You are cordially invited to a very special occasion. It’s a shower!
“What?” you say. “I didn’t know you were getting married!”
Nope, it’s not a bridal shower.
“Oh my God, you’re pregnant!?”
Uh, not that I know of.
“Then what?” you ask.
You’re invited to my “Life Dream” Shower!
Date: Now through May 1
Where I’m Registered: Kickstarter
So what brought this on? Well, I believe you know about the book I’m writing. No? Oh, well you should read An April Fools Day Announcement. In order to help with the expense of researching my book, Drop Me Anywhere – A Travel Memoir with a Twist, I started a Kickstarter project on April 1st. With just over two weeks left, my Kickstarter could use a Kickstart. So I’m throwing myself a shower.
I’ve attended countless bridal showers in my life. These have ranged from a small group of women going on about how wonderful it is to find your soul mate and endless descriptions of the lace and sparkle explosion commonly known as a wedding gown, to a large party with both men and women, and booze and games including “How Well Do You Know Your Mate?” Whatever type of bridal shower it is, it’s expected that you will show up with a lovely gift of a household appliance, beautiful linens or perhaps a spa day to help the bride relax from the stress of wedding planning. Don’t worry, in order to make it easy for you, she’s made a list of exactly what you can buy her. You can find this list at Macy’s, Target, or even Amazon.com
A month or two after the bridal shower, you get the honor of attending the wedding of the happy couple. You’ll get all dressed up, sit through a ceremony that includes oohing and aahing as the bride walks down the aisle, hearing the beautiful vows a couple may have written for each other, and taking bets with your friends on how long it will last. Then you get dinner, dancing and drunk (not necessarily in that order). If you’re really lucky, you’re crowned as a bridesmaid. In this case, you get to spend $350 on a dress, not of your choosing, which you will most likely never wear again as its sole purpose is to make the one woman not wearing it appear more beautiful.
As the night nears the end, there’s one more unique custom. Men will gather for the throwing of the garter and the women, nay, the single women get the honor of lining up to catch the bridal bouquet. This generally ends in an elbow to the ribcage and someone wearing that, um, “beautiful” bridesmaid’s dress, on the floor assuring everyone, “I’m all right, it’s just a scratch” (could they not afford to give flowers to all of the single women instead of having them fight over one bouquet?). Following this she gets the joy of a man groping her leg to put on the garter while the guests yell, “Higher! Higher!” For all of this, all you have to do is give a present; yes, another one. Don’t worry, they’re registered.
After a year or two, you’ll receive another invitation; it’s a baby shower! The happy couple is expecting. They’re not only expecting a baby, but another gift. Yes, you’ll get a nice lunch and you’ll play games such as, “Whose baby picture is this?” and “How many squares of toilet tissue will it take to wrap around the mother-to-be’s belly?” You’ll also get to hear friends and family who already have children discuss pregnancy bladder issues and spit-up. Not to worry, to make the gift-giving easy they’ve, once again, registered at Macy’s, Target and Amazon. But they’ve also added Babies R Us. While I’m not opposed to marriage – I’m actually a fan – I’m not a huge fan of big weddings. And I’m certainly not opposed to babies. As most who know me will tell you that, given the choice of spending time with adults or spending time with kids, I’ll always choose the kids (they’re usually much more entertaining). I always wanted kids, it just never happened (take a look at Grace and you’ll better understand).
Since I’ve never had a bridal shower, a baby shower, or a wedding, I’ve decided to have a “Life Dream” shower. I’m asking that all of that money you’ve saved on not buying me those life event presents, you consider spending on my shower gift. I’m not registered at Macy’s, Target, Amazon or even Babies R Us, but I am registered at Kickstarter. In return, I have the best party favors ever! No, they’re not chocolates with the happy couple’s name in gold leaf, nor are they candles that smell like vanilla with a hint of orchid. They’re books, tote bags, complimentary motivational speaking engagements, opportunities to contribute ideas to the book, and even paid lodging to join me on a Drop Me Anywhere trip. As long as I hit my goal, I’ll guarantee that I won’t return your gift as, what ever you give will be the perfect size and color.
I’ll keep an eye out for your RSVP on the Drop Me Anywhere Kickstarter page. Thanks for celebrating my “Life Dream” shower with me.
So here I am in Phoenix, anxiously promoting the Drop Me Anywhere Kickstarter project and watching the weather lady tell me we’re flirting with 100 degree temperatures. I think, “Well, I do like to flirt, but that’s normally for someone or something I want.” Let me be clear, I do not want 100 degree temperatures (note I am speaking of 100 degrees Fahrenheit as, while it may feel boiling, 100 degree Celsius would literally be boiling and I despise the overuse of the term literally).
Anyway, it feels as if it’s time to put a closing date on this latest vote on where to drop me and get outta town. Besides, this vote has felt much like the American election season where the talk of voting goes on forever. A reminder of this month’s voting theme – A tribute to The Talking Heads. That’s right; I’m asking you to “Take Me to the River.” What River? The current numbers are as follows:
With 69 votes we have the Willamette River in Oregon – don’t they have a lot of wine there? Nice.
With 34 votes we have the Thames River in London, England – ooh, perhaps the Queen will have me over for tea.
