Canada Part 3: PEI to Nova Scotia

Day 9 –   PEI/Nova Scotia

Marie was very sad to be leaving PEI.  I reassured her that Nova Scotia would be great too, and that a lot of the escapist delights of PEI would also exist in N.S.  So as to have one more Anne of Green Gables experience before we left, we thought we’d go to the Anne of Green Gables Museum, which is three quarters of the way to Kensington. Not to be confused with the AOGG House, the museum is a home called Silver Bush that belonged to part of Lucy Montgomery’s family, The Campbells. When she was a kid she had her own bedroom there, and she also got married there in front of the fireplace.  Unlike the AOGG House, which interior decoration is re-created, the Museum is exactly as it was.  This is less touristy, and Marie was surprised to find she liked it much more.   A sweet Japanese woman gave us an introduction before we looked round. There was Montgomery’s old bedroom, and the small room where she’d got married, and the piano where the music for the wedding was played. The gardens were beautiful too. You can have a horse and buggy ride (which we didn’t; it’s quite expensive anyway).

In the small shop, there is a special, limited edition version of the first AOGG novel for I think $25 Canadian dollars, which has a recreation of the original cover from 1908 (?) and with a hand-written note from the father of the Campbell family today. The family still own, and run the museum.  Marie was told that you can also ask his wife to write an inscription too. Marie bought a copy, and she came out of her office and was lovely, writing us a few words.

Then for that last hurrah lunch at Evermoore again, we had lobster mac and cheese and I had a flight of their fine concoctions.

To get from PEI to Nova Scotia, there is only one way by land, which is to pay a toll and drive across the long, Confederation Bridge.  The toll was $47, less than Marie thought it would be.  If you’ve ever seen the long strip of bridge that leads from Florida to the Florida Keys on the Bogart ‘Key Largo’ film in the opening credits, it’s like that!

The first sight we saw as we reached the other side wasn’t in fact Nova Scotia, but New Brunswick, so you drive through that first. More moose-crossing warning signs here, I think.

Our hotel was to be in Halifax.  We imagined Halifax to be…I don’t know, I suppose about the size of Harrogate but by-the-sea. It’s a fair-sized city though.  Our accommodation was very varied on this trip: old world elegance in Montreal, cosy motel in PEI and in Halifax it would be our most modernal luxury. We were stopping at the Hilton Homestead, a bit like Staybridge Suites where you get a kitchen and sofa area in your room too.  Marie said all hotels in Halifax were expensive, and we got the Homestead room for almost $200 a night I think.  But it was a wonderful room, and the view as we opened the curtains was exceptional!  The Citadel hill was half of our view to the right, but altogether a panoramic expanse around it too. Woo-hoo, total comfort for the next 4 nights!   Great help-yourself breakfast too.

Halifax is very, very hilly! Our hotel was towards the top, but a long walk down to the town centre and the harbour would be steeply downhill going and a major strain on the calves (calfs? calves?) walking back up, with breaks on the flat land in-between or walking in a zig-zag pattern.    

The city is mostly very nice and very lively, with just a few slightly rough-around-the-edge bits. But on the whole, an attractive city.  The harbour has some great, humourous and unique touches like seemingly melted street lamps.   The centre in town was full of life, and even some clunky night-life crowds a-la-Broad Street (Birmingham, UK) or Bell Boulevard (Bayside, NYC). 

photos I took of Halifax as we wandered around…

photo by Adam Hardy
photo by Adam Hardy

Downtown we came upon one of our bookmarked restaurants to eat at, ‘2 Doors Down’.  We were happy to sit at the bar because the restaurant was quite packed.   We had a great time, having cocktails and very good bar food even if half our bowl of mussels were closed and we had to return them (they gave us another batch free, and were very apologetic but we left an extra big tip). We also had a local cheeseboard and I had a cider. And we even squeezed in a summer trifle dessert.  We talked a lot to the bartender, who gave us some brewery tips in town and nearby Dartmouth.  He is from the Southernmost point of Canada, near Michigan I think he said, and a few miles over and he would have been an American citizen.

