Monday, August 11, 2003

Vacation 2003, Part 3: Of Canaba Day, Poorly-Timed Nightmares, and Lobster-Serving Biker Bars, etc.

Well, seeing as how this vacation thing was all over a month ago and life (often sadly, often stressfully) has marched on since then, I'm going to cut things short. But I promised it, and I'm a man of my word, so here's a (slightly) condensed version of the rest of the vacation story.

As planned, we came back to Ottawa for Canada Day, and that particular day has new meaning for us now. It was the last time we saw Michelle. We had plans to party it up at a parking-lot party in The Market, and Michelle joined us along with her boyfriend, Ryan, and Mr. Mike Blue-Jeans. It wasn't entirely her scene, and I'm pretty sure she didn't have a very good time, but she toughed it out for a while, like a trooper.

In retrospect, I'm thankful that we got to see her for another few brief hours, even though they weren't the most ideal circumstances. We parted ways at a skateboard ramp. But Stacey and I had spent the Canada Day the year before with her. I was Captain Canada, with paper flags lodged in my Molson Canadian visor and a cape made from a Canada Flag. She was wearing this big floppy cat-in-the-hat hat with a big maple leaf on the front of it. Just like me, she never seemed to mind just being herself and enjoying the little things like dressing up in goofy clothes and wearing them in public. I’m sad that we won't be able to spend another Canada Day together.

We finished up the day with a contradiction in terms: a Japanese Canada Day dinner at a new place, Wasabi, and the food was awesome. We hooked up with Mike, Chel, and their friends for a pint and the fireworks after. I wish I could have spent more time with them, too.

The next morning was a blur of packing. We finally got on the road around noon, meaning we didn't reach New Brunswick until well after dinnertime. Stacey came down with a terrible stomachache as we approached the border that kept her from eating. In hindsight, she believes that the stomach pain was a premonition of Michelle's death, which occurred a week later, also in New Brunswick. I suppose we'll never know for sure. But at this point, she thought it was something else entirely. She also had a nightmare the night before we left in which, at some point on our trip, we had a fatal car accident while I was driving. I didn't worry about it too much, and obviously I didn't need to. We arrived safe and sound.

The next day, we reached Stacey's father's cottage in sight of the Confederation Bridge to PEI. We spent a couple of days in the area, including a side trip to Moncton and the Hopewell Rocks (where the ocean has carved the cliffs into flower-pot shapes with trees on top and a gradually-eroding base) that boasts 10-foot tides. We timed it so that we could be there at low tide, thankfully. We also had dinner in probably the most deceptive restaurant in New Brunswick. On the outside, it looked like a friendly mini-mall-type family restaurant with a happy neon sign. On the inside, it was like the Ninth Ring of Biker Hell. The food was cold, tasteless and delivered slowly, but the beer was cold. No Keith’s, though. We ate and dashed, throwing fistfulls of pennies behind us to confuse the vengeful waitress who we (sort-of) stiffed on the tip. There are probably a hundred restaurants in Shediac, and we had to pick that one.

Near the cottage, I had my first dip in the ocean (cold, but excellent). We set off for PEI, drove the bridge (which is always kind of neat – a cement link across miles of open channel) and ended up in Cavendish for a day of shopping, Cows ice cream, beaches, and sub-par wax museums. Our motel that night was saddled up to Santa Claus' Woods (or whatever it's named), a creepy, low-rent theme park east of Cavendish. The motel was named, fittingly, the St. Nicholas Motel – I don't think it was a coincidence. At least it was cheap and the people were friendly. We ate at PEI's first and most famous lobster dinner joint and I gorged on a pound-and-a-halfer with a bucketful of mussels and a beer as an appetizer. Tasty.

The next day, we cruised some more of the PEI National Park, had another dip in the ocean (colder there, but just as excellent) and scurried to PEI's BEST campground, Red Point Provincial Park, for our first night of camping and an evening of beer and sandcastle-building. We had to backtrack a bit the next morning to a newly-opened section of the National Park, but it was worth it. It's called Greenwich, and it's one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Greenwich is unspoiled and new, and although it has many traces of human activity, it feels like it’s miles away from civilization, in a bubble all of its own. The trail we decided to take was about two hours long, and over that time, we went through a variety of different ecosystems. The trail starts across a re-claimed farmer's field, which is still dotted with foundations and some other old evidence of human occupation. As we crossed the fields, dragonflies buzzed us while we admired the wildflowers. Soon, the trail turned into a boreal-like forest, with plaques explaining the different kinds of plants and animals that live there. The boreal forest soon began to thin, becoming a coastal forest (with more plaques) and finally a zone of old sand dunes and lichen that was slowly being absorbed by the encroaching forest. Suddenly, the trees opened up to a vast expanse of freshwater marshland with a deep blue beaver pond and a floating boardwalk that spanned it. We watched the blackbirds for a while before proceeding across a pristine, untouched sand dune, twenty feet high or more. As we crested the ridge by way of a rope-stair that protected the dune, we got our first glimpse of one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, with barely a footprint on it. We ate an apple on the shore, watching the waves roll in and the seagulls play in the surf before heading back across the marsh towards the car. It was an incredible place; I'll never forget it. Not even poetry could come close to expressing Greenwich in words. Good poetry, even.

