Well we had a brilliant ending to our tour of Canada on Vancouver Island. They were celebrating 150 years in existence on British Columbia Day so there were all sorts of activities going on. We drove down the coast to Victoria and passed through some lovely towns, one famous for its murals, another for its totems and one for its bookstores.One town was hosting the North American Indian Indigenous Games so we hung out there for a while and watched the opening ceremonies. Native Indians from all over the province performed their own traditional songs and dance which was really interesting to watch.
We arrived in Victoria and drove to Mile Zero of the Trans Canada Highway. We were so excited to have reached the end and a little sad that Canada was nearly over. Because of the celebrations, all the campgrounds were full and the Wal-Mart was under construction so we drove around until we found a quiet cul de sac residential street about 10 minute walk from downtown and parked there for 2 days. Luckily nobody bothered us. Victoria is a beautiful city with lovely beaches and harbors. There were stages set up all along the waterfront with music playing all weekend and buskers on every street we walked down. The oldest Chinatown in North America is here so we celebrated reaching the end of the Trans Canada with some Chinese food and wine. Afterwards we went to the annual Symphony Splash. The Victoria Orchestra performs a free concert from a stage boat docked in the harbor. There were thousands of people there for it and the night ended with a firework display. The next morning we were downtown early for the rest of the celebrations. Sarah McLachlan was doing a free concert that night and we were fortunate enough to hear her sound check. Because so many people were already there she ended up singing a few songs. We also got to hear Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, give a speech and officially wish Happy Birthday to British Columbia. We spent the day wandering around listening to the various bands and continued our own celebrations with some cocktails at a British bar.We made it back in time for the Sarah McLachlan concert which was brilliant. We really could not have had a better ending to Canada. It was a pure coincidence to end in Victoria on BC Day and it was perfect. We got the ferry back to Vancouver and spent a couple of days there sightseeing, another beautiful city, before finally driving back into the USA.
So that’s the first part of our journey complete. Four months one week, 10 provinces, 2 territories, Alaska and 16,500 miles. Canada is an amazing, fabulous and massive country. We could easily have spent a year just travelling it alone. It’s difficult to say what our favorite part was as every province and territory was just as beautiful as the next with something different to offer.The highlights though were definitely St. Johns, Cape Breton, Quebec City, Banff National Park, Inuvik and Victoria. It doesn’t matter how great a place is though, it’s the people that make it special. Everywhere we went from the east coast to west and as far north as we could go the people were friendly and welcoming. We’ve made friends with people from St. Johns to Inuvik and hopefully will be in touch with them for a lifetime.
As for life in a van it couldn’t be better. We have everything we need and it has really become our little home. I can honestly say we haven’t had cabin fever yet as it is super cozy and comfortable. There are definitely days when we wonder what the hell we are doing but a brief thought of working again snaps us out of it. We’re enjoying it while we can. Francie is great company and it wouldn’t be the same without him. Most of the people we have met are because of him and he is a full time security guard for the van. He looks at us too sometimes as if to say where the hell are we going but he has come to see the van as home as well.
We are currently heading down the west coast of the States and are hoping to find somewhere hot and sunny to hang out for a couple of weeks. We both need a break from driving and seriously have to start on our Spanish lessons. We had all great intentions of been fluent by now but got hooked on listening to Gerry Ryan and Joe Duffy podcasts instead. We also have to make a slight detour to Italy for my sisters wedding in September. So until the next time, take care…..
July 8th Edmonton to the Arctic
We had a flying stop in Edmonton, stayed a night with Edel Dromey, Jimmy’s neighbor from home. It was great to be able to sleep in a real bed again and get a break from the van. We had a lovely evening with Edel and her family (thanks guys for having us).We left Edmonton and did a lot of driving for the next few days. We passed through Dawson Creek, Mile 0 of the Alaskan Highway. The highway is 2,450km long and ends in Fairbanks, Alaska. Once on the highway and crossing into the Yukon we really felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing but mountains, forests and a few sleepy towns along the way. We saw plenty of more wildlife though, six black bears in one day, cougars and coyotes.
We stopped in Watson Lake at the “Signpost Forest”.In 1942 when the highway was been constructed, a homesick worker Carl Lindley from Danville, Illinois erected a sign pointing to his hometown. Since then visitors driving the highway have added signs and now there are 40,000 signs! We walked around for a long time looking at them all. They were ones from all over the world but we didn’t see any Irish ones. Luckily I had read about this forest last year and had packed an Offaly sign in the van. So we signed it and Jimmy got the screw gun out to nail it up. There may be an Irish sign there somewhere but I am sure our Offaly sign is a first. Carl Lindley’s wife came back after 50 years to the forest to see her husbands sign. Maybe we will be lucky enough to come back in 50 years and see if our sign is still there!
