Our last full day in St. Anthony, we drive up to L’Anse Aux Meadows again.

We want to see Norstead and try the widely-admired Norseman restaurant as well as stop back at Dark Tickle, the economuseum where the native berries of Newfoundland are made into a variety of products using traditional methods.  We watch the berry jam making and sample teas and treats.

Norstead is a kind of Viking theme park, virtually empty before the full-on summer onslaught.  We meet Hrefna — her Viking name — who shows me nailbinding, a kind of protypical knitting, and reads the ruins for Phil and I.

We amaze her — and ourselves — because in our independent readings, two of the three ruins we blindly select are the same out of 26.   No idea what the odds against that are… something mathematically impressive, probably.   We both have good, positive readings.  The ruins we have in common are Journey and Harvest, plus I choose Gift.

We enjoy time — me more than Phil, likely — spent in the women’s workroom where we have the chance to spend some time with the interpreters who talk about their work there. 

The Norseman lives up to its reputation and more, a meal equal to any fine restaurant anywhere.

We get back to St. Anthony in time to experience The Great Viking Feast at Leifsburdir….more about that tomorrow.

IMG_0089This is a land of mystery and surprise!

The days are so much longer than we expected — there’s still light in the sky at 10:30 p.m. local time and there are birds singing like mad things and plenty of light at 4:20 a.m.

As Phil says, when it’s light that early, you’re always sleeping in even if we get up at 6!

Last night we had my euchre dinner at Lightkeeper’s Cafe.  We play cards every day at the studio and I won the last tournament.  Good thing, since I don’t think I’ve won a game since!  Anyway, loser treats the winner to a special meal and I chose Lightkeeper’s.    We’d been in several times since we arrived last Friday but last evening was the first time there was a clear sky and no fog… and now we know why the Atlantic off this jut of land is called Iceberg Alley.   We could see four or five as we dined, all but two moving across our view as we ate.   Two are stuck!   One – the largest with about 100 feet out of the water and about 200 feet long — we met personally yesterday.

And that was one surprise.   Seasickness.  After a lifetime of nodding familiarity with boats of all sizes, suddenly, within five minutes of leaving the shore on the tour boat Gaffer III, I was nauseous.   Now, I thought seasickness meant you were queasy or  vomited.   Oh no.  I had chills in spite of the fact it was a warm, clear day and I was sweating like a stevedore.  And the other stuff, too – and too dizzy to walk.  The worst of it didn’t hit for about half an hour so I did get a good look at the whales.

And what whales they were!  Giant humpbacks, incredibly majestic and awfully playful.   They were within yards of the boat, surfacing, blowing and diving beneath the boat and surfacing on the other side, then round again.  I can’t believe we were that close to these wonderful creatures.  Best, you could see them when they were beneath the water, particularly the shimmery white of their fins.  

We had seen whales off the shore but, of course, at a distance. 

From the boat, it was as though they had come to play.  

Some wag ran around shouting “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”, the famous line from Jaws.  It was pretty daunting if you weren’t keeping your eye on the captain.   Since he was unconcerned — and delighted at finding this little group of co-operative whales — so was I.  At least about the proximity.

On the GafferIII

That said, I kept my eyes shut some part of the time because it relieved the seasickness.   After about half an hour with the whales, we steamed off to see the icebergs up close.  

That’s when I really became ill and went into the cabin where the captain sat.   It’s meant for passengers in bad weather, so there was lots of room to find the corner of a bench and close my eyes.  Another hour and a half of trip seemed like a nightmare at that point and while Phil did what he could, I kept encouraging him to get out and see the sights.  He did but he kept coming back to check on me so I felt awfully guilty about spoiling the tour.  He was, as always, gracious and sweet. 

We arrived at the huge iceberg and it was splendid…. crisply white with blue furrows where water had melted and re-frozen.   I looked as much as I could manage because, after all, this was what we’d come for!  And Phil took some great pictures.

The interpreter — a very entertaining and knowledgeable guide, the captain’s son with a degree in biology — told us this giant was aground in 360 feet of water.  He said it would melt in a couple of months.  Indeed, I didn’t see it, but while we were there, a huge shelf split off into the sea to the oohs and ahs of the passengers.  Apparently 1,000 icebergs per season parade by St. Anthony!  At this late date, from the shore we could see, at various times, four or five, spaced about a mile apart.

