Friday, August 06, 2004

Belated Highlights, Notes, and Observations: Nova Scotia, July 28 - Aug 4 

It's not so much a triumphant return, I guess; most of today's blogworthy news only casts a pall on subjects long-since treated on these hallowed pages. Dhaka's still endagered under just-receding sewage. Rick James' death today only adds another layer of sickness to my sedentary latenight Dave Chappelle rerunwatching(, bitch!). And, for the first time in eighteen years, I really need a haircut.

And it's late, too -- a blogger's prodigal slinkback at best. I've been in since Wednesday midnight, on the tail end of a long traffic-heavy drive from a Portland sushi supper, both us and our food fresh off the boat and a bit wobbly; since then I've been fulltiming it as daddy to the wonderful/terrible two-year, two straight days of tempura paints, library story hours, and Playdoh fish-and-peas suppers while mommy ties delphinium corsages as a flowershop's special-events stand-in. It's been absolutely worth it; Willow's never been as affectionate, bright, and comfortable as she is right now, fresh out of the bath behind me, tugging on my sleeve with a book in her hand.

Anyway, I'm back.

Got some neat stuff to share, too -- an entire Canadian province's worth of kitsch and considerations, from cheesy chips to canadian cultural curiousities. Folks who eat dessert first are invited to scroll down, skimming for links along the way, right about now. For the eat-and-run types, the trips "highly recommended" shortlist includes oddflavored Humpty Dumpty chips, Glenora Cape Breton singlemalt whiskey, Cape Breton stepdance and jig combo Beolach, punk Stomp-esque drum corps Squid, and the saga of cow/Elmo genesplice Elmoo at icecreamery-and-t-shirtery Cows. Also Lunenburg, incidentally -- we'll get to that shortly.

But first, the travelogue.

See, in the last eight days I've driven over 1400 miles, from Nova Scota's tip to tail and back again -- something approaching 2500 kilometers by local reckoning. And boy, are my wheels tired.

Seriously, NS was wonderful. Many miles were tedious: it's a long desolate way through much of the province; our bonus backseat two-year old is an on-the-spot wandering like her dad, prone to crankiness after more than a few miles without jellybeans or milkbottles. And most parts of Nova Scotia only get one radio station.

But we did get to sleep away a large portion of the otherwise-journey on cheesy, gambling-heavy cruise ship Scotia Prince, saving us more in driving, though the halfpint cruiser left us seasick both ways.

And some of the miles were beautiful and scenic. Between Yarmouth and Halifax alone, on our way to meet up with my parents at the ritzy Prince George Hotel high above a city waterfront district that would draw me like a willowisp in the foggy night later, after everyone had gone to sleep, for a gourmet supper, swim, and sleep on our first day as foreigners -- in those 400 kilometers alone, we had found serene 17th century smalltown charm in seaside Shelburne, come upon the only lighthouse post office in Canada quite by accident, and laughed at dozens of town names and signposts (could Port Mouton's official motto really be "Sheep Overboard"? Is Liverpool's pride in being the first British loyalist town a bit too sad for commentary, given the subsequent American Revolution? Is it really worth mentioning that your county is the midpoint between the equator and the North Pole -- wasn't there anything more worthy?)

My brain is a calliope of picture postcard touristbooks: rocky Irish-esque heather-coated hills and stunted pine, tiny boatbuilder towns with more board than boardwalk, long pristine stretches of rocky shoreline cliffs and boated beaches.

And sometimes the radio was good, too. Nova Scotia's heavily Acadian, so the fiddle-and-folk ran to our tastes. I'll take CBC over shockjock talk radio anyday, left, right, or center. And oooh, the way Canadians gag over their ous is sexy -- aboot rocks my world.

For the record, we were on the parental time-and-dime for the bulk of the trip -- fancy-hoteled at Halifax Wednesday night coming in, and, after a separate-car drive for much of Thursday afternoon, cabin-stayed at a gorgeous rural country inn called the Normaway in Margaree Valley (up Cape Breton way, past the lake and causeway and halfway to Cheticamp) for the next four nights, as follows:

Thursday night:

Arrival, after a four hour drive up half the province. Supper at a local nothing-special: mashed potatoes and a lobster burger (aptly described by the harried waitress as, "just lobster salad in a burger bun"), though the real rhubarb pie was sweet and crusty. Jacuzzi (in cabin!), followed by second-row live performance of awesome proportions given by pipe-and-fiddle combo Beolach in the apparently world-famous Normaway barn.


Breakfast at the inn, where I discovered both oatcakes and a wonderful local custom of pouring heavy cream on a sweet boiled rhubarb mash. A trip to Glenora Distillery, the only single-malt whiskeymaker in North America (take that, USA!), for a tour and tasting; the gorgeous trout-heavy shaded streamlet running through the grounds turns out to be the pure source for the product. After, a pub lunch in Ingonish and a hot sunny hour in the surprisingly warm gulfstream-fed waters of a widemouth and impossible-to-find beach called Chimney Corners. Supper in the inn, though I had to leave my Highland t-bone unfinished to take Willow back to the cabin at one point because she wouldn't stop pulling greasily on the drapes.


