“Ceap Beatainn” – Cape Breton Island

After exploring the eastern shore of Nova Scotia, I crossed the causeway to Cape Breton Island, and Meandered around the island exploring some sights I had been looking forward to seeing. The landscape of Cape Breton Island reminded me of being in the Scottish highlands.  When I was exploring the Scottish National Museum the year before there was an exhibit that showed how geologists believe that based on rock formations, the island of Cape Breton actually broke off of a shelf that was near Scotland and Scandinavia.

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The first stop in my journey was to the Glenora Distillery, as I had enjoyed Glen Breton whiskey back in Ontario.  The set up of the distillery grounds was well laid out and reminded me of a couple of the smaller scotch distilleries I had seen.  I took the tour of the facilities which was interesting if very similar to others I had been to in Scotland and Ireland.  They have a nice tasting room and I got to try a couple vintages that they do not sell in Ontario.

I wanted to explore the Cabot trail, but I ran out of time and had to cut my drive short as well.  I turned over towards Sydney and got there for dark.  There was a music fest on that night and I looked to attend only to find out that it was an all ages event and right full of teenagers, so I went to a local pub instead for a late dinner.  I could not find a hotel room anywhere so I ended up trying something I had never done before which was parking in a walmart parking lot and sleeping there,  Not something I would recommend when you are driving a pickup as delivery trucks came at all hours.  I did chat with a couple who had an rv there, who said it worked well if you had curtains.

The next morning I went for breakfast and made my way to Glace Bay to attend the Miner’s Museum when it opened up.  I really enjoyed the museum as they had an informative display on the history of the town and mine.  I found it particularly interesting how the company town’s worked where every aspect of the employee’s lives were controlled by the company.

The guide we had was a former miner who worked during from around 1950 onward in a more modern mine.  The one we got to explore was an older mine from the early 20th century.  He explained how his mine experience was relatively safe but how his father had almost died in a collapse his first week, and then actually died young due to miner’s lung.  His father took over for his father at 15 because he had been injured himself.  If his dad had not taken the position the family would have been evicted.

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After exploring the mine, I traveled to Fort Louisbourg.  I arrived at the fortress in the middle of a driving rainstorm.  The guide was explaining how the British had captured the fort in similar conditions.  The waves were crashing against the ramparts and over the causeway.  It was hard to imagine troops actually rowing boats up to the rocky shore into enemy fire. It was an impressive looking place, and had been restored quite well when I was there 4 years ago.  I got a few photos but I had to shoot with my back to the wind, and my jacket protecting my camera so my angles were very limited.

After the fort, I basically had to rush back to Truro to meet my brother who was in the process of moving out to Nova Scotia to work in the wine industry there.

Glenora Distillery

Fort Louisbourg

Glace Bay Miner’s Museum

 

A cruise down the eastern shore.

On my first trip to Nova Scotia after exploring part of the south shore and Halifax, I took a tour up the eastern shore out of Halifax on my way to Cape Breton. I wanted to see the actual coast line, but I knew from my all day trip from Lunenburg up to Halifax that a coastal route meanders a lot. The photos really tell the Story.

I am going to name drop a bit, as I took highway 207 through Lawrence town, and Three Fathom Harbour to Seaforth.  It allowed me to get to see the actual coast line and it was quite striking.  I would stop every once in a while on the side of the road if I saw a particularly impressive view, and use my Canon SLR to capture a photo.  Sometimes I would just pull over and shoot right our the window of the truck, using the door to balance the camera.

I caught highway 7 to Musquodoboit Harbour, Ship Harbour and eventually to Sheet Harbour. I still managed to see quite a bit of scenery even though I was not on the coastal road anymore.

I started getting worried about time as I was planning on making it to Sydney, Cape Breton that evening.  I turned up highway 374 through Lochaber Mines to New Glasgow to catch highway 104 to Cape Breton.  My last photo is from the edge of Cape Breton which I will leave for another blog .

Nova Scotia Eastern Shore Tourism

Walking up a waterfall

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On my recent trip to Ocho Rios, Jamaica I got the opportunity to go on a day trip to the Dunn’s River Falls.  I booked the getaway through my airline (Sunwing) which was a group called “Cool Runnings” after the bobsledding team. It was a good trip, and the crew was great, but I found out that I could have booked the same trip through the tour provider right on site at the resort (Riu Ocho Rios).  Then I would have boarded right at the resort instead of a 20 minute bus ride each way.