We left the Alaskan Highway after 1,250km to drive up the Klondike Highway. It follows the same route as the Gold Rush Trail back in 1898. It was really cool to think that back 110 years ago, 40,000 people had come this same way in search of gold. Thankfully now we can drive it but back then a lot of people died on the trek and left poorer than when they arrived. We saw a sign for Mayo that claimed it was “the hottest and oldest spot in the Yukon”. Just because of the name we decided to spend a night there. There really was about as much happening here as in the Mayo back in Ireland. The picture of the sign was the only photo worth taking. We did find a really nice campsite down by the river though. We had noticed the further north we were getting the later it was getting dark. So, camped by Mayo River we started a fire and decided to stay up until it did get dark. It never did. We were drinking beer and fishing at 3am and it was still bright as day. We lasted until about 4am and finally went to bed. When making the curtains for the van I used black out lining in preparation for these long nights. It would be pretty dark except for the huge vent that is right over our heads. Jimmy has covered it with duct tape but it’s still bright all night long.
From the Klondike we headed for the Dempster Highway. It is the only road in Canada that takes you across the Arctic Circle and through the lands of the Gwitch’in and Inuvialuit people. It is 737km long one way and is constructed with gravel and crushed stone the entire way due to the permafrost. I had read all sorts of horror stories about this highway and everyone warned us to bring 2 spare tires and extra gas. It wasn’t all that bad though. We could only drive at 35 mph so it took us 2 days to get to the end.The scenery was amazing and we crossed through the Arctic Circle and on into the Northwest Territories. There are only 2 gas stations along the entire highway and a couple of small villages. We were lucky that the van can hold so much gas as it was $1.90/liter at the halfway point. We arrived in Inuvik, the only town at the end of the highway. There didn’t seem to be a lot to do but the people were so nice and friendly to us. To get a tour out to the Arctic would have cost anything from $1,000 - $10,000. I tried to rally up a few other people at the campground to share a charter plane with us but had no luck. We went out the first night to the Mad Trapper bar for a few drinks and met some local people. They told us there were 3 McCarthy brothers from Ireland living there and would probably be drinking in the Legions Club. So we headed down to the club. We didn’t meet the McCarthy’s but we made friends with their sister-in-law Dixie. She was so nice and organized a boat tour of the delta for us with her nephew and we just had to pay for the gas. It was brilliant. They brought us out to where the Inuvialuit people used to live before the government formed Inuvik and moved them all there. Everybody in the town has a camp somewhere along the delta and they spend weeks on end out there catching everything from muskrat to beaver. Dixie told us they even go out to the Arctic Ocean to catch beluga whales. She brought us to her parent’s camp and showed us the smoke houses they use for smoking all the meat and fish. Because the ground is so cold they can even bury the food underground and it will freeze right through the winter. Also during the winter the rivers completely freeze over and they use it as an ice road. It was really amazing to hear their stories about living off the land. Dixie brought us to her house as well and told us more stories and let me try on her parka.
We decided to stay for Canada Day rather than somewhere on the highway. They had a parade in the town and everyone ended up in the Legions Club afterwards. We met Dixie again and her parents and practically the whole town.After a few drinks they persuaded us to play some music. So I played the accordion and Jimmy had his first performance on the bodhran. It went down well and they gave us a steak dinner on the house. We ended up going to the Mad Trapper where there was a rock band playing. Again after more drink we ended going up on stage and playing. We had the whole place dancing. Jimmy is hooked on gigging now! As if that wasn’t enough we met some natives on the way home playing a guitar and joined in with them. By the time we got back to the van we had 8 people and our dog in there until 6am having a session. I woke up the next day with about 5 email addresses and phone numbers of people that wanted us to go live with them! They are celebrating 50 years in existence later in the month and they all wanted us to stay. We really lost all sense of time in Inuvik, the sun was shining all night long. We had planned to leave the day after Canada day but needless to say neither of us were fit to drive. The next day they announced the highway was closed due to rock slides and wash outs. It remained closed for another day and then we were finally allowed to leave. Along the drive we could see where the road had been completely washed out and they were repairing it. We made it back in a day and a half and found out afterwards that we were lucky to have got through. The 2 ferry crossings were cancelled due to flooding so we could have been stuck for longer. We wouldn’t have minded though. Inuvik was definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip and we made some great friends.