With 10 votes is the Tiber River – When in Rome I’ll do as the Romans do (what exactly is that?).
Tied with the Tiber, with 10 votes is the Danube – I must take some waltzing lessons.
The Mighty Mississippi River comes in with 5 votes – I can almost hear the coffee and beignet’s calling.
Also with 5 votes is the Nile – You’ll notice The Bernie Project listed under organizations we like. They’re based in Uganda which is on the Nile. It would be great to visit those kids at the Wakiso School of Hope.
Next up is the Zambezi – Because anyplace with to “Z’s” in the name must be exotic.
With 2 votes we have the River Hull – What? Never heard of it? Well, the people in Hull, England have. It’s never dull in Hull.
Finally, with 1 vote each we have the Murray River – somewhere in Australia, the Hillsborough River in Florida (thanks to my sister), and the Amazon River – I’ve always wanted to swim with piranhas.
Don’t forget, you can click “Other” and write in your own choice of river. Be creative but, if you’re serious about me going there, you’ll need to get your friends to vote for that location too.
The closing date for the vote is April 30th at 12:00 midnight Eastern Daylight Time. You may remember that I said it was contingent on my successful Kickstarter project. Well, that sure would make this more doable. The Kickstarter won’t cover the whole cost, but I’ll cover the rest (after all, it’s Kickstarter, not Kickcompleter). I’m offering great rewards for your backing (plan on buying the book later? Just buy it now by making a pledge of $30 or more) and this project involves volunteering and philanthropy. While I’d truly appreciate your help, I will sell my house should the Kickstarter be unsuccessful, as sometimes you just need to take the leap.
So please, vote. And, you know, throw some cash at the Kickstarter campaign. Both end right around the same time. Oh, and share all of it please. I know you’re all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. So am I! This is the one time I’ll approve of gossiping.
It’s a big day. No, I’m not talking about April Fools’ Day, although it’s one of my favorite days. Once, while working on a ship, my April Fools’ Day prank was to glue one of the other officer’s shoes to the cabin floor (relax, I was dating him). I figured we had acetone on board to dilute it. How was I supposed to know that he’d rip up the shoe and half the floor with it?
Anyway, April Fools’ day seems like the perfect day to launch my Kickstarter project. A brief Kickstarter explanation for those unfamiliar with it; Kickstarter is the largest crowdfunding site around. “What’s crowdfunding?” you ask. Really, have you been locked in a closet? Crowdfunding sites allow creators of new projects, products, apps, and random business ideas to present them to the cyberspace crowd (you) and ask for help with funding in exchange for fabulous rewards (although the rewards I’m offering are, of course, much more fabulous than the most fabulous of the others).
So why April Fools’ Day? If you remember, I launched this website exactly at midnight on New Year’s Eve, not because it’s fun to read when you’re drunk (it is), but starting this project seemed like a great way to begin the new year. I did the first Drop Me Anywhere trip during Valentine’s Day (yes, there was some romance, but I’m saving it for the book). So now it’s time to celebrate April Fools’ Day with the Kickstarter launch for the book. Who knows what I’ll do for World UFO Day or Nude Recreation Week (yup, they’re holidays). First, we must launch this Kickstarter site.
In case you’re visiting here for the first time, a brief description of what this site is; it’s an interactive travel reading and writing site. It’s about travel without a plan. You, my virtual travel buddies vote on where I go without a plan. And while I’m there, I do some volunteer work because well, it’s the right thing to do. If you want more information, please head on over to the About page and you’ll understand.
Based on the success of this website (yup, it’s a hit!), I’ve decided that there’s a book in this. The Kickstarter campaign will help fund Drop Me Anywhere – A Travel Memoir with a Twist. How will the book be different from the website? Well, while the each day on the blog tends to be a different story, the website will be a memoir of the year of doing the project. I may even hold back the stories from a couple of the locations and save them for the book (sorry). And, as any juicy memoir has its, hmmmm, sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, this will also. I call them the untold stories from the road. Men have asked me, “Are you going to write about me?” I’m never sure if they want me to, or if they’re afraid I will. Regardless, in this case, the answer is. “Yes, I probably will.”
You should know, it’s not easy for me to ask for help. If you read my post written a few years ago on my other site My Own Adventure titled, “I’m From the Government and I’m Here to Help,” you’ll understand. But here I am asking, “Will you help?” In this case, I alleviate some of my guilt by offering you those fabulous rewards (sure am hoping people are using the search term “fabulous” today). Also, if you like good books – entertaining, full of great information, good stories and well, there’s the sex, drugs and rock-n-roll part – then you’ll get to read one in 2015. Finally, have you ever felt there was something you wanted to do in your life, but were afraid to do it because it meant risking a lot? Well this is mine. And I’m doing it. I feel that so much of my life so far has led to this. Working in the travel industry for twenty years; writing, both professionally (yes, for money) as well as for myself, for nothing at all except to tell a story and practice technique; and a lifetime of being a keen observer of the world through a pair of fairly snarky eyes.
