31 January, 2015

Snow and Sun, de l'anglais au Français

The 'historical' storm which closed down New York and Boston struck us when we were in Truro. We arrived in this town at the top of the Bay of Fundy in clear sunshine, but overnight the long anticipated storm arrived in the Canadian Atlantic Provinces and we woke up to a thick fresh snow cover, with '511' Road Reports saying that the Trans-Canada Highway we needed to use to get across New Brunswick were all closed except for ploughs and 'official vehicles'. We didn't think we'd qualify, so we had to cool our heels an extra day in Truro. The main reason for the closures, apparently, was the strong winds blowing the fresh snow and causing zero visibility.

The following day, snow was still falling, but the official reports showed the highways were open, if snow covered. The description was 'passable with caution', so after spending an hour getting the ice off our car windows, we set out. Temperature was -10C. The whole 350km was snow covered, with ploughs out working, although not hard enough we thought at times. The 100km stretch between Truro and Amhurst in Nova Scotia goes over a lowish mountain range and was the worst. Traffic was very light - we found it best to stay behind a steady driving semi-trailer about 100m back. The road is a divided highway, but all that was visible was two tyre tracks. Only a few intrepid drivers attempted passing manoevres around us in the untracked snow, luckily without incident.
Visibility improving now. We can actually see the tarmac ahead of us.

Entering New Brunswick, the terrain eases and conditions improved, including visibility. Generally, we could now see a full single line of tarmac. We stopped for petrol in Moncton, and then our road separated from the highway back to Saint John to head west towards Fredericton. This four-lane freeway was quieter than the Nullarbor Plain. We'd drive for long periods without seeing another vehicle. Most of this section was pine forest, very pretty with snow on the branches, with numerous signs warning of moose. Signs of civilisation were few and far between, and when we did see them, we commented that the landscape looked like an Antarctic research station, a few low buildings surrounded by and covered in deep snow. We popped in for a cuppa at a lone gas station at the turn-off to Chipman.
A lonely and desolate gas station provided us a cuppa.

Arriving in Fredericton, we ran into another really heavy snow storm. At least the wind was light. Big fluffy flakes! We have never seen a town covered in so much snow. From Truro, we had seen on TV that Fredericton had copped the brunt of the previous storm, and now it was getting a top-up. Ploughs abounded, but couldn't keep up and the roads remained well covered. We soon discovered that at intersections, you have to ease forward to see the oncoming traffic over the height of the uncleared snow on the kerbs. Luckily, the snow is so dry that cars seem to have pretty good traction. By nightfall, the snow had stopped falling.

The next day dawned bright and sunny. The sun shining on such deep piles of snow in a city just looked glorious. Downtown in search of espresso, we noticed that Fredericton, which is the capital of the Province of New Brunswick, was quite busy. This is noteworthy, because we haven't seen anywhere else looking busy so far in Canada, in fact, nowhere really since we left New York. Even Boston was quiet.
The Hotel de Ville in Fredericton shows off in now brilliant sunshine.

We undertook another 350km drive to get to the Gulf of St Lawrence, in brilliant sunshine, no wind, and still -10C. Talk about crisp! North of Fredericton, the snow was deep, but we suspect not quite as fresh. The recent storm must have tracked south and east of here, and the road maintenance authorities have thus been able to tidy up very well. This part of the Trans-Canada was immaculate. Not only is the freeway superb in design and construction, but it was perfectly clear of snow and dry. No effort to maintain the posted limit of 110km/hr.
When the sun is out, the ploughs can really do a good job making the Trans-Canada Highway as neat as a pin.

Of course, we then discussed why Australia, with a population about two thirds that of Canada and a country almost as big, can't have roads like this. The New Brunswick freeways traverse this large and rather empty state in both directions and look as if they have actually been planned instead of randomly and grudgingly thrown up in acts of political expediency and pork-barrelling.