From there we ended up in Dawson City in the Yukon. This was a really nice surprise as we were expecting a modern city but it was like a town in an old western movie. They never modernized the town and all the buildings from the original Gold Rush era have been restored. The streets are still dusty gravel roads with wooden sidewalks and the old style saloons. We had a great night in the old Diamond Tooth Gerties casino where they had a show of Cancan girls dancing.
After Dawson City we drove the Top of the World Highway to Alaska. This was another amazing drive and we really did feel like we were on top of the world. The road winded around the tops of the mountains and there was nothing to see except miles of trees. Out of nowhere we saw a little green hut which turned out to be the border crossing to Alaska. The first town we stopped in was called Chicken. Downtown Chicken comprised of a shop, bar, a chicken coup, café and the campground and that was it. We met some really nice people from Wisconsin and enjoyed a few beers with them. At the moment, we are in a town called North Pole. They keep their Christmas decorations up here all year round and all the streets have names like Santa Lane, St. Nicholas and Kris Cringle. We are looking forward to rest of Alaska and hopefully will get to do some serious fishing. So that’s all for now….
June 17th – Banff & Jasper National Park
Since the last update we have driven about 1200 miles.We drove into Manitoba and the weather was miserable, really cold and raining non-stop. We went for a quick tour around Winnipeg and decided to keep going. There were some interesting stops we could have made but we have learned that what looks like a quick run up the road on the map actually could turn out to be a 400 mile detour and I am not joking. The landscape was pretty monotonous also, miles and miles of flat farm land. Unfortunately, Saskatchewan was much the same and we ended up driving through it in one day. We feel bad just skimming through these provinces as I am sure there were some beautiful parts but between the weather and the long detours it would have meant, we just put the boot down.
We crossed into Alberta then and after driving through flat land for three days, we were astonished when the Rocky Mountains just appeared out of nowhere.Just before arriving in Calgary we had to look twice to really believe it was the Rockies. It was an amazing and welcoming view, snow-capped mountains as far as the eye could see. We went into Calgary and went up the Calgary Tower for a bird’s eye view of the city. It is a really nice city with a fabulous view of the mountains. From there we drove closer and closer to the Rockies and ended up in Banff National Park.Our stay there has definitely been one of the highlights of the trip so far. The park is brilliantly set up with really nice campgrounds and some of the best hiking trails we have been on.We stayed at Lake Louise for three days and did some great hiking. The first trail was 10 miles and took us about 6 hours. It was well worth it though as we got to go right into the mountains to the Plain of Six Glaciers. Sadly, with global warming a lot of the glaciers have since receded. Francie was a trooper and came the whole way with us. Parts of the trail were still covered in snow and we found out later other people on the trail were trying to figure out what kind of animal was leaving such big paw prints in the snow. We were in grizzly bear territory but didn’t get to see any. We did see caribou, elk, white-tailed deer, long horned sheep, hoary marmots and mountain goats. Something clicked in Francie’s head when he saw the sheep. We have never heard him making such strange noises before.
The second day we hiked up to Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes. The color of the water there is out of this world. It’s an emerald green color and is crystal clear. We could see clearly to the bottom of Mirror Lake but Agnes Lake was still covered in ice and snow which was still beautiful. The scenery is like something out of a fairy tale. We went up the Banff Gondola also to get better views.
From Lake Louise, we drove the Icefields Parkway to Jasper National Park. Like Cabot Trail in Cape Breton it will be a drive we will always remember. We had to keep stopping to take pictures. We stopped at the Athabasca Glacier and were actually able to walk out on it. It was pretty cool standing on a glacier that has been there since the last ice age and is 1200 feet thick in places. On the walk to the glacier they had marked out where the glacier had been in various years.Since 1982 the glacier has lost 60% of its volume, proving again that global warming is a reality.
In Jasper National Park we went to the Miette Hot Springs. The water comes out of the springs at 54 degrees and they cool it to 40 in the pools. It was exactly what we needed after all the hiking. We met an Irish couple in the pool who were on their holidays. The girl knew a guy I was in college with. A few days earlier we met a girl from Chicago who used to work with another friend of ours. It really is a small world.
So that’s all for now. We are going to Edmonton in a few days to visit Jimmy’s neighbor from home. From there we will start heading north towards Alaska, only another 2,000 miles! We were 10 weeks on the road yesterday and we have done a total of 9,427 miles. So it’s not all fun and games.
