Hello again everyone and welcome to the 36th and, I promise you, last post in this series. I do dislike using the term “last post” because of it’s sombre military connotations but, as I woke this particular morning for the first time in nearly six weeks in a bed that wasn’t on wheels, I was feeling a little sombre.
If for some reason you wish to read the previous 35 posts and find out exactly what I had been up to on this trip to the Maritime Provinces of Canada with my dear friend Lynne then you can do so here.
If you are all caught up, or even if you are not, and wish to know what happens next then please read on.
30th July, 2014.
Waking up in a bedroom which was easily twice the size of my entire living quarters for the previous 38 nights was something of a shock although I tend to wake up fairly instantly and with none of this early morning befuddlement some people unfortunately experience. Early morning befuddlement is not a good option when people want to kill you!
I knew immediately that I was in bed in the guest room of Lynne’s wonderful Father Ron’s home in Kentville, a tiny place just outside New Minas in Nova Scotia. Ron was a man I got on remarkably well with due to some shared experiences and a number of similar interests which was one pre-trip slight concern dealt with.
Even in my mid-50’s there had been a certain trepidation about meeting the Father of a female friend for the first time, it is probably ingrained in me from my teenage years and I suspect most men of my age and upbringing are probably the same. I also knew that the next bed I slept in would hopefully be my own in London, several thousand miles away, which was one reason for my less than bouncy demeanour. I was heading “home” wherever that may be for me, I really don’t know any more.
An equally sobering thought was that our wonderful friend and home for those five and a half weeks, the wonderful Betsy, had probably gone to the great highway in the sky if the noise that had emanated from under her bonnet the previous evening and the prognosis of the recovery mechanic were anything to go by. That saddened me much more than I ever thought it could have done and it saddens me to this day almost seven years later.
I have quite unapologetically included another image of Betsy, which I have previously used, above because I still love looking at her even though she is long since baked bean cans or whatever. Be honest, look at that image in that place and under the circumstances I was so happily experiencing and tell me you wouldn’t have swapped places.
My flight home wasn’t until about midnight and it is only an hour or so drive to the airport so we basically had the day to kill which we did by sitting round drinking coffee and filling Ron in on the full story of our great trip. Neither of us had felt much like talking the previous evening.
I also took a couple of images purely for the purposes of illustrating tips for Virtual Tourist, the sadly-demised website Lynne and I were both contributing to at the time. By 2014 I was travelling with half an eye on what I was going to write about my experiences later, a habit I learned from that site which I had continued up until circumstances forced me to stop travelling. I am not entirely sure if I will ever have an opportunity to put those ideas back into practice again.
You can see a couple of $20 CAD notes, an image taken to illustrate the old and new styles of currency and also a small representative selection of the huge amount of tourist literature we had amassed from visits to various Visitor Information Centres, every single one of which was superb. To return to a concept I toyed with at the start of the series, here is another….
If the reader is ever fortunate enough to visit the Maritime Provinces they should make maximum use of the VIC’s. Not only are they packed with informative literature, often for places not exactly local and in some cases even in a different Province, but the depth of local knowledge is amazing.
In Lunenburg they arranged an auto-electrician for us to fix a problem with Betsy and even made the appointment for us. In another VIC the ladies produced tools we didn’t have in our limited kit and “abandoned their post” (it was very quiet) to help us fix another minor problem ourselves. We were given suggested routes, restaurant tips, everything of value and I cannot advise their use strongly enough, they really added so much to our trip.
I know that with the decline of more traditional industries like fishing, coal and gypsum mining, shipbuilding etc., tourism is becoming much more important to NS, NB and PEI and they really do try to make it as easy for the visitor as possible. My only slight worry about the whole concept is that we must have been responsible for the loss of about an acre of rainforest with the amount of paper in the form of brochures we had gathered up in Betsy by the end of the trip!
The day wore on, Ron fed us like a King and Queen, he is an excellent cook as I mentioned so many posts ago. I think I am right in saying that at one stage he ran a food truck for a when when he left the Army but I may be wrong although it doesn’t matter, the man knows his way round a kitchen. Any man that can make me like chips (fries) with gravy on them (aka poutine in Canada) must be a Hell of a cook as I just believe that gravy on chips is a crime against cooking. I still do unless it is proper poutine!
All too soon it was time for Lynne to take me to Halifax airport in her Dad’s car and I bade a rather emotional farewell to Ron although with us both being ex-soldiers I was doing my best “stiff upper lip” routine and we shook hands in a firm, manly fashion.