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We took a bus to the town of Ocho Rios, where we got on a catamaran.  The crew took us out on the water for about 10 minutes before anchoring by a reef and allowing us to go snorkelling.  I am still new to snorkelling, but I had just gotten a new mask and snorkel from the london scuba centre, and was keen to try it out.  The mask fit great, and the closed snorkel was a lot easier to use than the ones that had been provided by resorts to me in the past.

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Snorkeling equipment, London Scuba Centre

After our snorkelling we went to the falls, where we were separated into groups of around 30 people and we started our ascent up the falls.  The falls were beautiful and a more difficult climb then I had imagined. Easy enough for someone in decent health, but still surprising that you would be able to climb up a waterfall.  Could not help but wonder if anyone ever slips and falls.  There were spots along the way where you could either sit under the falling water, or slide into a pool of water.

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I should have had my action cam on the entire climb, but I am still new to using it and I had it in my pocket most of the way.  You definitely need both hands as you climb and balance yourself. I did get some footage which I combined together into a short movie.

On the way back to the bus, the party started, with dancing on the catamaran, especially on the front.  Drinks were flowing and it was good, as the wind picked up and the ocean got rather rough on the return trip.  It turned out to be the last day that week that the catamaran ran due to high wind.

http://www.dunnsriverfallsja.com/

http://www.londonscubacentre.com/

A relaxing tour of aviation history.

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On my first trip into Nova Scotia I came across a sign for the Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum which I took some time to explore.  It was a weekday so there was no one at the museum and I got to explore it as i liked with no interruptions.

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When I went there was no fee to enter, but they did accept donations; or in my case I bought something from the gift shop as a form of donation. I see they have a recommended donation now.

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The exhibit in the lobby was from the early period of aviation history and I believe it was on display temporarily, on loan.  A lot of the planes and jets on display were former training units, but still great to see up close.

The museum also had some displays of Canada’s involvement in the space program, and also our roles in the world wars and NATO.  They had a display of the HMCS Bonaventure which was Canada’s aircraft carrier back in the 1957-70.  Even though I have always been into military history I still had never seen much on a Canadian aircraft carrier.  As per normal, it was a hold over from the British, being started during WWII for the British navy and then left in dry dock at the end of the war.  It was outfitted specifically for the Canadian Navy though, and never served in the British Navy which was surprising.

HMCS Bonaventure

https://acamuseum.ca/

 

2400 Miles in a Mazda Miata

[Story updated after talking to “the other Rob”]

My first major road trip across the continent was during my mid-twenties when I accompanied my buddy, also a Rob, on a trip to deliver a car to his brother in Jasper.  The vehicle was a mazda miata convertible which made for an epic road trip. He came by the fraternity house I belonged to and asked who could drive a stick shift and had 10 days free, and I met both qualifications.

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Similar to the car we used. Note that I am 5’11”.

Our trip started in Windsor, Ontario and took us across seven states before we crossed the border into Alberta.  Driving a small convertible over such a long distance presented some difficulties.  If the top was up my head brushed it, and if it was lowered I got wind burn across my forehead.

Our first scheduled stop was to see Mount Rushmore, in South Dakota.  Worth seeing once as it was an impressive undertaking. The other Rob had “kidnapped” his neighbour’s garden gnome for the trip and we got the Abe Lincoln impersonator there to take a photo to send back for ransom.

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We stopped again at the monument and museum for Custer’s Last Stand in Garryowen, Montana. It was less impressive but it helped break up the trip.

That day we took a back road up through the mountains in Montana not knowing that it would end up being so hard to get gasoline.  As it got dark, we ran low on fuel and decided to stop in a small town that was basically just a pub and a county building.  We were informed that the nearest bar was twenty miles away but if we made it that far it was open 24 hours.  The pub had a tradition of having customers sign money and then stick it to the ceiling over the bar.  They had not gotten any twoonies yet (Canadian two dollar coin) so we signed one and got our names up on the ceiling.

The bartender sold us some beer to take with us, and told us if we run out of gas to stay in the car over night.  He said the rattlesnakes would come out on the hot pavement at night.  Luckily our fuel held out and we refueled.

beware-rattlesnakes

After driving through Calgary we turned toward the mountains and Banff.  We did not spend a lot of time in Banff or Lake Louis but both were beautiful mountain towns that I would like to visit in more depth. We arrived in Jasper after 52 hours of driving and met up with our friends (and his brother) at the Jasper Park Lodge.