As we walked back through the town, there was a big crowd of the general public dancing to salsa and filling half a street. Nice vibe.

Hotel, shower, tv and bed.

Day 9 –

A couple of weeks ago we’d watched a homemade youtube travel programme on Nova Scotia made by some Brits.  They had visited a 1940s heritage museum called Memory Lane. Now, we’ve been to loads of heritage museums/living history museums over the years, but most have been Victorian ones.  This would be worth a go!   Marie drove us – again through amazing countryside, much like PEI – to Lake Charlotte where the museum is.  We were pretty much the only ones there at first!  You enter the 1940s shop, and a young woman gave us a quick guide on the dozen or so sites. It’s a humble size museum, but we like that. And we had it all to ourselves, or very nearly.  I posed by the Esso petrol station, and Marie posed in the school room. The school room had been physically moved whole from its original location then restored inside with help from old photos and people who had been schooled there.  We liked that they had sounds filtered in of excited kids, and they piped in other natural recordings in other exhibits too.

I forgot to mention that we paid a little extra to have lunch in the 1940s canteen a bit later.

By the barn we talked to a very friendly chap working there, who tried to explain to us how 1940s electricity worked and how and why it so often went wrong, or caused fires.  Really nice guy, we noticed that he had some of his country music cd’s in the shop as we left.    We petted the two cats, and sheep. We loved the affectionate cats, and went looking for them again after lunch. They were fast asleep on top of some tools on a carpenter’s bench in the Wood & Metal Workshop!

Some misty rain as we drove back, which went away.  On the main road, Marie was surprised to find that a hearse was a little way behind us, driving quite fast , but as it overtook it had a big skull and crossbones on the back! Clearly someone who wanted an unusual vehicle, so had bought a second hand hearse and pimped it up. 

Also as we drove, we noticed from time to time some squarer large rocks on the grass at the side of the road had been painted. A rubik cube on one, a dice on another. Great sense of humour here!

We stopped at Halifax’s sister (much smaller) town of Dartmouth and had a nice hour at one of the breweries the barman had recommended, Brightwood.  Again I had a flight including a jagged little pils lager, a harbour red and a sour cider, and a bloke at the bar talked to us for most of the hour. We also ordered up a hot pork meat pie. And we walked around Dartmouth Harbour and took photos.

After a bit of time at the hotel, we climbed up the steps to the citadel, and then back down, back to the edge of town and around the really beautiful, Victorian Public Gardens.

For dinner…we went cheap and cheerful, sat on stools at a fast food kebab place!  They have “donairs” here, a local thing with a sweet white sauce rather than the usual spicy toppings with the doner meat.  I prefer the traditional, but the kebab was still good and Marie really liked it.  And to a Tim Hortons way down by the harbour to get doughnuts to take back to the hotel. We had a cream cheese doughnut that was iced (we’d already tried a non-iced version at a T.H at a service stop on the way to N.S).   Really good! Back early to the hotel, we were full and a bit tired, and made the hotel room (and our amazing view) our comfort and entertainment for the night.

Before the holiday, we’d looked at a map of Nova Scotia and made a choice on which drives to take, which towns were the best to go to.  We couldn’t fit it all in (Wolfsville and DuPre to the west will have to wait for a future visit), but we were going to see three today.

Firstly, to Mahone Bay.  This is less touristy, and less talked about (but Lonely Planet says it’s “cute as a button”).  It was really lovely, and the sort of place you wished you could live. It’s along the water, but is just a pretty town with enough cafes, restaurants, shops, quaint churches and a totally chilled but energetic ambiance to appeal to anyone.  As you arrive, there is a very picture-postcard view across the water with coloured houses, three churches and the reflection of the town in the water. There were several cars parked there to get the shot, but we’d stop on the way out. We found a squadron of unusually plumaged, friendly ducks on the bank and said hello to them, then we went into a delightfully multi-coloured, rustic café choc-full of stuff. You can serve your own coffee; we liked that next to the decaff there was a sign saying “dirty brown water”! Smiling face with solid fill

We sat outside, and ate a rhubarb slice and a pecan butter tart, a little like a treacle tart. We could have sat there for ages, watching Mahone life go by.