The trip back to the airport was a carbon copy of the inbound six weeks before with the weather being foul as the images show. I have a feeling we might even have played the same music we had played on the way in i.e. my late friend Nick’s band. Having visited the “other” Yarmouth on our journey, a quick chorus or two of “Yarmouth Town” would have been entirely appropriate.
We had no problems on the way and arrived very early which gave me a chance for a couple of what I call “generic” images as above, this time a Tim Horton’s coffeeshop, a Sobey’s supermarket (we had shopped a lot in Sobey’s, they are ubiquitous in the Maritimes) and a Dooly’s poolhall / bar. Actually we had time to do more than take an image of Dooly’s and managed a quick beer in there, just for old time’s sake as it were. Who knew when I might be in a Dooly’s again?
I checked in at the airport and we still had plenty of time so it was back to the Maritime Ale House where I had enjoyed my first beer in Canada what seemed like an age ago in one sense and like a heartbeat in another.
We had the place more or less to ourselves and I treated Lynne to one last Virgin Ceasar and myself to a final Canadian pint (another red) before it was time for an even more emotional farewell. I even managed to take an image of a Canadian postbox, as you can see. Last chance to get a Canadian stamp on your postcard, it was quite moving thinking about that although I don’t do postcards!
This version of Fergy’s adieu did include a big hug which I wouldn’t have dared to attempt with Ron as I was a bit sad at that point but not suicidal! I told you Ron was a very hard man, even years after stepping off. I walked briskly off towards security / departures and had to steel myself not to look back. Never look back.
I was fairly certain I would have no problems with the formalities for a number of reasons. Firstly, the place was virtually deserted so there were not going to be large queues, I believe mine was the last flight of the day. Secondly, I had checked baggage so I knew the Immigration mob who had given me so much unecessary hassle on the way in were not going to hold me up.
Having worked airside in both Jamaican international airports post 9/11 I know that unaccompanied checked baggage is a big no-no. Off-loading a ‘plane to get one bag off, because it’s “owner” has gone AWOL is a time-consuming and expensive affair leading to all sorts of knock-on problems like fines for missed slots at the arrival airport etc. Had I missed the flight due to being interrogated (again) by Immigration, questions would have been asked and not of me. Anyway, why would they care, I was leaving? Not their problem.
Sure enough I breezed through everything and was seated, in the air and with a fairly average airline meal in front of me by half past midnight. The rest of the journey home was so uneventful that I did not take a single image and opened my front door to the usual doorstop of junk mail, bills which had already been paid online and begging letters from various charities. They could all wait for the bin the next day and I went straight to bed.
My first proper trip to North America was over, consigned to the memory bank like all my other trips near and far, I had loved it and would happily have jumped on a flight back the next day.
At this point in normal times I would have constructed another post here to give my overall impressions of a trip of this duration and provide some hopefully useful internet links and so on but these are not normal times, a minuscule fraction of the population of the planet have seen to that.
In fairness, after seven years it would be pointless treating this series of posts as a travel resource as things change so quickly in normal circumstances and even moreso now that the world is in such turmoil.
I have tried to ensure that all the links to places I visited are current and most of them contain regularly updated status reports regarding the virus and how it is affecting them. This will be your best bet for up to date information if you are ever in a position to visit this wonderful region and I do recommend it as highly as I can. I do know that as of May 2021 there is a major problem in NS regarding the pandemic so do check.
As an alternative to this former writing approach á la Virtual Tourist I propose to give a few general impressions of the Maritimes which you can read written far more eloquently on so many other sites online, but also to give you my very personal opinions which you can only get here as I don’t write for other sites any more. I am not sure how much of a blessing that may be and I have nobody else to blame if it all goes wrong!
I shall also be inserting apparently random images into the post to break up what is undoubtedly going to be a very lengthy slab of text as I already have so many ideas I wish to record here. Hopefully these will serve to reinforce why I enjoyed this trip so much. Here’s one for you.
I would think that if you have read any of my previous posts or even the first part of this one that I loved the Maritimes hugely. As I have said so many times in this series, and I do not say it to appear boastful as I do appreciate how unbelievably lucky I have been, I have travelled to many parts of the globe. I have had many incredible runs but, even with the hidsight of seven years “cooling off period” as I write this, my 2014 Canada trip was one of the very best I ever had, so why?
There are a number of reasons and it all really begins and ends with Lynne. I am aware that there is still a certain scepticism about “online relationships” and I know there have been all too many horror stories over the years. I think it is perhaps not as strongly negative as it once was as people adapt to new circumstances and technologies but it is still there, especially amongst people (dare I say it?) of my generation and generations before me but even that is changing. I had met Lynne online.