The link to my Kickstarter campaign is here (and nearly everywhere you see Kickstarter mentioned on this page). I’m asking for $18,000 and my campaign ends on May 1. Why that amount and that ending date? This won’t cover the entire project. But, as Drop Me Anywhere is a partnership between me and you, I’ll throw in my money too – remember, I’ve already done so on the first trip to Newfoundland. What? You haven’t read about it? Please start with “Oh Canada” to get an idea of the feel of the book. Between the 8-10% Kickstarter and Amazon payment fees as well as the U.S. Government’s share (hello I.R.S., I <3 you), well, the money going to the project will be significantly less. As far as the ending date goes, most successful Kickstarter campaigns are 30 days or less. Oh, and one more thing, if I don’t reach my goal by the ending date of May 1, I get nothing. . . nada. . .zip. . .zilch. . . a big, fat zero. How scary is that?! Don’t worry, if I don’t hit my goal, you won’t be charged for anything you may have pledged (and you won’t receive those fabulous rewards).
Besides pledging, you can also help in another way. Spread the word. Not like gossiping or anything, but more in the social media realm. While there’s a fine line between gossip and social media, I have no problem if you share it with the lady standing in front of you in the check-out line at the grocery store while she’s browsing through the National Enquirer (what? Mila Kunis and Macauley Culkin are getting married? She’ll definitely leave him Home Alone). Whoever you choose to share this Kickstarter campaign with, please do it quickly. . .and often (getting better at this asking for help thing).
Hello Travel Buddies! I know it’s been a couple of weeks since you heard from me. If you follow Drop Me Anywhere on Facebook you’ve been reading my “Unplanned Travel Tip of the Day.” Soon I’ll be providing a daily travel quote to inspire you to go travel so, click on the link and follow.
Also, I wanted to update you on the Kickstarter project for the book, Drop Me Anywhere. I’ve been spending a lot of time getting that together and will be filming the video this week. As writing is more my comfort zone, this is very scary. The project should be up and running on April 1. I’ll, of course, let you know when it’s live. With Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing. If I don’t meet my goal, I get nothing. Feels a bit like a Drop Me Anywhere trip to Las Vegas.
Finally, if you’d like to see the results of the latest Drop Me Anywhere vote, “Take Me to the River” as of today. Go to the bottom of this page as I’ve broken them down there. Remember, you can vote once per day, per electronic device. I’ll be announcing a closing date for this vote soon.
In the meantime, I thought I’d entertain you with my Travelers’ Ten Commandments. As a tour manager and guide for both inbound and outbound tours, I heard many travelers lament, “That’s not how we do it.” “We” being themselves and their immediate neighbors. Sometimes their “we” generalization included their entire country. Please know this is not exclusive to the American tourist. Through my travels I’ve met many an “ugly American” but also an “ugly German” an “ugly Israeli” and an “ugly Brit.”
While leading tours overseas I had Americans ask countless time, “Why don’t they speak English here?” I also had an American refuse to stand in a line because he didn’t want to get in line with “a bunch of foreigners.” Note to those traveling overseas; when you are in another country, you are the foreigner.
Not to be outdone, while leading tours for citizens of other countries I have encountered very similar remarks. While eating an entire bag of potato chips with a candy bar standing by, I had a German passenger comment, “Americans are so fat.” I had a British girl complain that she could see through the space between the door and the supporting structure of a stall in a public restroom. This was immediately after she told me that Americans are so uptight about nudity. And my favorite? The Israeli who, upon seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time commented, “We have better canyons in Israel. And it’s a smaller country so you don’t have to drive as far to get there.”
Please know, I only use the term “ugly” as a well-known cliché. I prefer to think of these folks as uninformed at the best, and closed-minded at worst. So, in an effort to open everyone’s minds to the joys of travel, I give you the Traveler’s Ten Commandments.
Traveler’s Ten Commandments
1} Thou shalt not expect to find things as thou hast left them at home, for thou hast left thy home to find things different.
2} Thou shalt not take anything too seriously, for a carefree mind is the beginning of a vacation.
3} Thou shalt not let the other tourist get on thy nerves, for thou art paying good money to have a good time.
4} Remember thy passport so that thou knowest where it is at all times, for a man without a passport is a man without a country.
5} Blessed is the person who can say “thank you” in any language, for it shall be worth more to him than any giving of tips.
6} Blessed is the person who can make change in any language, for lo, he shall not be cheated.
7} Thou shalt not worry, he that worrieth hath no pleasure.
8} Thou shalt not judge the people of a country by one person with whom thou hast trouble.
9} When in Rome, thou shalt do somewhat as the Romans do; if in difficulty, thou shalt use thy good common sense and friendliness.
10} Remember thou art a guest in every land, and he that treateth his host with respect shall be treated as an honored guest.
Voting Results for “Take Me to the River” as of March 17. Please click here to vote
Willamette River (Oregon) – 50
Thames – 16
Tiber – 9
Danube – 9
Nile – 5
Mississippi – 5
Zambezi – 2
Hull – 2
Amazon, Hull (England), Murray (Australia) and Hillsborough (Florida) each have 1
So now I’m home. But alas, we still have a few things to discuss.
