Nascar & troubadours

Tent camping in provincial, state or national parks tends to attract a certain demographic – nature-lovers whose idea of a perfect day is a long hike followed by an evening around a campfire under a full moon.  Tent camping in a private campground can also offer that perfect day, but it provides fertile ground for a wide range of behaviours and holiday expectations. In our second campground, our luck turned.  At first glance, our site seemed nice enough – treed and cozy.

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It all fell apart on our second night – coincidentally a full moon. We had been out for the day and arrived back around 7:30 to hear a strange sound – a high volume wind tunnel that turned out to be drag racing from a nearby track. That went on until 11:00 pm – Rrrrmmm, rrrrmmm – it could have been in the next campsite, except that campsite was filled with drummers and guitar players and singers who spent hours (loudly) mangling Tragically Hip songs. I went over to them at 11:00 and politely asked for a quieter version of the concert. They were our children – mature thirty-somethings who were excessively apologetic and instantly shut down the party. Now they’re the heroes and I’m the grumpy old crank. Lesson learned – be a little more careful when choosing campgrounds – avoid those with mini-golf and swimming pools.

But that is not to take away from the really wonderful week we spent on PEI – as with our other visits here in the Maritimes- it went by far too quickly.  Part of the fun for us was the chance to visit with friends. When we moved to Guelph, one of the first friends I made through our kids’ school was Maureen. We were fast friends for a number of years but our lives took different directions and then we moved and lost touch. After her kids were grown up, Maureen moved back to her native PEI. Last week, we saw each other for the first time in 20 years. Other than our matching heads of white hair, little has changed. She is still as profane and irreverent and funny as ever and as a bonus, her daughter Steph was visiting so we got to see them both.

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Our other friends on PEI were the MacDonald clan – Fred is an Islander, but we know them from Nanaimo and have been friends for years. Our time on PEI coincided and we were able to stop by their cabin and enjoy a visit and supper together. It was as fun and full of laughter and good food as back in B.C., only now transplanted to their island home.
Stephen, Larissa, Katya, Fred and Irene

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The beaches – temperatures range from bracing to balmy.  North Rustico beach was a few notches above bath water and we had the place to ourselves.

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Basin Head was a different story. The particular attraction here is the swift river that flows into the ocean and the bridge that crosses over it – a tantalizing prospect for young people who are drawn like lemmings. The game is this: climb onto the bridge or leap off the side of the wharf. Ignore the sign that prohibits you from doing so. Ignore the lifeguard who seems oblivious to the sign she should be enforcing and the potential for disaster. We watched for a while – it was hugely entertaining and mildly frightening as bodies hurtled to the water with little regard for others. It brought back memories of our own young sons who leaped from this bridge (although perhaps not while executing a backward flip).

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After leaping into the water, the current hauls you out and dumps you on the sand bar, where you swim back to shore and do it all over again.

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We sat to the left of this little boy with the pail. Like a border collie with a frisbee, this kid must have filled his pail 20 times – back and forth, back and forth.

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Our lifeguard, exhibiting the universal “bored lifeguard” pose.

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Further down the road we went – to East Point Lighthouse – complete with a still-active fog house and fog horns.

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On to Charlottetown – a photogenic, leafy and highly walkable small city. Our self-guided wanderings brought us to some beautiful sights. Brick is as common as clapboard in Charlottetown.

Part of the Heartz O’Halloran Row – one of the finest Victorian row houses in the province.

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A popular restaurant row downtown.

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St. Dunstan’s Basilica. This church had 18 bells manufactured in France and ran for 50 years.  After some structural damage, they were refurbished, reinstalled, and rang again for the first time on Canada’s 150th birthday – July 1, 2017.

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Stephen having a chat with the “Two Grays” – two delegates (strangely both named John Hamilton Gray) in the 1864 Charlottetown Conference.  They believed in confederation, both were pro-railway and both were active in the military. Interesting to ponder how their perspectives may have contributed to the shaping of our country.

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Right behind them, the lineup of homes and businesses that are now part of the Great George Hotel – most of them in the hotel business at one point or another since 1812.

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To end on a high note – Cows Ice Cream, an institution since 1983 – homemade ice cream   served up with groan-worthy puns – Wowie Cowie, Cownadian Maple – adds up to line-ups out the door. Worth the 15-minute wait.

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So long PEI – we’ll be back again before too long.

Back from the dead

Not us – we’re fine. My computer was having “issues”, but it is back on track, purring like a kitten thanks to the nimble brains at Combat Computers in Charlottetown.  It had been giving me problems for a while – a MacBook Air  glitch was fixed this winter in Vietnam, but about a month ago, it started acting up again. It crashed five days ago and I crashed along with it. I was starting to upload photos from Cape Breton and poof – gone and not coming back. Device anxiety – how did we not see this coming?

