Good day to you dear reader, whether you be here for the first time or are one of regular band of readers / correspondents who for some inexplicable reason keep reading my ramblings about my ramblings.
The particular rambling in this post concerns a ramble (enough rambling – Ed.) I had in the Maritime States of Canada in 2014 with my dear friend Lynne in a 33-year-old campervan / RV that we had rather whimsically named Betsy. If you wish to read the whole story from the beginning, which I find useful in most things, then you may do so here.
If you are all caught up you will know that on the evening of the 1st of July we had driven up from Lunenburg to the Nova Scotian capital of Halifax and then proceeded to drive straight through it without stopping, which seems an odd thing to do. The reason was that we were staying just across the Sound in Dartmouth at the very pleasant Shubie Campground which we were going to use as a base for a couple of days so if you want to see what happened next then please read on.
2nd July, 2014.
What happened during this day was fairly much nothing which sounds fairly boring but laundry doesn’t do itself, you know! Seriously, we had a late rise and an “admin” day as it is known in the Forces.
It is no hardship to spend a day in Shubie doing very little as it is a very pleasant site set in a park on the shores of Lake Charles, a smaller feeder body of water which is one of a series with water rising on the higher ground away to the North. These are all linked by the Shubenacadie Canal before eventually emptying into Bedford Basin just downstream. There are pleasant walks and activities on the lake although it was still way too cold for me to try any of that watersports nonsense.
A further consideration was that we didn’t want to tire ourselves out (Lynne is considerably younger than me but even so we are no Spring chickens!) as we had a big, big night coming up because Lynne had scored us the hottest tickets in town for that evening.
We left the site about 1700 and walked out onto the road to the bus stop. It is hard to imagine at the site that you are effectively in a suburb of Halifax as it is so beautifully tranquil and “rural” but the Metro Transit system is right on your doorstep. The only slight problem is that the buses finish pretty early but we were still in good time and were soon enough at the rather smart Bridge Terminal Bus Station where we started walking. Why walking, we were not even in Halifax yet?
Until 1955 the only way to avoid a very lengthy detour round the Bedford Basin was the Ferry and Lynne had told me it was a really fun thing to do. It is and it was the first delight of my big night out. Here is what I wrote bout it at the time.
Catch the Ferry.
Whilst there is much to like about Dartmouth I would suggest that most travellers who come here are intending to visit the Nova Scotian capital of Halifax, just across the Bedford Basin. If you don’t drive and / or want to avoid the hassle of finding parking in central Halifax or indeed just fancy having a drink with your dinner then there are a few ways you can do this.
There are regular buses over the large Angus MacDonald bridge or else you can take one of the two ferry services which both terminate at the Metro Terminal in Halifax. One departs from Woodside and one from Dartmouth and it is the latter I intend to write about here.
If the traveller gets the Dartmouth Ferry they are not only allowing themselves a fun experience with unrivalled views of the Halifax seafront, they are also becoming a part of history. This ferry route has been running since 1752 making it the second oldest saltwater ferry in the world (after the Mersey ferry in Liverpool, UK) and you are also traversing the second largest harbour on the planet apparently. All this in 12 – 15 minutes on a very well-regulated and tidy craft with a friendly and efficient crew.
You can buy a ticket at the terminal (again spotless and comfortable) although the trick is that if you are coming from elsewhere in Dartmouth you can ask the bus driver for a transfer which is good for the ferry which I thought was good value. Indeed, your transfer is valid for a certain period of time so you can even get a further bus on the Halifax side. The same applies to the return journey.
I should mention that the terminals on both sides are extremely well patrolled by security and a great deal more pleasant than some I have been in round the world.
A little insiders tip for you here. If you are at all interested in warships go on the upstairs deck and sit on the starboard side (i.e. the right looking towards the front) going this directionas the naval dockyard is just upstream and it really depends on what vessels are in port but you might get a few decent photos. The same applies for the bridge, upstairs and starboard is the place to be, obviously port if you are going Halifax – Dartmouth.
This is an inexpensive and very enjoyable thing to do, not to mention being extremely practical. Sounds like a good deal to me, you should try it.
I made a short video of the crossing, which you can see here.
There we were, safely deposited in Halifax so, as this is the first time I had actually set foot there (driving through doesn’t count), let me tell you about it. Again I shall use my contemporaneous notes as they are so much more reliable than my aging old brain!
What an excellent city.
Halifax is spotlessly clean and tidy with a vibrant downtown area including a completely re-vamped waterfront and the whole centre is buzzing with restaurants, bars and shops. Although I am far too old for such things, a look at the local listings publications would suggest that there is a fairly lively nightlife scene as well.
Set on the Bedford Basin, the city is not even properly a city at all. In 1996 the Government lumped it in with a number of other communities to form the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) although people still generally refer to it as Halifax.
