Thursday, October 11, 2018

Western Atlantic - Part Seven: The Maritime Way

On we went to Port Hood, and our lodging for the day of our last Celtic Colors show, which happened nearby in Mabou, one historic location of several populated by Scottish emigrants arriving in the mid-19th century. The favored watering hole is called the Red Shoe, and is cultish enough that we saw an elderly lady with some undefinable localism to her, with a shirt with the logo "Red Shoe-aholic". We were completely ready to indulge in the very respectable Nova Scotia Cereal Killer - this being the name of their oatmeal stout - from the Big Spruce brewers, and the RS was ready to indulge us in that desire.

Right across the street, roughly, was  a vivid view:








And after a suitable time, we proceeded across the other way to the local meeting hall, where the salmon feed fundraiser was underway, where we met both locals and nonlocals from Maine and California, moreover Central California, perhaps improbably. This meal was Thanksgiving-like, no surprise given Canada's Thanksgiving had just happened two days before. The salmon stood in for turkey, but otherwise familiar fare.

Before I forget, though, I need to cover our spare lodging down the road, where a very taciturn fellow threw open a door to the office at our arrival, and left it open. Inside was a stack of flooring tiles, a woodworking-ready table on the other side of the somewhat cavernous room, and CNN provided the soundtrack. Impressively, a sweeping view of the hardware store greeted us out our window:










It was a fitting introduction to our meeting hall dinner somehow.





And we had just enough time to hustle down the road to the concert, a locals-heavy reflection on the musical connections across the Atlantic, many to the Inner Hebrides, including several MacDonalds who emigrated to Mabou, Judique, and other NS locations, carrying with them the Gaelic speech incomprehensible to the other transplanted Canadians, as well as the musical styles, the strathspey being one of the notable forms associated with this North American maritime area.

Suffice it to say that this area of Cape Breton has significant talent in step-dancing, pipes, fiddle, bhodran, whistles and Gaelic ballads. The local kids learn Gaelic, and Gaelic tunes, at an early age, and although none of the songs with lyrics were in any other language, many in the audience were singing along, and there is a local choral group which apparently only does music in the old language.

We got ready to drive back to Moncton in the morning in increasingly driving rain. Then I noticed the sign on our motel room door.

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Western Atlantic - Part Six: Way Down East

Day Two in Sydney started with a hike quite near our AirBnB, starting at a church and moving relentlessly upward, so steeply that ropes were strung between trees to assist especially on the slippery way down:

 Having ascended, we got a reward of a pretty large view of the northern stretch of Sydney - but it being a somewhat surly day at that point, the results aren't particulary post-worthy.












But on the other hand, on the way back, there was this twisted tree with significant personality:




















And then it was time to reconnoiter the city to investigate the next venue at the Big Fiddle, a thousand-plus hall with an iconic sculpture in front:

And, hey, how handy, there's a pub right across the street, so why not...

Later, we went to one of the major events of the Celtic Colors, the Big Ceilidh at the Big Fiddle, featuring among others the energetic homegrown trad group Coig and the headlining Scots clan Blazing Fiddles. The crowd needed less prodding as these took the stage, check out Coig from last year for instance:

And hey, they have a pretty nice cover of Peter G.'s Solsbury Hill to boot. And the fiddles did blaze for the headliners. These groups have a nice way of balancing the otherwise high frequency-heavy mix with a keyboard with the bottom end up, so they can drive the songs nicely without drums.

Then the next morning back on the road north to Ingonish, where a cabin awaited. The Mainers call the upper coast of the state "Down East", apparently because "downwind", where the boats were pushed, went there. And Ingonish is nearly as far east as you can get and be in North America. And we figured we'd get a look from the North, at Cape Smokey overlook, with plenty of mischievous clouds messing up the light:


up












And then, what do you know, we were able to drag our increasing proliferation of effects into the cramped-but-cozy cabin, how about that view:
 No, no, I meant that view:

(that would be the one off our deck...)


 We have continued to hear the locals lament the "Celtic Colors Effect" - meaning a little too much success with the tourism outreach front, increasing traffic, property values, general crowding, this would sound familiar. We have felt Nova Scotia especially to be quite sedate, though, since the great preponderance of these love/hate visitors come to light in midsummer.