The first night I got drinking with some Australians and found out that drinking at a high altitude affected you faster. It took a couple days to get my tolerance back to keep up.  The town of Jasper was lively, and one night we went for a swim in a glacier fed lake which was refreshing to say the least.

We took the skytram up the Whistler’s Mountain; which was rough for someone with a fear of heights.  The climb up to the summit was a great experience and a good workout.  The other Rob, was a smoker and he kept stopping to catch his breath in the thin air, and every time we would get passed by the same 70 year old woman.  We would pass her and then she would catch up once he ran out of breath (I forgot that part). The weather was good which allowed for an amazing view of the surrounding countryside.  Of course the gnome came along for another photo on the mountain top.

One of the strangest sights on that trip was watching employees chase elk off the Jasper Park Lodge golf course with hockey sticks with plastic bags tied to the ends.  Only in Canada.

http://www.jasperskytram.com

http://www.nps.gov>moru

http://www.custermuseum.org

http://www.jasper.travel

 

A Day in Lunenburg

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From the Town of Lunenburg

Lunenburg (A World Heritage Site) is a coastal town about an hour south of Halifax in Nova Scotia.  I make it a point to always recommend to people that they visit this beautiful town on their trip to the east coast of Canada.

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Fishing village at the end of a long dead end road.

The town is easy to get to down the provincial highway, but I would suggest taking a trip down the coastal route a least once in your life.  Though keep in mind that it can increase the trip by about 4 hours if you go all the way to Peggy’s Cove, 5 hours if you take a back road, one way, one lane to a fishing village with no place to turn a pickup truck around like I did.

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There are great shops in Lunenburg, as well as a lot of waterfront restaurants with patios to take in the scenery over a meal and a pint of local cider. The Ironworks Distillery is a great experience to take in and they have some fine spirits to take home with you.

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Lunenburg is also the home to the Bluenose II which I originally saw in drydock as they were retrofitting it.  I have since seen it resting at the dock.  They offer rides on certain days but we were not available to go on the right day. I did get a chance to go sailing twice while in Lunenburg aboard the Eastern Star for a few hours.  The price was quite reasonable, the captain was very informative, and he allows you to help out and even take the helm to see what it is like to sail a 48 foot sail boat.

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Bluenose II in dry dock

https://bluenose.novascotia.ca/

https://www.explorelunenburg.ca/

http://ironworksdistillery.com/

http://www.novascotiasailing.com/

 

Halifax

Carousel Citadel aerial 2

I did not have the pleasure of discovering Halifax, Nova Scotia until the summer of 2013 while on a whirlwind tour of the east coast.  I have been back twice since then and have thoroughly enjoyed the city each time.

I stayed at the Westin Nova Scotian on my first trip to Halifax and I have returned there twice.  It is a bit away from the bar district, but it has a good private lot that fits my pickup truck, and it is handy to have the farmer’s market across the road. The farmer’s market is busier on certain days, but there is a good breakfast place by the water that I have frequently.  If you happen to be travelling by rail the via station is right there as well.

Pier 21, the Canadian Museum of Immigration is also down the street, and was an interesting experience.  The tour was good to go through and there is a research centre where you can look into your family’s immigration to Canada. The city is built on a hill with the citadel at the top. Because of this there is a lot of walking uphill to get around the downtown area.

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As a patron of the pub industry, the waterfront district of Halifax is a great environment to take in some live music or relax on a patio overlooking the water.  I always enjoy exploring the city and seeing what new pubs have opened and returning to old favourites.  There are a variety of places to check out like the Garrison Brewing Company, the Halifax Distillery Co., or taking a tour of the Alexander Keith’s Brewery.  The pubs I tend to return to each time are the Old Triangle Alehouse and the Lower Deck, for the great music and adult beverages.

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There are all sorts of museums and other cultural attractions in the harbour district.  I got a chance to go through the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic which allows you to go through two museum ships as well.  The C.S.S. Acadia and HMCS Sackville.

 

Alexander Keith’s Brewery – http://keiths.ca/#/

http://www.garrisonbrewing.com

https://www.halifax.ca/

https://halifaxdistillingco.ca/

https://www.lowerdeck.ca/

https://maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca/

Rum Runners – https://www.theuncommongroup.com/

http://www.thewestinnovascotian.com/

 

 

 

Resting Place of Kings

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View of the Isle of Iona, with the Iona Abbey in the background.

One of the locations in Scotland that I had dreamed about visiting for much of my life was the near mythical Isle of Iona.  The resting place of the Scottish kings from the time of Kenneth, who was long thought of as man to unite Scotland into a nation; To Macbeth, one of Scotland’s more famous monarchs.

