Monday, August 14, 2006
Adventures in Newfoundland: Great Expectations Day 1
I thought I had set the alarm clock. Mark asked me if I’d set the alarm clock as he got into bed the night before our trip. I am the most planned ahead person alive, and I set the alarm clock but forgot to turn it on. Good thing I’d set my cell phone alarm clock as a back-up. Not that I slept much after 5am anyway.
My good friend, Delia, showed up at the door at 6:45 sharp to drive us to the airport. Now that’s a generous heart – to give up valuable sleep during her vacation to save us from having to cab it! Now here we sit at a table in front of the Hogtown Bar & Grill – me eating a muffin and Mark eating a scandalously overpriced breakfast sandwich.
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Our first impression of St. John’s was that it was a bit like Thunder Bay – the airport is small and there are lots of pine trees. As we landed, we could see a vast green and rocky landscape with few houses.
Our cabbie was a true blue Newfie (I use that term in an endearing way – plus it’s shorter than writing Newfoundlander each time). He spoke a bit like a Scottsman I imagine. St. John’s really puts the DOWN in downtown. It’s a town made for mountain goats really. A bit like Quebec city in that the “old” part of town was separated from the newer part by a hill, however, the entire “old” part of town is built on a hill. And even when you’re walking sideways along the hill (parallel to the water), you’re STILL going up and down and up and down hills.
The houses are multicoloured, just like the pictures I’d seen. Anna’s House (our first B&B) is green. We’re up on the third floor (very, very high up considering the house is ancient and has very high ceilings), so it’s a lot of stairs to lug our suitcases up. The view from our window is breathtaking, even in this pouring rain. We can see “the narrows” and the steep hills on either side – Signal Hill is to the left with Cabot tower (which we’ll see more clearly once the fog clears). The weather is just a taste of what St. John’s can really do. There is a sign in a gift shop I’ll later see in Gros Morne, it says: Get the FOG out of town!
Anna’s House is owned by a nervous, somewhat cold woman named Olga, who seems very detached from actual Newfoundland culture or the city of St. John’s. She’s put plastic under the sheets of the bed so they crinkle every time we roll over and she’s warned us not to spill coffee on her carpets. There seems to be a general consensus amongst young Newfoundland locals and travelers that although Newfies are VERY friendly people, generally the customer service is poor. Mark and I mostly experienced very friendly service and so we really can’t complain.
We’re now an hour and a half ahead of Toronto time.
We succumbed to hunger in the late afternoon and ventured out into the sideways rain to look for grub. The wind promptly turned my umbrella inside out. Luckily, just one street down the hill from Anna’s House on Gower Street is Duckworth Street – a main street in downtown St. John’s. We found a place that was open – Chatter’s Café. I mention that it was open because, although it was a Wednesday, St. John’s makes the annual Regatta day (the first Wednesday of August) a holiday. This takes the place of the Civic Holiday weekend that we, in the rest of the country, celebrate on the first weekend in August.
We got some sandwiches, coffee and hot chocolate. It wouldn’t be until later that we’d realize we’d stumbled upon one of Newfoundland’s nicer and quainter cafés. Determined to get to know the true “gems” of St. John’s instead of eating at chains, we asked the guy at the café to recommend a good place for us to eat dinner – he suggested Oscar’s – a 24 hour restaurant.
We explored a bit on foot because the rain had let up a bit. On Cathedral Street is the most beautiful and majestic Anglican Basilica I think I’ve ever seen.
We rested and watched the Regatta on TV (ironic since it’s just a five minute walk away) in the afternoon, then walked to Oscar’s for dinner around 8:30 p.m. I had blackened scallops and Mark had cod and spinach & strawberry salad. It was delicious, but as we learned, seafood isn’t any cheaper in Newfoundland. Mark drank a beer from a local brewery – Quidi Vidi – it wasn’t good.