With rain upcoming in the next days, we hustled again up the coast to capitalize on another bright day, taking our host's recommendation of the hike around Warren Lake, inside the Cape Breton National Park, a flat three miles or so, with plenty of color:

A lot of the evergreen trees around this lake look like the stuff up very high in the Sierras and elsewhere, somewhat stubby pines of boreal forests.

I decided to put up with my shadow in the name of catching this fascinating, sun-bleached tree root that decorated the gravelly beach.

Then back to the cabin. The water is cold and refreshing, and made me remember that when we got to Alma in New Brunswick earlier in the trip, there was a boil order in effect, so we had to keep glasses of bottled water handy for teeth brushing and whatever. You could tell that it was sketchy just from the smell of running it. That said, I have to acknowledge that an inconvenience like that was about the worst I could relate in our trip so far.

Fingers crossed, touch wood.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Western Atlantic - Part Five: Coast To Ceilidh

Here it is, if anything, the most perfect morning we've had yet, in Cheticamp, Nova Scotia, the view out our room's window, watching the river flow:


Well, I should say, perfect until a child next door decided to move furniture, play basketball, or engage in some other obstreperous activity. He was busy last night as well, fortunately only until 8:30 or so we got a good night's sleep. 

I was thinking about a couple of interesting people we've encountered so far, along the "most far-flung" category. The winner is a New Zealander, waiting tables at a Halifax ramen shop, a recent arrival who told us she was "terrified" at the thought of her first winter there. But an interesting runner-up was our host in St. Martins, a retired Denver homicide cop who told us that at the time of his retirement, he thought running a BnB in Canada sounded like a treat, and has not, some years later, appeared to revise that opinion.


Our place was right next to the entrance to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, so we decided to avail ourselves of the Acadian Trail, literally a short walk from our motel, on shiny, crisp weather, Barb is making her way along a particularly sylvan part which reminds me of UCSC campus, but a deciduous flavor.










                                                                                 .. and this takes you to an overlook platform in a couple of kilometers, this time with only a breeze rather than a raking hurricane as yesterday:









Our next night was in the town of Baddeck (bad-ECK, we screwed this up, of course, initially), where we had our first Bretonic music experience, an afternoon jam session at the yacht club, or one version of a Ceilidh (intuition never serves for Gaelic, that would be like the name Kaylee):


The young guitar/fiddle/singer especially could rock a jump tune whether original or trad/Celtic. (n.b. In many cases the best sessions will occur after midnight, but you're unlikely to find us there under the circumstances, or really ever, we've grown to love our sleep too dearly.)

 But we must remain at some point focused on the next destination, in this case the vicinity of the island's main metropolis, Sydney, but on the way understand many will make a stop at the Gaelic College, nominally Syndney area, but really quite rural, Barb here is posing next to a sculpture of their logo on the quad:

And very nearby is a series of ocean-fed lakes called Bras d'Or, which define the geography of the southwestern sector of the island, of which this panorama gives but a hint:





And at this overlook, called the St. Anne's Overlook, more of the far-flung - a man wearing an Oklahoma Sooners sweatshirt and his wife, major fans and veterans of many Celtic Colors years who drove up from the Sooner State. Right after they supplied us with essential ferry information, we started back to our car, when we heard another couple approaching them and saying, "I can't believe it! We're from Oklahoma too!"

And with a little time to kill, having gotten to Sydney, we decided to squeeze in a too-quick visit to the very substantial Louisburg fort, the result of an enormous effort in the sixties to reconstruct an utterly destroyed 18th Century French colonial fortress to its 1740 incarnation:
Now, needless to say, the destruction of said fortress was the work of England, but in the 1740's was firmly in French hands. I was challenged by a sergeant in period costume who at one point declared, "I ask the questions here, sir." I felt so frustrated not to be a Francophone at that point, just to adopt a proper truckling attitude.

The somewhat bleak town of Louisburg (pronounced Lewis rather than Louie) and its accompanying fort are on a particularly exposed point of the Atlantic, and the simple soup they served at the fort's canteen was particularly welcome as we escaped inside from a cold raking wind on an otherwise brilliant day.