A quiet day at the Normaway, just the three of us, watching the horses stampede past the pasture-sheep, a lone donkey lagging behind, while Mom&Dad drove the Cape Breton coastline. Lunch over a dirt road and a single-car-width riverspan bridge at a local gas-and-grub, the only business in nearby Margaree Flats (save a church with a full parking lot). It was here that I discovered the highly recommended popcult wonder that is Humpty Dumpty flavored potato chips, which deserve their own linebreak:

HD makes standard stuff as well, of course, which in Canada seems to include Ketchup chipflavors, and I'm all for it. The one-pump Irving had small bags of Dill Pickle and Grilled Cheese and Ketchup -- I got a bag of each to save, and ate a bag of the Grilled Cheese and Ketchup, which weren't half bad, latenight in the cabin with some white grape juice. Later, I picked up some Fries and Gravy, and a bag of Roasted Chicken as well. The gold Spiderman cover designs on some bags were a nice bonus for the kitschcult enthusiast; I'll be reviewing -- and eating -- the chips inside in the weeks ahead. My only complaint so far is that I couldn't find the chicken and gravy or buffalo wing flavors in smaller bags.

Supper Saturday at the biggest table in the inn dining room, right in the center, just the two of us and the tyke in the highchair -- my parents didn't make it back after all, but at least we saw them afterwards.


Horseback riding in the a.m., through the mountains with Darcie and a guide while Mom and Dad watched the kid torture the hotel kittens and throw crocquet balls back at the hotel. Baddeck in the afternoon, a bit of a summer-home tourist trap on the shores of Cape Breton's wide inner lake with the whole crew: lobster club sandwiches and an early departure with kid and seasickness-prone spouse while Mom and Dad stayed to boat around the waters. Local marinated and smoked salmon plate at a seaside restaurant and then a joyous moment down by the waves as dusk fell and the surf crashed before heading, wearily, back to the cabin.

And Monday and beyond? Well, bright and early the 'rents went off towards Prince Edward Island, giving us two days to get back towards the ferry. On our own, funds were more limited; we managed a couple of motelstops back from there. Let's just say the vacation's peak had come and gone. Pretty much, it just felt like three driving days of getting home from thereon in, with two major exceptions: a nice pierwalk with Darcie and Willow in the early evening, and Lunenberg the next morning.

Halifax had been a nice but foreign place in the fog of six nights before, solo and late enough for the pubs to be where most people were -- I'm not really a go-to-the-pub-alone kind of guy late at night. But here in the earlier evening, still light and lighthearted, the street vendors still out from the Natal Day celebrations and Tall Ship passage just that afternoon (yes, they are really tall, okay?), the place was aglow with a job well done, a storm weathered.

Willow was totally in here element, flitting down the boardwalk towards other people's legs cute as can be, her arms outstretched, her legs still diaper-wobbly; we bought her a blinking butterfly to capture her wonder, passed beertents on each block, each with their own wonderful and dancable music pouring forth into the open air, and smiled a lot at strangers.

Near the end of the Halifax pier we had a twofer -- first, a just smashing bonk-on-stools punk streetband called Squid, an awardwinning and apparently slumming bunch of young folks stolen from pipe and drum corps to make a tight hot touristshow better than most; Willow danced with some other tinygirl on the cobblestones and probably brought another fifty bucks to the band with her spastic rhythm and untamed glee.

Second...well, what can you say about an ice cream place where your waffle cone is still warm and fresh from the iron, the strawberries are fresh, there's a full-sized plastic cow outside for the kid to sit on in glee, and the giftstand sells cow-modified shirts like these:

(Unfortunately, the Elmoo shirt I most loved -- brought to you, of course, by the letters COWS -- is neither avaiable on the Cows website, as promised by the apologetic store manager while we were there, nor available in adult sizes at all. Think I'll call the company and complain, as nicely as possible -- the least they could do was iron an Elmoo print on an adult-sized tee for me, eh?)

Our last realday lunchstop in Lunenburg turned into an afternoon, as the Tall Ships had followed us from their Natal-day visit to Halifax, and we found the town charming, even with crowds a wonderful gem, with gorgeous multicolored architecture seen from the back of a horse-driven carriage ride (Darcie's hidden pleasure when traveling, and who am I to begrudge what makes my darling grin?). Lunenburg has the most beautiful old public school building ever, too; you MUST check out the Lunenburg Academy website to truly appreciate its splendor.

If you're ever in Nova Scotia, have a good night out in Halifax, but spend your days in steep-hilled Lunenburg. I recommend the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic highly, too; plan on an hour and a half for the museum itself, from doryboat-building to rumsmuggling, and an extra half hour for the two ships tours included in your admission ticket.

And the rest of the trip? That night in a motel late and up early; the Scotia Prince again all day while Darcie slept groggily and unmoving in the daycabin; a day or two I've mentioned. Home. It's good to be here. Now let's get on with it, shall we?

Oh, and thanks OODLES to my parents, without which this wouldn't have been great, or even possible. Love you guys.

p.s. Pix possible anon. Camera troubles in our final days, unfortunately; surely, more later on THAT topic, eh?

p.p.s. Big fat darkchocolate bonus points for YOU if you read this far.

p.p.p.s I even wrote a poem again, late at night after a long long drought. Will post anon on this, too.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:52 PM |

Hi Blogger
I never realised that so many blogs would show up if I did a search on something like how to cook salmon. I'm still not sure how well this post falls into that category, but I've enjoyed visiting :0) Adios Amigo.
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