Phil and I had already seen whales in St. Andrew’s and while we travelled from Vancouver to Victoria on the ferry but this was a whole other experience — and not because of the seasickness!  First of all, you could hear the exhaling whoosh of the spouts of water when the whales “blew” which was amazing.   But more, I heard them making other noises.   It sounded just like the chatter I’ve heard on television programs about dolphins.   Was it them?  I think so but research will tell.  Dolphins are, after all, just small whales.  Or whales are just big dolphins!

At Lightkeeper’s, Phil had his first experience with crab legs and it was fun to eat these fresh steamed “sea spiders” as he called them.   He also order an appetizer of Baccalao, or salt cod and potato cakes.  I had a bite and was instantly taken back to childhood — my grandmother made a version of these.  I don’t know how it was spelled but it was pronouced back-a-LAH.   Close!

As always in these small tourist destinations, you see the same people through the week… people we saw at L’Anse Aux Meadows were on the boat the next day and at the same restaurant — one of two in town!-  last night.

I love St. Anthony and hope we enjoy Rocky Harbour as much.

Meanwhile, tomorrow it’s back up to the northern tip to check out more of the local colour.   Only 10,000 people in this northern penninsula of Nfld but enough scenery for 10 million.  

As is always the case when I’m on the east side of the country, I’m checking out real estate prices and trying to convince Phil to pack in Ontario so we can move out here and start a miniature golf course.

Today, wearing many layers — it’s still 5 C though less windy — we took a leisurely drive to L’Anse Aux Meadows.

It’s a UNESCO site and national treasure, the first confirmed landing place of the Vikings in North America, about 1,000 years ago.

On the way, we stopped at Dark Tickle — a tickle is a narrow body of water! — which is a purveyor of the wonderful berries of Nfld in many forms.   We had Screech Tea and things with partridge berries as well as shopped for souvenirs.

Later in the day — much later – we had lunch at Catch of the Day where Phil tried Brewis — salt cod and hard tack!  It was, he says, substantial.  I had fresh halibut lightly grilled… brilliant.   Food in Newfoundland is, so far, wonderful.   Real cooking — rather than thawing Sisco frozen stuff sold to restaurants by the carload — real fresh ingredients and caring cooks and servers.

L’Anse Aux Meadows is very interesting, not only because of its story but because the historical interpreters are knowledgeable and friendly.   I saw many tools and products relating to weaving, knitting (nailbinding, actually) and tablet weaving as well as spinning.  I was very excited to find the examples of tablet weaving as well as loom weaving.

If you don’t know, it was an important waystation for Leif Ericson and a settlement of hundreds of men, women and children for several years.  An old aboriginal tale says they slaughtered the foreigners but no one knows for sure.

One issue — the introduction to the site is a very good NFB film made in 1984.  Much knowledge has probably been gained then and it would be useful to add an update … after 25 years, some of the mysteries discussed in the film have surely been solved!

Speaking of mysteries, we have so many questions about Newfoundland that we haven’t had a chance to have answered.

Why are garbage bins round or hexangonal shaped and made of wooden slats?

Why is the water brownish?

What is a bight.  There’s St. Anthony and St. Anthony’s Bight.

What was the life expectancy of Vikings?

Who sells those helmets with the horns?

Does the fog come and go several times a day every day?

We  made the list on napkin as we stopped for hot tea at Fishing Point and listened to the fog horn warn ships.  We thought of the fisherman and woman we met today at Catch of the Day.   They go out for three or four days at a time on their boat, catching crab.  They had turkey for lunch.

Brr.

2009/06/27

So it was stinking hot and miserable in when we left Toronto, warm enough when we landed in Deer Lake and quite sticky when we woke up in Rocky Harbour on Friday.

When we got up in St. Anthony this morning, it was 5 C.  With 48 km gusts of wind, that made it -2 C.  We did not have enough layers to make it possible to go out on the whale and iceberg watching boat…. which probably didn’t go out anyway.