We had noticed on the map a reference to the longest covered bridge in the world at Hartland. Whilst looking for it, our Jeep's rather canny control system announced that we were running out of windscreen washer fluid. In these conditions, we are constantly using the washers to clean slush and spray off both front and back screens, so we decided to respond. In Sydney, we only use water, but at -10 we thought that unadvisable, and a very helpul mechanic in Woodstock not only told us what to use, but poured the required methyl hydrate based liquid (so he said) in for us. We now know where the blue coloured ice on the car's bonnet had come from! The mechanic also told us where to find the bridge. We discovered that it's on a regular road that you can drive through/over.
The longest covered bridge in the word, in Hartland NB traversing the frozen Saint John River.
Spookly feeling and interesting construction driving through the Hartland bridge.

Another stop on the road to Quebec was at Grand-Falls where we assumed, correctly, there would be a significant waterfall. We found the falls right beside a complicated intersection and a traffic jam in the centre of town. The falls were quite spectacular in a deep gorge and were about 90% frozen, although you could see some flow through breaks in the ice.
The gorge and the frozen falls at Grand-Falls NB.

All along the freeways we traversed in New Brunswick, there were moose fences on either side. Every so often, there is a moose crossing zone which is no more or less than a kilometer or so where there is no fence. These areas are well marked with moose warning signs. Obviously, the authorities have studied moose psychology. The moose fence has numerous one-way gates which will allow moose in but not out - these are always in pairs, facing either direction, so a wayward moose walking along the fence will re-enter the protected zone without turning or realising he has been caught. We had hundreds of these to study as we went past, but we never saw a moose, although we saw plenty of tracks. In fact, apart from a few dead critters, we haven't seen any four-legged wildlife on this whole trip, except for a fox on Cape Cod and a deer in someone's front yard in St Stephen.
Snow covered cemeteries are a special sight, this one at Grand-Falls NB.

Possibly the most remarkable feature of the near 800km journey through New Brunswick from Nova Scotia to Quebec, half going west, half going north, is the slow but sure transition from English to French as the default language. There is certainly not a step change across any border, but you notice the pronounced incidence of French in both the written and spoken word well before arriving at the Quebec border. Also, interestingly, for most of the final 300km of this north-boundjourney, the road tracks beside the US border. The way Maine pokes deeply into Canada here is a mystery we must explore.

28 January, 2015

Tragedy and Giant Tides in Nova Scotia, and an epic storm...

Our final exploration of Nova Scotia was in the area named Bay of Fundy in the tourist info. Here we drive along the northern coast of the Province from St. Bernard, through Digby, where we spent a night, and then into Truro, where we had an enforced stay. The route followed more of the Evangeline Trail, then the Glooscap Trail.

According to another Mi'kmak legend, Glooscap was a giant vengeful god-man who created the Bay of Fundy's tides by smashing a beaver dam. Islands in the Bay are clods of mud Glooscap threw at the beavers.
Sunset in Digby Harbour, lobster boats at rest.
Dockside Suites overlooking Digby Harbour.

Digby proved to be a very picturesque fishing port where we were blessed by clear waether, and got great photos of lobster boats in the glare of a bright sunset. This town is missing all the chain hotels we are familiar with, and usually stay at for convenience, but Clare's research found the Dockside Suites as pretty well the only place open anyway. This establishment was a great success, with a very comfortable room overlooking the harbour facing east, our best view in Nova Scotia, a match for Halifax. The room was upstairs from the Fundy Restaurant and Night Club where we shared a large live lobster and had him steamed to perfection together with the Bay of Fundy's world-famous (large and delicious) scallops. The lobster, chosen by Mike, was probably not impressed.
This 3lb lobster about to die for our dining pleasure.
Swallows(?) swarming over Digby Harbour after sunset.