First, the good: I cannot say it enough, the people of St. John’s Newfoundland are some of the friendliest, most polite and just generally the nicest people you will ever meet. If nothing else, you should go there to meet them. The Jelly Bean Row Houses; they’re everywhere. With the bright colors it’s easy to see why they call them that. I prefer to think of them as a floral bouquet in the middle of a long, cold winter. Then again, jelly beans might also get you through that winter.
The Rooms Museum is wonderful. It has something for everyone. If you tend to get bored in art museums, go to the historical and cultural sections. Love Art? Well, there’s plenty of that here. Got kids? Lots of hands on stuff and special programs just for them.
Signal Hill is a great hike. Even if you go in the winter (please take the road and don’t attempt the trail this time of year), the climb up the road will get your heart pumping and the spectacular view at the top is your well-deserved reward. Once at the top, you’ll also feel the history, not only of Signal Hill, but of all of St. John’s.
What else is good? The food. As someone there told me, it’s a place you can have a five-star meal for a really decent price. And even if you’re not up for a five-star meal, there are a ton of options. And while you’re there, try a local brew. That’s another good thing here. Also, you can’t go to St. John’s without hearing of music in every pub. Folk, rock, karaoke, jazz and Irish, yes, lots of Irish music. If you’re into winter sports, there is ice skating, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and other winter sports. And there are outfitters who lead tours and rent equipment. Finally, the people. Oh, did I mention them already? Yeh, well they’re worth mentioning again.
Now for the bad: Well, there’s not much. Okay, I’ll admit those couple of days of freezing rain could have been better. And would I have liked more chances to wear cute shoes? I’m a woman, of course I would have. But, if I liked the place this much in February, I probably never would have left if I’d gone in the summer. As a regular hiker, it was tough to hear about the amazing hiking trails throughout the area. Unfortunately, most are too dangerous to attempt in the winter. Also worth a mention are the guys that you meet in a dive bar who like to tell stories (true or not) and mess with the out-of-towner. There’s a Newfie name for them but, as it has a pretty disgusting definition in the resource of all great writers, the Urban Dictionary, I’ll just say that it wasn’t a great first impression of this place. Luckily, they were not representative of the people here.
Links to what I did:
Things to do in the summertime:
Budgeting Here’s what I spent (Note: I’ve converted all Canadian to U.S. Dollars. The average conversion rate at the time was 1 CAD = 0.9 USD
Seven Night’s accommodations $485 (I got a 5% discount for paying with cash)
Fees and Tips $76
The grand total is $1863. Remember, this trip was done in low season and costs will be higher in the summertime.
Ali from the Hyatt Place Tempe – thanks for the parking. It’s so nice when big business supports small business.
Joseph at the Gower House B&B – thanks for the wonderful suggestions of things to do and nice conversation. Good luck at school!
John – thanks for being brave. I’d love to hear from you.
Jo from Yellowbelly’s – what can I say? My bartender, my waitress, my tour guide and now, my friend. You represent St. John’s well.
Janet – thanks for the ride on a snowy, Newfoundland evening.
Kathie and the whole Spirit of Newfoundland Team – thanks for the tour, the opportunity to find out more about this historical building, and the dinner and the show.
And speaking of the Spirit of Newfoundland – if you remember, one element of Drop Me Anywhere is the philanthropic part. I promise to spend a day, or part of a day volunteering with a local organization, person or effort in order to make a difference and let you know of their efforts. Kathie and her partner Peter own the Masonic Lodge, the historic building where the Spirit of Newfoundland are housed. I told you about my tour and showed you photos in Playing in Pubs and Dungeons and I told you about my volunteer time with them in Through Rain, Sleet and the Frosty Festival. Now I ask you to go to Rebel-With-A-Cause.org to read more about the building and Kathie and Paul’s efforts to preserve the outside of this beautiful building.
Finally. the next vote is up and running. You can vote once per day (and per whatever electronic thing you’re using to get online). I’m not yet listing a closing date as it will all depend on a successful Kickstarter project. You see from the budget that simply staying in North America wasn’t cheap. My hope is that Drop Me Anywhere will, in the end, be a book. It will include these stories, with some tweaks in order to make them more cohesive. It will also include a few extra locations as well as the untold stories (yup, I might have held a few things back). I’ll let you know when it’s up and running (hopefully in the next couple of weeks) and I hope you’ll support it. In the meantime, you can vote here.
I wake up a bit late today with a note from my bartender excusing me from any conversation before my coffee. After stopping at one of the many independent coffee shops in downtown St. John’s, I climb up the hill to the Basilica. I should explain the hill. Downtown St. John’s reminds me a little of St. Maarten (yup, it would have been a lot warmer if you’d sent me there but, at this point, I have no regrets) in that when I worked on ships out of St. Maarten, I remember there were three major parallel streets; Front Street, Back Street and the other street (I think it was officially called Salt Pond Road, but we just called it “the other street”). Downtown St. John’s three major parallel streets are Water, Duckworth and Gower. Being my B&B was called The Gower House, it was quite obviously on Gower Street. To get to Duckworth, I simply walk one block down the very steep Cathedral Street. If I want to go to Water Street, I head down the 78-step staircase (holding on the metal rail for dear life as the steps seem to constantly be covered in an inch of ice). As we all know, what goes down, must come up. This fact is why I’ve given myself permission to eat fish and chips, poutine, licorice from the candy store and all those things I deprive myself of at home, as I’ve walk up and down this hill two to three times each day. It’s very much like walking in San Francisco.
