Saturday, September 20, 2014

Across to New Brunswick and the Bay of Fundy

We decided to take the Confederation Bridge from PEI to New Brunswick. It's an impressive 8 miles long and was built for a billion dollars in the early 1990s. Before it was named, people from PEI referred to it as "the fixed link," for obvious reasons. The name "Confederation Bridge" honors the leading role PEI played in getting the various British colonies north of the US to organize themselves into what is now the independent Dominion of Canada.

Once over the bridge, we made a beeline for Hopewell Rocks, where the difference in tide levels in the Bay of Fundy can be easily seen among some really interesting rock formations. Yes, those are people down there in the first photo. We then returned the following morning to snap the second photo at high tide on our way down along the coast of the bay. Of course, we're used to big tides and those at the Bay of Fundy vary in size just like everywhere else. The ebb and flow of water always creates interesting terrain.

And, we did enjoy walking among the rock formations at low tide. It was like we were in the land of the giants.

The mud flats also looked pretty amazing from the vantage point above the bay, oozy and plastic and glistening under an ominous sky.

But, let's face it - some things in life are underwhelming. We made a reservation at a hotel right along the river in Moncton where you can see the "tidal bore." We had read about it and been told that people can surf on the wave created when the tide reverses and, basically, pushes the river upstream. So, we stood out on the deck of the hotel overlooking the river in good time to see this effect, joining a man from St. John's, Newfoundland, who had watched it a number of times before. It was fortunate we were talking with him, because we might otherwise have missed it. Alas, it was like waiting for the big parade and finding that only the dance schools showed up to march in it. We're told that sometimes there is a bigger effect. That's okay. Of course, it was kind of fun in its own way and it was a beautiful brisk evening. We were also feeling good about the meal we had just come from in neighboring Dieppe, even deeper into francophone New Brunswick. As we enjoyed our crepes francaise followed by our dessert crepes, we couldn't help but overhear bits of the bewildering conversation at the table next to us between two twenty-something Acadian women. To us, it sounded like the sort of secret language twins sometimes adopt. It hopscotched among what we recognized as somewhat standard French to a sort of French patois to perfectly accented standard English. We later noticed in watching TV that the news anchors spoke a proper Parisian French, but the reporters did not. Fascinating.

From Moncton, we drove back to Hopewell Cape for the photo of the mostly submerged rocks and then went into Fundy National Park for a few hikes.

The signage said that in the time since the Park Service had built the boardwalk and viewing platform that got us this far into the bog, they had pulled two moose out of the muck at this spot. When the 4 meter thick peat decays, it has the same effect as quicksand.

Once we got to St. John, we checked in at our hotel and found that because of multiple conventions in town they were fully booked and had decided to upgrade us to the Presidential Suite. If only it were the Four Seasons, rather than Holiday Inn Express!

Buoyed by our good fortune, we walked downtown to take in the farmer's market and find a place to eat dinner. The market claims to be the oldest continually operated market in North America. We were appropriately skeptical, as 1876 didn't exactly impress us. It was, nonetheless, a very agreeable place. One of the vendors had us try dulse from Grand Manan island. It's a dried seaweed that tastes like an exceptionally mild nori. Jim enjoyed it.

As shadows lengthened on the day, we stumbled on St. John's second international sculpture symposium. They brought in eight sculptors from Europe, Asia and Canada who created work onsite for the city's "International Sculpture Trail." We arrived just as they were finishing up. These were our favorites.
The next morning we crossed the border again, re entering a more familiar world with more traffic but fewer moose, ending a fabulous adventure.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

PEI

On our way to catch the ferry from Caribou, Nova Scotia, to Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island, we stopped by to see the reproduction of the Hector, famous as the ship that began the substantial migration from Scotland resulting, for a time, in the provinces of Nova Scotia and PEI being predominantly Gaelic speaking. Its 1773 voyage with 189 colonists followed a similar voyage with Scottish immigrants to Boston. Amanda's father's family reputedly immigrated to Louisiana from Scotland, by way of Canada, so we looked for the Buchanan tartan, among the tartans adorning the lamp posts in the town.

The biggest surprises about PEI were just how much of a farming community it is and how big a role Anne of Green Gables plays in the tourist economy (and what it means to be Canadian). Setting out on our drive from the ferry port to Charlottetown, we were struck with how much the island looked like an idealized and even more rural Lancaster County, PA. The rolling fields were quite beautiful and very prosperous looking. Agriculture is a very big part of the economy of the province. It also fits in well with the spirit of Anne, the spunky heroine of a series of books that even Mark Twain admired. We checked out the musical version during our first evening in Charlottetown. Above a tourist adorns a straw hat with red pigtails (Anne's signature look) to pose in front of her childhood home, now a national park site.