We dressed as warmly as possible and then spent most of  the day at Fishing Point where we saw whales and icebergs anyway, despite the rain, fog and wind.   Lovely people in the gift shop telling us stories about polar bears floating into town every spring on ice floes and showing us how to watch for whales, and an exploratory drive around St. Anthony.   We also had a fabulous lunch at Lightkeeper’s Cafe — fish and chips with fresh local cod and the best batter on the planet for me, pan-fried cod for Phil and the ubiquitous date square, with ice cream and partridge berries.  We’ll be going back.

A great day and, in some ways a genuine Nfld experience.  Weather can just be brutal here!

A great night at Mountain Range Cottages in Rocky Harbour — we’re coming back after Canada Day — then on the road to St. Anthony.  It’s a spectacularly beautiful drive, easy with many charming towns of salt-box houses along the coast.  Stops at local cafe bakeries — where else? – and for lunch in Hawke’s Bay.

Along the way, we notice odd rectangular gardens, fenced by all manner of materials.  A few are grown over, most are tilled and ready, some already sprouting vegetable plants.  They’re no where near homes, each is different from the other and they’re all within yards of the Highway 430.  They make us wonder and it’s not until we get hooked up in St. Anthony that we learn what they are from a Web site:

When the roads were constructed, the ground was disturbed to the point where one could actually work the thin soil enough to plant a garden. These plots are coveted and passed down through families and they never display a sign of individual ownership. We have seen them everywhere throughout Newfoundland. Little patches of ground in the right of way, these gardens have split pole fences surrounding them, to ward off the moose and caribou. The only no trespassing signs are plastic bags fluttering from the poles, old clothes drenched in urine draped on the sides, and one with a dead raven hanging upside down from a nearby tree. Within the boundaries are neatly growing rows of potatoes, always potatoes, turnips, carrots, beets and other root crops. And no garden would be complete without a row of cabbage. The growing season is short and the plots have been in the family for sometimes 20 or 30 years. These vegetables are moved to outdoor root cellars for storage. And no one steals from the gardens or the cellars.

 I found a photo here: http://www.paulillsley.com/newfoundland/092.html 

We noticed that schools were called academies, that there is highway improvement going on along 430 — already a fine road.  We also decided that Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism must pay people to hang their washing on the line for that look of small town charm.   In some areas, the roads are lined with what must be thousands of lobster traps.

When we arrive in St. Anthony, about five hours later — having used the GPS to good advantage in order to forecast when we’d arrive here or there in order to plan lunch and afternoon tea, etc — we immediately saw an iceberg.  Mission accomplished!

We picked up groceries and then pulled into Grenfell Heritage Hotel where we have quite a nice housekeeping unit with a barbecue and a sweet balcony overlooking the bay. 

The  flowers in the planters are the first we’ve seen — despite the charm of the salt box house villages, there’s not a shred of landscaping.  We assume the wicked winds off the sea makes ordinary gardens  impossible.  Certainly the vegetable plots are sheltered by trees that stand between them and the coast.

A few glitches at the otherwise lovely hotel — more about that later — but lovely front desk staffer Marilyn made everything all right.

…so to speak.

Actually, we  were in the sky today, flying to Deer Lake, Newfoundland, completing our set of 10 provinces.

We missed Nfld when we were PEI Bound in 2007 and are happy to have another chance two years later.

It was threatening a thunderstorm in Toronto so our plane left an hour late.  The flight was, happily, uneventful.  Not free of turbulence, but more like driving on a gravel road than riding a roller coaster.

We arrived in Deer Lake to the unsurprising discovery that this airport is built and operated on a human scale.  I’ve decided that this is what I mean when I call something civilized — it functions on a human scale. 

We picked up a nice fancy car with a GPS as a new toy for both of us.  We  would have happily travelled around Newfoundland on a train but they are decades gone and we are left with the roads or hopping around in pu ddle-jumpers.  We decide to drive.

So, drive we did from Deer Lake to Rocky Harbour where we have a lovely cottage-in-the-woods with all the mod cons.  The drive itself was mildly angst ridden as its very very curvy and hilly, only problematic because the rental car — a Chevy Malibu — has no pick up whatsoever and the road is heavily populated with very big trucks that want to go very fast.    The drivers were gentlemen, however, so we were none the worse for wear when we arrived in Rocky Harbour 67 km later.