Despite being considerably less than three centuries old, it certainly packs a lot of history into that time. From early wars involving the British, French Acadians and the indigenous Mi’qmak people, through the War of 1812 with what is now the USA and into the 20th century when this was the landing place for the victims of the Titanic disaster in 1912. Indeed, the largest grave of Titanic victims is here.
A mere five years later in 1917 about half the town was blown to pieces when a munitions ship exploded in the harbour killing over 2,000 and injuring about 9,000 more and yet Halifax continued and flourished to the point that it now boasts over 300,000 souls making it the largest city in Atlantic Canada and also the Provincial capital.
Highlights for the traveller would probably include a walk along the waterfront, and the old architecture of downtown, visits to the Citadel (the old Fort on the Hill) and excellent Museum of the Atlantic, perhaps a wander round the fascinating Old Burying Ground and a look round the magnificent Provincial House if Parliament is not in session. A trip on the ferry across to the lovely town of Dartmouth is also well-worth doing.
Whatever the traveller does decide to do I can guarantee that they will be met by a friendly Haligonian (as people from here are called) welcome which is so typical of all the Maritime Provinces.
It really is a great place to visit.”
As I said then, and still maintain, it certainly is a great place to visit and I promise we shall get round to all the attractions mentioned but for now we had a night on the tiles planned.
Before a couple of recent illnesses I had an only slightly tongue in cheek sayng that I had never knowingly played a gig sober which is fairly true but it is doubly true when attending events where I don’t have to worry about performing. I had already “pre-loaded” a bit in the van as we always had a good supply of Strongbow cider, the preferred tipple of us both, in the “hold” of the good ship Betsy i.e. the wardrobe! Time to top up I feel.
As I mentioned in my Halifax introduction above the place is awash with excllent eating and drinking establishments and as Lynne had not been there for years she was not up to speed on the current hot-spots. It was therefore just a matter of trusting the Fergy “beer nose”, which rarely fails, and this pointed me, like a bloodhound on a scent, to the Midtown Tavern. This had the advantage of being right across the road from where we were going. Here’s what I wrote about it.
Apparently older than it looks.
It was early evening and the place was pretty full, as the image shows with most people apparently dining, which seems to be a feature of Nova Scotian bars, they are all geared up for food as well as drink. This was not a problem as we were only looking for a drink and so we parked ourselves on a couple of stools at the bar.
We were served promptly despite it being busy and with the usual pleasantness that I have come to associate with Nova Scotians. There was a good selection of both domestic and imported beers with an emphasis on the products of Keith’s Brewery which is hardly surprising as it is about ten minutes easy walk down the road. I plumped for my usual Keith’s Red which was obviously well-kept and served (just the right amount of head, spotlessly clean glass etc.).
I believe I remarked to Lynne that our mutual friend EasyMalc, who does enjoy a good pint of beer, would have loved it. (Note. I know that Malc, who is a much better travel blogger than me, reads this so, “Hi, mate” and please do check out his blog on the attached link).
Having scuffed off the first part of the pint (old Northern Ireland expression), I took to looking round the place which was very clean and tidy and with a great atmosphere, it was buzzing.
My eyes lit upon a sign claiming that the place had been going since 1949, and this may well be true, but it was not in this building which looked no more than about 20 years old tops. Have a look at the images and decide for yourself.
This apparent anachronism does not, however, detract in the slightest from a pub larger than I would normally choose but which offered excellent service and drink in very pleasant surroundings. That’s all I need.”
The nose hadn’t let me down and the Midtown was lovely but, purely in the interests of research for our respective travel writings you understand, I let it guide us to another place and it chose Cheers. Here is my report, slightly abridged so as not to bore you with a repetition of why we were there.
Another excellent pub.
We planted ourselves at the bar and the server asked if we were dining. By the look of it, food features quite heavily here and it looked good from the dishes I saw presented but we didn’t have time and I opted for a pint of the Keith’s Red which is what they call an Irish red ale. It was well-kept and served and Lynne’s Caesar cocktail was also pronounced excellent.
The server was typical of the type in Nova Scotia, chatty and very sociable. Obviously, hearing my very noticeable accent, there were questions as to where I was from, was it my first time in Canada, was I enjoying my visit and so on. I really did find bar and restaurant staff in Canada to be excellent and something that servers in London (few of them Londoners) could learn from.
Regrettably, a very quick couple were all we had time for as showtime was approaching and so we bade a slightly regretful farewell to this place. This is a great bar and I recommend it.
OK, folks, it’s showtime and we walked the short distance to the Metro Centre, a multi-purpose facility which houses the local ice hockey team and Nova Scotian Sports Hall of fame as well as hosting all sorts of concerts and exhibitions and it is time to stop teasing you and tell you what we were here to see. I t was (drum roll please)……..
The best show in (any) town.
I know the title of this piece may make the reader raise an eyebrow so please let me explain. I live in London and have been lucky enough to have seen some wonderful West End shows which I thoroughly enjoyed but what I am going to describe to you here just blows them out of the water.