So I head up the hill from Water Street and even past Gower to the Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. I’ve been told it’s beautiful and I should visit while I’m here. As a Jewish girl who travels, I’ve been in more churches, basilicas, mosques and, recently, a Mormon temple than most Catholics, Christians, Muslims and Mormons. The beautiful Romanesque cathedral is built of Newfoundland and Irish bluestone and granite and was consecrated in 1855.
When I finally arrive, I’m just happy to get out of the cold. But there’s much more than heat here. It’s a large, beautiful building with incredibly colorful stained glass windows on all sides. I walk around the place truly appreciating the sun reflecting through the beautiful blues, greens and golds of the 28 stained glass windows religious scenes which this non-practicing Jew can only appreciate for the beauty and artistic value.
As there’s no sign that says to keep out (I believe I’ve mentioned the effect those signs have on me anyway), I walk up to the pulpit. I take in the beautiful architecture before me and try to come to terms with some of the teachings. In the back of the basilica there was a posting listing their rules for being married there. It stated that it was between a man and a woman and, while I respect their right to state that in their own house of worship, I vehemently disagree (love is love) and attempt to put that out of my mind and simply appreciate this beautiful structure. Behind the pulpit are the pipes for a pipe-organ, a piano, some folding chairs and, mounted on the wall, some hand sanitizer. I guess cleanliness really is next to Godliness.
After exploring all corners of the basilica I walk next door to the Presentation Convent to see the statue of the Veiled Virgin. The Veiled Virgin was carved by Giovanni Strazza and brought to Newfoundland in 1856 and presented to Mother Mary Magdalene O’Shaughnessy, the Superior of Presentation Convent in 1852. I’ve gone online and called to be sure they are doing tours today as it’s only open four hours per week. Today being Monday, the tour is from 2:00-4:00. I press the button to get buzzed into the convent and very old nun at the reception desk asks if she can help.
“I’m here to see the Veiled Virgin.”
“Oh, what day is it?” she responds.
“It’s Monday,“ I reply with much respect (even Jewish girls get nervous around nuns).
After great consideration she says, “Oh, tours are Tuesday and Thursday.”
“But I called, and your sign on the door says Monday and Thursday.”
She asks me to wait and starts paging various nuns. After a few minutes, Sister Janet appears and explains that she is not the regular nun who does the tours, but she’d be happy to show me the statue. I thank her and we head back. We enter a room with the most amazing statue. I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the best and most famous works of art around the world and yet I am awestruck by this piece. I wonder if it’s possible for marble to be transparent as it truly appears that I am looking at the face of the Virgin Mary through a veil. I can’t even make a recognizable face out of Play-Doh let alone understand how someone could make this out of marble.
The convent also houses a 120 year-old Regina music box. As Sister Janet doesn’t do the regular tour, she can’t play it as she doesn’t have the key, but she is able to open it to show me the many antique discs, which are about 15 inches around, that can be inserted to listen to the music (if you’d like to hear it, click here).
I thank Sister Janet for her time and wander back to freshen up and head out to my regular place, Yellowbelly Brewery and Public House (it feels a bit like Cheers). When I take my seat at the bar, I’m introduced to Alf (he’d be the Cliff Clavin of Yellowbelly’s). Alf tells me that he’s just finished his second book cover. He shows me a picture of a book with, what appears to be an Inuit painting on the cover with his name underneath. I ask if he painted the picture and he says, “No, I found it on Google Earth!”
“Um, I think you’ll have to pay for it to be on the cover of your book,” I tell him.
“But it was on Google Earth, so I should be able to use it,” he responds.
“I don’t think it works that way. But tell me about your book. Is it completed? Do you have a publisher or an agent?”
“No,” he replies. “I’ve not started writing it but I have the back cover too.”
“Oh,” I say while looking a bit confused.
“Like I said, it’s my next book. I’ve written one before this.”
“Oh,” I say, “where can I find it? Bookstore? Amazon?”
He points to his head and says, “It’s up here. I just have to put it on paper.”
I really would like to discuss his understanding of writing a book but I decide to just smile and nod my head.
After a while, and a few stories, Alf leaves. I finish my wonderful pizza (another thing I don’t eat at home) and beer and start the trudge back up the hill to get a good night’s sleep before my final day in this city that has begun to feel like home.
Tomorrow – Farewell Newfoundland.
Have you read Quidi Vidi Vici? You might want to check it out.
I wake up today to more freezing rain, mixed with snow, mixed with wind, mixed with blustery cold temperatures. The only thing it isn’t mixed with is sunshine (and also some rum). It seems like a great day to go to a museum which is exactly what I do. The Rooms is the museum in St. John’s. It’s five floors of Canadian history, artwork, ecology and more. I trudge the three blocks uphill and, by the time I arrive, my backside is soaking. Truly a great day to go to the museum.
Upon entering and shaking of like a wet dog, I drop my coat in the coat room, pay my $7.50 entrance fee, get some instruction from the nice lady at the counter and head upstairs to begin my visit. I decide to start on top floor – there are four plus a small bonus one at the top of the fourth – and work my way down. The third and fourth floors have the most to see with a history and cultural area as well as an art area.