June 8th 2008 Montreal – Ontario
We got to Montreal and stayed a couple of nights with my cousin. It was so nice to sleep in a house for a change and have a proper bathroom. Francie made himself at home as well by running right through the screen door and smashing it. I think the excitement of seeing a house got to him. Thank God Jimmy is a carpenter and was able to repair it. Montreal is a lovely city also. It has an old section similar to Quebec City that is 350 years old. The weather was beautiful and we spent most of our time walking around. The main hub, Place Jacques Cartier, had buskers playing both days so it was nice to be able to sit and relax in the sun and listen to pan pipes music.We went into the Notre Dame basilica where Celine Dion got married, it was really beautiful.We also visited the Olympic Park where the 1976 Olympic Games were held. One of the main stadiums is still there where they now hold concerts. A drive up to Mont Royal Park gave us some great views of the city.We had two lovely nights with my cousin and his family.Chloe got to see and play an accordion and bodhran for the first time which she really enjoyed. And it was interesting to hear the touchy subject of Quebec’s independency been discussed between my cousin from Dublin and his wife from Quebec. (Thanks Eugene, José and Chloe for everything).
We left Montreal and drove to Toronto in one day to my brother’s house. We had only planned to stay a few days but ended up there for a really enjoyable week.The van needed some work done, we got new brakes, oil change, tire rotation and generally check up. We have done 7,500 miles already so we want to keep up with the maintenance. Francie also had some maintenance work done. We had to have him completely shaved. My nieces weren’t too happy to see all his hair gone and neither were we but it is too hard to keep up with the grooming. I think he will thank us when we get into the real heat of the summer.
Both my nieces Cierra and Sadhbh asked me to be their “show and tell” at their school. So off I went to play for my youngest audience ever. The kids were adorable and some tried their hand at Irish dancing. By the time I left, I was Auntie Sheila to them all.
We did a day trip from Toronto to the Niagara Falls, which were amazing. The power and volume of the water is unbelievable. We did the Maid of the Mist boat tour and got completely drenched; the boat goes right up beside the falls. We walked across to the American side hoping to find some cheap tobacco but it had just gone up $2.50 a pack in New York State so back to Canada we went.
We really enjoyed the week in Toronto.Charlie and Mo brought us to the famous downtown Wayne Gretsky restaurant for dinner. We were also there for Sadhbh’s birthday and surprised her with a little party. We were really spoiled with a real bed, shower, TV and internet. It was strange going back to living in the van after getting used to convenience and comfort again. (Thanks Charlie and Mo for everything, it was great seeing you all).
From Toronto we got back on the Trans-Canada Highway and are slowly making our way west. The distance between major towns is a lot longer than the map makes it seem but the scenery makes it worthwhile.We passed the half way point of the highway so at least we are making some progress. It would be so easy to spend the whole year just doing Canada; it really is a massive country. We stopped at the Lake Superior Provincial Park which is gorgeous. The campground was right beside the lake and beach. The lake is actually more like an ocean in the middle of Canada. The waves and color of it is fabulous, not what we were expecting at all. The drive from here to Thunder Bay is supposed to be up there with one of those “must-do drives”. It’s not as spectacular as Cape Breton but still really beautiful. We saw more bears too. The first one was just grazing off the side of the highway but we couldn’t stop in time for a picture. The second one was on the way into Pukaskwa Park and she had her two little cubs with her. It is probably the coolest thing I have ever seen. The cubs were playing together like little pups and she was just standing there looking at us before they scampered off. I am glad we were inside the van this time though.
We drove through Thunder Bay and went to the Terry Fox memorial site. He was a 22 year old from British Colombia who lost his leg to cancer at eighteen but was determined to run the entire Trans-Canada Highway to raise money for cancer research. He made it to Thunder Bay and unfortunately the cancer returned and he died shortly after in 1981. He ran a total of 3,339 miles in 143 days which meant he was running a marathon everyday with one prosthetic leg. It was a really moving story and people all around the world are still doing charity runs in his honor.
From Thunder Bay the drive became really boring and monotonous. We made one good stop at Kakabeka Falls which were really nice. Other than that we are just driving most of the day and trying to get closer to Alaska. The weather is still up and down but not as cold as it was in the Maritimes. We should be crossing into Manitoba tomorrow so I will update again soon when I can.
May 27th – Quebec
Quebec is a massive state and after looking at the map we decided to just take a straight route down to Montreal. The weather is still wet and cold plus we were getting tired of most of the tourist attractions been closed. The summer really doesn’t kick in up here until mid June so I will never complain again about the winters in Chicago; the Canadians are definitely unfortunate with their long winters.
