Friday, July 28, 2006

A Vacation on the Fundy Coast

For the first time since the Fall of 2001 my wife and I took an extended holiday that was not focussed on chasing Bob Dylan in different places around the world. We're just getting past the 1st Step of Recovery...admitting we had a problem. 2006 will mark the first year in 5 where the number of times we've seen Dylan is in the single-digits. Lowest total # of Dylan shows in the same 5 years.
And I will probably see another band more often that Dylan. It's like the new millenium is just beginning, I'm feeling good about the progress.

Of course this trip wasn't music free, that would be like going cold turkey. The weekend starts in Ottawa with a day at the Bluesfest. The holiday gets underway when we're on the road to Riviere Du Loup in northern Quebec, a waystation between Ontario and the Fundy Coast of New Brunswick.
If you look on a map of this area of Canada you'll see it's pretty well half-way between nowhere and no place. If you're looking to bed down for the night, it'd best be here or it won't be THIS night. With that kind of logic firmly in place we choose to stop at the first familiar name we see...a Days Inn for the bargain price of around $150 Cdn. Hmmmmmm. Paid that much for TWO nights in our nations capital and there were other things to do there. But I've passed the 'last outpost' before (that's Albany NY on the I90 East) and I didn't feel like driving another few hours. Besides the room has a lovely view of a red-night sky over the majestic St. Lawrence River. I'll take photo's in the morning.

We wake up to a blanket of fog covering the whole Gaspe peninsula down to Kingston ON. I could just as well take a close-up picture of the white walls of our hotel than capture the haze over the St. Lawrence. Oh well, we're not weather-dependent today as we're just covering some miles to Moncton where we'll meet a friend for dinner.

On the road we pass a couple sites of moderate interest, stopping for a rest at Grand Falls, the waterfall with the highest volume in NB, for what it's worth. A quick lunch at the County Line Restaurant and we're off to find, and drive through, the Heartland Covered Bridge. Longest covered bridge in the world. They can say that, I didn't measure the other ones.

The change in time zone prevented us from being too early but we did pull into town in time to go check out one of the biggest scams going...the Magnetic Hill of Moncton. OK, it doesn't cost anything, so maybe scam is a little harsh. It's a slight misdirection though as there is no magnet in the hill that pulls your car. I mean think about it. That would be dangerous. What if you had a plate in your head and had to tie your shoe? What if you had piercings in sensitive places? The irony is it attracts people to the general vicinity where there's a waterpark, a small railroad and other family-type happenings. Oh, and there's a little hill where you put your car in reverse and it 'climbs', we didn't find that part.
Cool looking entrance though.

With our minimalist schedule of site-seeing for the area well out of the way we make contact with our friend Beth. We met her through the Dylanpool back in the days when goodwill led to good times.(ie. early-2003) One of the gifts that place will always keep on giving long after it's imminent demise. Nothing fancy, dinner at St Hubert's (a chicken house), drinks and lolli's at the room, then we head over to Beth's to meet 'n greet with her parents. And imbibe some more. Until the late hours of the night, instead of the early hours of the morn, 'cause it is a school day after all.

The morning drive south to St. George affords us a few much more remarkable sites along the way. The first stop is at the world-famous Hopewell Rocks The Bay of Fundy is all about the tides...highest in the world, constantly in motion. They've done there work in this cozy little alcove, years of pressure carving out the Flowerpot rocks that are as instantly recognizable as Niagara Falls. At least to those who enjoy natural beauties that don't charge per hour to view them online.

If you're here at the right time, 3 hours on either side of low-tide, you can actually walk on the ocean floor that is covered by meters of water during high-tide. As fate would have it, we were there at exactly that moment. It's a slippery walk down the steel steps, covered with sea-slime of some sort. Cece sought to suck out of the sojourn but I steadfastly demurred. No 'she selling sea shells by the seashore' needed here. I digress. I did convince Cece to carefully navigate the steps so we could look for remnants of Atlantis and hum Donovan tunes while walking the beach. Getting back up the steps is not as much fun.

The area has a couple of well-placed lookouts where you can spy the ocean and the tides moving one way or the other but the Flowerpot rocks are the money shot.

And don't miss the Hopewell Floats at the cafeteria, for the more spiritualist, than naturalist, amongst you.

From here we venture further south, in search of covered bridges (we started making this a subtheme during a recent NE U.S. trip) and lighthouses, which can be found on either side of the continent and the Great Lakes. But you can go a long way before you find a lighthouse like the one at Cape Enrage. The most photographed lighthouse in the world! (Does no one ever question the veracity of these tourist trap claims? I mean this is not measurable.

