The Cabot Trail is probably the most revered area of Nova Scotia, in terms of beauty, but we saw none of it. This would have been more disappointing if we hadn’t been to the Gaspe Peninsula, which is often discussed as being comparable but less developed and in French, or if the weather had been less drizzly. The thing was we needed to be on a boat on July 23, so we just didn’t have time.
What we did have time for was the Fortress of Louisbourg. (We also did have time to spend the night in a very nice park: Wycocomagh Provincial Park, which seemed oddly empty). The next day, on our way to Louisbourg, we visited Lick-a-Chick, the roadside chicken stand famous for what should be an obvious reason. We went there not for chicken, but in the hopes that they would have merchandise, which they did. A lot of merchandise. Step bought a T-shirt AND a toque, (to, you know, support the cause and promote an activity we both like). I didn’t buy anything because I already get mistaken for a Lesbian too much of the time.
The Fortress of Louisbourg was originally built by the French, but then the English got it, then the French got it back, then the English got it. I guess the Canadians ended up with it in the end, but by then it had been completely razed by, I think, the English so there wasn’t actually any fortress left. When the cod fishery collapsed in the ‘90’s, the Nova Scotian government decided to recreate the Fortress with the original plans which they got from France, and make a “living museum” with people there wearing period costumes and living accurately the lives of people of the past. So they retrained the out-of-employment fishery workers new skills, and now they will always be able to find work as blacksmiths and musket wielding soldier guards and never have to be out of work again. Anyway, it was a huge fortress and only parts of it have been rebuilt, but more than enough to get the idea, and actually so much that it is the largest historic reconstruction in North America, and when you visit you can wander around at will and check out different stuff.
At Louisbourg there are bakeries and 3 different restaurants you can dine at; an inn for the wealthy with cutlery and roast beef and stuff; a middle class inn with a set menu where you just get one big pewter spoon and a giant linen napkin to eat with; and a lower class eatery where you get a hunk of bread and maybe some cheese. We ate at the middle class inn, and had some pea soup, fried cod and turnips and carrots. We also got slices of the 3 different classes of bread, getting coarser as the economic condition of the class went downwards. Lunch was quite good. I was thrilled to receive carrots and turnips, as this is a combination I have only eaten at Christmas and Thanksgiving in the past. (Ha! Little did I know that carrot and turnips are standard fare of the east coast, tiresomely so, and by the time we headed west again almost all I could think about was having some fresh broccoli). Alas, while the food, décor and service were faithful to the 18th century, the prices were 2008 all the way, but still reasonable. Which was just as well, I suppose, as we had no Gold Louise or Playing Cards to pay the bill with, anyway.
The stories of Louisbourg were quite interesting. We commented on the dreary foggy and damp weather, and were informed this weather was one of the main reasons that the French had chosen the location for the fortress, since the British would have a hard time finding it in the gloom. There were a couple of reasons the French kept losing the fortress to the British. One was because they heavily armed and guarded the side facing the sea, but left the land facing side almost totally open, so of course the British attacked by land. How did the British know that land was the bigger-than-life Achilles heel of Louisbourg? Because captured British Officers were free to keep their swords and wander the fortress by day, having only to report to their cells at night, so when they were traded back to the British in exchange for French prisoners they had loads of tactical information to report to their officers. Yes, the French’s other downfall was giving their enemies with too much dignity.
I asked one of the soldiers why there was a pointy backed wooden horse on the yard of the Governor’s Mansion and she (she! Not exactly historically accurate, but this really is 2008) told me when soldiers went bad their hands were tied behind their backs and they were made to sit in this wooden pony for an allotted amount of punishment time. Ah, the Sado-Masochism of the frontier times.
Of course we had arrived quite late and caught one of the last shuttles back to the interpretive centre, where we were parked. Our next task was to drive to North Sydney, where we would catch an early morning ferry to Argentia, Newfoundland. It wasn’t that far and we were in the opposite of a hurry, so we drove in a pokey manner, and on the way we went through Sydney, home of North Americas largest most toxic tar pit. I would have actually liked to see this tar pit, but we didn’t know how or where (there’s not exactly a lot of signage directing you to the toxic sludge pool) and it was darkish. We filled up on propane, (the first east coast place I heard with my own ears someone saying “Wha?”), and then spent a good hour looking for the Legion, where we imagined there might be karaoke or something else good. It started raining like crazy, and we never found the Legion. Eventually we parked in a supermarket parking lot and fried a dinner of sausage and fresh green peas bought in Wolfville. We were trying to get to the ferry terminal late enough that we could sleep in the van while we waited for the ferry. We did get there around 11ish, but there were ferries ahead of ours and the lots were full until after 1. Thankfully, a very nice employee told us about a nearby wee lot where we could “park” while we were “waiting”, and we went there and spent the night.
The ferry terminal near Sydney, I would like to say, is quite nice, with TV lounges, a bar, a cafeteria, and free showers in the washroom for the dusty traveler.