Friday, August 30, 2019

East Coast: Shediac, Confederation Bridge, Cavendish, PEI (Day 5)

Continued from Day 4 ...

The world's largest lobster is in Shediac, NB 

Ontario. Quebec. New Brunswick.

Prince Edward Island.

We were about to cross into our fourth province so far. But before that, we had a stop in Shediac, a small city about 20 minutes away from Moncton. Shediac (population about 6000) is known as the "lobster capital of the world", and hosts an annual festival every July which promotes its ties to lobster fishing. At the western entrance to the town is a 90-tonne sculpture called "The World's Largest Lobster".

The World's Largest Lobster

Of course, if you are in Shediac, you HAVE to try their lobster. We found a place that was selling lobster rolls for around $9. Each sandwich had about 2 lbs of lobster meat, freshly cooked. The sandwich ... was ... AMAZING.

Something to be said for seafood on 
an east coast trip in Canada

After that, it was time to head for Prince Edward Island (PEI). PEI is Canada's smallest province, but connected to the mainland through the Confederation Bridge - Canada's largest bridge.

In fact, the 12.9-kilometre (8 mi) bridge is the world's longest bridge over ice-covered water. There's no toll if you are travelling from New Brunswick to PEI (like us), but there is if you are travelling in the other direction.

It takes some guts to drive on to a bridge that you do not see the end for a long time. It just disappears into the horizon, over the sea (technically the Abegweit Passage of the Northumberland Strait). When travelling at the speed limit (80 km/hr), it takes about 12 minutes to cross the bridge.

You want to get off at the first exit as soon as you cross (Port Borden) so you can get some great pictures of the bridge. Luckily, it was a glorious day, with plenty of sunshine. This was originally a rail stop where passengers would disembark and wait for a ferry to cross in the past.

Interestingly, even though PEI is the birthplace of Canada, the island (province) itself joined Canada a little later (1873). A condition for its joining was that the Government of Canada would provide a ferry service from the mainland. This condition was finally dropped only after the bridge was constructed in 1997, after more than a 120 years. Canada had to make a constitutional amendment once the bridge was open, and PEI had to agree, that the ferry was no longer a requirement!

After the brief stop in Port Borden, we made our way to Cavendish, PEI. The drive through the island was glorious. If there was one regret from our trip, it was that we only had 2 days to spend on PEI. In hindsight, the island was so pretty, the beaches so divine, the food so tasty, and the people so friendly, that we would recommend anyone spend more time exploring Canada's most unique province. Ideally we would have liked another couple of days in the province.

Cavendish, besides being a beach town, is also home of Green Gables, of Anne of the Green Gables fame. Green Gables is the name of a 19th-century farm in the city, and is one of the most notable literary landmarks in Canada.

The Anne of Green Gables house

The Green Gables farm and its surroundings are the setting for the popular Anne of Green Gables novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery (also a TV show). The site is also known as Green Gables Heritage Place.

The house was designated a National Historic Site in 1985 and the complex is located within Prince Edward Island National Park. Hence if you have a park pass, you can get in for free. Inside, each room is kept as it would have been during Anne's days, as it was on the TV show (and in the books).

It reminded me a bit of similar "old" houses you see elsewhere in Canada, such as the Grey Roots Museum (in Ontario).

The furnishings were straight out of a 
museum ... or my grandmother's

Is that a Singer?

Of course, for me a highlight was the full construction of the famous Green Gables house in LEGO!

Close to the Green Gables house was a cluster of shops that were all eateries. And yes, it included a chocolate shop also called Green Gables.

If you are visiting PEI, you have to visit its beaches. There's many beaches throughout the island, but we visited the one closest to us that day. As you can see, even the beaches are inside national parks (again, free with your park pass).

These were some of the best beaches I have seen in Canada. White (or red, unique to PEI) sands, with crystal clear blue water. And for some reason, not very crowded. It was very, very hot (almost 30C, even with the cloud cover) - so perfect weather to be at the beach.

Close to the town was some board walk shops that stayed open quite late, and were filled with tourists like us. So if you are one of the folks that got a souvenir from someone visiting Cavendish, this is likely where it was obtained from.

Charming. Cute. Quiet. Peaceful. Delightful.

Those were just some of the words I can use for Prince Edward Island. Truly a remarkable place. And for some of us in our group, PEI was the highlight of the trip.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

East Coast: Saint John and Fundy National Park (Day 4)

Continued from Day 3 ...

The next day was another gorgeous sun-baked day, and we started bright and early for Saint John, NB. This is New Brunswick's major port and industrial center, and lots of cruise ships dock here.

This city is spelled Saint John in full (no "s" at the end) to distinguish it from St. Johns in Newfoundland and Labrador. Saint John is about an hour and half away from Moncton, so makes for a perfect day trip.

New Brunswick Museum

Our first stop was the New Brunswick Museum. We were lucky - it was National Acadian Day - so entrance was free!

New Brunswick's 19th-century golden age of shipbuilding and sailing is beautifully represented, with artifacts and informative displays that give a sense of shipboard life and the places New Brunswick ships traveled.

There always has to be a mammoth - and this was in the great Changing Earth display, a hit with the kids.

What was the highlight was the Great Hall of Whales. It is pretty cool to walk under a full size whale and see how large the beast is!

They also had something I had never seen anywhere else before - a baleen. This is how whales filter their food.