Some highlights from the museum are:
- From This Place, Our Lives On Land and Sea, through which I learn a little about the four Aboriginal People of Newfoundland (Innu, Inuit, Southern Inuit and Mi’kmaq.
- Here, We Made A Home, which explores the settlement and culture of the livyers (early European settlers) and how they survived and thrived.
- Around the Sun, by Dan Hudson, which was my favorite. It includes a striking sound and video installation comprised of a yearlong time-lapsed video of the seasonal changes and leisure activities of visitors to a natural public park, juxtaposed (fancy word which scores big in Scrabble) with audio montages of news, weather and sports from the same year. I believe this might be a temporary exhibit so get there quickly.
- Zeke Moore’s: Dispose is, well, not really my favorite. It’s Moore’s commentary on what society throws away. Moore reclaims discarded cardboard boxes, milk crates and blankets and recreates them in bronze and aluminum. To be honest, I threw them away for a reason and now here they are lying on the floor of a museum. It’s like Groundhog Day.
Got kids? Oh, this is a great place for them, as they have a kids’ craft area where, today, they’re making bird houses out of milk cartons. Someone should tell Zeke Moore as I bet these kids could make a car out of those cardboard boxes. They also have a nature area where kids of all sizes can touch and learn about plants and wildlife. There is traditional Inuit clothing to try on and toys with which early settler kids played, and many other areas for little and big kids alike.
Finally, while I only have tea at the café, people rave about it, so you might just want to grab lunch there. And the view is fantastic!
Now that I’m dried out, I venture back outside (it stopped raining!) and go back to the B&B to get ready for tonight where I’ve made dinner reservations at the Black Sea Restaurant. The Black Sea is just below the Franklin Hotel on Water Street, which is the main street through downtown and also claims to be the oldest street in North America. It’s a warm, quiet place with great delicious food. I order the Caprese Salad along with the Lamb Tangine. Oh, and wine, yes wine, of course. The Lamb Tangine is a tasty bowl of heaven and I would highly recommend you try some there. Better yet, take me to dinner and we can experience it together (not sharing, I don’t share). While I could sit there and enjoy wine all night, I pace myself and head on over to my old favorite, Yellowbelly. But tonight, something different; I walk downstairs to The Underbelly. This is the cave-like whiskey/rum speakeasy. Jo, who has now become my regular waitress, bartender and Yellowbelly tour guide is there for good conversation and a nice pour.
After tipping back a nice scotch and another glass of wine (yay, no car to drive here), I head up one block to George Street. If you’ve been to St. John’s you’ll know what’s coming next. George Street is a block or two that houses 25 bars. In fact, it boasts the most bars per square foot in North America. In the summer, this place is blocked off to cars and packed nightly. In the winter, it gets close to this on the weekends. I’ve come on Sunday night so, while I can actually move, it’s still a fun time.
There’s a traditional ceremony called a Screech-In, which takes place at many of the bars on George Street. I head over to Christian’s as I’ve been told that it’s the best Screech-In in town. A Screech-In is a multi-step ceremony that, when completed, gives the title of Honorary Newfoundlander to all who take part. It’s something that Newfoundlanders themselves don’t take part in as, well, they’re already Newfoundlanders. Is it a bit of a tourist gimmick? Sure, but sometimes you should just have the experience.
I walk upstairs where the ceremony will take place and meet Michael, the bartender. Michael has lived in Newfoundland all his life. Originally from western Newfoundland he’s been in St. John’s for four years. He tells me that this winter, particularly this last week, has been the worst weather he’s seen. Uh, I’m honored? I sign up for the Screech-In which will take place at 11:15 (hoping people bring presents!). I sit and talk to Michael for a while. He reminds me of a California surfer dude yet, trying not to insult California surfer dudes, he’s very smart. While we talk, a few more Screech-In inductees arrive. There’s Michelle and her mother, both Canadian, but not from Newfoundland (though Michelle lives here). Then there’s a group of six college-aged people, two of which aren’t from these parts, one from Windsor and one from Argentina, and will be screeched-in tonight as well (as they’re asked for ID’s I wonder why I was not. I’m liking Michael less).
At 11:15 the ceremony begins. Michael puts on a traditional, yellow fisherman’s hat, pulls out a wooden oar and begins telling us some history of Newfoundland. St. John’s is the oldest city in North America – I knew that. Water Street is the oldest street in North America – I know that. John Cabot was the explorer who is credited with settling St. John’s – I knew that. The first transatlantic wireless communication was received in St. John’s. Newfoundland was the first to respond to the Titanic disaster – didn’t know that. St. John’s, Newfoundland is the most sexually active city North America – didn’t know that.