We drove down the shore of the St. Lawrence River and passed through some really cute towns. The countryside was very green and farming seemed to be the main occupation. We ended up in a town called Montmagny as I had read about an Accordion Museum there.I thought it would be a really unique thing to do as I am sure there are very few accordion museums out there. Of course it was closed and I was disappointed yet again. We decided to stay anyway at a campground nearby as we intended to visit the Irish Memorial Site at Gros Isle. That night there was a botchy ball tournament at the campground and thanks to Francie we got talking to the only English speaking person there. It turned out he was one of the councilors of Montmagny and he said he would organize a tour of the museum just for us! So on a Sunday morning at 9am, this man Michelle, picked us up from the campground, drove us all around the town and then to the museum. It was pretty small from the outside but had about 60 accordions of every style and make and some dating back to 1837. The exhibit explanations were all in French but I was delighted just to see everything. I brought my own accordion, which was very like one of the boxes on display, and played a tune for Michelle. He said they had an accordion festival every September and I should come back and play at it. Unfortunately we were not allowed take any pictures but just been there was a great experience.
From Montmagny, we were able to take a ferry to Gros Isle. This island served as the major quarantine station for immigrants arriving from Europe from 1832 to 1937. 600,000 Irish passed through here, the majority during the years of the famine and 7,500 Irish died here. They declared it a National Historic Site and erected the tallest Celtic Cross in the world in memory of all the Irish. We were the only English speaking couple on the tour so we had our own guide who was excellent. We were there for four hours and she brought us through every part of the island and explained everything thoroughly. We were amazed and had no idea so many Irish came to Canada. She said at the time the ticket to Canada was a lot cheaper than to America, so a lot of them used as a route to America. We went through the disinfecting chambers where every person and their belongings had to be disinfected. Their luggage went through steam chambers and the people had to shower in very scary looking rooms with mercury water. When they were done, those deemed healthy enough went into quarantine and were then allowed on to Quebec, but a lot were already dying of typhus and malaria. They had a memorial wall with all the names of the people that died. Every Irish name you can think of was there including a Patrick Bracken and James Doorley. It was really sad and emotional but it was a real education for us to see what happened all those years ago. It really makes you appreciate how far the system has come and thankfully Aer Lingus doesn’t make us take mercury showers, although I have sat beside lads that could have done with one. As we were getting back on the boat one of the other guides stopped us and said he heard we were from Ireland. He was from Quebec city and had become friends with a fella from Blueball (just outside Tullamore) at the university. He actually went to Ireland and lived in Blueball for 6 months and frequented Joe Lees for a pint at the weekends. Small world, we can’t go anywhere!
We arrived in Quebec City after Montmagny. There was a campground not far from downtown and we met our German friends again that we met previously in Cape Breton. They are driving across Canada also so I am sure we will keep meeting along the way. We spent a day walking around the entire old part of the city in the spills of rain. There are not many cities you could walk around in the rain and still see the beauty of the place. They are celebrating their 400th year anniversary this year and you can definitely feel the history of the place in the air. It is a gorgeous city, very European and Parisian looking with quaint little streets. It is perched on a cliff and the original wall still circles the entire city. We were able to walk along the top of the wall in places. It is up there now with one of our favorite cities so far. From Quebec we drove to Trois-Rivieres, which is the second oldest city in North America. We decided seen as we were already in the oldest it would be a good place to stop. We are off to Montreal to visit my cousin and then Toronto after that to visit my brother. So it will be nice to have a few civil stops and sleep in a real bed for a change.
May 17th - Prince Edward Island – New Brunswick
From Nova Scotia we drove to Prince Edward Island. I think there is a cloud following us as it rained practically the whole time we were there. We stayed at the National Park which I am sure is beautiful during the summer. The island is gorgeous and you are never more that a 15 minute drive from a beach. We went to Green Gables and did a tour of the house that Anne of Green Gables was set in. This year is the 100th anniversary since the book was published. I bought a copy as I was ashamed to say I have never read it. We went to PEI via ferry and left it via the Confederation Bridge which is 13km long, apparently the longest artificial bridge over iced waters. Again we would have liked to stay longer but weather really was crap.