From Digby, it's a short drive to the other side of Long Island where we got our first view from the south of the Bay of Fundy. It was fine when we were there, but wild and extremely windy. Holiday houses there have spectacular views. They seem to be mostly empty. Maybe the residents have flown south to the Caribbean in response to the numerous ads we see on TV?
The light at Point Prim near Digby, with the 'automatic' foghorn. Some dispute over the original inventor.
Spectacular view over the Bay of Fundy and the entrance to Digby Harbour.
Driftwood catching rocky beach and isolated holiday house at Culloden.

We were tempted to spend an extra night in Digby, but bad weather was brewing. TV warned us of a 'historically bad winter storm' and we thought (correctly, as it turned out) that we might lose time further down the track. So we made for Truro.

Heading west, we discovered a prototype tide based power station. The Bay of Fundy has the world's largest tides, and it makes sense to try to expolit this fascinating geography. There is up to 17m between the levels of high and low tides, twice a day, and watching tidal bores is a major tourist attraction. According to traditional Mi'kmaq folklore, the huge tides are due to a whale splashing its tail.
Unfriendly viewing platform for the wash from Digby's tidal power station.

In search of espresso, Yelp directed us to Annapolis Royal, a very cute town about 25km from Digby. The appointed cafe was closed, but just two doors away we spotted someone going into an unheralded 'Sissiboo Coffee Roaster' cafe where we found a capable barista and some friendly patrons, who chatted with us about Australia and Nova Scotia.

Most people we talk to notice that we are 'not from around here' but few actually ask, out of politeness or shyness or straight out lack of curiousity, we don't know. In a gas station, one loiterer wondered if Mike from from Newfoundland, but the more alert attendant was on the ball and picked the accent correctly. Maybe she's been watching the tennis?

Near Wolfville, an Acadian university town, is the UNESCO listed Landscape of Grand Pré. Grand Pré (meaning 'great field') was the major site of Acadian settlement and also the sad port where the British forcibly deported 11,000 Acadians in the 1750-60's when they refused to swear allegiance to Great Britain. The memorial to the fictional but famous Evangeline is in Grand Pré.
Memorial to Evangeline in "Grand Pré" by Dr Wilson User Semhur on the french wikipedia, modified the original picture. - Own work.
The calm before the storm at Cogmagun River.

We then followed the Glooscap Trail (well, we did when we found it!) along the Bay of Fundy all the way to Truro. Inlets off this bar are like lunar landscapes which show the effects of huge tidal inflows and outflows.
Mud and ice mark the intertidal areas of the Bay of Fundy not far from Truro.

We arrived in Truro in fine weather, but overnight and the next day told a different story. The historical storm arrived, and from about 5am it snowed and blew heavily. This is the same storm which closed New York and Boston the day before. Stern warnings in Canada advised us to stay off the roads, especially outside the towns where strong winds blowing deep fresh snow have zeroed visibility. We decided not to defy these warnings, and as of this moment, we are still hunkered down in Truro. And the roads we need to travel are closed for 100's of km. New Brunswick has copped the worst of the storm, and that's where we've got to go. It is still snowing and blowing, but not so hard.
Fierce storm moving north-east from New York into Nova Scotia has trapped us in Truro.
Pretty quiet on Truro streets as people are warned to stay at home.
Snowploughs work hard to clear the main streets. Smaller ploughs work businesses, and back streets just wait.
Another Yelp discovery, the only cappucino in Truro, open despite the weather. The boss' pick-up out front, the sherrif warming up inside.
A lone skater braves foul conditions on a public rink in Truro Park.
View from our hotel room. At least the wind has blown the Jeep clean!

Acadian Shores of Nova Scotia

The next section of our Nova Scotian drive covered the stretch from Cape Sable Island (where we couldn't find the lighthouse in heavy rain) up to Saint Bernard. On our tourist map, this territory is referred to as Yarmouth and Acadian Shores. Icelander Leif Eriksen was believed to be the first European to visit here (~1000AD), but the French get most credit, first arriving in 1604, and establishing a settlement soon after. These Acadians, as their decendents are known, had fought with the British and the native Mi'kmaq, and now seem to form enclaves around this coast.
Acadian church near Pubnico NS.

