With that in mind, I’ll be writing regular posts over the next month or two, looking at some of the marvellous places in Canada I’ve had the privilege of visiting in the seven years since I became a full-time travel writer. Hope you enjoy them. I know I sure did.
First up: St. John’s, Newfoundland.
1. The people: I remember my first trip here for the Toronto Star’s Golf magazine. I got to play fantastic golf courses. But one of the things that struck me most was how wonderful the people were. My God, I was crossing the street one night after being up late listening to wonderful music at a pub in St. John’s when a car stopped in the middle of the road. So I could jaywalk! I’ve since learned they do this in Halifax, too, but at the time I was gobsmacked at the politeness of the people. I also remembered the kindness of people as they guided me along the paths that run through the colourful homes in The Battery and on out to Signal Hill.
2. The scenery: This is a ruggedly spectacular city; with breathtaking vistas from the high hills (folks here in Ontario might call them mountains) that surround the deep, amazing harbour. The views from Signal Hill are almost unbelievably beautiful, especially if you’re lucky enough to catch a soldier firing off his gun as the first cruise ship of the season departs the harbour. Even without that kind of luck, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear as you check out the walk along The Battery or take in the views from Fort Amherst, on the other side of the harbour from Signal Hill. Take a drive out to Quidi Vidi, a picture perfect village with its own brewery, and soak up the views of the craggy hills and colourful fishing boats.
3. The culture: St. John’s boasts a great and architecturally striking museum called The Rooms. It sits on a hill overlooking the city (more of those great views) and features cutting edge exhibits (there’s one on artist Christopher Pratt on display until Sept. 6 of this year) and quirky history bits about a very quirky and interesting part of Canada. The music scene here is fantastic, too. The bars on George Street and elsewhere have some of the best sing-along’s you’ll find anywhere, along with wonderfully traditional Irish music at great pubs such as O’Reilly’s, The Celtic Hearth and many others. Don’t worry about who’s playing, just nip in for a pint and enjoy, then move along to the next spot.
4. The icebergs: This time of year is perfect for spotting icebergs of all shapes. You’ll often find them quite close to shore in and around St. John’s. Iceberg Quest does great tours out of St. John’s, where you’ll also learn about wildlife and perhaps even spot a whale. There are icebergs all up and down the northeast part of Newfoundland, especially around Twillingate.
5. The food: This city has come a long, long way in terms of its cuisine. You’ll still find great fish and chips at the Duke of Duckworth, a famous pub that’s been known to attract the likes of Jim Cuddy from the band Blue Rodeo. But you’ll also find high-end cuisine at Bacalao, where they take Newfoundland-Portuguese favourites to a new height. I haven’t had the pleasure but I hear Mallard Cottage in Quidi Vidi is remarkably good. Closer to downtown, Raymond isn’t for folks light on cash, but it gets sensational reviews. Piatto is a small Italian chain that makes a very good pizza. For breakfast or a sandwich I love Rocket Bakery and Café on Water Street; a wonderful shopping spot.
6. The day trips: There are utterly sensational spots very close to St. John’s. Cape Spear is the best known, the most easterly point in North America. There’s a picture perfect white lighthouse perched on a craggy cliff, with seabirds whirling in the North Atlantic air and fabulous views up and down the coast. It’s even more atmospheric when the fog rolls in, so don’t be worried if you can’t see all the way to Europe when you go. Lesser known to most visitors is a trip to Bell Island, a short ferry ride from the suburban St. John’s village of Portugal Cove. It’s a beautiful island with a fascinating mining history and a glorious lighthouse. It’s also the only place in North America that was directly damaged by the Germans during World War II. The waters near Bell Island contain the wrecks of four ships sunk by German U-boats, where 69 soldiers met their fate. There wasn’t much of a marker when I visited, which is crazy when you think about how rare and unusual this place is.