Newfoundland: A Day in St. John's

photo: The Rooms, St. John's, Newfoundland

the grand open space of The Rooms

Given that Tropical Storm Henri was supposed to dump between 25 and 50 mm of rain on St. John's today, I planned a day indoors. I awoke to evidence of rain overnight, but for the entire day ... nothing. Which was nice, but had I only known ... I probably would have gone to Cape Spear and walked north as I had walked south the day before.

The first visit of the day was to Newman's Wine Vaults, formerly used to age and improve Port, now a Canadian Heritage Site sadly devoid of Port. I also found out that I had lucked into Doors Open, which runs through tomorrow and made my visit to Newman's free. Like so many things these days, Newman's Port fell prey to name control: "Port" is made, and more importantly in this case, AGED in Portugal. If it were aged in Newfoundland, it would magically turn into "Fortified Wine."

My next stop was the highly regarded "The Rooms," St. John's brand new cultural centre: new enough that my GPS (which has maps from 2011) kept trying to route me right through the building as they closed a road to build it. "The Rooms" is named after the spaces where fishing catch is processed. It's a very grand space, but at the moment it consists of an exhibit about the land and history of Newfoundland and Labrador, and a single art gallery with a display by a local artist I wasn't terribly taken with. There's another art gallery, currently closed for a new show. There are other spaces - also closed, and a lot of construction. There's also a huge and very impressive central space with a couple of badly presented smaller displays - one of which consisted of a bunch of 20x30 cm photos placed 1-3 metres from the closest point you could stand in not particularly good light. I can see the potential of the place, but it didn't really feel like it was there yet.

I went to the Johnson Geo Centre next, part way up Signal Hill. It's all about rocks, so they embedded it underground in the granite of Signal Hill. Their thing is the rocks that form the surface of the Earth. I found it slightly odd that they were showing James Cameron's "Deepsea Challenge 3D" - perhaps simply because it's 3D and they have a 3D theatre. In any case, I enjoyed watching it. It was both exciting and infuriating. Cameron is a dick - a well-meaning and interesting one, but nevertheless ... and the movie itself is annoying for being incredibly short on science or facts, mostly waving its hands about the deepest manned dive ever made in the planet's history and going "look, isn't it cool?!" And it's inspiring because they're right, it is cool.

There's a place called "The Fluvarium" in Pippy Park: their main thing is that on the lowest level of the building, you're looking outside, into the local stream. What you'll mostly see is brown trout. Inside, there are displays about fish and wetlands and preservation. They had one display that had five different names for wetlands: bog, fen, marsh, wetlands, swamp ... And they were claiming different meanings for each one, mostly related to type of plant life, amount of water, and water drainage. For most of us, those are interchangeable words ...

The Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is a rather lovely church, although I have to admit I was fondest of the three sets of pews that were carefully labelled "Caution Falling Masonry."

The Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is a Roman Catholic church, on one of the highest points in the city. The interior ceiling isn't arched like the Anglican church, instead ferociously painted and detailed. Again, my favourite feature was a rather odd one: in a back hallway, I found an otherwise non-descript but nearly two metre high wood cabinet that had 10 cm high raised wood letters carved and placed on it, saying "Holy Water." Someone's prepared for the vampire apocalypse ...

I spent a while wandering downtown St. John's, up and down Water Street and Duckworth Street, peering in stores. I had fish and chips at the Duke of Duckworth, recommended as the best on the Island by several sources, including the woman at the Newfoundland Chocolate Company (that sells full size lady's high heeled shoes made of chocolate ...). And indeed, the cod was massive and absolutely exquisite. The fries, on the other hand, were soggy limp things that should have been taken out for immediate burial. But I'd still go back and order it again in a heartbeat, the cod was that good.

I finished the evening with a lovely lemon tart from the wonderful Rocket bakery cafe.

photo: An abstract(ish) photo taken at The Rooms

dark green glass and raindrops