined would be a huge metal barrel full of lobsters and corn over an open fire, but turned out to be a regular old barbecue, which, or course, is still a wonderful thing to have. It had originally been planned for the “beach” but because of the rainy weather it was at Undrea’s other sister Janet’s house. Todd made me a veggie burger which I ate but then the beef burgers looked so good I had one of those, too, and then I was SO FULL. UNCOMFORTABLY FULL. I was actually in pain. That is where gluttony will get you.

Lemmy?

Lemmy?

That night Undrea went to a B&B to be joined by her bridesmaids in preparation for the next day’s wedding, and I went back to Bond Street with the guys. The wedding ceremony was DIY all away, as was the decorating of the hall, so there were no lack of jobs for the guests. I made a big tray of snacks for the ladies, which Todd took over to the B&B, and also on and off pretty much emptied the fridge making snacks for everyone else, too. I also spent quite a lot of time down at the hall helping put up decorations, a job I enjoy. I made sure I was back at the house, early, though, to get ready, because with one bathroom and a groom and several groomsmen, I correctly predicted a lack of mirror time. Step looked particularly handsome, I thought, having the day before visited the local barber to have his facial hair sculpted like ­­­­­­­­­­­­Lemmy’s in Motorhead. I had to laugh at Bart—-no, no, with Bart—aw, who am I kidding? It was at him—because he looked so disheveled an hour before his wedding, but of course, by the time of the ceremony looked dashing and well groomed (haha! Get it? Well groomed?)

A Neighbourhood Affair

A Neighbourhood Affair

Special permission had been gotten from the city of St. John’s to have the ceremony right on Bond Street, and the day was a little overcast and slightly drizzly, but considering it was St. John’s that is the best one could hope for, especially as there was no contingency plan for rain. There was a long red carpet flanked with flowers for the bride to walk down, and  a wedding arch with fabric on it. Undrea arrived at one end  the street in a white horse and carriage while Chris played “Here Comes the Bride” on his electric guitar. After that a lot of stuff went not as planned, but in a pleasant sort of way. Elizabeth whispered to me she forgot to get Newfoundland sand to mingle with the British Columbian sand, so she had just split the BC sand in half. I was surprised there was such a thing as Newfoundland sand and said she should have just put a couple of rocks into the Newfoundland sand jar. The in-laws seemed surprised they were expected to light torches, and the torches kept going out anyway because it was a little windy. All week Step and I had asked Bart and Undrea if they would use “We’ve only Just Begun” as their wedding dance song, so when Undrea read her vow to Bart, I burst out in inappropriate laughter at the part where she said “Even though we’ve only just begun”. (Undrea knew why I laughed, as she had included it in the vows as a joke for us, but of course no one else did). Someone bumped the table with the registry on it and broke a vase full of flowers. Despite these minor glitches, it was a lovely ceremony, and not too long. Lindsay sang “On the Street Where You Live” and, after a brief scuffle for scissors, bird seed was thrown on the Newlyweds.

One of the neighbours watched the ceremony in his undershirt, while sipping a rum and coke, and told Bart’s mom that it was the nicest wedding he had ever seen.

IMG_3083

The Spirit of Newfoundland Awaits Its Guests

This Cake was Homemade!

This Cake was Homemade

Spirit of Newfoundland is a theatre and special event company that had bought St. John’s Masonic Hall and that was where the reception was held. The DIY decorated hall looked amazing, as you can see by the picture. One thing unusual that I liked about the reception was that we were given menus with dinner choices rather than all having the same dinner or choosing months in advance. Because it was catered by the Spirit of Newfoundland, I had the cod. The wedding cake, which, to my amazement, Undrea’s Mother had made herself, wasn’t served. Instead we were given choices of dessert plates. Mmmmm….dessert.

The Bride with Her Maid

The Bride with Her Maid

There was a lot of partying and music after dinner, with Lindsay singing a song and a good long set by Bart, Step and Chris’ band, Phat Tank. Due to Bart living on the other side of the country, Phat Tank doesn’t get a lot of rehearsal time but they still sounded pretty tight, and all the l’il girls at the reception just loved them.

Phat Tank with Bart in the Middle

Phat Tank with Bart in the Middle

The Morning After

The Morning After

We stayed late, but Step and I got back to the house earlier than everyone else (Bart and Undrea had a hotel room for the night). The house had been all clean that morning but now it looked like the proverbial typhoon had hit it. It was impressive, actually, the amount of disarray that can occur over one busy day.

Traffic in the house started early the next morning, considering. It was time for the morning-after brunch, which would be held at Undrea’s parent’s house. They live in Paradise, on Angel Road, and to get there we had to drive Kinder and Gentler Avenues. Seriously. Newfoundland really has a playful way of naming things.

Get Birdy

Get Birdy

Brunch was quiches and salad, and slices of the wedding cake which hadn’t been served the night before. The presents were opened very traditionally, with an audience and Nicole making a note of each gift, of who had given what. The best part of brunch was playing badminton outside. Bart, Step, Chris and I made a goal to volley 20 times without dropping the bird, which was actually a lot harder than you would think, and only finally got achieved when we tried to do it in complete silence. That worked so well we actually got over 30.

