Newfoundland: St. John's

photo: Quidi Vidi, the fishing village inside St. John's, Newfoundland

fishing houses anchored to the rock of Quidi Vidi harbour

This morning I was out at Signal Hill at 0730 - Newfoundland's extreme interpretation of the weather has inspired me to the make the most of any non-raining daylight. I didn't do quite the complete tour that I meant to do as I had to get back to the B&B and talk to the owner to find out if I could stay another night (sadly no), but I did loop half way around the base and climb up. After the other stuff I've seen this week (and after everyone - guidebooks and tourists - puffed up Signal Hill), my rating for the Hill was more of an "eh - not bad" than a "wow, awesome!" Without a doubt, it has great views - of the harbour, of the city, and of the Atlantic. But apparently I expected more: maybe a bigger and more interesting park?

I stopped at the highly touted Rocket for brunch. Serve-yourself, bakery-plus sandwiches/salads, seating in a trendily worn room with deliberately mismatched chairs at all the simple wood tables, so chic these days. But the breakfast burrito was actually REALLY good.

My next stop was Cape Spear, to visit the most easterly point of North America. It's got a couple lighthouses (the restored original that looks pretty, and an automated one that does the actual work), and very dramatic scenery. But the thing that made me love it is that it's right on the East Coast Trail, which is multi-hundred kilometre coastal hiking trail. I realized that, while the townies had done nothing specific to offend me, I wanted nothing more than to be way the hell away from people again. So I got on the ECT going south and just walked. And stuffed myself with wild blueberries, possibly a pint by the time I was done - it was ridiculous how many of them there were. Going south from Cape Spear, you're up 50 or 100 metres over the ocean, although the trail is usually far enough back from the drop-off that you only occasionally see the water. Around you is either rocks, or more often classic Newfoundland bog: the occasional metre high tree, but mostly shrub and moss and blueberries. About four km south of the lighthouses I was approaching a headland and we had our first signs of significant elevation change in the trail - that's when I finally turned back.

I'd had the trail out totally to myself, but on the way back I ran into a dozen or so people. One set was a local family, who told me they'd never seen this many blueberries.

By the time I got back to the car I had actually shed the legs off my travel pants - it was definitely the warmest day of my visit.

I stopped by Quidi Vidi, took some photos - it really is a functioning fishing village embedded right in the middle of the provincial capital, and it seems to have retained its personality: it's very, very strange. Took some pictures, stuck my head in the brewery to ask about tours (which I ended up not going on).

Went to Bacalao for dinner with Ken and Kathy. Bacalao is one of the better rated restaurants in the city: they sell Nouvelle Newfoundland Cuisine. We all started with the seafood chowder, which was quite nice. We were all intrigued to find that the "game of the day" was - wait for it, not moose or caribou, but ... lamb. Are they running wild on the Island now? Ken and Kathy both had that, but I foolishly opted for "Bacalao" (the dish), hoping to compare it to the lovely bacalhau I had in Portugal. Urgh - more often than not, it's a mistake to try to recreate such a positive event in your life. It turns out that their idea of how to present this was to have to pieces of fat back, fried, and two pieces of salt cod (technically, "Bacalhau" - it's both the name of the salt cod and the name of the dish the Portuguese make), reconstituted and cooked (poached, I think), with sweet miniature dumplings, dried cranberries, and asparagus spears. The fat back was ... unrewarding, and the cod was exceptionally salty. Had they wanted to do something about that, they could have rinsed it several times to get the salt out, but then how would you know it was salt cod? All of which had essentially nothing to do with the Bacalhau I ate and loved in Portugal: a bit of a disappointment. The lemon tart with blueberry sauce for dessert was fairly good. And, happily, the company was good.

photo: Juniper berries along the East Cost Trail north of Cape Spear

Juniper berries