We’re then served up a tray of what is known as the steak of Newfoundland – bologna! This isn’t your thinly sliced Oscar Meyer pre-packaged stuff. This is at least a one-inch chunk of greasy, processed meat. We swallow it down and move onto the important part, the rum. Screech Rum is made in the tradition of Jamaican Rum and is well-known in these parts. We’re handed tiny-plastic cups they serve medication in hospitals. We toast to Newfoundland
and swallow our drinks in one gulp. Then comes the part we’ve been dreading. It’s time for the kissing of the cod. Michael reaches into a plastic bag and pulls out a frozen cod. One-by-one we’re told to put on the yellow fishing hat and pucker-up. When it comes to me, I’m fearless (I’ve kissed worse). I plant one on that sucker and promptly grab a napkin to wipe my lips (the fish might now be wearing a little pink lipstick). We are asked to repeat the swearing-in phrase, “Deed I is me ole cock and long may your big job jaw.” It’s explained to us but, as I’ve already drunk the Screech Rum, I have no idea what I’m saying. With that we are pronounced honorary Newfoundlanders (ooh, free health insurance). A few minutes later we are handed our certificates attesting to our honorary status.
Tomorrow – Finding Religion and Virgins
The plan for today is to head on over to Quidi Vidi, a tiny fishing village in St. John’s. Quidi Vidi Village (pronounced Kiddy Viddy) was used after World War II for the construction of a United States’ Air Force Base. Nowadays the village is a quiet community, where you can walk from one end to the other in five minutes flat. Although the wind is once again blowing enough to make me realize we’re not in Kansas anymore, I’m told it’s only a 15 minute walk. And, with the wind at my back, I should make it there in no time! I stop for a coffe and a scone at a cute little coffee ship on the way. From there I’m given directions and told it’s 15-20 minutes away (hmmm, I’ve already walked ten minutes). I head on out and, between beingn blown by the wind and sliding on the ice, I barely have to move my legs to make progress. After walking 15 minutes I realize I’m lost. I stop a guy on the street and ask for directions. He tells me to go back up the street I just came down, turn right and it’s about 15-20 minutes away. Are you kidding me? I, once again, head out in the direction I’m told and, sure enough about twenty minutes later I see the promised land, the Quidi Vidi Brewery.
I’ve already had the opportunity to sample the Quidi Vidi beer and am told to head on over to the brewery for an interesting tour and beer tastings, all for the low-low price of $15. I step into the tiny gift shop and ask about brewery tours. I’m told they,, unfortunately, don’t do them in the winter. Yes, one of the hazards of traveling off season but, as I didn’t have my heart set on this (I’ve been to lots of breweries, I was really in it for the beer), I move on. I walk on over to the Quidi Vidi Plantation which doubles as a welcome center and an artisans craft market. Downstairs there’s a young girl playing guitar and singing. As this is a small village, I’m sure she’s a local and possibly only working for tips. One shouldn’t expect Jewel. I walk upstairs to the artists’ area. The options range from print makers, painters and textile makers to pottery makers, soap makers and weavers. After wandering around I decide to check out the Mallard Cottage, a restaurant housed in a building recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada, as being one of the oldest wooden buildings in North America. I’m told it’s a cozy place with a fireplace and great food. Unfortunately, when I arrive I’m also told that they are full for brunch both today and tomorrow and not available for dinner until tomorrow night.
I then head across the street to the Inn of Olde. A few people have told me about this place and Linda, its owner. Apparently this place is incredibly quirky and Linda is even more so. Supposedly, this is like walking into someone’s basement and, if you’re looking for the restroom, be sure to turn in the right direction or you’ll end up in the kitchen. If you’re looking for the diveiest of dive bars, this is supposedly the place. Unfortunately, that also means that there are really no set hours. I arrive at 1:00 on a Saturday afternoon and the door is locked (although the sign says open). As these seem to be the only two restaurants/pubs in Quidi Vidi, I walk back to the Plantation (ever so slightly irritated) and ask if they can call me a taxi (I walked here with the wind and, although it’s calmed down a bit, I’m hungry!). While ‘m waiting, I notice a brochure for the Inn of Olde. They dial the number for me and, after a couple of rings, a woman answers.
“Yes, is this the Inn of Olde?”
“Are you open?”
“Oh, I went there and the door was locked.”
“Yeh, we closed at noon.”
“Uh, so you’re not open.”
“Okay, uh thanks.”
My cab arrives, I hop in and ask to be dropped in downtown St. Johns. On the way, the driver tells me about the St. John’s Regatta, North America’s oldest sporting event. It’s held on Quidi Vidi Lake in August and, according to Mr. Taxi Driver, you wake up at 6:30am and, if the weather is good, the regatta is on and the city shuts down. If the weather is bad, everyone goes to work. It’s a bit like the Inn of Olde.
I finally end up eating lunch at what has now become my regular place, the Yellowbelly Brewery and Public House. I order the Poutine (pronounced poo-teen), which is a traditional eastern Canadian dish originally from Quebec but now served all over eastern Canada. It’s made French-fries topped with light brown gravy and cheese curd. While they skip the cheese curd and make it with cheese at Yellow Belly’s, I have no doubt that my heart attack risk remains the same. Supposedly they serve Poutine at McDonalds out here which I cannot even contemplate. After a glass of Yellowbelly’s Wexford Wheat, it’s nap time before dinner and a show tonight.
