St. John’s highlights – people

Instead of doing a day-by-day, chronological description of my time in St. John’s, I thought I’d go with a more thematic approach. And what sticks in my mind first and foremost are the people.

At The Bluestone Inn B&B, there were our hosts: owner/operator Gerri and her daughter Sarah, who in addition to looking after our rooms and daily morning feasts, provided sage advice on getting around St. John’s (on foot, by car or city bus), points of interest to visit, things to do, the weather and even cab fares to/from the airport (flat rate vs. metered – metered came out to be cheaper, but that could depend on traffic issues, I imagine). Gerri arrived every day at the crack of dawn to get breakfast happening (served 8 – 10 a.m.), and also handled laundry, guest check-ins/-outs, etc., while Sarah did up the rooms – and Gerri was generally on site till 9 p.m. every night. And they were both in the process of reno’ing Gerri’s house on Bond Street at the same time! These are two super friendly, hard-working gals – and if you’re looking for a B&B in St. John’s, I highly recommend The Bluestone Inn: http://www.thebluestoneinn.com/

Also at the B&B were an assortment of guests from all over Canada – Saskatchewan, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto – as well as a couple from Germany, so breakfast became an opportunity to chat with about where everyone was from and swap stories about what you’ve seen/done in St. John’s/Newfoundland. Also a good source for travel tips.

One of the good things about travelling alone is that it forces you to get over any shyness about chatting with strangers pretty quickly. This wasn’t my first solo trek, so I’ve gotten a lot better at it – especially eating alone in restaurants (which I always found challenging, even though I have no trouble going to movies and plays alone). I’ve already mentioned Marty and Anthony from Quebec, who I met my first night when I stopped by the Duke for dinner. On my first full day in the city, I chatted with various crew on the Iceberg Quest boat tour: Nathan, Barry, Luke and Steve – and besides offering insight on things nautical, these guys had great advice about St. John’s weather in general (basically, just wait 5 minutes and it will change). I met some singers/musicians: Angele from Moncton, busking on Water Street and in St. John’s to finish recording her CD. Angele told me about an open mic night at The Ship Pub, where I also met bagpipe player/busker David Day (an American expat), and singer/songwriters Michael Banks (who turned out to be from T.O.), R.N. and Leslie Wagner, and R.N.’s pal Derek, who accompanied R.N. on blues guitar for a few tunes. One night, when I was having dinner at the Bamboo, a cosy and very good Chinese Restaurant on Duckworth, I met David Dunn, who was originally from St. John’s, but had been living in Manhattan for some time and working as the personal assistant to a painter there. Throughout the week, I also chatted with store clerks, cafe and restaurant servers, cab drivers and tourist site staff. And, after the brewery tour at Quidi Vidi, a guy named Frank invited me to drink my beer aboard his boat – and I met his friends Mike, Chris and Dave.

I have no photos of the folks I met – but I won’t forget the easy-going conversations (and laughs) I had with them. For me, visiting any place is not so much about the place as it is about the people. So, a big shout out to all those friendly (and interesting) folks I met during my stay.

Back soon with highlights on what I saw in St. John’s. In the meantime, I’ll be heading to my pal Rosemary Doyle’s theatre, Red Sandcastle Theatre, tonight to see ELLAmentary (which I missed during its Toronto Fringe run).

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St. John’s highlights – arrival

The morning after Les and Derek’s wedding in Ottawa, I was busy checking my flight status (I checked twice: once when I went down for breakfast and again just before I checked out of the Lord Elgin) to see if Porter was still a go for the afternoon flight St. John’s. Nothing amiss for them online, so I headed to the airport.

The flight was good, with some minor turbulence around Halifax, where we landed for our scheduled half-hour stop to drop off/pick up passengers and do plane maintenance stuff. By the time we arrived in St. John’s, we were just under an hour late and the weather there was fine. I got a cab right away and, in about 20 minutes or so, arrived at The Bluestone Inn, where I met owner/operator Gerri and got settled in to my room.

It had been a long afternoon and I was starved, so I wandered down to Duckworth Street (zigzagging down, as Gerri suggested – such a good idea in that hilly city) and hung a left. A few interesting restaurants, but nothing grabbed me, so I started walking in the opposite direction. Then it dawned on me, The Duke of Duckworth was nearby. If you watch Republic of Doyle, you’ll know this as the pub featured on the show; also, the architecture is gorgeous.

The pub is located off McMurdo’s Lane, one of the several lanes (set of stairs) that links Duckworth and Water Streets. So down I went and, thankfully, managed to get there shortly before the kitchen closed at 8 p.m. As it turns out, my eyes were bigger than my stomach and, while I was able to consume the chicken wings, I couldn’t finish the fries. But I did have room for a second pint. Of course. It was a Sunday night, so not crowded, and I eventually struck up a conversation with the two guys at the table across from me: Marty and Anthony, both from Quebec (though Anthony has been, and lived, all over Canada). The guys invited me to their table as we continued to chat – about where we were from, what we did for a living, politics, St. John’s… and even invited me for another pint – but, by then, I was pooped and needed to walk back up the hill to the B&B.