We note some considerable tension between the French and the English in the people we speak to and elsewhere - this is no doubt genetic after numerous wars during the 17th and 18th Centuries. For much of this section, the only radio stations were in French, but most business signage is in English. Almost no-one opens conversations in French, so we suspect English has won out, while French is a culture preserved at home and legally. There were, however, several French 'ecoles' evident as we drove around.
The Acadian flag identifies much of the coast north & south of Yarmouth. Good to see the correct spelling of the Municipality of Clare!
Very picturesque grey sand beach at Cape St Mary.

As we headed north, the characteristic southern geography of numerous large coastal inlets we saw in the south gave way to a relatively linear coastline with small and beautiful features, and the tourist route, now called the Evangeline Trail more or less paralled the main route 101, but went through all the interesting towns. Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie is the sad heroine of another epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1847). In the poem, Evangeline was separated from her lover Gabriel by the British when they forcibly expelled the Acadians (many of whom went to Louisiana as Cajuns).
Our route along the Arcadian Shores was named after Evangeline.
Old wooden lobster pots seem to have been largely replaced on modern fishing boats.

The town of Yarmouth was apparently established (1759) by settlers from Sandwich in Massachusetts escaping the Seven Years War (which in North America proved to be prdeominantly a victory by England over France). It was our base for exploring this part of Nova Scotia. We stayed at a very ordinary motel, but found an interesting, rustic place to dine known as Rudders Seafood on the waterfront. The town claims to be the centre of "the world's largest lobster fishing ground" so we had ceasar salad with lobster, of course. The rain was so heavy, we didn't have the opportunity to enjoy the seafront vista of Rudders. The only espresso we could find in Yarmouth was quite close to Rudders, at the back of a pharmacy, and the barista did a good job translating our unusual language and requirements.
Colourful fishing boats and floats aboud in Nova Scotia, these near Yarmouth.
Old cottage on boggy ground on Cape Forchu near Yarmouth.

Luckily, the pattern of alternate good and bad days continued, and were soon able to travel out to the Yarmouth Light on the French named Cap-Fourchu (Forked Cape). Of all the lighthouses, this is one of the most spectacular. We think it is no longer in use, a sign says it has been "given to the community", the first such in all Canada. It and its surrounds are in excellent order and condition, so we think the community is doing a good job.
The Yamouth Light is buffeted by full force Atlantic surf.
The beautiful Yarmouth Light is set on a high bluff right at Cape Forchu. The cafe & museum is closed.

As we drove, from Metaghan on, the coastline enters the protection of the hugely long St. Mary's Bay.
Looking across St. Mary's Bay to Long Island from near St. Bernard.

27 January, 2015

Lobsters and Lighthouses...

One of scores of lighthouses (really, navigation beacons) lining the Nova Scotia south coast, this one at Medway Harbour.

The Nova Scotia tourism people divide the Province up into a number of regions and conveniently colour-code on maps and in brochures. We made good use of this systematic approach to plan our itinerary, stopping places and hotels. The Lonely Planet was also a great resource. There is also a tourist drive which rings the entire Province, shaded in yellow on the map, and signposted with tourism icons. This signposting was not quite foolproof, and let us down at some key intersections, but overall, it was very helpful and often reassured us that we were on the right track.
We followed the Lighthouse Route west from Halifax.
The rocky countryside around St Margarets Bay.

Leaving Halifax, we headed south-west into the tourism region referred to as South Shore. Mostly we were following Route 3, and the icon to guide us was this Lighthouse Route. This route twists in and around innumerable inlets and coves, some very large, while the main road, Route 103, takes a more direct path. We estimate that the Lighthouse Route is about 3 times as long as the 103, and it lets you see countless beautiful waterfront vistas, tiny harbours, frozen coves, rustic boathouses, cute lighthouses etc etc.
Some inlets off St Margarets Bay seem to accumulate a lot of ice, others are clear.

