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.
*Have you read Playing in Pubs and Dungeons yet? You might want to visit it first.
Following my impromptu tour of the Masonic Lodge I go back to my plan for the day which is to walk up to Signal Hill. I’d just like to take a moment to reiterate the point that this is one of the many reasons not to plan every minute. If I had, I never would have wandered into the Masonic Lodge let alone spent a couple of hours talking to the owner, touring it, and being interviewed for a podcast. And don’t forget, finding a volunteer opportunity and getting transportation to it (thanks to fabulous singers Janet and Kelly-Ann). So now it’s time to step down off my soapbox and step up (and up, and up) to Signal Hill.
A bit about the history of Signal Hill; as its name implies, centuries before the advent of ship-to-shore radio, signalman perched on Signal Hill surveyed the ocean for ships headed toward the port of St. John’s. Flag signals flown on the hill communicated the names of arriving ships to those who the townspeople below. In 1901 Guglielmo Marconi (of dot-dot-dot, dash-dash-dash fame) received the first transatlantic wireless signal at Signal Hill. Before all of that, British and French soldiers battled to control this strategic location.
To get there I’m told to head east and just keep walking uphill. While there is a beautiful hiking trail leading up to Signal Hill, I’m warned not to attempt it during the winter as it surely means death. While not one to head warnings of danger easily (if the sign says, “Welcome, come in!” there’s normally a little less adventure than if it says, “Danger, keep out!”), I had been cautioned by a few people so I decide to not die in St. John’s on my first full day here.
As I head out of the downtown area the scenery begins reminding me of my old cruise ship days only the ships are cargo ones. Still, the dock area seems a bit deserted. As I climb, I pass joggers (ok, they pass me) and I wonder about the mental health of these Newfies. The climb up, even on the road is a great workout and, as I climb, I get different views of St. John’s Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.
Forty minutes and two sticks of licorice later (your mileage may vary) I reach the top of Signal Hill. While the visitors center and Cabot Tower atop Signal Hill are closed this time of year, there are signs on top explaining much of the history for me to take a self-guided tour. The 360 degree views of the city, the harbor and the Atlantic Ocean are spectacular.
After a bit of time walking around each side enjoying the views, reading historical markers and generally contemplating life I head back down. While it may be forty minutes up, it’s only twenty minutes down and, before you know it, I’m back in town for a short nap before heading out to find some fish and chips for dinner.
When I look online to view people’s opinions on where to find the best fish and chips in town, the general answer seems to be The Duke of Duckworth. And a bonus is that it’s close to my B&B. I head on over, walk in the door and immediately notice that two strange men I had met the night before are sitting inside. Are you kidding me? I turn around and decide to find an alternate location (plans are meant to be changed). I walk further down Water Street and happen upon the Yellow Belly Brewery and Public House. I peek at the menu and see that they have fish and chips (although they’re upscale ones made with panko breadcrumbs) so I decide to stay as the men don’t seem strange and the fish and chips sound good. The Yellow Belly is an historic building (lots of them here in St. John’s) originally built in 1700. It was the end point of the big fire of 1894 which burnt down most of the city. While the building sustained a good amount of damage, the infrastructure remained (you can see evidence of this in a charred beam with the year 1894 carved into it in the lower level). While there I meet John from Halifax (he assures me he’s no Saint, so the city is definitely not named after him) who introduces me to George street where we stop in one of the many (and I mean many) pubs and listen to some authentic Irish music. More about George Street later this week.
Tomorrow, through ice and sleet and snow, I volunteer. Read about it in “Through Rain, Sleet and the Frosty Festival”
Have you read “Oh Canada” yet? No? You should start there.