With such an abundance of seafood, we decided to eat our way around PEI. We started with excellent lobster rolls for lunch down at the harbor when we arrived in Charlottetown. For dinner, we went to a small family-run restaurant downtown for mussels and oysters. Lunch the next day was at a little restaurant along the road in St. Peter's where we had a curried seafood chowder and fried scallop sandwich, followed by a late afternoon snack of Malpeque oysters at Stanley Bridge (above), and a dinner with grilled scallops and smoked salmon. Yum, indeed!

The Canadians really know how to build walkways. This half-mile long boardwalk mostly floated on the pond and was anchored with large chains.
These are "parabolic dunes," shaped by the wind. The crescent shape is due to the wind consistently blowing in one direction and the dune being somewhat anchored by vegetation. There are also parabolic dunes in the Provincelands on Cape Cod.
Yes, the sand is red.
We followed our usual habit of hiking in the National Parks we drove through, this time Prince Edward Island National Park, with its red sand and crumbling cliffs. Except for the red part, it reminded us a bit of Cape Cod.
We were told that PEI has the warmest saltwater north of the Carolinas. Contradicting this, we dropped in and talked for a while with a man running a shellfish store at Stanley Bridge who maintained that the Malpeque oysters are superior to anything down where we live because the waters at PEI are colder. He shucked two enormous oysters for us to try. We had to admit that the oysters are exceptionally good and may have a more interesting taste profile than our Wellfleet oysters, although we quibbled that PEI mussels are rather small compared to the ones we used to enjoy in Belgium. He told us that they don't let the PEI mussels grow out any bigger because they develop pearls. That's a shame. So, we give very high marks to the PEI Malpeque oysters, but still prefer Zeeland mussels. With that, we headed back to Charlottetown.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cape Breton National Park & the Cabot Trail

After spending the night in Louisbourg, we headed back across the island to the Cabot Trail and Cape Breton National Park for a day of harrowing driving and pleasant hikes. Cape Breton in different communities has bilingual signage, some in French & English for the French Acadians (like our guide in Louisbourg) and others in Gaelic & English.
Rather graphic warning signs, don't you think?

" This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,

Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,

Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,

Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean

Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest. "

You may recognize this opening stanza from Longfellow's epic poem Evangeline, his telling of the story of the expulsion of the Acadians. His version of the story puts the blame squarely on the British, although we now have to acknowledge that it was just as much the New Englanders who were behind it.

Cape Breton Island has water everywhere. In addition to being surrounded by it, it has interior bays and lakes that bisect it and rivers and lakes throughout. We hope enjoyed the abundance of pictures today. Our hotel had an incredibly fast internet connection (for a hotel), so we went overboard. Tomorrow, we go back over the causeway to mainland Nova Scotia and make our way to the ferry to Prince Edward Island.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Louisbourg

The French and the British - where do we start in talking about them? They were at each other's throats for hundreds of years. The French got off to a stronger start in building a stake in North America, but lost out in the end, except for two tiny islands off Newfoundland. But, the Fortress at Louisbourg played an interesting role in their dramas.

Founded in 1713, Louisbourg was a key transit point for the North Atlantic trade. Many ships would make for Louisbourg from Europe and then make their way down the coast to Boston, New York and Philadelphia. So, it was of tremendous strategic importance and there were impressive fortifications around the 2 1/2 to 3 mile circumference.

Indeed, there was a lot of unease among the British colonists in what are now the New England and Middle Atlantic states over the strength of the French fortress at Louisbourg and the threat posed by Catholic France to the colonists' interests in fishing, trade and religion. It was the Province of Massachusetts Bay's legislature that led a coalition of colonies (including New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Hampshire) to form and provision an army and a naval force to attack the fortress. As part of the War of the Austrian Succession or King George's War the New England coalition laid siege to the imposing fortress and succeeded in forcing a capitulation in 1745. Three years later, much to the annoyance of the British colonists, Britain traded Louisbourg back to the French. Then, in 1758 the British themselves laid siege to the fortress and laid it to ruin. Although the French seemed to be able to thrive in the harsh environment, the British detested the place and had no interest in allowing it to again become strategically important.

In the 1960s the Cape Breton mines closed and, to help provide jobs, development funds were found to reconstruct about 1/5 of the Fortress and furnish many of the buildings based on architectural drawings, archeology, and such documentation as household inventories. Today, it is a National Historic Site run by Parks Canada.

The Governor's Apartments in the King's Bastion, as well as many properties throughout the reconstruction, have costumed interpreters to bring the fortress to life.

Quite a number of artifacts have been returned to the fortress, including this cross looted in 1745 that is now on loan from Harvard University.

As for us, it was our only consistently miserable day so far. Despite the blowing rain, the Fortress of Louisbourg was a very interesting place to visit, filled with interpreters eager to share their early 18th century perspective.

We returned in the evening after the weather had started to clear to take a look at the lighthouse that was difficult to see during the day. What you see is the third lighthouse on the same site. The original structure was the first lighthouse in Canada. It was built between 1730 and 1734 to guide ships to the fortress.