Back in New Brunswick, we stayed our first night at a Wal-Mart in Moncton in the rain again. The state is bilingual but the people start speaking in French first. As we continued up the coast towards Quebec, it becomes 100% French. We met several people who didn’t have a word of English. Every state we drive into has excellent tourist offices who give out free maps and guidebooks. It was getting close to my 30th birthday so I looked at the map and decided to celebrate it in a town called Tracadie-Sheila! It was a small town with really nothing happening except a museum on leprosy but at least my name was written everywhere. I was a little sad saying goodbye to my twenties (am sure Jimmy was too!) but got over it with the help of some local snails and mussels and of course some vodka. The day after my birthday we set out on another quest – to find the European Championship game between Man United and Chelsea. After stopping in about five towns we finally lucked out in a place called Bathurst. It was probably the only bar in New Brunswick showing the game and of course there had to be two Chelsea fans there! We all know how the game ended so no need to say anymore except up Man U….
May 13th – Newfoundland – Nova Scotia
Well the weather never got any better in Newfoundland, if anything it got worse. We had rain, sleet, snow, fog, high winds, you name it and it was freezing cold. We went for our night out in St. Johns and had a great time. The main nightlife street, George Street, is like Temple Bar in Dublin with plenty of Irish pubs. We ended up in Bridie Molloys where the local band Tarahan was playing. They were excellent, played all the Irish ballads. We are honestly amazed at how Irish the place is everything from the food, music, accents, sense of humor, weather; it really is home away from home. They call the drive around the southern peninsula the Irish Loop and apparently down there they speak with accents thicker than ours! But with the bad weather, we didn’t make it down that far. We did get to see some icebergs though around St. Johns, three of the 890 that are floating around the island.
The campground we stayed at was not officially open but was only 10 minutes from downtown. We met the maddest Newfie couple, who were actually living at the campground while their house is been built. The only met 10 months ago and were married after 13 days in the bar they met in! We had the best craic with them. Gord played the guitar and Melissa the harmonicas so we had a bit of a jamming session. (Gord and Melissa, if you are reading this, thanks again for a great night and we will definitely be keeping in touch). Gord cooked up a pot of fresh lobsters and gave us two of them. We didn’t have any of the appropriate tools so he gave us a hammer which sufficed. They taught us some local jargo too which was hilarious. If two fishermen pass each other by on their boats, “arnyna” means did you catch anything and “narnyna” means not a thing. And after you eat your dinner you say “I’m full as an egg”. Scurrifungeing is a thorough cleaning and whizgigging is being foolish or having a laugh. After plenty of beer it was getting harder to say these!
Despite the weather it was still great to be in St. Johns, the oldest city in North America and the most easterly point of North America. We also got to go to Mile Zero of the Trans –Canada Highway. It is marked by a building downtown called Mile One Center but Gord told us the real location was out of the town near the dump! The only disappointment was not been able to see Manchester United win the premiership. We went into every pub we could find and nobody was showing it and most of them hadn’t a clue what we were even looking for. Jimmy was very upset and even more upset when my brother texted me and told us he had made a mistake with the date of the game, it was the day after. So we went through the same thing all over again the next day.
We would have liked to have seen more of Newfoundland as it is absolutely gorgeous but the weather was unbearable. We are five weeks on the road now so it’s time to get to warmer weather. We left St. Johns and did the 12 hour drive back to Port-aux-Basques in one day and got on the ferry that night. When we got back to Cape Breton we went to see Martina, the ticket lady we met on the way out. She was so nice, even offered to let us stay in her house. (thanks Martina but we decided to keep going). We passed through a town called Baddeck and across the bay was the summer home of Alexander Graham Bell and where he is actually buried. Nobody is allowed near the house as it is still owned by the Bell family but they had a memorial for him in the town. We stayed in Maragree Forks that night at yet another campground that was not officially opened. The family that owned it was lovely and had 3 dogs for Francie to play with.We drove up Ceilidh Trail once more but nothing is opened until June 1st. I knew we were coming on off season but I didn’t expect that everything would be completely shutdown. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to play in any sessions or hear any music but the scenery and the people have definitely made up for it. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are both fabulous states and will be worth a trip back again in the future.
May 8th, 2008 – Newfoundland
We arrived in North Sydney and inquired about the ferry to Newfoundland. There are 2 sailings a day 11.30am and 11.30pm so we decided to go that night. When we were checking in with the ticket lady, she was very friendly and was excited that we were from Ireland. She told us all about her trip there last year to a friend of hers that used to play music with her Dad. After about five minutes the friend she was talking about sounded very familiar and it turned out it was Sean MacGabhann who I played in the ceili band with a few years back. Small world. She gave me her phone number so we are going to call her when we get back to Cape Breton.