I bought a lobster luggage tag from a wee shop, quality too for less than six Canadian dollars (the Canadian dollar is worth a little less than the U.S, maybe 75%). 

We’d noticed a brewery with lobster infused ale on our way in!  We’d tried oyster ale in the past, and knew what to expect (slightly salty, and vaguely sea-foody but subtle).  I had to try it though. Marie pulled in and I had a 4 ounce sample glass. Just as we imagined, but really nice. Great, light and bright brewery bar too and good, alternative music on if I remember.

Onwards and upwards to Lunenberg, which had received many German migrants a century or so ago.  We noticed a couple of German casual restaurants on the side of the road before we reached the town.

Again, it was a gorgeous town, and probably a lot like English Cornwall seaside towns.  Dad would have liked Lunenberg. It was a little too full of tourists for our liking (there were three big tourists’ buses parked by the water), and it took a while to find a parking space but we liked the look of the town very much. We also found a cracking pub-restaurant, The Grand Banker Bar & Grill, with the classic view out of the window of the harbour.

photo by Adam Hardy

We had more seaworthy delicious fare: a little healthier this time, chowder and pan fried haddock, and I got a double IPA beer down my neck (delicious, and despite a high ibu not “rusty nails” at all!).

We walked the beautiful town some more, and it was a little quieter now as the tourist buses started leaving. One of them was a puffin tour.  We passed the Opera House, and admired houses we’d love to own.

photo by Adam Hardy

And back in the car to the third stop, Peggy’s Cove, which is closer to Halifax.  We knew P.C to be popular with tourists, and I imagined a typical, pretty seaside village. It is quite extraordinary though (though it is a little overfull of visitors). You could imagine it as a remote village on the coast of the Scottish Highlands. There are amazing white rock formations around the lighthouse, sea and the attractive village and only the occasional shop or café.  It’s visually arresting and very photogenic

photo by Adam Hardy

Peggy’s Cove above

We spent some time soaking it all up, and of course taking a lot of photographs ourselves.

On the way out, we felt bad for an orange tabby cat who clearly lived (or squatted!) in an art gallery shop, and couldn’t get in. It was closed, and locked. The cat couldn’t understand why Marie and I couldn’t simply open the door and let it in.

The whole day had been a terrific one, in which we got to see the real beauty of Nova Scotia.

Back in Halifax for the night, we had a nice meal in the large, brand new branch of Gahan’s and had fish and chips again, and a flight of beers for me again!  And Marie a cocktail.

Day 11 –

Last full day! We could easily live in Canada, and weren’t ready to return.  It was good to know that Montreal is just an hour or so flight away though and we could go back within the next year or 18 months, and we could plan a return to PEI or Nova Scotia in a couple of years perhaps.

Breakfast at our hotel, and we took a slow walk down to the harbour in the hot sun.  We had tickets for the Harbour Hopper today, one of those aquack-tic buses that goes on land and water and gives you a tour.  So we were looking forward to that.  It’s fairly expensive, but was a lot of fun and we were glad we did it. They go for a big splash when you hit the water.

We then had another lobster roll, at Dave’s down by the water, and sat on a reclined bench.  We wanted ice cream for dessert, and were choosing between one last one from Cow’s Creamery or a shack called the Black Bear. We tried the latter, Marie with a decadent chocolate-peanut butter creation I think, I had a caramel licorice ice cream, which was one of the most scrumptious sweet (but not too sweet) things I’d ever had.

Then the very steep, long walk up back to our hotel where we’d make plans for our last evening and night. We also had to get the car and return it to Hertz at the drop-off point in the Marriott Hotel multi-story car park downtown.