After a long day of flying I land in St. John’s, New Foundland at 7:00pm. It was founded in 1497 and is considered by many to be the oldest city in North America with settlement beginning around 1630. Sebastian Cabot (wasn’t he in that old show Family Affair? Apparently he was an explorer before that) declares in a hand written text in Latin in his original 1544 map that St. John’s earned its name when he and his father, the Venetian explorer John Cabot became the first Europeans to sail into the harbor, in the morning of June 24, 1494. Historians disagree, saying it was in 1497 on the feast day of St. John the Baptist. They also disagree about the location of his landfalls (can’t we all just get along?). Anyway, it turns out I’m now closer to London than to Phoenix.
Finding my luggage was easy as St. John’s airport has two baggage carousels. I grabbed a taxi and was at my Bed & Breakfast by 7:45 (note – the time difference from Phoenix is 3 ½ hours. Yup, it’s so far east that it gets an extra ½ hour). I’ve reserved 4 nights at the Gower House B&B. Why a B&B? Well, when I looked into hotels there seemed to be a lot of bed and breakfasts in the downtown area. As I don’t plan on having a car here (then again, I don’t plan much) it seemed a good, centralized location. Also, I’ve been lucky enough to stay in some of the best hotels in the world (none of the best hotels in the world are in St. John’s) and I like the different personalities of B&B’s. You also tend to meet people in a B&B, which works out well if you’re traveling alone. And, with a small budget, the Gower House was on the lower end as far as price goes (although, since you’ve sent me here in low-season, everybody’s prices are pretty good. Thanks!). And why did I reserve four nights when I’m staying seven? Well, you never know what might happen. Maybe some great opportunity will arise and I’d prefer not to be locked in to this place. With it being low season, there shouldn’t be a problem adding nights. Although, being low season, cancellation policies are, well, non-existent. I booked more than my planned two nights as their cancelation policy this time of year is, “if possible, just let us know.”
Joseph shows me to my room with a private bath and a queen sized bed with a cozy quilt (it feels like I’m staying at grandma’s house). I unpack a few things and ask Joseph where a girl might find a drink. He gives me a recommendation or two and I end up at The Ship Pub having beers, talking with locals and listening to folk music and story tellers. The Ship Pub is no different than most bars in St. John’s, and there are a lot of them as, allegedly, St. John’s has more bars per capita than anywhere else in North America, And most have music nightly. It’s folk-a-palooza night at The Ship Pub, but the most impressive act is a local storyteller. His poem about answering the sex question asked by his eight year old daughter is priceless. I meet many other storytellers this night, but they are simply bar patrons trying to mess with the American girl.
I return to the B&B to get a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately nobody mentioned this to the snow-plow driver working directly outside my window for 1:00-2:30am. I head down for breakfast and, unfortunately, the two other people staying at the B&B choose to skip breakfast this morning. I ask Renee, who serves breakfast what her favorite thing to do in St. John’s in the winter is. Much like the taxi driver and the bar patrons, she doesn’t have much of an answer. So far the answer has been, “Sit in my basement and play music, hibernate, drink, and walk my dog.” I’m a believer that there’s always something fun to do and someone interesting to meet if you try hard enough so I head out to explore.
While walking, I pass two people talking outside of an interesting looking building. I passed this place last night and saw the same thing (different people). I turn around and decide to pop in and see what this place is. I must tell you that the last time I did this was in Krakow, Poland and I ended up in an old castle in a small audience of people drinking wine and listening to the last half of a concert performed by the Krakow Stringed Quartet. Word to the wise – always turn around and explore. It turns out this is the old Masonic Lodge where the secret Freemasons group met regularly and did whatever they do which, apparently is a big secret. The building was built 116 years ago and during this time, the general public wasn’t allowed in most parts of the building. Well, luck was with me. The two people having a conversation out front were Kathy, one of the owners and Lillian who, with her husband, hosts a podcast called, Republic of Avalon Radio. Lillian had set up an appointment to interview Kathy and tour the building and I was invited along. Kathy and her partner purchased this building just a few years ago to establish the theatre company Spirit of Newfoundland. The building is now used as a theatre and event venue. Kathy and her partner are refurbishing the place in order to use the entire inside space and bring all of the rooms up to current safety code. This will take some money and fund raisers are planned.