It took seven hours to get to Newfoundland. Luckily we were allowed to leave Francie in the van and check on him ever so often. We bought 2 bunks as well so we could get some sleep. After a few drinks in the bar the voyage went quick enough. We arrived into Port-Aux Basques which is on the other side of the island, 800km from St. Johns. The ferry to Argentine near St. Johns doesn’t start running until June, so we had a lot of driving ahead of us. As soon as we left the port the scenery was just amazing. There was nothing but snow capped, mountains either side of us the whole way. We decided to go to Gros Morne National Park which was also absolutely gorgeous and we finally saw plenty of mousse just eating away on the side of the roads. We finally got to St. Johns the next day and the weather was crap, typical Irish weather, cold, wet and windy. We went to get something to eat and got the Newfoundland’s traditional dish called “Jig’s dinner”. I honestly thought I was having a dinner my mother cooked. It was potato, cabbage, turnip, mushy peas (but they call it pea pudding and it was yellow not green but tasted the exact same) and salted beef which is very close to the Irish bacon and bread pudding for desert. The vegetables had been cooked in the salt water from the meat and were gorgeous. All the place names and peoples name are Irish and they even look Irish. I swear it’s like Newfoundland was chopped off the west coast of Ireland and just happen to float over here. We just spent today doing laundry and other chores as the weather is still crap. We are going to hit the town tonight, imagine that, a real pub since we left Chicago. There seems to be plenty of Irish bars and music so looking forward to it.
That’s all for now..
May 5th, 2008 – Nova Scotia
After leaving Sussex we continued on Route 2 towards Nova Scotia. We passed a sign for Magnetic Hill and decided to check it out. Well it’s true, we parked at the bottom of the hill and put the van in neutral and up she went. We did it twice to be sure. Even a volley ball went up the hill. Apparently there is one in Clonaslee so anyone at home should go and do it. After that magnetic experience we crossed into Nova Scotia. It’s a beautiful state and reminds us a lot of home thirty years ago. We saw a sign outside a house which said “Cow manure, $4 a bag”. The major towns are few and far between so we’ve done a lot of driving through barren countryside. The clay is a copper red color which turns the water a reddish brown. It’s an unusual sight to look at the ocean and not see blue water. The camera is not doing the color justice. We passed through a small village called Springhill. It used to be a mining village but hundreds of men died in explosions and accidents. Jimmy remembered the song Luke Kelly sings about it called the “The Springhill Mine Disaster”. So we visited the memorial site and listened to the song on the iPod.Springhill is also the birthplace of the famous Ann Murray, the singer songwriter from the 80’s. I haven’t a clue of any of her songs but Jimmy remembers her. Unfortunately her visitor’s office was closed, what a shame.
The national park we were headed for was closed but we stopped at a tourist information centre in Parsboro and the girl there was really helpful. She was able to give us the 2008 directory of campgrounds in Nova Scotia. We are about three weeks too early for the season but there are some places open. We are glad to be here on the off season and have the place to ourselves. It gets overcrowded during the summer apparently. We stayed at a campground in Debert. It was owned by a couple from Newfoundland and was our first experience of the Newfie accent. It definitely has an Irish air to it. They were happy to let me play a few tunes on the accordion. Jimmy is getting good on the bodhran so we are well prepared for the sessions in Cape Breton.
We decided to do the south coast of Nova Scotia first and drove through the Annapolis Valley where most of Nova Scotia’s fresh produce is grown.It’s a lovely view of farms and orchards. We passed through a town called Grand Pre where the French first settled. They called themselves Acadians and built dykes along the shoreline to protect the farmland. There are 1200 hectares below sea level, protected by just 9000m of dykes. It was amazing to see it. We stopped at a local market and bought some fresh vegetables and fruit. I haven’t got that real smell of an apple or flavor since my father used to grow them.
We ended up in a place called Scott’s Bay. There were no shops let alone any campgrounds but luckily we found a perfect spot to camp right by the beach. There is a 15km hike that you can do to the top of Cape Split which overlooks the Bay of Fundy. This is where the most extreme tides in the world can be seen. Apparently, the flow of water between Cape Split and Parsboro shore is equal to the combined flow of all the rivers and streams in the world! So we headed off at 9am on the hike. It’s supposed to take 4 hours roundtrip; well it took us 4 hours just to get to the cliffs. The trail starts and then disappears after about five minutes. With no signs we continued on by the coast side thinking we would find it again. Wrong, we went through briars, gorges, across streams, up serious slopes for about 3 hours before finding the trail again. Poor Francie was destroyed with the sticky pine branches; he just collapsed at one stage and wouldn’t go any further. We eventually met other people who had also gone wrong and found our way to the top. The view was worth it though. We had hoped to be there for mid-tide so we could see the difference between the low and high but by the time we got there it was already low tide. Thank God we brought sandwiches and food for Francie. We had a picnic and a little nap and stayed for a few hours. Although we didn’t see high tide, you could definitely see the strong flow of water. For a bay it was flowing more like a river. We made it back down in an hour and a half on a nice, wide, tree cleared path. We met two other couples on the way who also had got completely lost. When got near the end we could see where we went wrong. About five minutes from the end of the trail it stopped and we had to make our way through bushes and briars to get out. So it was so easy to go wrong as there is now way you would think the trail goes through these briars. It was 5pm when we got back to the van, long day but well worth it. We left a stew cooking in our 12 volt crock pot in the morning and it was just cooked when we got back. All the 12 volt stuff we got is working deadly off the solar panel. Needless to say after the day we had and a big bowl of stew we were in bed by 7.30pm.