That afternoon Chris, Step and I finally made it to Signal Hill, an historic landmark famous as being the site where Marconi received the World’s first trans-atlantic wireless signals, among other things. Interestingly, this is not why it’s called “Signal Hill”. It is a strategic high point on the edge of St. John’s Harbour and as such has been the site of many significant battles and what-not and is called Signal Hill because in the 1700’s signals were sent via it’s flagmast. Anyway, it’s battlements have been through many carnations, and it is a great vantage point to see the city, the harbour, and the areas surrounding them. The city side of Signal Hill also contains the prestigious “The Battery” neighbourhood, which was once fishers’ houses on narrow roads which have now been renovated and gentrified. Unfortunately it was a grey day to see Signal Hill, but as we were leaving St. John’t the next morning it was out last chance and it’s kind of mandatory.

The Outskirts of St. John's as seen from Signal Hill

The Outskirts of St. John's as seen from Signal Hill

After Signal Hill we phoned a bunch of people looking for a place to get Spicy Noodles but that didn’t pan out. We ended up going to an Asian fusion restaurant called the Shanghai. It had modern décor, and the food was really good, including wontons and spicy green beans, and of course, noodles—Boogie Bussers must have noodles. The portions weren’t huge and it was a little more high end than we were looking for but we left satisfied and with extra food for the kids still at the house.

Screech In!

Screech In!

Not many people make it through Newfoundland without getting “screeched in”, a welcoming ceremony where the newcomer learns a thing or two, kisses a cod, and becomes an honourary Newfoundlander—those Newfoundlanders are generous that way. Admittedly, it’s a custom not without contention, because a few NLers believe it mocks the tradition of the place, and indeed, that was why Bart, who had been in St. John’s for over 3 years, had never been screeched in (I should point out here that the vast majority of Newfoundlanders, all the ones I met, for sure, view screeching in  as a joyful and welcoming process, and many upon meeting me asked if we had been screeched in yet). The night following the brunch would change all that for Bart, and he would finally become an honourary Newfoundlander, if marrying a native born wasn’t sufficient for that status, when we finally visited George Street.

Phat Tank on George Street

Phat Tank on George Street

PimpMyShedGeorge Street is a street in downtown St. John’s which is what many would refer to as an “entertainment” district—-almost every business is a bar for about 3 or 4 blocks. That’s actually a lot of bars for a town with a population of 125,000 people, especially considering there are even more bars located off of George Street—I have mentioned Newfoundlanders like to party, haven’t I? As the serendipity of the Cross Canada Boogie Bus Adventure of 2008 would have it, the annual George Street Festival coincided with our visit to St. John’s, and a small entrance free at the foot of the street got us a wristband pass to all the places with cover charges, and there were bands in the streets and special food vendors. St. John’s is a lot more relaxed about liquor laws than Vancouver, and you could buy a drink in one bar and were welcome to take it out onto the street. There were also a lot of ads and I think we all agreed our favourite was the Lamb’s Rum contest “Pimp my Shed”. Only in the Atlantic provinces…

A Popular Screech Inner at a Popular Bar

A Popular Screech Inner at a Popular Bar

Many bars have Screeching In ceremonies but the most popular is Christian’s, a small 2 storied wallpapered pub. I believe it’s popularity has to do with the Screeching In host, Keith, who’s a natural born entertainer with a finely tuned style of that special humour east coasters are famous for. We signed up early, to be sure to get in, and paid a couple of bucks for “materials” and enjoyed George Street for an hour or two. When we got back to Christians it was totally crowded but we were still early enough to snag some seats. Judging by the amount of people being screeched in there by now must be more honourary Newfoundlanders than native born ones. Perhaps it’s an insidious plot to take over the world? And would that be such a bad thing?

Chris Kisses the Cod

Chris Kisses the Cod

To become a Screecher you must pass several exacting initiation rites in a row. One being learning the not-so-top secret Screecher greeting and answer in Newfoundland lingo—long may your big jib draw!—eat some Newfoundland steak, and everybody’s favourite; kneel and kiss the cod. Sometimes the cod is fresh, but Keith had a particularly ugly large frozen one. I wasn’t that comfortable kissing the cod, not because it’s an ugly fish, but because it was a place where many mouths had gone before. Ugh (I admit I am a bit of a germaphobe). But I reasoned that since it was frozen it might neutralize any cold sore or flu germs so I went ahead and did it, and I as you can read I lived to tell the tale. We were then “knighted” by Keith with a paddle and given a certificate and a shot of Screech, a famous Newfoundland rum. Step’s certificate had his name spelled wrong.

Karaoke Kops: Where Fun is the Law

Karaoke Kops: Where Fun is the Law

I had noticed there was a bar on George Street called Karaoke Kops, Where Fun is the Law. A bar that is all karaoke all the time, with mandatory fun! We went directly post screech-in. It was crowded but we all got to rock—Bart and Undrea got a few extra due to their Newlywed status. I can’t help but notice other Canadian cities put Vancouver karaoke options to shame. St. John’s is about a 10th its size, and Vancouver hasn’t had a dedicated karaoke bar since the Duff closed.

Later we were hungry, but too afraid to eat George Street fare. Bart and Undrea’s fridge was almost bare after the snacking the day before, but we did find a bag of frozen perogies that made a good snack, and we watched a video of Bart and Undrea’s short lived band “Hal and the Pod Bay Doors”, which they contrived for International Space Day. Bart plays the theramin!

The Morning After the Morning After

The Morning After the Morning After

The next morning some knew they had been Screeched In, but they just had to plow through because it was our last day in St. John’s and the party wasn’t over, for it was time for a drive north, because we were all invited to a barbecue party at Clarkes Beach, and so we went.

All Dressed Up with Some Place to Go

All Dressed Up with Some Place to Go





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.