They had a terrific little cafe onsite where you could have a light lunch or dessert. We opted for the dessert, a wonderful local specialty, similar to poor-man's pudding, it consists of a light biscuit smothered in local blueberries (the best in the world!) and covered with ice cream or whipped cream. To die for. More on the repurcussions later.

Cape Enrage has been awarded the "Best View in Canada" by the travel guru's, Frommers. It's nice alright, but I haven't been to the Mounties yet and it seems they may not have been either. Best view in NB I could buy.

Our trek to St George has us meandering through the wonderful Fundy National Park, climbing the Appalachians to a height of 366 metres above sea level before we begin following the meandering St John River towards the shore. While stopped for lunch a couple who were driving the Fundy Coast trail in the opposite direction suggested we get off the main road and take a 'river route'. It added a little time to the travel but also provided a more diverse scenic drive.

We back out of seeing the 'reversing falls' in St John, not being sure of the tide schedule and having already been bitten by the 'magnetic hill' gambit. It's basically the tide retreating over rocks, creating an upstream rapids, from what we can gather out of the tourist pamphlets. Instead we stop by a local farm for some blueberries...'cause they don't get any better than those that grow here.

We pull into Gorgeous St George (is that a monkey joke on the part of the town) in time to wander their streets, tramp through their cemetery to get a bit of the history of the town and settle down for dinner and drinks. Most of the long driving is behind us for a couple days as this well-located town, a half hour from the main tourist region at this tip of New Brunswick, offers us some moderately priced shelter from the crowds. The town doesn't have much but we did find The Chicken Coop, a local hang-out for the hot-rod driving kids and a menu to suit all tastes. The younger kids in town, the skaters, hung out by the Ice Cream Parlour where they compared rolling skills, both on the board and off.

Wednesday morning rolls around and we're up for breakfast, another local delicacy, eggs, homefries and toast with fried bologna instead of sausage, bacon or ham. My mom, recently deceased, came from these parts. Driving the province and reading the signposts has reminded my of her start in life all week. That biscuit in the blueberry pudding and this piece of fried bologna triggering the most vivid memories, funny as that may seem.

We head straight into the two main tourist towns, first St Andrew, where our whale watching tour will depart later today, then down to St Stephen, the Chocolate Town. That's a recently adopted nickname as they've converted the old Ganong Chocolate Factory into a museum.
Frommers voted this the "Best Indoor" attraction in New Brunswick, so we're knockin' em off the list fast. Interesting story of the growth and success of a small family business. They are the last repository of the art of making bon bons in Canada. And I didn't even know it was an art until a few minutes ago.

The piece de resistance was an almost lifesize chocolate sculpture of Acadian folk-heroine, Evangeline. Now technically Acadia was in Nova Scotia but this whole geographic region shares in the diaspora occasioned by the desire of the English to populate a colony with Scots until the indigineous people are in a minority. It wasn't going well, so they switched to the deportation plan. Evangeline or her persona) was immortalized by the American poet Longfellow, who'd never visited Nova Scotia but grew up in nearby Portland ME. And the Band did a nice tune as well. Of mild interest as my mother's family are Acadians. Mixed with Scots. Her mother's maiden name was Ferguson. Which means we're also mixed with Irish as the chief of the Ferguson Clan was an Irishmen who was purported to have brought the Stone of Destiny to Scotland. What goes around comes around I guess, which is how I ended up marrying a McNamara.

Back on the street I realize that all that local food, especially the blueberries, may have been too much for my 'citified' digestive system as I find myself doing the Acadian Two-Step all the way back to the tourist center where I locate an empty cubicle not a moment to soon. The thing about the Maritimes is if the rolling seas don't get you at one end, the fresh fruit will get you at the other. Everybody purges sometime.

I have just one quick question for the tourist people, we're looking for something called the "kissing bridges". Don't know if they're covered but we saw them advertised on a restaurant place mat and don't need more reason than that. I'm second in line. This shouldn't take long. Until the chick in front of me starts planning her Maritime vacation with the only available clerk. Do they not have the Internet where you come from lady? I'd have been less perturbed if the conversation didn't start with: "We want to be in Campbleton by nightfall, what can we see along the way?" Short answer: A gas station and a McDonalds. You're nine hours away from your destination so you don't have to worry about the tide schedule. It'll be where it is when you get there. This helpful information did not dissuade her from reading through 5 or 6 pamplets. Fortunately for us another clerk has just returned from lunch. Unfortunately, she has no idea about any 'kissing bridges'. Should have picked up the placemat.