We continued down the coast to Digby’s Neck and finally found a campground open. The owner is known as the Lobster Man as he makes these little ornaments out of the lobster shell and sells them. He was a really interesting character and even had a mini museum in the basement of his house with everything you need to know about lobsters and fishing. It was spilling rain when we arrived and very cold again. The weather here is like Ireland, changes from day to day. But luckily the next day was a beautiful sunny day. Five minutes from the campground we were able to get a ferry to Long Island. The coastline here is very like the Giant’s Causeway at home, full of columnar basalt rock. We did the hike down to Balancing Rock; it’s a 7m high stone column just about balancing itself on another rock. You’ll see in the pictures what I mean. From Long Island we were able to get another ferry to Brier Island. It’s a tiny island but the drive around was fabulous. We went to the monument of Joshua Slocum; he was the first man to sail around the world solo and started out from here.
From Digby’s Neck, we headed for Liverpool on the east coast as we decided to start making our way towards Cape Breton. Nice town but not much to do so we left again the next day and drove up the coast towards Halifax. We stopped in the cutest little village I have ever seen called Peggy’s Cove. When we saw the sign for it we thought we better go and see it for the two Peggys at home. Apparently there are only 60 residents and they all have their houses painted a different color, bright yellows, blues etc I hope the pictures do it justice. After that we went into Halifax for a walk around. It was the opening day for the World Championship Ice Hockey games so the place was mental. Francie was like a rock star, everyone wanted a picture of him. We got photos taken with the Slovenian, Latvian and Canadian fans. We left after that and found a gas station to pull into that night.
We crossed into Cape Breton then. Thankfully the weather is not bad, sunny but still cold. We drove up the Ceilidh Trail and all of the session spots are not opened yet so we are going to come back after Newfoundland and hopefully I will find a session.We stayed at the beginning of the Cabot Trail the first night near Cheticamp. The Cabot Trail is the world famous scenic highway that runs through the national park along the coasts and over the Cape Breton Highlands. We started out early the following morning and were completely blown away with the scenery. Around every corner was another amazing view. We were stopping every five minutes to take pictures. It is definitely up there with one of the most beautiful places we have ever been.
We had a map of all the hiking trails that you can do so we decided to do the Skyline Trail as it offered ocean views and chance to see some wildlife. As we were hiking we were joking about seeing a bear, never expecting to actually see one. About 40 minutes into the trail, we were yapping away happily and the next minute I saw a huge hairy object sitting about 10 feet from us just off the trail. Naively I said to Jimmy “what’s that?” and his jaw dropped about four foot. He grabbed my hand and we backed up slowly. I think I went into shock. We backed up about 10 steps and did what they say not to do, ran like hell out of there. We couldn’t believe what just happened. The bear was sleeping on his side but it looked like he was about 4 feet high and 7 feet long. Thank God, Francie was not allowed on this trail and we left him behind in the van. We met a couple during our sprint back and told them about the bear. The girl was from the area and said she sees them all the time. They are called Black Bear and are not carnivores or aggressive. She said there has never been an attack. They were going ahead with their two dogs and I wanted to go back with them but Jimmy said not a chance. So that was our wildlife adventure in Cape Breton.We ended up driving to Meat Cove that night and found the most perfect camping spot ever. We were on the very northernmost tip of Cape Breton on a cliff looking out at the ocean.
This morning we went for another hike to Cape St. Lawrence as apparently you can see whales from the cove. Yet again, the trail was not marked out very well and after two hours we were near the top of the mountain and there was snow on the ground. We also noticed very large sh*t and didn’t want to have the same encounter as yesterday so we headed back to the van. At the moment we are parked outside the library in Ingonish stealing their wireless internet as they are closed. We are headed for Sydney and then Newfoundland so I will update again when I can.