Newfoundland: East coast

This is the second part of my August trip to Newfoundland. First part is here.

We flew on Monday in a tiny propeller plane from Deer Lake to St. John’s to avoid the long driving slog across the island. We rented a car at the airport and drove to Harbour Grace, a former second city that has hollowed out due to job loss. Harbour Grace is also where my maternal grandmother was born. We stayed two nights at the super comfortable Rose Manor Inn. We hung out there a little more than I normally would on a trip because there is not a lot to do in this area. Fortunately, they have adirondack chairs looking out over the harbor and these were a peaceful two days.

We walked around and explored the Conception Bay Museum and the Harbour Grace visitors’ center. These are staffed by polite, charming, but very bored teenagers who obtained summer work grants from the government. There was a sort of palpable sense of “OMG why would anyone want to look at this old stuff?!” It was equally interesting to talk to them and hear what their plans were. We had a couple of beers at the almost deserted bar of the Hotel Harbour Grace, where there were just us and a few locals playing the video slot machines. We ate dinner both nights at the Rose Manor Inn because there literally were not any other restaurants open in the area. Fortunately the Inn’s dinners are fancy and delicious.

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Statue of Amelia Earhart in Harbour Grace, where she began one of her transatlantic flights
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The Conception Bay Museum features this figure of pirate captain Peter Easton, who had a pirate fort in Harbour Grace in the early 1600s.
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Shipbuilding. Lots of model ships about too.
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Harbour Grace harbor
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The now decommissioned Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

On Tuesday, we drove to Harbour Main. We visited Sts. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic church and looked at the house where my maternal grandfather was born. (We didn’t knock, so I don’t know who’s living there now.) Finally, we drove up a dirt lane and into someone’s back yard to visit the old “Irish” cemetery where my great-great-great-grandfather Vincent Costigan from Co. Tipperary is buried. We had lunch afterwards at Crooked Phil’s in Carbonear which served the platonic ideal of a ham sandwich and curried chicken soup.

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Sts. Peter & Pauls. The vaulted ceilings reminded me so much of boats’ keels.
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Costigan house where my grandfather was born.
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Harbour Main harbor, view from in front of the Costigan house
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“Old Irish” cemetery; Vincent Costigan’s stone is the tall gray one on the left
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Wider view of the cemetery

On Wednesday, we went back to St. John’s and visited The Rooms. There was a very moving exhibit focusing on the 100th anniversary of the Beaumont-Hamel offensive in the Battle of the Somme, where the Newfoundland Regiment had an 85% casualty rate. I am not a military history person but this exhibit was amazing. They even had an area devoted to the keepsake photos that soldiers took before they left, including the original camera from the main photo studio. I have one of those photos from my family history files. The Rooms has an online exhibit about Newfoundland and WWI.

Ignatius Furey (left) died at Gallipoli; Bernard Cleary (right) died at Beaumont-Hamel
Ignatius Furey (left) died at Gallipoli; Bernard Cleary (right) died at Beaumont-Hamel

The whole museum was great. There was an exhibit about the influence of Irish culture and I learned that Waterford crystal was founded with money made in Newfoundland and was extremely popular in Newfoundland. I had never realized that my mother’s and grandmother’s fierce brand loyalty to Waterford crystal had any connection to their Newfoundland roots. We had a great lunch (crab cakes and salad) in the museum cafe, which has amazing views of the harbor.

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Inuit ivory cribbage board, made for tourist trade
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St. Johns harbor

After The Rooms, we returned the rental car and checked into the Quality Hotel in St. John’s, which was conveniently located downtown. We rested a bit and then embarked on perhaps the most expensive activity of the entire vacation: dinner at super fancy Raymond’s, one of the top ten restaurants in all of Canada. I had the charcuterie platter (shared), the fresh pasta, and the salmon. Also wine and some kind of lemony dessert. It was festive and fantastic. We had drinks beforehand at the The Fifth Ticket where there was a cheerful but inexperienced bartender. Nevertheless, my Blow Me Down Blueberry Mojito was delicious.