Now we’re in PEI, so in the interest of staying in the present and trying to catch up, I’m going to skip our Cape Breton adventures, other than to say – the 300 km. Cabot Trail is every bit as dramatic as their advertising claim, “One of the most scenic drives on the planet.” Here’s a teaser photo. The famous coast road is that ribbon on the left and the Skyline walk is on the right – a 6 km. hike down to a cliff overlooking the ocean – one of dozens of hikes in the Cape Breton Highlands. If hiking is not challenging enough for you – we passed by countless cyclists, grinding their fully-loaded bikes up and down those hills for the 300-km. trek.

Cabot Trail highway/ Skyline Trail
We drove from Cape Breton to PEI – choosing the Confederation Bridge over the ferry. At eight miles, it is the longest bridge over ice-covered waters in the world and takes roughly 12 minutes to cross. For those with a fear of heights, not to worry – it is curved with very high sides – for much of the drive the only view from an average-sized vehicle is a sliver of blue water on either side. This was our approach to PEI:

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And this is a view of the bridge from PEI looking back to Nova Scotia – that line of land you can see under the bridge at the right of the photo.

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We’re here for a week and had booked a campsite at Twin Shores for four nights and at Cymbria for three nights – to give us a chance to experience two different parts of the island.
Our campgrounds of choice are national or provincial, with well-treed private sites, quiet neighbours and an emphasis on nature. With those parks long booked up, we decided to give Twin Shores a try (actually, we got the last campsite and felt lucky at that). As soon as we drove up, it became apparent that “nature” might be down the list of things to do. This is a full-on family resort, with a theatre, library, fitness centre, shuffleboard, massive children’s playground, huge grocery store, candy depot, cafe and rec centre with theme nights – karaoke, bingo, poker. Last night was poker night, with five tables going full-tilt.  We were allowed to use one corner of the rec centre to access the wifi, if we promised to provide snacks.

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There could be as many as 2000 campers here – over 700 sites. Camp staff buzz around in golf carts and kids buzz around on bikes. The line-up for soft-serve ice-cream is steady.

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We talked to a number of people who have been coming here for decades – they are multi-generational campers, and a whole slew of them are from the U.S. –  Americans love the Maritimes and they especially love PEI. At first we felt a little grumpy about it all – we sat down to dinner the first night listening to someone else’s (loud) music and from a distance – “B-5”, “O-11” (bingo). But it didn’t take long for the sight of  a small army of excited kids with unbridled holiday freedom to soften us up, and by 10:00 pm. everyone was quiet.

Our beach is one of a series of gorgeous PEI beaches – warm, salty water, soft sand and sand dunes. Since we spent our days sightseeing, we would stop by the beach late afternoon for refreshing swims and watch the shadows deepen the colours of the red cliffs.

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The wind was up the second day  – perfect for kite-flying.

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And the sunset was perfect.

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As most of you know, PEI has three huge claims to fame – miles of warm beaches, Anne of Green Gables and potatoes.  We likely won’t make it to Anne-land (we’ve been there before), but the potatoes are everywhere. PEI is just about as pastoral a place as it is possible to be – gently rolling landscape dotted with farmhouses, herds of cows, fields and fields of potatoes, corn and canola and mustard seed and never very far away – the water.

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Stephen having a Field of Dreams moment.

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Fields of giant Weetabix.

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A typical “green gables” farmhouse and barn.

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Our campsite is just a hop away from Malpeque, home of the world-famous Malpeque oysters. We will be eating plenty of them before we go, but PEI mussels are also high on the list. On our second night here, we stopped by for a treat – mussels, homemade bread and a bottle of local blueberry ale – PEI’s very own 20-mile diet.

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The owners of the restaurant, O’Neil’s Gallery, are a charming and talented couple from Essex, Ontario, who moved to PEI five years ago and with an admirable sense of vision, bought a wreck of a house and transformed it.  This is the end result:

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Scott O’Neil is an artist who has a gallery in the house and a studio out back for his art classes. He was just putting the finishing touches on this painting as we showed up, before hurrying around the corner to his studio to prepare for his students.

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Like much of the Maritimes, living here requires an entrepreneurial spirit. Well-paying jobs are few and far between and the ability to carve out a desirable life ( really affordable homes, walking distance to the beach, fresh seafood, community), depends upon one’s own talents and resourcefulness. It makes for some interesting neighbours.

The beach is not the only story in PEI – there are many sweet small towns to explore. Victoria-by-the-Sea is on the south shore; a postcard-pretty spot filled with gabled houses, shops and restaurants.

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Steep red roof, grey shingles, mussy garden.

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And if grey shingles are not your thing, why not paint your house this colour?

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Victoria’s harbour – home to beachcombers, kayakers and fishing boats.

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We’re on our way to Cymbria Campground for three nights. More in a few days – lots to report, including a trip to Charlottetown and two great visits with friends.