In the meantime, we get the inside scoop on this historic building. Kathy first brings us down to her office where she shows us the photo taken from the laying of the cornerstone in the late 1800’s. We then tour the many rooms including the chapter room (think secret ceremonies), the piano room (not the original name but it’s where they’re currently storing the many ornate pianos which have been donated), the room which holds the pipe organ which Kathy is nice enough to play for us, and the dungeon. Yes, the dungeon. It’s accessed through lifting a square of planks in the floor and climbing down a ladder. Apparently “pledges” would be put
in there with the only light being from a candle which lit up a skull. Kathy is nice enough to allow Lillian and myself to climb into the dungeon and close the lid. I’m not sure what you do on your vacation but mine includes being shut in dungeons.
Our tour ends in the Screech Room which is a traditional “Newfie” ceremony which I’ll describe in a later article. Suffice to say it involves fish and rum. As we finish up Lillian interviews me for her podcast and John, the Operations Manager tells me of a charitable event they’re participating in the following night at a winter carnival. They’lll provide the entertainment, food and food service. Before I know it, Janet, one of the performers and also the reservations manager, volunteers to meet me at the lodge and drive me there. I’ve found my volunteer opportunity.
Continued in “Stepping Up To Signal Hill”
We have a winner for our first vote on Drop Me Anywhere, and let me just say, you people have a sense of humor. Without further ado (feelin’ a bit Shakespearean), our winner is St. John’s, New Foundland! What? Where? It’s somewhere up in Canada. Let me explain how we got here.
When voting opened on January 1, I had decided that this first vote would be a tribute to fellow adventurer Jimmy Buffet. One of his many iconic songs is “Boat Drinks.” In this song he sings, “I gotta fly to St. Somewhere” while dreaming about going someplace warm during a cold winter. Perhaps one of the many Caribbean islands; maybe St. Thomas, or St. Maarten, or even St. Barts (aka St. Barths, St. Barthelemy, call it what you like, spellcheck doesn’t recognize any of them). I listed these places as options for places to drop me. I also listed some other options, St. Paul, Minnesota and St. Petersburg, Russia in order to get you to think outside the box. Who knew that you would not only think outside of the box, but break out of it, climb on top of it, jump up and down and scream, “Box! We don’t need no stinkin’ box!”?
Actually, the chosen location came from a Facebook and E-mail campaign started by my friend, Shaunah. You see, she lives in Vancouver, Canada, a beautiful city with a lot of fun things to do. But she’s thinking about taking a trip to St. John’s, Newfoundland and thought ‘why not send Carole to scope out the place? She can let me know what fun activities there are, where I should stay and what the people are like.’ To this I say, “Bravo!” That’s one of the reasons I started Drop Me Anywhere and that’s why you decide where I go. Just think of me as your advance team (well aren’t you fancy).
Since Shaunah wanted to hear a first-hand experience of the place, she shared the voting page with her Canadian Facebook and E-mail contacts asking them to share their national pride (as Mayor Rob Ford and Justin Bieber were falling down on the job lately) and vote for St. John’s. Well, her campaign snowballed (as anything would in St. John’s in January) and, with a 29% of the votes, St. John’s, Newfoundland is the new “must go” destination for February (at least for me).
I hope to leave in about two weeks. In the meantime, I’ll be getting ready by pretty much doing nothing. That’s another reason I started this, right? To get you more comfortable with traveling without a plan. So I’ll book a flight and, depending on what time that flight arrives, I’ll book someplace to stay for a night or two. But then, well, who knows? The two things I do know are that I won’t die (probably) and it will be an adventure (definitely).
So be sure to click on that subscribe key and follow Drop Me Anywhere on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with me, hear about this trip and find out when our next vote is announced. Oh, and don’t forget another reason I started this – once I arrive, I’ll be finding an organization to volunteer with a then tell I’ll you about it on Rebel-With-A-Cause. So you might want to subscribe there too!