At 6:30 I head over to the Masonic Lodge to see the Spirit of Newfoundland Productions perform their show, “Women Doin’ Men.” After my evening of service the night before, Kathy, the owner has invited me to attend tonight’s show on the house. As I wasn’t able to see much of the show the previous night, I take her up on her offer. I sit at a table of fun people from St. John’s and Paradise, the next city over. The woman next to me is a riot and becomes even funnier the more she drinks (or maybe it’s the more I drink). The show is fabulous with the three female singers doing comedy and performing songs traditionally sung by men. While I plan to head over to the famous George Street after the show, it ends at 11:15 and the wine has gone to my head. George Street will have to wait.
Tomorrow – Museums, Speakeasies and Screech-Ins, Oh My!
Don’t forget, this series starts with “Oh Canada.” You might want to check it out.
Today I wake up (very late) to freezing rain being pounded against windows at 100km per hour. For the Americans, that’s 60 miles per hour. I was out quite late last night and it turns out I picked the right morning to sleep in. When I finally drag myself out of bed I’ve long missed one of the “B’s” in my B&B experience so I get a restaurant recommendation from Renee at the B&B. I end up at the Bagel Café just a couple of blocks from the B&B. I borrow an umbrella from the Gower House which, after one gust of wind, promptly flies out in a direction it’s not supposed to (sorry about the umbrella, Renee). I sit at a lovely table facing the blistering ice storm outside. This is one of those places you could spend some time in drinking coffee and having a hearty breakfast.
After gathering my courage I head out to brave the storm for the short walk back. Unfortunately, my snow boots aren’t so brave. While they’re good Columbia snow boots, they’ve been sitting in my 130 degree garage for a few years in the arid Phoenix climate for a few years. Apparently, this has dried out the rubber which, when walking in the half snow-covered, half flooded streets causes the boots to disintegrate with every step I take. By the time I arrive back at my B&B there’s very little rubber left on my boots and a ridiculous amount of freezing water inside my boots. Fabulous!
I head upstairs to climb under warm covers for my daily nap (apparently I’ve turned into a three year-old). At 4:00 I drag myself out of bed to get ready for an evening of volunteer work. I meet Janet Cull, one of the singers from Spirit of Newfoundland Productions based out of the Masonic Lodge and she drives me and Kelly Ann Evans, another singer, over to the city of Mt. Pearl, Newfoundland where they’ll be entertaining and I’ll be assisting with dinner at the Snowball Dinner and Dance at the Mt. Pearl Frosty Festival, a truly local experience.
After stopping for a traditional Tim Horton’s coffee on the way we arrive and I meet chef Daryl. He’s typical of most chefs I’ve worked with – high energy, passionate about the food he serves and the service of it, and the mouth of a sailor. I’m also introduced to a college student, also named Daryl who acts as Chef’s assistant (Hello, I’m Carole and this is my chef Daryl and my other chef Daryl). I’m immediately shown how to plate the desserts (uh, mouse in charge of the cheese) which is a Screech cake served with a rum caramel and raspberry sauce. Screech is a local rum made and served in Newfoundland and used in a ceremony called a Screech-In where one becomes an official Newfoundlander (sort of like a Bar Mitzvah Newfoundland style).
I channel my inner Picasso and try to squirt the sauces on the plates to look like a beautiful painting (they look more like bad Jackson Pollack’s than good Picasso’s). On goes the Screech cake and some sliced strawberries and dessert is ready. Now we just have to get through the dinner service. We have a production line and I’m plating turnips and carrots. It’s me, the two Daryl’s and some high-school kids who work as servers at the Masonic (they don’t know what to make of me). Chef gives us instructions, “Don’t serve any crap!” As we’re working the line, I tell them a bit of my story – why I’m here, what I’m doing – and I learn a bit about their lives in Newfoundland. Before you know it, all 360 people have been served.
We gather in the hallway in the back of the house and grab plates for ourselves (this causes flashbacks of my previous career in meeting and event planning). As we eat and chat, I encourage them to live lives of adventure and passion. I tell them that, while it’s important that they support themselves when they’re adults, they should find ways to explore the world and the people in it. One of the kids tells me I’m cool. Somehow it’s nice to be one of the cool kids even when in your forties. It turns out this kid is a philosopher with his commentary on his stuffed pork and veggie dinner saying passionately, “This is food for your brain but, slapping is chest, pizza is food for the soul.” I think he’s cool too.
We finish up and, when intermission is called, we begin busing tables. As I’ve not exactly packed clothes for this – I’m wearing dress pants and a nice black sweater, I’m hesitant to get sticky and gooey (yes, playing the princess card) and, after a few minutes of busing tables, I’m serving coffee and tea. I successfully pour tea and coffee for 15 tables without spilling on anyone (they’ll celebrate this feat as a national holiday in Canada for years to come).
Before you know it, the show is over and I’m being told that, although I’m volunteering, I’ll be included in the split of the tips. I let them know that it’s greatly appreciated but mine should be split amongst the kids doing the service. Kathy, the owner of the Masonic then offers me a complimentary dinner and a show the following evening at the Masonic Lodge.
Don’t forget to look for a profile of the Masonic Lodge and the fundraising effort they’re about to embark on to fix up this historic building. You’ll see it on www.Rebel-With-A-Cause.org in a week or so. Subscribe there and you’ll receive an E-mail when the article is up and running.