MONDAY, AUGUST 20 – NEWFOUNDLAND GIVES US THE BIRD
It was overcast but otherwise pleasant out when we left our hotel at 8 a.m.
We had a boat ride scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at Bay Bulls, about a half hour south of St. John’s, but Cathy wanted to explore further south before that, heading all the way down to a town called Ferryland.
Cathy had also scheduled a tour by a professional photographer at 4:30 p.m. until dark, and he would show us some of St. John’s most photogenic sites.
So we had a full day ahead of us.
On the way we stopped at Robin’s, another Newfoundland chain that wants to be Tim Horton’s. After a week of 60-90-minute food stops in Canada, I appreciated a quick in-and-out spot.
I got a small ham and cheese sandwich that was quite nice, and Cathy let me try a bite of her hash browns, which were crispy and tasty. After scarfing down our small meals in the car, we continued south.
Ferryland was a great call by Cathy, although our time here was limited. Once again a jagged, unpaved rocky road protected this area’s beauty. We weren’t allowed vehicular access to the lighthouse but got pretty close.
What was cool about the view here was the lighthouse was kinda-sorta on an isthmus, and since it stuck out so far in the water, the landscape here was 360 degrees of awesome.
Being on vacation and having already put in a couple of long driving and activity days, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about being on the road this early when we were going to be out late with the photographer, but I’m glad we went.
Ferryland was not only one of the prettiest lookouts we’d seen, it was also the most widespread because of the layout.
We had nearly a half-hour drive back north to Bay Bulls, so we only spent about 20 minutes here.
Our third boat tour of the trip was with O’Brien’s, and we boarded a vessel that held about 100 people with a decent amount of cover in case it rained. And I’d completely tuned out forecasts by this point and just expected rain at any time.
This trip took us to a region known for whales and also skirted a huge rock that was home to thousands of puffins.
Our guide was Shawn, a recently retired teacher, and he was a fountain of local information. Shawn was clearly of Irish descent and opened and closed the ride in song.
He was gregarious and engaging while educating us on the region.
Shawn did warn us that the whale activity had been poor this season, and unfortunately for us, that would hold true for this trip.
Because of erosion, the rocks along the coast leading out to the ocean were smooth-looking diagonal shelves. Erosion also caused caves to form in this region, and we drove past one that was so deep kayakers could actually row all the way through to open waters.
The highlight was a huge island our boat loaded with puffins. As in thousands. They dotted the island and congregated in the water.
Those in the ocean would make a quick side-to-side wiggle then dive for fish. It was pretty amusing to watch.
Apparently, they are better swimmers than fliers (Shawn joked that you wouldn’t want to fly Puffin Air Lines) and are masters at grabbing fish. They also leave this island for eight months and return to the same mates at the exact same location in the spring.
Puffins live about 30 years in the wild, which is amazing, but their numbers have been down slightly in the region and area conservationists are a little concerned.
They said there are a quarter million in this segment of Newfoundland. Even on our ride back, a couple of miles from the island, we could see them idling in the water and diving for prey.
Cathy has some smoking photos of the puffins, but with the phone camera this is all I’ve got for now.
The other two main birds on the island were murres, which look like flying penguins, black-legged kittiwakes, which look like seagulls only bigger, and yeah, seagulls.
This region also has bald eagles but we didn’t see any.
There's no point in posting phone camera photos for this ride, so these are much-better quality ones by Cathy through a real lens.
We interrupted a family argument. "You were supposed to pick up dinner", "no, you were".
Shawn holds court:
The rock face on the way back into the dock.
A Screeching In ceremony was held at the end of the trip, and details started coming back to me. There were whips, and a clown, and…no, actually, true to provincial character, they were kind even in hazing rituals.
I think there were seven people in all, including an Asian family of four. The minors were not given the rum.
I was hungry before the boat ride and actually scanned the menu of the ticket office/gift shop, because the delightful smell of something formerly living in the ocean was being fried.
So I was really ready for lunch, especially since we were going to Chafe’s Landing, an Anthony Bourdain stop. It was about 15 minutes from the boat ride in the “town” of Petty Harbour, which lived up to its name.
It was a typical community for this area: One narrow, 1.8-lane road winding through a set of small, purely-functional houses, many of which had boats on their lots.
Two-story Chafe’s Landing felt like almost a treehouse – in a good way. Because of the limited parking here, we were actually two minutes late for our reservation, which was the only food one we made on this trip.
It was a restored house built by Edward Chafe in 1878, thus the name. We were seated upstairs, and another solid live solo act was playing.