Time to see some whales. Or, as it turns out, time to see some whale. The dock where we leave to find our way out into the Bay of Fundy is about 40 feet down another grimy metal staircase as we head out at lowtide. It'll be up about 15 feet by the time we return in a few hours. Now I've mentioned the tide but until you see the churning water as nature plays with itself, you might not comprehend the power of this natural phenomena. Most tidal regions see about a meter or two of water rising on the their beaches. Because of something called the Minas Basin the tides in the Bay of Fundy vary by about 12 to 16 meters. When it comes in, the beach is gone. The end result is not as interesting as the constant churning of the waters, whirpools form all around you, parts of the open Bay appear to be rapids, the water is moving so quickly.

We are blessed with fairly calm waters and very warm temperatures today, both a rarity. Unfortunately we're about 6 weeks too early for the peak whale migration season. We do happen upon one finback whale that was feeding in the area. He came up on four different occasions before our captain decided we'd best see some other wildlife. I tried my best to capture the mammal on film, while keeping one eye open to actually see it in the ocean. The 2.54 seconds I do have him on camera will have to do. We move around the Bay, seeing Harbour Seals (one white pup, a rarity at this time of year), fish farms and all sorts of birds. The most majestic site was a bald-eagle perched proudly, high above us all, at the top of his massive nest. That, and the constantly churning water.

Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Next day finds us trying out the ferry routes to Campobello Island. First stop is Deer Island, a free trip, it's part of the NB provincial highway system, technically, without the road. This ferry runs once an hour and takes about 24 vehicles. Which is the first time it occured to me you might not always have room. With an hour between trips if you're car #25 it wouldn't certainly suck big time.

People live on Deer Island, and deers to I believe, but there ain't much else. We drive the one road to the other end just in time to get on an even smaller ferry to Campobello Island. This one costs. $17, each way. If you live on this island you don't want to go into town for milk.

FDR probably didn't worry much about the cost of milk. At least not in the 1920's when he was spending his summers on the island. He worried a little more about it in the '30's. And this was the purpose of our visit, to see the FDR summer home. He was the last great American President. Nice digs. One slight surprise...but not really. There were designer matchbooks FDR had made up to hand out. Seems a little vain. But the rich are not like us. He contracted polio while vactioning here, so it's not all roses.

The island also afforded us a chance to snap a photo of another lighthouse. We could have crossed more slimy, metal staircases if the tide had been just a little lower. Oh, well, no big loss, it looked like a dicey climb down, then back up, in any case.

Our ferry back to Deer Island was not too crowded but after a rally race across the islet to the docks (i took an alternate route in order to make up time and end up in front of the family camper that got off the Campobello ferry ahead of us, blocking our way on the one-lane road). Which we did. Only to end up the third car from the front when the ferry was filled. At least this is the 1/2 wait, a little more tolerable. Didn't seem to bother much of the vacationers or locals in line who just took the time to get acquainted with each other.

Last day has us making our way to Bangor ME. An unwanted border crossing but we just couldn't stand coming all the way out here and not dropping in to see Stephen King's hometown. It's the least I can do for Cece, who's a big fan. So as I approach the border I'm thinkin' to myself...should I say we're staying one night in Bangor, or two? Why would they care? How could they check? Matters not 'cause now I've got some retro '80's tune going through my head and I inform the Customs Guard we are on our way to Bangkok...ummmm, never mind.

If you ever come here just go to Betts Bookstore. They'll point the way to King's house and even give you a map of all the area locales that appear in different King books. Mostly to do with the movie IT, which was filmed nearby. We did all the requisite dorky stuff...saw the Standpipe, the bird bath, the canal, the field from one movie and the airport where Langoliers was filmed. OH, and Stephen King's house.

We were befriended outside by an elderly neighbour who was happy to chat us up with all the "King history" he could muster. A pleasant stop in a sleepy, but very upscale, town.

Our trip back home had us crossing into Canada at the smallest border crossing I've ever seen. We actually ran over a gas-station bell hose to let them know we were there.

And that wraps it up for this week.

Off to see the Raconteurs in Ann Arbor and Cleveland with a sidetrip to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame!

Back at you next week.


Anonymous said...

Great trip report, Marcel. Sounds like a lot of fun. I'd like to see more of photos with either you or Cece - or both - in them.
That part about visiting Beth sounded like fun. I think I will do the same this coming Thursday!
Shame I couldn't make the St. Hubert outing - but that's life I guess.
Keep blogging and I will keep reading.

ryan the duke said...

very nice to read about your little visit to the lovely east.. in a few years, you'll get to see the real east coast.

JJ said...

cheers for the read Marcel.