20170707 – Day 9

We got up this morning to gale force winds, and uncertainty about whether our plan of a boat tour of Western Brook Pond would go ahead or not.  We got breakfast at the hotel and drove to the trailhead.  We’d been told that we wouldn’t know if the tour was running until we actually got to the dock at the end of the trail.

Luckily, it was running, and we were able to make our reservation for the 10:00 tour.  The winds were ridiculously strong though, and along some parts of the 3km trail boardwalk it was hard to walk without almost being blown off the boardwalk.  In a few spots near other ponds, the wind was making waves big enough to splash up onto the boardwalk.  It kept threatening to rain too.

The rain arrived just after we got on the boat.  We’d chosen to sit on the upper deck, open to the weather, for better views.  We donned our ponchos pretty quickly, and managed to stay mostly dry for the duration of the boat tour.

Western Brook Pond is a former fjord carved out by glaciers, but now a freshwater lake cut off from the ocean.  It’s one of the few lakes with a neutral pH level and the water is so pure that it does not conduct electricity because it contains so few impurities.  The mountainous walls are over 600m tall, made of volcanic rock that’s metamorphosed into gneiss.  Waterfalls and hanging valleys aplenty.

We were reasonably dry when we got off the boat, but were not fortunate enough to make it back to the car in the same condition.  The rain started not long after we set out on the trail back to the parking lot, and picked up in strength until everyone was soaked.  Even the ponchos didn’t help much due to the wind.

We had a long drive ahead to St. Anthony, so we got back on the road as quickly as possible. We made a quick stop at Arches Provincial Park and a late lunch/snack stop in Port Saunders, and got into St. Anthony not too long after 18:00.  Our plan was to stay for 2 nights, but unfortunately none of the local hotels had any rooms available for the second night.  We were lucky enough to get a room in St. Anthony for tonight, and one at a different motel closer to L’Anse aux Meadows for tomorrow night.

Dinner was pizza at the nearby Viking Mall, and then a quick stop at Tim Horton’s for tea.  The Tim Horton’s in St. Anthony has a one-of-a-kind “Iceberg Doughnut” as part of their Iceberg Festival.  Speaking of icebergs, we’ll hopefully be seeing some more of them tomorrow.

20170706 – Day 8

Today was mostly driving.  We got up around 07:00 for breakfast and then stopped at the Mary March Provincial Museum.  They had some interesting information about how the island was formed and how there are several distinct geological areas:  two tectonic plates, and part of the ocean floor.  The museum was named after Mary March, the name given to a Beothuk woman named Demasduit, who was captured by English settlers after they murdered her husband during a raid.  They later attempted to return her to the Beothuk people, but she died of tuberculosis before they were reunited.

We left Grand Falls-Windsor around 10:00 and headed towards Deer Lake.  We stopped in Deer Lake for lunch, and then carried on towards Gros Morne National Park and Rocky Harbour.

We were lucky enough to find a hotel room in Rocky Harbour for the night, and booked the Western Brook Pond boat trip in Gros Morne for tomorrow morning.  Our plan is to make it up to the top of the island tomorrow and spend the next two nights in St. Anthony while we tour the Viking site at L’Anse-aux-Meadows.

We got dinner at a little restaurant/cafe beside the hotel, and then watched the sunset over the harbour.  There seems to be an issue with connecting to the hotel wi-fi, so I’m ending up connecting via my phone and then tethering my phone via bluetooth so that I can make this post.  Hopefully better connectivity for nights ahead.

20170705 – Day 7

We got continental breakfast at the hotel in Gander, and then set out to drive up to Twillingate.  We stopped at the Beothuk Interpretation Centre in Boyd’s Cove to learn about the now-extinct indigenous people of Newfoundland.  Boyd’s Cove is the site of a historic Beothuk village that was uncovered by archeologists in the 1980s.  The interpretation centre has a trail that leads over to the village site, but a bridge had washed out over the winter so we weren’t able to see it up close.

We drove up to Twillingate, and caught our first glimpse of icebergs off in the distance.  We accidentally continued slightly past Twillingate to Crow Head.  There was a lighthouse there that we toured, and took photos of the one iceberg we could see in the waters nearby there.  We stopped for lunch at a nearby cafe, and then parked in Mutford’s Cove where several more icebergs were visible just off-shore.

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While we were standing on an outcropping taking photos, the iceberg in the foreground of that photo cracked into two pieces, and we watched them separate.

Leaving Twillingate, we continued back towards the Trans-Canada Highway and into Grand Falls-Windsor for the night.  The most common road sign here in Newfoundland seems to be “Caution: Potholes Ahead”, which is certainly accurate for pretty much every road we’ve driven on.

We arrived in Grand Falls-Windsor and had a bit of trouble finding a hotel.  The map we were using neglected to label almost any street names, and our guidebook didn’t provide directions.  After going in circles through the town, we ended up resorting to stopping at Tim Horton’s so we could use their wi-fi to find a hotel on Google Maps and get directions to it.  I feel like we had better maps back in 2008, because we definitely weren’t using Google Maps on cell phones back in those days.