This place must make a killing. It was 2 p.m. – obviously after peak lunch hours – and every table on two floors was occupied the entire time we were there.
This and St. John’s Fish Exchange were the only two restaurants on my “must” list, so I ordered the lobster sliders and the cod tongues.
If I was going to like cod tongues, it would be at a place like this, and lobster always seems to be good at these types of places.
This was probably the best service we got the entire trip. The dining experience still took longer than it would’ve in the states, which is not meant as a gripe, but the server was great at notifying us of the status of our food while checking on us at a perfect cadence.
Cathy tried one of the seafood sliders and said it was a little fishy but kudos to her for trying yet another seafood item. I loved them. All three were prepared different ways, and I can’t remember the third one and now their online menu is on the fritz, but one was Cajun and and BLT was another.
The cod tongues were another very unique food. It tasted like most of the fish I’d had – and I mean that in a positive way – but the tongues were a little mushier than regular cod.
They were served with those delightful scruncheons, pork fat on steroids, and how could that not make a meal better? The mashed potatoes were OK but could've used gravy. They seem to put gravy on everything up here except the one item that really needs it.
For Cathy...pregnant pause...chicken wings. These were thickly breaded but very juicy and not too salty.
The meal didn’t blow us away like St. John’s Fish Exchange but it was still very good. There was another very good local performer probably 30 feet away belting out that folk-country-Irish mix of music.
People on this island really love their music, but at pubs and restaurants it was never in-your-face in terms of volume, and you could always easily hold a conversation.
Anyway, we were being picked up at 4:30 p.m. for a photo session with an indigenous photographer, and we got back to the hotel around 2:30. He would be driving, so I hung up the car keys for the day and walked around town.
I did want to get more Canadian money, even though we were leaving in a day and a half.
It’s getting harder to obtain Canadian currency without paying outrageous fees these days. Duty free isn’t that bad at road crossings, but airport rates are a rip-off and going through one’s own American bank is a joke.
I went to my own bank of 20 years in 2015 when we went to Banff, and they quoted me 15 cents on the dollar under the current rate, so I went to the bank where Cathy and I share an account and after going through five minutes of steps with the teller, she quoted me $1.15 on the dollar when the exchange was $1.30.
I had $100 left from our last trip and knew we were going to be in the middle of nowhere for the first four days here with no chance to hit a currency exchange, so I thought I’d feel out Toronto’s Pearson Airport, and they were giving $1.13. Yeah, thanks but no thanks. What a joke.
One of the agents at the counter of our hotel in St. John’s had told us that Scotiabank was a partner with Bank of America, which I didn’t know, so off I went to try to get more money.
I knew the entire time we weren’t getting to St. John’s until late Saturday, and obviously at that point banks are closed until Monday, so this was my first real opportunity to trade funds.
The teller quoted me $1.27 on the dollar when the actual rate was just under $1.31, so I jumped on it. I’m not a customer and I get that I’m OK with paying a service charge.
Funny how a non-customer can get a fair rate in Canada but his or her own bank in the U.S. will screw you blue. Apparently, all U.S. banks use the same exchange service to gouge its customers.
The teller obviously hadn’t dealt with many people trying to change U.S. currency for Canadian, and when I explained the situation she seemed baffled.
So if anyone reading is thinking about flying into Canada and trying to score currency, hit a currency exchange or a Scotiabank.
Using your credit card is just fine, but I like to have cash as well. Maybe it’s just me.
With that out of the way, I explored the city for a little while before walking into Shamrock City, a cool-looking Irish pub near the center of the bar district.
I had 20 minutes to kill, so I walked in and ordered a Black Horse. The petite, 20-ish bartender referred to me as “My love”, which I guess was pretty common in these parts.
I saw a delicious, oversized plate of fish and other delicacies make its way over to the other end of the bar, and since we didn’t have definitive plans for dinner tonight, this became the favorite.
Black Horse on draft is just delightful, and I could’ve stayed here for hours drinking beer, but I had a date, so I walked the one block back to the hotel, where Cathy and I were meeting our photo guide.
Moe arrived about 4:35 in an orange jeep, and the born-and-raised St. John’s native was an encyclopedia of island history.
His personality was typical of those in this province – after talking to him for five minutes you felt like he was a lifelong friend.
First we headed to Cape Spear, which is just east of downtown and the easternmost point of North America.
At Dildo Dory Grill, we had overheard some customers talk about being in town for a shoot regarding the 2020 GMC Sierra, but neither of us are car buffs so we didn’t think much of it.