Live Acadian Music as part of celebrations for 
National Acadian Day

 The Hall of Birds had models of all birds found 
in and around New Brunswick

What I loved about the museum was that the emphasis is on interpreting and understanding rather than just looking at collections, so there was lots of hands on things to do, especially for kids.

Fort Howe National Historic Site

If you have a National Park Discovery Pass, it allows you entrance to all National Historic Sites free of cost as well. Although there was no entrance fee here, Fort Howe sits on a hill that allows a great view of the city and the harbour.

At one time it is surreal to image that this was a British fort built in Saint John during the American Revolution. It was erected shortly after the American siege in 1777 to protect the city from further American raids. And today it's a free tourist gathering spot.

You drive up the hill, park, take a few pictures, enjoy the view on a glorious day, and that's it.

Reversing Falls

Saint John stands on a rocky point where the Saint John River enters the Bay of Fundy, and one of its most interesting features is that twice each day, that process reverses, and the bay seems to empty into the river.

The combination of the Bay of Fundy's unusually high tides and a narrow gorge at the end of the estuary gives the city its famous Reversing Falls, one of New Brunswick's top tourist attractions.

There is a small trail that leads down to the base of the bridge from the parking lot, and you can see the famous whirlpool effect as the river "empties" into the bay on low tide (which is when you should visit - the whirlpools and the "emptying" effect is something to see).

Fundy National Park

On the way back, we drove through Fundy National Park. It was a detour, but hey - we had the pass! :-)

The Park showcases a rugged coastline which rises up to the Canadian Highlands, the highest tides in the world and more than 25 waterfalls. It really deserves its own full day(s) if you are into hiking and camping.

When one looks across the Bay, one can see the northern Nova Scotia coast. What was nice was to stop at one of the lookout points and see the Bay (and the Hopewell Cape).

Our final point, past the small town of Alma (best lobster ever), was to make a quick stop at Cape Enrage Lighthouse.

This was our two full days of exploring the Bay of Fundy and New Brunswick. Tomorrow - Prince Edward Island.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

East Coast: Hopewell Rocks and Magnetic Hill (Day 3)

Continued from Days 1 & 2 ...

It was a gorgeous day, and we started bright and early after breakfast. Our first destination was Hopewell Rocks, Bay of Fundy. Now what is it that makes this place so special?

If you didn't know, the Bay of Fundy tides can reach up to 15m (50 ft) – the height of a four-storey building –  twice every day. This is the highest tide in the world. You'll want to visit the Hopewell Rocks during both high tide and low tide so you can truly appreciate the height and range of the tide.

Your admission to the park is valid for two days (keep the receipt), and high and low tides are 6 hours apart, so you can visit both on the same day if the tide timings work out (tide times shift by almost 50 minutes every day).

Now, should you visit high tide first, or low tide? It so happened that for us, the high tide was in the late morning, and then low tide in late afternoon, so we visited high tide first.

At first, you might wonder what's the big deal? It's just some rocks on the water.

The Hopewell Rocks reminds one of Flowerpot Island on Tobermory. This was peak high tide, and there was even kayaking on the bay.

And just think, all this water would be gone soon!

We now had 6 hours before low tide, so the plan was lunch and then Magnetic Hill, before coming back to the park.

I had read somewhere that signs such as this (I spotted it in the washrooms at the Visitor Centre) was due to the heavy influx of visitors from China. Apparently some of them are not used to Western toilets!

Lunch had to be seafood. We were in the East Coast after all!

This was one of the top seafood places in Moncton, and truly the fish and chips that I had was delicious. It was simply too good - you could taste the freshness. I tried a few of the other dishes as well - scallops, mussels, clams etc. and every thing was good.

Magnetic Hill is a place where your car, when you place it into neutral, appears to roll uphill. Yes, up the hill. I have no way to explain why your car rolls uphill. You have to see it and experience it. There was no one when we went, so the guy at the park let us go few times on the hill.

Theoretically this should explain it. But really, it doesn't. Your car is rolling up the hill.

After spending some quality time exploring the gift shops on the village and the wharf, it was time to go back to Hopewell Rocks.

The Rocks are about 15 minutes walk away from the entrance of the park. You can hike (easy fifteen minutes) or you can take a shuttle ($2 per person). When we got to the rocks, our breath was taken away.

I mean ... all of this was under water just a few hours ago! I have read, and seen pictures of this, online - but nothing prepares you for the sight in person! Not only can you see it, you can now descend down the stairs and walk on the ocean floor.

Imagine! Only the top of this mighty structure was visible above water just this morning. People were kayaking around it, and now we are walking on the ocean floor.

You are not restricted to the rocks, but you can walk out pretty far to the water's edge. Be careful, the waters and the waves are rough, but wow is it so far away! And this morning they were covering all of this!

It was surreal to walk on what was below 15 feet of water from the Atlantic just this morning. We saw pools of water where crabs and other small animals still huddled, waiting for the high tide to come back.

These composites show the remarkable difference between high tide and low tide at Hopewell Rocks.

As the pass is valid for two days, if you liked you could come back again the next day to see it once again at high tide. My boys really enjoyed walking on the "beach" and collecting rocks.

The tide timings are shown (and can be looked up on the web easily). Remember that these times shift every day by 50 minutes or so.

Truly, two remarkable and unique experiences already in the day. And East Coast was just starting.