St. John’s highlights – places

For my last post on my St. John’s trip, I’d like to feature the various places and spaces I visited throughout the city.

My first full day, I took a boat tour with Iceberg Quest Tours, where I got an excellent view of the harbour, the skyline, the Battery (see photo below) and the Narrows. A bit late in the season, we didn’t see any whales, but we got out to Cape Spear (the furthest east you can get in the Americas), the top of which was covered in a blanket of fog when we got out there, then headed east to take a look at Quidi Vidi through the entrance to that harbour. Being out on the Atlantic ocean was both calming and cooling (the weather was a very uncharacteristic high 20s with a mid-30s humidex that day). Having neglected my sunscreen, I also got a mild sun/wind burn that day.

The next day, I took a cab up to the Botanical Gardens – which was too far for me to walk to, as it’s way up in the northwest part of the city at Memorial University. Another beautiful, peaceful trek into nature, but earth-bound this time, there’s a medicinal herb garden, as well as a garden with flowers, plants and vegetables. My favourite part was the five nature trails, winding around a large pond in the centre; the map provided by the info desk folks was very helpful, not only for navigating around, but for decision-making in terms of how much I was up for walking (the map they provided gave approx. walking times for each trail section). In the end, I decided to do all five trails and ended my visit with a snack in their cosy tea room, where I chatted with another hard-working, hospitable gal (who did everything from cooking, serving, busing and loading the dishwasher). Take a look: http://www.mun.ca/botgarden/

We had only one significant rainfall while I was there – Tuesday night – and it was overcast and cooler Wednesday morning, so I made that museum day. It was a short walk from the B&B to The Rooms, a combination art gallery, natural history museum and archives with a gorgeous panoramic view of St. John’s (it’s on a hill, with big windows on all sides). The exhibit of the North, featuring photographs and sculpture was a particular stand-out for me when I visited. And their gift shop includes Republic of Doyle merch! Check it out: http://www.therooms.ca/  Close to The Rooms is the (Roman Catholic) Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, a beautiful piece of architecture with traditional and modern stained glass windows: http://www.thebasilica.ca/

With cooler temperatures and a few days of walking up and down hill, I figured I’d had sufficient physical training to walk to – and up – Signal Hill, with a visit to the Johnson Geo Centre on the way up. The stop at the Geo Centre was a very good thing, as it was an uphill trek just to get there – with more uphill to come for the Signal Hill Lookout. It was a grey, drizzly morning, so I took my time with the exhibits (the forecast called for afternoon clearing). Built into the rock of Signal Hill, most of this place is below ground – so the entrance is the tip of the iceberg. The introductory film, as well as geo exhibit film clips, were hosted/narrated by Gordon Pinsent (which was awesome) and, in addition to the large geo exhibit, there was also a comprehensive overview on the Titanic and the perfect storm of greed, corporate competition, and the huge systemic and human errors that lead to its tragic collision with an iceberg. There was also an excellent doc on volcanoes, and their part in forming and sustaining the Earth as we know it. Take a look at their website: http://www.geocentre.ca/

After spending a good three hours at the Geo Centre, I headed out and back uphill, stopping at the Signal Hill Visitor Centre. Gerri had recommended taking the trail up to the lookout (as opposed to just going up the sidewalk along the road), so I asked the info desk gal where I could find the trail. That was another piece of brilliant advice from my B&B host – the trail was uphill, but wound up and around in a gentler way than the sidewalk – and I took the opportunity of stopping at the Queen’s Battery to take a bit of a breather and take in the view of the harbour, the city and the Battery village below. Once up at the lookout, I got some more great views – from both the hilltop and up in the lookout.

Now, for getting down on foot, you have several choices: the trail or the sidewalk back down, or one of two boardwalk trails: one going down into Quidi Vidi and the other down to the Battery. I chose the latter and started down. The path winds down (and up sometimes too) along a series of wooden staircases and gravel paths, out towards the ocean in front of the lookout then back toward the Narrows, the Battery and the Harbour. So winding that you sometimes can’t see where the path is going ahead of you. This was a great exercise in trust: both in the path and in myself. Soon I was on an asphalt road in the centre of the Battery and heading back to downtown St. John’s – and to Moo Moos for a well-deserved ice cream.

My last full day, I took a cab out to Quidi Vidi, to do the brewery tour there – and sample some of the locally brewed beer, of course. A small group of us, including a family of three from Savanna, Georgia, were treated to a tour hosted by the owner himself, Dave Rees, who was accompanied by tour trainee Sydney. We started in the lounge, where we were given an overview of the brewery’s history (it used to be a fish processing plant) and – best of all – samples of six of their brands, the most famous and recent is Iceberg, which is made with water from actual icebergs and marketed in a gorgeous blue glass bottle. This beer is so clear, that when you hold the bottle up to the light, it looks like water. I was also impressed that they used honey in their Honey Brown Ale recipe (apparently, most honey brown beers are only named so for their colour) – and this is the brand I chose for my bottle (they were all sold out of Iceberg beer). Had another nice walk back downtown, past a small lake and along Forest Road – more beautiful, peaceful scenery and some gorgeous houses along the way.

On the way back to the B&B, I stopped at the Devon House Gallery, located in the Craft Council of Newfoundland building: http://www.craftcouncil.nl.ca/ This is where I got one of the few things I purchased for myself on this trip: a Turk’s Head Knot bracelet. This is a knot used on tall ships and is also a Celtic symbol for eternity.

Other great places I visited included some pubs The Duke of Duckworth, The Ship, the Shamrock; coffee houses Hava Java, the Rocket (I have their t-shirt) and Sappho’s Cafe (where I spotted Mary Walsh sitting on the patio with her dog and chatting with a friend); shops like The Living Planet (where I got some awesome t-shirts for my nephews) and restaurants The Gypsy Tea Room, the Bamboo and the Magic Wok. And, of course, I walked along Duckworth and Water Streets pretty much every day.

Two final photos: the house on Gower Street that Republic of Doyle uses for the Doyle house and some classic multi-coloured row houses:

It was a great trip and I’d highly recommend visiting St. John’s. To see the province, though, I’ll either go with someone who drives next time or take a package bus tour.

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Author: life with more cowbell

Arts/culture social bloggerfly & Elwood P. Dowd disciple. Likes playing with words. A lot. Toronto

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