We followed the long road pretty faithfully, but did shortcut on 103 occasionally to save time when the weather looked like turning, or night was approaching. The weather seemed to alternate daily, one day was warm and raining and the next was cooler and clear, then back to rain. We didn't let the rain interfere with our progress, but it does discourage avid sightseeing, and produces dead lighting in our photos.
Live lobster is available at the Sou Wester Restaurant at Peggy's Cove.

The Lighthouse Route is a pretty poor road, especially when compared with the main roads and freeways. We expected it to be narrow and twisty, but it is also potholed and rough, and we wonder how the snowploughs handle such a surface. Maximum speeds permissable are typically 80km/hr, dropping to 50km/hr in the many towns along it.
Peggy's Cove, the most picturesque fishing village imaginable.
Retired School Bus at Churchover.
Fishing boats tied up in Gunning Cove.

Everywhere was beautiful and interesting, but the highlights were Peggys Cove (supposedly the most photographed lighthouse), Lunenburg (a UNESCO listed old-town with a stunning colourful waterfront vista), LaHave (a very spread out town divided by a long narrow inlet), Shelburne (the largest cluster of pre-1800 houses, and a claim to being the 'lobster capital' of the Atlantic) and Gunning Cove (cute picturesque harbours). Truth is, this entire coast is one huge fishery, with every inlet harbouring from a few to many dozen boats, and lobster pots and fishing floats draped around everywhere.
Lobster pots and floats awaiting duty at one of dozens of Nova Scotia fishing harbours.
The lighthouse at Peggy's Cove is reported to be the most photographed in Nova Scotia.
Garishly coloured shops adorn Lunenburg's UNESCO listed old downtown area.
Lunenburg's famed waterfront gleaming in the midday winter sun.
View into the sun from our lunch table at the Grand Banker in Lunenburg. We had lobster sandwiches.
Village of Shelburne has a large cluster of pre 1800 buildings.
The buildings of Shelburne have a more authentic feel than the newer but garish buildings in Lunenburg.
A grand Tudor-like building in Shelburne.

We spent 3 days touring the South Shore. One night we stayed at Liverpool, a pleasant town where many establishments seem have the name Privateer, a reference to the type of pirates who frequented these waters. We ate a restaurant in a pub called Lane's Privateer Inn. Every day or night we each consume a lobster dish of some sort. You can choose your own live lobster, or go downmarket and have a lobster roll or sandwich. We tried everything, and found them all delicious. The taste seems to be sweeter than it is in Australia (and certainly cheaper), maybe because it is fresher.
While shooting with our camera, a duck-hunter gave us the low down on the various breeds & where to find them.
Many properties have adirondack chairs ready for summer relaxation on Nova Scotia waterways.
Just another waterside outlook on Medway Harbour off the Atlantic Ocean.

An incredible number of churches line this route. We can't imagine how the population sustains so many, but of course, mariners are always at the mercy of nature and the sea, and faith is a common way of building hope and confidence in one's safety. Many churches and business carry large notices wishing lobster fishermen safe journeys. This is serious business here!
Nova Scotia seems to sustain many churches, this incredible line-up in Chester.
Ice sailor making good speed near Upper LaHave.

During this sector of our travels, we realised that the population here seems to lack the cultural diversity that seems to be more common in much of North America. We haven't seen any coloured people, any Asians, any Hispanics or any native descendents in all of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. We know they are here because of mentions of racial issues in the media, but their proportion in the predominantly white population is, by our observation, quite low.
Memorial to Swissair 111 which crashed in 1998 on this horizon in line with the slots in the granite.
Unusual hand-made instruments at the LaHave Bakery, a converted waterfront factory.
Lobster boats at Port Medway.