And this was just the first of several chance meetings with some really cool, interesting folks – St. John’s natives and folks from “away” – during the course of my week there.

After surviving the zigzag back up to the B&B (and Cathedral Street was a killer), I wandered a couple of blocks from the B&B searching for a convenience store, and came upon Moo Moos – a combo ice cream parlour/convenience store – and got some water and gingerale to take back to the bar fridge in my room. I made a mental note to go back there for ice cream.

More on my St. John’s adventures soon…

Getting married in Ottawa

Okay, so now that I’ve more or less recovered from my vacation week/Labour Day weekend – though, to be honest, I could use a week off to recover – thought I’d share some moments from my time away. And, no, it was not me who got married in Ottawa.

The first part of my vacation was a celebration in Ottawa: my friend Lesley’s wedding to her guy Derek, in a cosy, intimate ceremony in the lovely Italian restaurant, Il Vagabondo: http://www.ilvagabondoottawa.ca/. I cab-shared with our friend Maria and her husband Brendan (who were also staying at the Lord Elgin), and we were greeted by the restaurant owners with drinks and tasty finger food. And, shortly after we arrived, the bride arrived – on foot! Don’t know how Les managed that walk (though their place is only minutes away) in those fabulous heels she was wearing. Damn! 

The vows were especially nice, chosen by Les and Derek from a selection offered by the presiding Humanist/non-denominational female minister. And then we partied! The food was amazing and our hosts were wonderful. Since it was an early gathering, a bunch of us retired to Les and Derek’s condo for more celebratory beverages (i.e., booze). And when things wound down there, it was only around 9 p.m. or so – so Maria, Brendan and I decided to go out to an Irish pub near the hotel that they’d been to earlier in the week.

So the three of us stopped by the hotel to freshen up (and so Maria could change into pants and flats) and headed out. We heard music playing down the street, so we went to check it out. Turns out, the music was coming from an outdoor stage over at City Hall – set up for Ottawa Pride! After inquiring about the beer situation there, we paid our cover and had a couple of beers. It was great fun – and a nice surprise to stumble upon Pride – and we managed to catch the last few acts (a burlesque troupe, and bands Apocalypstic and The Cliks) before they had to close at 11 p.m. (damn those noise bylaws!). Still up for a pub, we moved on to our original destination and had a couple more beers (with potato skins to soak up the alcohol). And the early wedding festivities turned into a late night of post-celebration for three folks from T.O.

Needless to say, I was a bit hung over the next morning for the next part of my trip. And I was seriously wondering if my flight to St. John’s was going to be grounded or delayed, as Hurricane Irene was heading toward the Maritimes.

More on my vacation adventures soon. In the meantime, here’s one of my favourite pix from the wedding (left to right: Derek, Lesley and Lesley’s son Chris):

So I’m not crazy…

… and what a relief!

I always feel blue after a vacation and, compounded with the end of the weekend blues – and Labour Day weekend on top of that – I was feeling especially low-key yesterday. And, even though I know, intellectually, that fall still has a few more weeks to go, Labour Day weekend always feels like the end of summer. It’s that back-to-school feeling, even though I haven’t been in school for years.

On the upside, I know I’m not alone in this post-vacation/post-weekend/Labour Day downer of a mood. And I am, in fact, not crazy.

Here’s an interesting piece in The Star about the psychological effect of this time of year: http://www.thestar.com/living/article/1048552–that-feeling-you-re-feeling-today-it-s-the-fear-of-september?bn=1

Speaking of the vacation, I’ll be back with more on my Ottawa and St. John’s adventures this week.

Ottawa & St. John’s – where I stayed

Hey – Please bear with me; I haven’t been home much this long weekend, so I still haven’t downloaded any pix yet, but I thought I’d start with where I stayed and include the links.

In Ottawa, I stayed at the Lord Elgin Hotel, which has a very handy location downtown, across from Confederation Park and very close to several points of interest in the city. I only stayed there one night, so can’t tell you much other than it’s a lovely hotel and a great piece of Ottawa architecture – and the computer room near the lobby was super handy for checking my St. John’s flight status on Porter (with Hurricane Irene heading to the Maritimes and all): http://www.lordelginhotel.ca/

While in St. John’s, Newfoundland, I stayed at The Bluestone Inn B&B. Located within convenient walking distance of downtown spots and not far from other must-see locations, the Bluestone offers a comfortable, homey place to stay with tasty, hearty breakfasts (it’s like having brunch every day – and with all the walking up and down hill, you’ll need something substantial). Best of all is the host/owner Gerri, assisted this season by her daughter Sarah, who in addition to creating the amazing morning feasts, offers great advice on getting around and places to see. Plus you get to chat with other guests over breakfast (who come from all over), and you may even get a tip or two on cool stuff to do/see. The Bluestone is now officially my home away from home in St. John’s: http://www.thebluestoneinn.com/