On Thursday I visited the offices of the Family History Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, where I confirmed that there are no sources I am overlooking and other people are reaching my same conclusions, so I’m not wildly offtrack in my family history research. After that I went to the small Fluvarium, which is basically a wall of windows built into the side of a river so you can watch the wild fish. I have never seen such enthusiastic aquarists as the Fluvarium staff. We had dinner with a friend of my brother’s at Chinched Bistro, more charcuterie and pasta, absolutely delicious.

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Fluvarium

On Friday we ended up walking around downtown because the weather cancelled our whale watching plan. We wandered along the harbor and did some souvenir shopping. We had fish and chips at the Duke of Duckworth pub. We had tea in the crypt of the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. We visited the Peter Lewis art gallery which had some terrific abstract pieces by Susan Doyle. In the evening I met up with a potential 4th cousin at Bernard Stanley Gastropub, which serves an excellent cheeseburger.

Duke of Duckworth
Duke of Duckworth

And then vacation was over and I had to return to Brooklyn and the new school year which has prevented me writing this up until now. I loved this trip. The people are friendly, the vibe is very laid-back, the air and water and streets are clean. There are local problems with unemployment and the government seems to be cutting services like libraries and schools. So I can’t really say it’s actually paradise. It seemed obvious that many people make most of their money in the tourist season and survive off that the rest of the year. But a lot of places in New England are like that too. There was not much diversity outside of St. John’s. The high prices were offset by a favorable exchange rate for the US dollar, but that exchange rate could change and has in the past. Most of all, the Canadian government has prioritized tourist services which makes it easy, for the most part, to travel around and see things: there are logical schedules and good signage. I would love to go back and see more of the province and also spend more time in St. John’s.

Here is a google map of the trip:

Newfoundland: West coast

In August I spent ten days vacationing in Newfoundland. It was a wonderful trip and I would have stayed longer if I could have. I traveled with my brother, so it was also a great chance to hang out with him since we don’t live near each other. I’m sharing photos and impressions here, broken into two parts. Today’s post is about the west coast of Newfoundland, an area rich with UNESCO World Heritage sites.

I couldn’t find a direct flight from NYC so I had a layover in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I met up with my brother at the Deer Lake Motel in Deer Lake, Newfoundland. Deer Lake Airport is the closest airport to Gros Morne National Park, and the town of Deer Lake is mostly an airport service town. The motel is nothing fancy, but it’s clean and the staff are very helpful. It has a restaurant which is just OK but very busy as it’s the only restaurant around there. There’s a tiny hotel lounge where I had a deliciously clear and refreshing Iceberg beer, brewed in Newfoundland with iceberg water. Beer aficionados seem to find it too light-tasting but I loved it for exactly that reason.

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The next day was Friday. We drove to Gros Morne National Park for a boat tour of Western Brook Pond. Western Brook Pond is 19-mile-long freshwater fjord created by glacial retreat. We hiked about a mile to the boat dock through striking boglands and windblasted woods.

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The boat ride on the pond was all about the stunning cliffs and fog. The fog was so dramatic at one point that it reminded me of the curses rolling into town on the fairy tale TV show Once Upon A Time. I said so and a woman sitting in front of us said, “I was just thinking that!”

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After the tour, we ate burgers at the boat dock and then hiked back to the rental car. I was in no shape even for the relatively easy hike so I was kind of wobbly afterwards, but also exhilarated from the natural beauty and the bracing air. Also maybe endorphins.

We drove north up the coast to Port aux Choix, where I had a delicious cod dinner at the sprightly Anchor Cafe and spent the night at the clean and affordable Sea Echo Motel.

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Port aux Choix
Anchor Cafe
Anchor Cafe

Saturday was hard rain, the worst weather of our trip. This was unfortunate as it was also our big Viking day, but the original Vikings didn’t let a little rain stop them, right? We drove further north to L’Anse aux Meadows, the UNESCO World Heritage site where Vikings established a settlement in North America. It was raining too hard for me to take my iphone out but here is a photo from Wikimedia.