The rest of our stay on the Island included more camping, a horseback ride through a forest and across a beach, and a ton of craft shops and lighthouses. As we sailed away from PEI on the Wood Islands Ferry towards Nova Scotia, we realized how much we'd miss PEI and promised to return. We met up with my mom in Caribou and visited Pictou, where they have built an attraction out of the Hector, a re-creation of the first ship to carry Scottish settlers to Nova Scotia. In Pictou, I had Keith’s Honey Brown for the very first time. I decided it was delicious.

Skirting across the interior of the province, we made our way past a town called the Garden of Eden (which was a pretty pathetic excuse for paradise, if you ask me) to Sherbrooke, where we visited a preserved pioneer village. Been there, done that, you say? Well, at Sherbrooke, each of the original buildings of the early town have been maintained on their original foundations. I finished the day with a cold beer or two around the campfire after another lobster dinner.

In Halifax Harbour, we took a trip to McNabs Island, which really was a historian's paradise. The island is no longer inhabited but was once the lynchpin of Halifax's harbour defense system and a thriving vacation spot for Halifax's elite. Now all that remains is ruins, rusted out piers, cart tracks, cemeteries, and the remains of fortifications, but the sheer volume of historical sites that are accessible within a short walk is staggering. In one day, we visited four forts that I have never visited before, and each of them is unique and interesting in its own way, spanning a century of military development on the island. Mom and Stacey delighted in watching me run across ramparts, taking a look at rusty cannons and cement bunkers, and disappearing into gun emplacements and subterranean casemates. And (under extreme duress) I had fun, too. It was tiring work, though, including over 10 km of hiking in the better part of a morning and afternoon. We camped that night near Peggy's Cove and took some pictures of the famous lighthouse at sunset. I had beer.

In Halifax the next day, we walked around the harbour front, caught a ride on the Harbour Hopper (one of those amphibious bus things), and checked out the Maritime Museum. At lunch I had my second and final serving of Keith’s Honey Brown, which I subsequently decided was just about the tastiest beer ever. And it’s available only in Nova Scotia. Bastards! We got caught out in a flash rainstorm before heading out of town towards Lunenburg, really the only major rain we had the whole trip. It was on this day that our friend Michelle passed away.

We attended a massive family reunion in Lunenburg (organized by Stacey’s dad) where descendants, including Stacey and her father, of the original founding families of Lunenburg were gathering to celebrate the town's 250th Anniversary. We stayed in a bed and breakfast that was originally built by Stacey's ancestor, Andreas Jung, in the 1700s. It is a truly interesting place, the oldest preserved wooden inn that is still operating in Canada (with a historical plaque to prove it). Staying in the room was like staying overnight at a pioneer village. Unfortunately, the tavern-portion of the inn had closed long ago. But they had cereal!

We attended reunion events, took a bus tour of the area, saw where Stacey’s grandparents and great-grandparents once lived and where her father spent many of the happy times in his childhood. There was more Keith’s IPA, but sadly, no Honey Brown. We also attended the unveiling of a new memorial plaque on Bunker Hill that had, among many, many others, the name “JUNG” carved into the stone. I’m sure it was a special moment for Stacey. Someone stopped me at “LIMM–“ in my failed attempt to scratch my own name in at the bottom of the list.

On the way back home, we stopped overnight at the cottage again and walked for a while along the shore. It was sad to say goodbye to the ocean again, but I promised I’d be back again soon. The ocean didn’t acknowledge my words, but I know it cares. The wasps that had built a nest under the eaves of the cottage sure didn’t care though. Just after packing up the car, one of the little buggers stung me on the top of my ear and it puffed up the size of a golf ball.

The long drive home was…long. Very, very long. From the cottage back to Ottawa it was about 14 hours solid. And yet, once again, arrived back safe and sound, happy to be back to a comfortable bed and unhappy that the ocean was thousands of miles away, once again.


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