Canadian Maritimes

    This was my 60th birthday trip — a long, road trip to an area that we have never been. We soon discovered that the distances were truly long and somewhat arduous, although we certainly enjoyed the trip anyway.
    We began with one of the longest drives of all, from home to St John, New Brunswick, a distance of 425 miles. We arrived in time to check in and explore the pedestrian-only Market Square area, right next to the harbor — very cute! Then we strolled the downtown, very hilly and attractive, especially near the waterfront. At the top of the hill is a lovely park (King Square) which displays many sculptures and flowers. There were even hanging flowers on some of the streets. We returned to Market Square for dinner and lingered for a concert that we saw advertised earlier. Then it was back to the hotel since we were only staying for one night because our next stop was Sydney, Nova Scotia.
    Along the way to Sydney, we made our first significant detour. We headed into Fundy National Park, which features the famous Bay of Fundy tides, the world’s largest. We had timed our trip so that we could witness low tide and it was quite impressive in a few places. Just beyond the northern end of the park was our second stop — Hopewell Rocks, a group of offshore sea stacks which are partly submerged during high tide, but totally out of the water at low tide. They are seen on almost all tourist literature from New Brunswick and have become a symbol of the province. They are sometimes referred to as "flower rocks" because they are topped with vegetation, making them fairly unusual.
    We parked and took the walking trail, then descended the 92 metal stairs to "walk on the sea floor". The area is well-kept and maintained, since it is probably New Brunswick’s most popular tourist attration.
    From Hopewell, we got back on the highway and headed for Sydney. Our total trip was over 500 miles, almost 100 miles more than I had calculated (shame on me!). We managed to arrive in the late afternoon, went to dinner, walked along the waterfront boardwalk and crashed.
   The next day was our much-anticipated scenic drive along the Cabot Trail. The lower part of the drive, near Baddeck, Nova Scotia, is nothing spectacular, just country road driving. However, when we reached Ingonish and entered Cape Breton Highlands National Park the road began to live up to its billing as one of the most beautiful scenic drives in North America.
    The road curves along the coast, climbing into the mountains, descending to sea level, winding throughout. Some of the vistas, especially those along the coast, are truly gorgeous. Even when the route turns west to traverse the Upper Cape, the inland scenery is also magnificent, with mountains and tree-lined valleys.
    We stopped to walk several trails within the park. First, we took the trail to Green Cove, a rocky beach similar to many areas of Rhode Island or Maine. The next trail we strolled was "The Bog", which looped through a highland fen and featured several types of orchids and some insectivorous plants. The last trail we walked was Le Buttereau, which follows an old cart path used by early settlers in the area.  There is still evidence of their homes.
    Our remaining stops were at the "Rusty Anchor" for a snack (Have the mussels!!) and then at Cheticamp, on the southwestern fringe of the park, for dinner. We got back to Sydney at about 5 PM after our long (280 miles), but leisurely day.
    The following morning was earmarked for our short trip (24 miles) to Louisbourg National Historic Site, which preserves the former capital and major city of the French colony, Isle Royale. The location is now an open-air museum which transports visitors back to the year, 1744. The restored buildings and streets look today as they did then, and people in costume describe their particular station in life, their job, etc. Some even demonstrate period crafts, such as, lace-making, baking, loading a musket, etc. Obviously, the concept is similar to places such as, Williamsburg, Plimoth Plantation, and Sturbridge Village, in the US. Here, it is well done, but it has the potential to be much better.
    We left Sydney for our drive to Halifax, a distance of almost 300 miles. We made good time and had plenty of daylight left to explore the city. We both highly recommend our hotel, the Residence Inn, which has an excellent location and many amenities, yet is reasonable. We headed first for the wharf area, which features a long, wide boardwalk and pedestrian-only walkways, loaded with shops and restaurants (it reminded us of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and Newport, RI). 
    We had a wonderful Italian (if you can believe it) meal at Il Mercato. Lee had the penne with pesto, and Gary had a sublime ravioli with chicken & mushroom dish. The spinach salad we shared was easily enough for two!
    Our next day’s excursion took us through much of Nova Scotia’s coastline. We first headed south, along the east coast toward the World Heritage Site of Lunenburg. Just before reaching the town, we passed through another quaint and lovely village by the sea, called Mahone Bay, a wonderfully tranquil setting. Lunenburg is also a picturesque seaside town. It is a marvel of 18th century architecture, from the exquisite Lunenburg Academy, recently restored, to the unusual and distinctive St John’s Anglican Church, painted white with black trim.  We enjoyed strolling the streets, stopping occasionally, to browse in a shop or to have a snack and a beer. We took some pictures down by the harbor area, then traveled a bit out of town for our picnic lunch and to get a more distant view of the adorable village.
    We continued south, then west across the province, to Annapolis Royal, another quaint 18th century village. We totally enjoyed strolling the grounds of the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, one of the nicest in Canada.  We returned to Halifax along part of the Evangeline Trail, one of several historic drives in the province.
    Our last full day in Halifax began with a short excursion (about 20 miles) to Peggy’s Cove, the most popular tourist attraction in this part of Canada. Peggy’s Cove is a tiny, quaint, fishing village, famous with artists and known for its Lighthouse, which rises prominently from weathered boulders at the point of the cove. We parked at the Visitor Center and walked to the lighthouse (only a few minutes), took some pictures, peeked in several shops, and admired William E Garth Memorial Park, which displays a beautiful sculpture in granite begun by the namesake when he was 70 years old and subsequently completed after his death in 1988. It depicts fishermen and their families in several scenes.
   When we returned to Halifax, headed uphill, away from the harbor, to the Halifax Public Gardens, a delightful, peaceful alternative to the hustle and bustle of the city. We ambled along several paths, stopping to admire the beautiful flowers, sculptures, and waterways. From here we crossed the road to the Citadel, the formidable fortification at the top of the hill above the harbor. There happened to be an annual demonstration, entitled "Changing of the Guard" which involved displays of weapons and battle tactics in traditional uniforms, and we watched for a while.
    Lee and I really liked Halifax, a city with a small-town feel that is pleasant for walking, except for the hills, and which has access to a number of great excursions.  We finished this last, low-key day with another excellent meal at Il Mercato.
    We left Halifax early in the morning and drove to Yarmouth, on the southern coast of the province, to board The Cat, a high-speed catamaran which ferries people from Nova Scotia to Maine (Bar Harbor) on a regular basis. From Bar Harbor, we had dinner and drove home.


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