We thought we’d do two museums, the Art Gallery and the Maritime Museum, then have one last great evening meal.  There was a folk art exhibition at the gallery, partially celebrating the work of Maud Lewis, who was a Canadian disabled artist who painted almost every square inch of her home with happy, bright and innocent depictions of everyday life and objects. And in a separate section there was a small collection of late Salvador Dali prints from the mid-1970s, when he re-found his Catholicism. The themes were energetically intense and spontaneous, and we liked them.

The Maritime Museum of The Atlantic was also excellent.  And the really nice bloke on the till told us that if we came back in a few minutes after 5pm, we needn’t pay but just make a small donation.

There was a section of Titanic objects found on the wreckage, including deckchairs and menus for each class of berth.

But the most poignant and surprising was a film and, I think permanent exhibition about the Halifax Explosion. We knew nothing about it before the holiday.  We watched the around 15 or 20 minute documentary, then saw and read the exhibit. In 1917, two ships carrying a multitude of explosives cargo in a crowded pier in Halifax were getting a little too close to one another as they attempted to dock and unload.  They collided just enough to cause a spark that set off the ginormous explosion.  It was the biggest explosion of any kind until Hiroshima, and catastrophic for the city! Our guide on the Harbour Hopper had also talked about it this morning. Quite harrowing to read the details and see the film.

We’d enjoyed the Robertson shop, the ship chandlery, at the front of the museum too (which needs no admission as it’s set out as a shop in front of the museum, before any formal entry).  It’s been restored to the way it looked at the turn of the last century. You can even have a go at making your own nautical wreath or rope mat, though we’re happy if we can sew on a shirt button or change a light bulb at home and we left well alone!

We often return to a favourite eaterie from the beginning of a trip, and we headed for 2 Doors Down for supper. Even on a Tuesday night it was busy!   We had fish tacos to start, and a superb lamb shank vindaloo for mains!  A cocktail for Marie, and an oatmeal stout for me.

Day 12 –

An easy flight home. We got a taxi to the airport after hotel breakfast. We had an old Croatian driver, and he was very talkative and sociable.  He moved to Canada about 25 years ago. He kept saying to us that we would have no problems moving to Canada if we wished, as we’d said how much we loved it and how great it would be to emigrate.  He’s wrong about it being easy to move to Canada though.  The Canadian government had even given him almost $3,000 a month to encourage him to move from Croatia, but that’s because he was an electrical engineer back then and we’re sure that the country needed his skills.

By the way, as often happens at airports they were looking for a volunteer to give up their flight ticket because our flight was overbooked. You get seriously good compensation when they do that. Frequently flight crew will need passenger seats too, so they can ask for volunteers at any time, and you get compensated with a big travel voucher and they put you on the next available flight instead. They were offering one person a $500 flight voucher plus a first class seat on the next flight. We never take up the option because Marie and I don’t want to get split up, plus we had to get our car from Newark Long Term Parking. If we were delayed too much we would have to pay an extra fee to the parking wallahs. 

I played Junip and Boxer Rebellion on the Walkman coming back.

Summing up, another really wonderful holiday! I’d say that amongst many magical trips Marie and I have had together since we got married, certainly this one was in the top 3 or 4. Maybe top might be the big combo of Scotland, Yorkshire and Amsterdam in late 2017 and the Brum, Berlin and London combo is way up there too. But we loved Canada and can’t wait to return. And Montreal feels exotic and European, yet is so close!

Published by heathgrip

An Englishman in New York for around 15 years, I met a wonderful, beautiful, cannily smart and talented girl from Flushing, Queens whilst I was living in Manchester, UK, through the internet in 2005 and we married in Spring 2006! We both have a passion for travel, restaurants, history, music, all kinds of fun events. Who doesn't? I'm an artist and photographer, and also love to write. Anything creative really (you can keep your science and technology!). I've sent journals back home to family and friends for many years and they've often suggested I start a blog with writings pasted from my journals. So here it is!

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