Then it was time for checking in, shopping, laundry, and preparation for our first ticketed event in Sydney, at a vintage theater called the Savoy, in the town of Glace Bay (here again, you can't go French on this one, the locals say "glayce", they'll get you every time.)

This is a snippet of the show we saw last night at the Savoy, including Donald Shaw and Karen Matheson with Scottish folk group Capercaillie - a group with quite a bit of panache: 




And speaking of the far-flung: in the lobby awaiting this show, we talked with a mother and son, the former a Seattle-ite, the latter an Ohio resident, who had taken a very big drive trip which encompassed, among other things, Aptos, CA, and Midland, TX, on their way to Nova Scotia.

The show was a bit subdued on the audience side, alas, they needed some whipping up by the performers, and appeared to require permission to clap for a jig. But then, this was a pretty old crowd, perhaps one in fifteen was under 40. We mused about whither the trad scene, if the kids reject that trad stuff like they do the silver tea set or brown furniture, well...

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Western Atlantic - Part Four: East To Big Sur

This kind of summed up yesterday, Wednesday - rain and wind, all day. 

I found myself thinking about the December 1917 explosion I saw documented so impressively in my visit to the Maritime Museum in Halifax. Two ships collide, one is a munitions ship, then the latter explodes, and more than 1500 people die, and an urban square mile is utterly destroyed. There is a park two miles distant which has a heavy chunk of anchor from the ship mounted where it landed, just to help underline one measure of it's broad impact on the city, and that city's resilience. It didn't appear to matter that it was cold and snowy on that day, let alone my rain-and-wind, their response, not to mention that of another place familiar with severe weather, Boston, was businesslike, rapid, and effective.

Another measure of the yeoman spirit is this isolationist humor in the washroom of a purveyor of impressive chowder in Whycocomagh NS, a fine mouthful for a fine mouthful:










It should be noted that Cape Breton is connected to the rest of Canada by a kind of skinny levee perhaps a mile long...


The wind continued as we settled in for the night in an otherwise pastoral setting in the village of Cheticamp, but the rain abated, and by the morning the temp has risen, improbably, to room temperature as we embarked on a traversal of the famed Cabot Trail, which I would call the Atlantic Big Sur:










The mixture of the conifers, the turning hardwoods, and the expansive views was remarkable:






It was sometimes a challenge to snag a shot of one of those long ocean views when paving crews had monopolized some key overlooks for staging, how insensitive...







It didn't keep us from making our way inland to a nice waterfall...

And a vertiginous, hurricane-like experience at the edge of the Atlantic world that threated to throw us off the edge:

We will, alas, have to harden ourselves tomorrow for the more typical daytime fifties, and perhaps not a little rain, in the days to come.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Western Atlantic - Part Four: The Bore's Triumph

There was some uncertainty in the morning in Moncton as to direction. Enter Nova Scotia to the north, just to find out what a town called Pugwash might look like? Or see more Fundy bluffs to the south?

The lure of interesting names won out, though - sorry Pugwash - we just went through town in its case, but we did lunch in Tatamagouche, where you can overnight in a railroad dining car. In a stationary car, that is, though we will have to wait until some other time to experience that. However, the lunchtime seafood gumbo, an artifact of "New Scotland" early Acadian culture, was very respectable.

 This leftover boat and building, encountered not far away near a cemetery, seemed like the perfect embellishments to the water's edge.






And the gently turning colors and complex clouds just down the road from that were so magnificent.

We had come through Amherst on the way, just over the provincial border, and stopped at a nature preserve where the swamp-loving birds hang out - but alas, none for us in this dead part of the season. However, the locals had, over time, fed the black-capped chickadees so regularly that they begged food of anyone entering from the parking lot. Some others there clearly thought it charming, but I was a bit disturbed. I contrasted that with seeing a peregrine falcon the day before at the Cape Enrage national park, where it seemed more that they continued their activities relatively independently of humans, but maybe I romanticize that given the popularity of the Fundy Park areas (a well-deserved popularity I'd say.)