Photo of L'Anse aux Meadows on a sunny day in 2010. Photo: Remains of Norse settlement building, 2010 (building A) by Clinton Pierce is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
L’Anse aux Meadows on a sunny day in 2010. Photo: Remains of Norse settlement building, 2010 (building A) by Clinton Pierce is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Here is a gorgeous video ad from Newfoundland’s tourism bureau:

The exposed, windswept coastal site is beautiful in itself. The archaelogical remains are mostly just pits in the ground where the various longhouses were. I was impressed by the park interpreter who led the guided tour, shouting over the wind about the various archaelogical discoveries, the rain plastering her hair to her head. She also showed us how the varying colors of the stunted pines indicated the trees were secreting a substance to insulate themselves from the cold. It was freezing cold, even in August. At one point there was a little hail. We were glad to get to the reconstructed longhouse where there were costumed interpreters to talk to us about Viking beliefs and customs and, more importantly, to invite us to sit around the warm fire.

We went back to the Valhalla Lodge B&B (in Gunners Cove, Saint Lunaire-Griquet) to dry off and change, and then we went back to L’Anse aux Meadows for an amazing dinner at The Norseman restaurant. I had mussels and maple salmon, and watched black-backed gulls out the window with the provided binoculars. After dinner, we went back to the B&B and played cribbage. We were a little surprised when an elderly man came in and introduced himself as a neighbor. He hung out and chatted with us for awhile. He told us that he wished he had moved away from Newfoundland when he was young so he could have had a happier life. We never did figure out whether he was just a lonely neighbor who saw the lights and came in for the company or whether he was checking for the proprietors that the guests weren’t wrecking the joint. (There was no actual host on the premises; it was all self-check-in. The same people own the Norseman and the Valhalla; both are terrific.)

View from The Norseman; table by the window.
View from The Norseman; table by the window.
View from the porch of the Valhalla B&B
View from the porch of the Valhalla B&B

Sunday was a very long day but at least it started with delicious pancakes at the B&B. (A cook came up from the restaurant.) We left as early as possible and headed back in the bright sunshine for the long drive to Deer Lake to fly to the east coast on Monday. We saw moose by the side of the road. We stopped to stretch our legs in Flowers Cove to see the thrombolites, which look like rocks but are actually rare fossils of ancient bacterial colonies.
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We went back to the Anchor Cafe for mooseburgers. (Good but need relish.) We had been making good time so we decided to deviate slightly from our planned route and drive further south into Gros Morne park to see the Tablelands, because they are another UNESCO world heritage site. This turned into something of a race against time as the park closes at sunset and we didn’t really know the way. The Tablelands are a place where the earth’s mantle was forced up to the surface during a tectonic plate collision. The resulting soil is high in minerals and low in nutrients, actually somewhat toxic, creating a kind of desert-like environment in wet, green Newfoundland. We got there in time for a quick walk on the shortest trail, and I’m glad we did because it was worth it to see the barren landscape amidst all the lush park scenery.

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On Monday we flew to St. John’s on the east coast. I wish we had been able to spend more time on the west coast because there was so much more to see. I would love to spend more time in beautiful Gros Morne itself. Port aux Choix has an archaelogical site that we didn’t get to see. I would have gone to St. Anthony. I might even have taken the ferry to Labrador. There were lots of RVs on the road and there was an RV rental place near the airport, so maybe that would be a plan for another time. I would absolutely visit again.

A weekend away

I spent a weekend in the Berkshires enjoying the scenery and visiting with family. A literary highlight was a tour of Edith Wharton’s restored home in Lenox, Massachusetts. The furniture is all reproductions based on contemporary photographs, which means the house is more touchable and less fussy than most historic house tours.

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House viewed from the garden
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dining room
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library

The library does have many of Wharton’s original books, and it’s possible to schedule a private tour focused on the books and their inscriptions and notes. Something for my “someday when I have money to burn” list.

In neighboring Pittsfield, we visited Hancock Shaker Village, which has an amazing cafe. (Say yes to the berry pie.) We saw a demonstration of Shaker music and dance that was the most informative presentation on Shakers that I have ever seen. With gentle humor, the presenter wrangled two dozen tourists into gendered lines and led us through a couple of dances and songs. She showed us how the room and the floor were “tuned” to amplify the stomping, clapping, and group singing. She really showed how musical practices reflect cultural/religious beliefs. They have shared a short demonstration video of professional museum staff singing and dancing. Our terrific presenter was the woman with the glasses, but I didn’t write down her name and so have forgotten it.