My friend Lynne, who I was travelling with, had suggested we go to this event as it was on when were in Halifax and she got us tickets online. We had gone to the Metro Centre early, collected the tickets, went for a couple of drinks and then returned to the stadium for the Royal Nova Scotia Military Tattoo.
I have never been lucky enough to have seen the Edinburgh Military tattoo which, I suppose, is the benchmark for all these things. With Edinburgh, they have the natural backdrop of the magnificent castle, lone piper on the battlements etc. so I really wasn’t expecting much in the way of ambience in an indoor arena. Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Lynne had told me that during her military service she had been “local crew” for this event and it was worth really seeing. OK, let’s see.
What happened over the next three hours or so was complete magic. Forget the setting, this was pure unadulterated gold, I mean this.
I laughed out loud at some of the antics of the fat German policemen doing their tumbling routine and I cried at some of the more poignant parts as this was the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, commemorated specifically because so many Canadians lost their lives in that charnel house. I have to say that I wasn’t the only adult male with tears running down his face, it was that powerful a performance.
I don’t mean to put you off going here, it is not that you will leave feeling very sad, you won’t. You’ll feel very glad you’re alive and, hopefully, think about who bought you that.
As for the show itself, well it really is magnificent. We had massed bands (both standard military and pipe), we had young female Sottish dancers and young Irish dancers (at one point even dancing together), we had people riding unicycles that were so high they would have given me a nosebleed had I tried to mount them, we had absolutely everything. We were treated to an Italian drum corps and even a naval “gun run” which was hotly contested as they always are. We were never going to be bored.
Sure, I know that the organisers don’t have to pay MU (Musicians Union) rates and so on but this really is such a well-produced show it is unbelievable.
The concept of Canadian servicemen wearing full #1 dress and playing some rock tracks in an electric band is worth the admission alone. If that isn’t then watching them trying to march off, with a massed band and a guitar or a bass instead of a rifle on their shoulder, certainly is.
Canadians are extremely patriotic, which I find very heartening. Apparently now in my country being patriotic is associated with some sort of fascism, which is completely wrong.
At one point in the tattoo, there were three crosses projected from the roof and three fully kitted RCMP officers (Mounties) stood over them. They represented three relatively recently murdered RCMP officers and their names were read out as the massed band played. If that didn’t move you then I am sorry for you as you have no soul.
Now I am not suggesting at all that you go to the Tattoo to feel down, it is not like that at all. There are so many comedy acts there that you will wet yourself laughing. I loved the bicycling Dutch kids, they were great, but there is a whole lot more.
Towards the end, the very slick dinner jacketed MC made a bit of a speech and he asked anyone who had served their country to stand up and for everyone else to applaud them which I thought was a nice touch. Naturally I sat tight as I am not even Canadian, until Lynne nudged me and told me to stand up, saying something along the lines of, “He said their country, not this country”.
Having just watched this whole performance commemorating brave people dying in wars and in the course of their duty etc. I felt like a bit of a fraud. It was very humbling but at least I felt in good company as there were literally hundreds of people standing and the ovation was unbelievable. I suppose it is natural that a military tattoo would attract people who were or had been in uniform themselves.
Afterwards, if you hang around for a while, some of the “performers”, if that is the correct word for service people, Mounties etc., will happily pose as you can see above. This was one of the best VT flag images I ever took and I know how long it would have taken to make those boots gleam like that! Nice one, Corp.
Whilst they pay due respect, it is not at all a morbid night, it is really the best show you are ever likely to see and if you are in Halifax in early July do whatever is necessary to get a ticket. Trust me, you won’t regret it. you seriously cannot miss this.
You would think that would have been enough excitement for the evening but not a bit of it. There was still time for a return visit to Cheers which properly styles itself as “Cheers Live Country Bar” for a quick pint before we caught the last ferry although I think I managed two. I have no idea who the troubadour was (that is musician speak for one man / woman and his / her guitar) but I do remember he was fairly good and as one who has played that game myself I hoped he was getting well paid.
As the 2nd of July slipped into the 3rd we were sitting on the ferry before making our way back to the site where you would think that really would be the end of it but no. We were obviously having a good time and as I have mentioned often elsewhere we are both insomniac. As I also mentioned above, Betsy’s “hold” was overflowing with H.P. Bulmer’s finest and so the party continued.
I do not remember this particular soirée (one of many we had) specifically but I know that at about 0200 Chef Fergy was back in the galley preparing one of those meals that always seem like such a good idea at that time of night with a bellyful of beer and which you can see above. This plate of food would rightly give any self-respecting dietician apoplexy! Big on carbs and fairly low on everything else, including kudos for the cook, is what we used to call “beer soakers” in the Forces and it did the trick.
What hour we finally retired to our cabin (to continue the already strained nautical analogy) is now lost in the mists of time, Keith’s Red and Strongbow but it really didn’t matter as we had another night booked and nothing specific to do the next day. I love the RV life. If you want to find out what we did or didn’t do then stay tuned and spread the word.