Yes, I warned you this is going to be a very long post so you might want to either get comfy or skip to another one of the numerous concisely written and eminently readable travel blogs available online.
Lynne knows I write this blog and she reads it, we are still in touch and still friends even after living in different tiny campervans / RV’s, including a couple of even longer trips than this which is something of a miracle. It is certainly a rigorous testing ground for a friendship. Prior to escaping the over-zealous clutches of the Canadian immigration authorities at Halifax airport where she had sat patiently waiting for me for hours, we had never even met.
I had taken a chance on crossing the Atlantic, as so many before me had done in far more challenging circumstances, to meet someone who might not even be there. She might have got cold feet or the whole thing might have been a scam by someone who enjoyed playing very odd mind-games but you cannot live your life like that. I had taken far crazier chances in my life and lived to tell the tale so I wasn’t overly concerned.
The very worst case scenario was that Lynne didn’t show, which was a undeniably a possibility. I would simply have changed my flight and spent a week or two round Halifax (I don’t drive and public transport is virtually non-existent in the Maritimes), gone home and chalked it up to experience.
Obviously, as the last 35 posts show, that didn’t happen, Lynne went “above and beyond” in waiting for me at the airport whilst Canadian immigration did their farcical number on me. Lynne is ex-Forces, as you know if you have read the previous posts, and is good at the old military concept of “hurry up and wait”. She waited.
I am not going to make this like a Mills and Boon novel but when we hugged at the arrivals gate in Halifax airport I knew it was going to be OK and so it proved to be.
I am not being unkind to Lynne when I say she is considerably younger than me although not a “young maiden” but neither of us were exactly in the “first flush of youth” at that point. I was 54 and you can guess to your heart’s content, dear reader, as to how old Lynne is, or was then. I know it does sound like the M&B (that is meant to be Mills and Boon but in my head it is a Midlands brewery!) that I am studiously avoiding but I just knew it would work. Events proved me right.
You really could not ask for a better travelling companion than Lynne and we have subsequentally proved that as we have travelled in the UK and Europe several times since and nothing has changed. We have explored Northern Ireland, Scotland and England and had a couple of weeks in Portugal together at a VT meet and I can honestly say we have never had a cross word.
I could go on for paragraphs now extolling her virtues as a travel mate but I shall rein myself in else this post becomes even more ludicrously long than it already is. Lynne is a constant in the narrative but what else?
You cannot speak of the Maritimes without mentioning the scenery, description of which basically defies my vocabulary. I know many readers will find this remarkable as I talk / write far too much and love using obscure words but I simply do not have the superlatives to describe what I saw in my six weeks there.
I found the entire region very reminiscent of the outlying areas of the European continent i.e. the island of Ireland, Scotland and even parts of North Wales. On a subsequent trip to the UK Lynne and I were driving through the Highlands of Scotland and she said to me, completely non apropos of any previous conversation, “This place is so like Nova Scotia”. That comment was not lost on me. For my readers who do not have English as a first language and / or do not understand Latin, Nova Scotia is Latin for New Scotland.
Because Lynne was an “Army brat” she moved every couple of years depending on her Father’s postings but much of her childhood was spent in the Maritimes. She knows it well and her utterance about the Highlands was entirely in synch with my own thinking. I have included a couple of images here to show what I mean.
I think that of the three Provinces we visited (OK, MB was a very brief stopover) that PEI was the most conventionally scenic. Remember that I was brought up on places like the UNESCO WHS Giant’s Causeway coast so it takes a bit to impress me, a situation only compounded by my travelling, but the Maritimes did indeed impress me hugely.
Food always plays a huge part in my travels and the Maritimes must be one of the luckiest places on Earth to eat, albeit I have the appetite of a wren. I love cooking (especially in Betsy and her successor) as I hope my previous posts have conveyed and you just cannot go wrong here, the locally produced / caught / foraged food is of the highest quality, they really are blessed with an abundance of good natural ingredients here.
Similarly, the local chefs, with access to this very fine produce offer some of the finest food, specifically seafood, you will eat anywhere in the world. I suspect the reason there are not more Michelin stars (in itself a flawed concept) in the Maritimes is that the chefs here do not do “fancy”, they just knock out brilliant food and worry not a damn for reviews from a French tyre manufacturer!
I have explored this subect before so I won’t labour it too much further. People have died (suicide) for this undoubtedly coveted accolade, a self-perpetuating myth if ever there was one, and an institution that should be held in contempt by all right thinking people. No man’s life should be forfeit to the whim of someone working for an international rubber manufacturer masquerading as the ultimate arbiter of food over our planet.