We overnighted in the quite workaday city of Truro, where we checked out the Tidal Bore, not as boring as you think; the incoming tide overcomes the outflowing river in a suprisingly dramatic way, and one fairly unique to Fundy area. Then we made our way through increasingly wet weather to the historically maritime town of Lunenburg, which has this wonderfully sleek vessel deeply steeped in NS history, the Bluenose II:

Then it was on to the very urban Halifax and our next lodging, just up the street from the Maritime Museum, plenty of construction and old/new contrasts, just the Halifax, ma'am:














...and finished the day with some Ramen and offerings from local Rock Bottom Brewery.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Western Atlantic - Part Three: In Search of Flower Pots

After a hearty breakfast at the St. Martins BnB, we sallied forth to conquer the Fundy Trail, a remarkable series of commanding bay vistas, waterfalls, and connecting trails, which however we knew were not going to quite have time to march along in a big way (which would be twelve miles roundtrip.) As the capstone was Walton Gorge, a Yosemite-like slot of drainage with a vertiginous view of its main falls, crazy rocks everywhere:



There are views along gravelly or sandy beaches for miles, and the gravel in particular is exposed in vast swathes as its famously low tide releases, revealing oddly sculpted sea floor stones, including woody sedimentary rock in views stretching across the bay to Nova Scotia:













And there is even a tenuous-looking suspension footbridge crossing to, well, nowhere in particular, but providing an interesting view along the stream where voluminous quantities of logs were extricated from their moorings, particularly early in the last century:

















Then we proceeded to the village of Alma, bustling by comparison with St. Martins, but soon to be very sleepy as the season shuts up like a trap in a week or so. It allows access to the Fundy National Park, which however we gave pretty short shrift given miles to be covered. Alma is a town really all about lobster, not by far the only such around here, and I availed myself of my first lobster roll, really just a roll with lobster meat in it, often rated by simple commitment to poundage of lobster flesh, but memorable despite the spareness of this description. There's an impressively accurate model of a moose on the main drag which does not pass fifteen minutes without an embrace from a tourist seeking the perfect jocular photo, and a bakery with frighteningly rich fare.

After a night featuring a failed search for a thermostat, we proceeded to perhaps the most popular Fundy attraction, Hopewell Rocks, which features peculiarities of erosion dubbed "flower pots", which make for interesting framing of backgrounds, and certainly muddy boots:


- not to mention truly vast views in all directions:


It will be apparent that again we were favored with the shiniest possible weather:

And then on to Moncton, one of three New Brunswick urban realms, for more pub action including red plaid hipsters and plump and rowdy girls.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Western Atlantic - Part Two: The Way To Fundy

Continuing north, we arrive at the other vibrant and hip Portland, that of the Irish pubs, massive Whole Foods, waterfront walk, and this impressive park built around a Civil War era site:


And yet another crystalline day to make it seem more irresistable. But too soon, it's necessary to resume the highway to navigate to the trying-harder city of Bangor, and lest we promote bad pronunciation habits by even mentioning it:



And I must say, truly friendly and curious locals; we wandered into a bank downtown seeking Canadian currency, and were offered a plethora of both arcana and essential local info. And dialed in dinner at the fairly newly-minted Sea Dog brewpub.

Our lodging was comfortable and corporate, which seemed like it worked under the circumstances, and prepared us well for the next day's journey over the border at Calais, and you may also run afoul of pronunciation if you have another famous crossing in mind, that would be CAL-is, despite this being in the vicinity of a famous Francophone Zone. Fortunately we had been forewarned by the pronunciation offered by the estimable Bangor info center locals, so we didn't have to endure humiliation.

A soft rain held sway through most of our traversal to our next stop, a fairly informal picnic ground in New Brunswick:














A little after being beset by a dog from the house in the background, we discovered a much more substantial picnic area at a falls overlook a mere couple hundred yards down the road, oh well.

And then, what a treat, after blowing through the bustle of St. Johns, the sleepy Bay of Fundy gateway of St. Martin's, to be in a garret room overlooking the bay, with an adjacent snuggery:



And a truly memorable dinner at that same lodging. The fishing boats may have been mired in the low tide mud, but we were floating in satisfaction. And looking forward to the newly-minted Bay of Fundy trail tomorrow morning.