Then we saw these two giant, futuristic-looking tents in a valley near the cape’s lighthouse. Turns out they were shooting footage from the spot – either Moe or Cathy said it was for a commercial.
You can them in the second photo below.
Cathy had brought a wide-angle lens which she had rented, and Moe worked with Cathy on her cameras’ settings. I just walked around the area and admired the late-afternoon view.
I wasn't taking photos at this point so here are some of Cathy's best from the area:
Moe sent up this picture of Cathy taking a picture and me trying to stay out of the way.
Another of us emailed by Moe:
Quick flashback to the flight into Deer Lake. Cathy and I had a window and an aisle but we didn’t realize this was a six-wide cabin, so we had someone who was going to be in the middle.
I told her I’d offer the person the aisle and take the center to sit next to her.
Turns out the guy who had the middle happened to know the lady in the row ahead of her and he sat in her aisle seat while that lady took the aisle in our row.
At one point someone in the row behind me started talking to that guy as well, and it turns out their families knew each other.
There were other instances of this as well during our flight, and before we even landed we had the impression everyone on this island knew everyone else on the island.
Now, back to the present, we were driving to another lookout and I told Moe the story of the Screeching In in Bonavista. He said the retired mayor – whose last name was Fitzgerald – was actually a cousin.
I checked my diploma from Screech U. when I returned to the hotel and that was indeed her last name.
Everyone in Newfoundland knows everyone else in Newfoundland.
We went down to the Harbo(u)r in downtown and checked out The Battery, a collection of colo(u)rful houses tucked against the rock facing.
Quickly losing sunlight:
Finally it was Signal Hill, as Cathy and Moe attempted to zero in on the perfect location for a sunset shot. With the fires raging in British Columbia and all over the west, the chance of a picturesque sunset was elevated.
For a little perspective, we were going to the top of the hill near where the houses just pictured were to watch the sun dip with the city in the background.
Nothing that spectacular happened but it was still a beautiful site as the city began to light up at dusk.
Pointing away from St. John's.
In the distance to the right is a tribute to John Cabot, who landed here in 1507.
The city starts to light up:
The sun was replaced by the moon.
Moe was a wonderful host and spent five hours with Cathy, even though I think she only paid for four. He dropped us off and I was hungry and ready for a drink.
I was out of must-do stops so I let Cathy choose the place, especially since Moe had rattled off a handful of nearby restaurants that he was a fan of.
I had Cathy talked into Shamrock City since Shannon’s was the closest we’d gotten to eating at a true pub since landing on the island. We got within 200 feet and saw this was a no-go. There was a loud concert going on inside and the line was out the door.
We chose Blue On Water because it was less than a block away and the menu on the window looked good. It wasn’t overly crowded or loud and Moe had mentioned it.
It was a cozy, brick-interior building with a bar in the back and a view of Water Street in the front. We sat in a booth toward the front.
Cathy wasn’t that hungry so we decided on three appetizers: Scallops with asparagus, red wine ravioli with parmesan and popcorn aroncini with brown butter.
The former was obviously more for me, and Cathy tried a scallop but still said it was a hair fishy. More for me. Five with asparagus for about $15 Canadian had to be one of the best deals of the trip.
Definitely B-plus quality on both, with the outside of the scallops firm and a perfect chew on the inside.
The balls were about on par with the scallops with that perfect blend of a crunchy outside and creamy interior served on a bed of that delightful brown butter.
Ravioli took third but was still quite solid. And the Black Horse, man I’m going to miss this Black Horse.
Cathy went back to the hotel and I headed back up the street to the Duke of Duckworth. This place was in an alley and had a reputation for older crowds, so I went in and found it was just what I was looking for.
It had a myriad of draft beer options and a huge bar but had more of a neighbo(u)rhood feel than upscale.
After a couple of brews it died down a little and the bartender, Stephen, started talking to me. For someone in the city, he had quite a thick Newfoundland accent.
It was kind of nice to small talk with someone, as he asked where I was from and how long I was here and what I had done. He was another guy that just loved where he lived and was proud of his homeland.
I had a few pops and decided to head back.
Oh, and I passed the one bar I had envisioned spending a lot of time and it was already closed. I’ll bet money it was because there was no one there. Almost all of the bars in this area remained open until at least 1 and often much later, but at about 12:30 this place was done for the night.
And so was I. I slept quite well after this long day.
post edited by Bonk - 2018/09/06 14:39:47