Years ago, too many to count, I went to Newfoundland to give a performance that was recorded by CBC radio. It was a re-enactment of a Jenny Lind concert, and someone had left the tap running in an adjacent bathroom. When I listened to the recording, all I could hear was ‘drip drip’. I don’t remember seeing any of St. John’s, which is the capitol city.
The next visit was a board meeting for the Canada Council, which took place in January of all times. All I could hear during that stay was the 100-mile an hour wind blowing off the Atlantic. I didn’t see much of the city then either.
Still determined to visit Newfoundland, I went there last July with my husband Charles, for a long weekend. What a wonderful discovery. The province is huge so we didn’t attempt to do more than just a small corner of it. I am sure we will return some day.
We flew on Westjet from Toronto, not a long trip, about 3 hours. Air Canada and Porter also fly there. We arrived in St. John’s on a cool, crispy day and rented a car at the airport. We were booked into the Hotel Newfoundland, a Sheraton. I managed to book the wrong dates, wrong month I think it was, and the management was very patient and accommodating, pun intended, and found us a nice room with a good view of the harbor. Bathroom only big enough for one, however, but all else was more than comfortable. There are some other options in St. John’s, particularly B&B’s, but I like a pool when I travel so choices can be limited. Breakfasts were just fine.
We wondered around our first half day and found lunch in a pub near Duckworth Street, and I sampled my first Newfie fish chowder. I don’t normally like milk/cream-based soups, but I had a raging cold, and the chowder hit the spot. And with all the fresh fish available being as St. John’t is on the Atlantic, the soup was not laden with potatoes, but with fish. Yum. That was the first of many scrumptious chowders. In fact, I had one every day.
Filled with fish
After lunch we went to Signal Hill and sat in the chilly wind huddled together to watch the famous Tattoo complete in costume, performed by summer students.
Serious student performer
The evening was spent with old friends at their charming home. Many of the houses in St. John’s by the way, are painted bright colors and look like they came out of a Crayola box. We made some music together after a delicious dinner and scintillating conversation, mostly about the arts.
Dean Brinton, the executive Director of The Rooms, the brilliant museum/art gallery that sits on a hill overlooking the town, took us on a tour the next morning. We were extremely impressed by the museum, especially the Christopher Pratt exhibit. The view from the windows overlooking the harbor is art in itself and there is extraordinary lighting in the museum. We had lunch in the café on site (more chowder) and left satiated with food and culture.
inside The Rooms
That evening I had reserved a table at Raymonds, touted to be one the best restaurants in Canada. The dining rooms are splendid, and housed in a 1915 building overlooking St. John’s harbor. When we were parking on the street we experienced the famous friendliness of the Newfoundlanders. A passerby wouldn’t let us pay for parking and pointed out that at the time there was no charge. Repeatedly, we ran into this overwhelming pleasantness from the locals, but back to the dinner. The menu changes with the season. We had lobster, done in a delicate sauce, but snow crab is often available. Oysters are fresh and naturally East Coast ones. The wine list was impeccable. We savored a great Chablis.
After breakfast the next morning, we headed to Fishers Loft, a charming small Inn situated about a 15 minute drive from Trinity where we planned to spend some good tourist time. The weather had turned sunny, warm and fresh and the views all around were enhanced. We sat on rockers on a porch and looked at the sea in the distance while we had a drink. Our small suite was cozy and once we got over hitting our heads on the slanted ceiling, we enjoyed the quaintness of our digs.
The main living room and the dining room were filled with local art and the food fresh from the sea and a small garden, was delicious. If you are not a fish lover as are we, they will offer a substitution. There was a good if tiny bar where I could enjoy my bubbly and Charles his red. However, we only booked dinner there for two of our three-night stay.
We went into Trinity for a meal at the Artisan Inn, Twine Loft, and homey huge lamb shanks with mashed root veggies definitely filled us up before a play at Rising Tide Theatre. Salt water Moon, a simple love story with very good actors, was the fare written by a Newfie, David French. It was perfect. This offering was in the Parish Hall, a tiny space, but it worked for the performance.
Over a cognac back at the inn we learned about an excellent whale watching operation, Trinity Eco Tours, which we booked for the following day. Our plans were formed. After yummy soft poached eggs the next morning, we headed off to Trinity and our adventure.
Instructions and the big suits
We were given massive suits for flotation and warmth, and met our captain and his family. There were 12 of us and the Zodiac was faultless with viewing for everyone. We were soon in the North Atlantic and it happened incredibly: whales were everywhere around us, spewing gushes of water, breaching, swimming close to us. Three hours of joy and exhilaration and lots of picture taking. It was warm when we went out to sea, but a wind on the way back made the giant suit very appreciated. Lunch in a simple restaurant where the fishermen brought in the catch consisted of the best snow crab and more chowder.
Our final day we did a 2-hour historical walking tour in the rain, because if you blink in Newfoundland the weather can change from sunny to stormy. I was glad I brought my wet weather gear. I was comfy. The history of the province is filled with stories of death at sea, poverty, and the Resettlement, a tragic time, when families were uprooted from their homes and moved to a new location, the homes dragged through the water. I marvel that these people who have suffered so much hardship are so friendly and caring of others.
We left St. John’s early the next day after a hike on the Skerwink Trail, with vivid memories of the best long weekend enjoying a small part of our beautiful vast country.
On the trail
I will be writing more about my dear Canada in future blogs. I hope you will read them.