Around the age of thirteen I read “Macbeth, the king” by Nigel Tranter  which I found to be fascinating and it led to a a passion of his take on the history of Scotland told through historical fiction.  I remember feeling deeply insulted when I was forced to read Shakespeare’s Macbeth which I referred in class to as a “load of horse shit”.  Now I know of the complexities that William Shakespeare had to deal with in writing about Macbeth considering the real villain, Malcolm Canmore, was the great ancestor of the current monarch Queen Elizabeth I.  I still stand by my original assessment of shakespeare’s historical accuracy.

I started my tour in the town of Oban, with a tour operator called Staffa Tours which still exists.  We took a ferry to the Isle of Mull where we caught a bus which took us across the island to our boat tour.  The first stop was a little island which was also quite stunning called Staffa.

Staffa was an Island which has sharp cliffs that rise out of the sea crowned on top by a carpet of crisp green grass.  We were allowed to disembark onto the island to walk into the edge of the cave and on top of the island to take in the view.  “Fingal’s Cave” named after its famous monk was special to experience and explore; seeing the stark environment the monk subjected himself to in his pursuit of his maker.  The water rushes up into the cave with the tide and would have both hidden and restricted its inhabitant.  The isle is also home to a large puffin population and a community of seals as well.  I was told that basking sharks were also seen regularly but unfortunately not on that visit.

The Isle of Iona was a breath taking view as we approached and I managed to capture one of my favourite photos thus far as we came up to the dock.  The pink stone glowed in the sunlight and gave the landscape an other worldly feel.  There is a small town on the island maintained by the local community.  Facilities and B&B’s are available for visitors staying for more then a few hours.

The Iona Abbey was established by St. Columba, another of the figures I had read about courtesy of Nigel Tranter.  He was the original patron saint of scotland before St. Andrew was adopted and myths tell of his battle of wills with the Loch Ness monster.  St. Columba established the original abbey  in 563 though the current abbey was built around 1200 by Reginald, King of the Isles.  It was in use until the reformation in 1560, after which it sat relatively unused until the Iona Cathedral Trust began  restoring it in the early 20th century.  The work was continued by the Iona community starting in 1938 and is  currently under the care of Historic Scotland.

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Iona Abbey (Photo by me)

The nunnery next to the abbey was founded by the sister of Reginald and though it is ruins now; the stonework and gardens that are maintained there are some of the more beautiful scenery I have come across in my travels. The photos I took turned out well, but do not give it proper justice compared to viewing the isle on a sunny day in person.

Reilig  Odhrain or St. Oran’s Graveyard, is the burial place of the Scottish kings and one of the main reasons I travelled to the island.  The graveyard itself is to the side of the abbey, but the head stones which are so worn with age that they cannot be read were moved into the abbey to help protect them.

http://www.staffatours.com

http://www.welcometoiona.com

http://www.oban.org.uk

 

Uisge beatha: “the water of life”

My trip to the Oban distillery (July 2012).

oban-distillery
photo courtesy of trip advisor

Even before I travelled to Scotland I had discovered a taste for scotch whisky.  I had tried quite a few different brands over the years but I had settled on Oban as my preferred choice.  Since it was also the beginning point of my trip to the Isle of Iona I had to make a stop at the distillery.

Oban is a small seaside town on the west coast of Scotland and I caught a train out of Glasgow to reach it.  I ended up spending a total of 3 nights in Oban I enjoyed the town so much.

After my boat tour of the Isle of Iona, I spent the next day exploring town and did the distillery tour.  The distillery is right in the middle of town and predates the town itself.  It is an impressive older building with a view of the bay.

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Oban is a highland scotch and typically sold in Canada as a 14 year old single malt.  The tour was quite interesting and the guide was very informative and had a sense of humour though I was the object of his ridicule at one point.  Once he found out I was in school for a chemical engineer he told me to “get the hell out” and made it seem like I was trying to steal trade secrets.  He was convincing enough that I had to ask if he was kidding before he gave in and continued the tour.

We got the chance to try a sample of a barrel that was only aged 6 years to see the difference in flavour and the strong alcohol level.  In the tasting room I got to purchase a glass of their specialty 17 year old which I should have bought a bottle of to take home.  Even with the exchange, the prices were a third of the cost here in Canada.  I did get a bottle of the 14 year old for making friends later in my trip.

http://www.oban.org.uk

 

 

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