Oh dear, this post has become a little lengthier, and somewhat more potentially controversial than even I had expected and I know how verbose I am! My intention was to write a few paragraphs about the trip by way of a neat closure to the series and look what has happened.
I console myself with the knowledge that on the internet, where I am still very much a babe in the woods, that there must be even more rambling pieces but I just haven’t found them yet.
Another one of my all to common travel mantras is that any place, be it hotel, restaurant, hostel, museum attraction or even country or region is only as good as the people there and I firmly believe this.
They say you only get one chance to make a good first impression and I have to say that my first impression of Canada in general and the Maritimes in particular was considerably less than favourable, as you will have read. Their Immigration officials would be the pride of any totalitarian regime anywhere in the world.
When I walked into the arrivals lounge at YHZ I was a considerably less than happy old boar due to the Immigration nonsense but within five minutes I was in the Maritime Ale House with the lady there very patiently and pleasantly explaining the beer options to me and chatting away. I found this heartening and a little unusual as airport catering staff, except in the Business Class section with regular travellers, must work on the principle that they are probably never going to see you again and act accordingly.
Initially I had put this down to something I had read about North American servers who rely on tips to make up generally pretty “minimum wage” pay and there may be an element of truth to this. I could spend another 20 paragraphs here discussing the relative tipping expectations round the world but you’ll be glad to know I won’t. There is plenty online about it.
A few miles down the road we were in Wolfville in a pretty basic student bar and it was the same sketch, a super-friendly server although we had indicated we were only in for a quick one so the tip expectation would have been limited. Without re-hashing the previous 35 posts, after a few days in the Maritimes I had got used to it and I have to say that on two subsequent trips to Western Canada, the pattern is repeated so it is not specific to the East coast. Canadians are just extremely friendly and helpful people.
I have considered this phenomenon for many years now and have come up with all sorts of ideas, most of which are undoubtedly wrong, but the best I can do is think that it is some sort of a genetic inheritance. The first European settlers to what is now Canada faced extremely tough conditions and you basically had to get on with people to survive. You needed your neighbours and they needed you.
Subsequent influxes of immigrants were moving ever further West and the same principle applied. It was pioneering in the proper sense and you just had to get on with people. Don’t forget that places like Alberta and Saskatcewan were only “developed” a little over a century ago with the coming of the railways. I can only imagine that this spirit of helpfulness and friendliness is somehow now ingrained in the DNA of modern Canadians who are now part of a very modern, technologically advanced nation.
As I said, all the above is probably total nonsense as I am no academic but I can find no other rational explanation for the small random acts of kindness we experienced on an almost daily basis. I say small and they probably were to those performing them but to me (Lynne is probably used to it, being Canadian herself) they were as welcome as they were surprising.
I do hope that some of you reading this will eventually have the opportunity to visit this magical region if the current nonsense ever abates, which I do not believe it will do for years now, probably not in my lifetime or at least in my travelling lifetime. If you do then please come back and tell me if I am right or wrong. I think I know what the answer will be.
Well, that about does it I think, the end (eventually, I hear you say) of this post and this series about my first proper trip to North America. It has taken me almost two months of very long days, on one ridiculous occasion stretching to a 34 hour session (insomnia is no fun, believe me), but I do not offer this as a complaint. Having been under effective house arrest for over a year and insomniac I really needed something to help me hang onto the last vestiges of my sanity and this proved to be the perfect vehicle.
I would just like to take this opportunity to thank everone who has taken the time to read some or all of these posts and comment upon them, it really does make it all worthwhile but the chances are that anyone reading this is a blogger themselves so they will know that. I have had immense fun doing this and I am now planning my next series which will undoubtedly be just as long and rambling.
I am not being coy and “teasing” as I like to do at the end of a post but I genuinely do not know what is going to be next. I learned the value of “teasing” many years ago whilst working an overnight ferry, which they called a cruise ship, in the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland where I was playing with a group of Irish dancers and a brilliant fiddle player called Lynne Butler. In the early evening we would go round the various bars on the ship and do one number / dance to entice people to come and see the full show later. It worked.
“Teasing” in this instance consisted in previous posts of providing a short glimpse of what was to come later but in my case here that does not hold true as I genuinely have no idea what the next project will be.
I know I shall do another of my lock-down diary entries next because all sorts of exciting things have been happening to me like venturing onto a bus for the first time in over a year and even escaping the bounds (just) of the E1 postal district. Wow, how thrilling.
After that I need to find another project where I still have the images (the appalling tiny laptop I am using is not compatible with my external drive where they are stored!) and hopefully my original notes. If you want to find out what might happen next then stay tuned and spread the word.