20170704 – Day 6

Got up early today to head to the airport for our flight to St John’s.  Breakfast was whatever we could get at Tim Hortons after checking our luggage, and we were on the plane by 09:30 (UTC-05:00).  The flight was about 2 hours long, fairly smooth compared to our first flight to Ottawa.  We landed at St John’s airport around 13:30 (UTC-02:30) and picked up our rental car.

Our plan was to drive to Gander tonight, and then head up to Twillingate tomorrow.  The first part of the drive was fairly boring as far as Clarenville.  The geography here reminds me a bit of the top of local mountains in BC.  Lots of rocky areas with a bit of grass, and small shrubby trees.  It wasn’t all like that, but that was the predominant landscape.

Just past Clarenville, the rain started and then got significantly worse in very short time.  It was bad enough that with the windshield wipers on their fastest setting, we could still barely see the road ahead.  That weather persisted most of the way into Terra Nova National Park, where we briefly stopped at the visitor centre.

We made it in to Gander not too long after 18:00, and tried to find a hotel.  We were all pretty tired at this point, and all still suffering with colds. We had dinner at the hotel restaurant and turned in for the night.

20170703 – Day 5

We all woke up today with sore throats, probably a result of spending Canada Day in the rain. We decided to visit the Canadian Museum of History and the MosaïCanada exhibit at the Jacques Cartier park beside it.

We caught the express bus to Mackenzie King station, and then a local bus across the bridge to Gatineau.  One thing I notice here is that for most of the transit exchanges there’s only one stop and multiple buses stop there.  So everyone just kinda hangs around the bus stop waiting to see what bus shows up next.  In Vancouver that happens at local stops, but the bus loops tend to have one stop per route.

At the Canadian History Museum we went through their new History Hall exhibit, which covered history extending from tens of thousands of years up until quite recently.  It was interesting learning a lot more about how First Nations were involved in the various colonies and wars leading up to British occupation of French Canada after 1759.  I don’t remember that being covered in any depth in my social studies courses (although a lot of that section of history wasn’t covered very well).

Being from the west coast, I’ve seen Coast Salish First Nations art and I’m very loosely aware of some of their history and ongoing discussions around land title.  It was interesting to learn more about the eastern region and see examples of their art and culture.  I did notice that a lot more artifacts from coastal people in BC were represented compared to other nations, which might be related to eastern people having a longer exposure to Europeans.

We ended up spending a lot longer in the museum than planned, and then walked over to look at the MosaïCanada gardens.  These are forms or sculptures that are made of plants, representing various symbols of Canada.  It was quite impressive, and I’m very glad we were able to see it.  Unfortunately at this hour, the sun was at an awkward angle for photos.

We finished off the day by catching a water taxi across the Ottawa River to the Rideau Canal.  Some really great views of the Library of Parliament (one of my favourite buildings) from the boat.  We were all pretty tired at that point, so after stopping to pick up some cold medicine, we just headed back to the hotel.  We grabbed dinner at a restaurant beside the hotel.

20170702 – Day 4

We kept a fairly low profile today, partly because we were all sore from being on our feet all day yesterday.  Slept in until 9:30 or so, and decided to just walk over to the mall food court to get Tim Horton’s for breakfast.  Walked through the mall for a bit, bought a second pair of shoes since mine were still wet from the day before.  Spent most of the day just lounging around the hotel room, and walked up the street for dinner at Boston Pizza.

20170701 – Day 3

Wanting to beat the crowds, we set our alarm for 6:30. We got breakfast at the hotel, which was much better than the dinner we’d had on the first night (although they remain mistaken in their belief that it is acceptable to steep tea in a pot that has previously contained coffee).

We left the hotel to walk to the transit exchange. The weather was not especially pleasant, so we donned our rain ponchos.  They worked well enough for covering the upper half and backpacks, but at one point we turned a corner and within 3 seconds my shoes had soaked through.

Transit was free today, so we joined the crowds of people on the bus into downtown.  We’re lucky in that our hotel is right near one of the main transit exchanges where a lot of people make transfers, so there are 3 express buses to choose from that all go downtown. We got off at Rideau Centre and cut through the mall to get out on the street.

We joined the line for security on Elgin Street around 8:30 (despite my suggestion that we go to the line on Bank Street, which would have been shorter). Shortly after joining the line, one of the city volunteers walked by and told everyone that the Bank Street line had almost nobody in it. We opted to stay where we were, since a mass of people ahead of us jumped at the chance to walk over to Bank Street.  Getting through security was even more strict than yesterday.  We were through security by 9:15, so our wait wasn’t actually that bad (aside from the rain, which didn’t let up at all while we were in line).

Once we were through security, we tried to find a spot on Parliament Hill where we could see the stage.  The lawn was an absolutely waterlogged mess, and our shoes re-filled with water after a single step.  We managed to find a pretty good one, fairly close to the left side of the stage, just under a CBC camera panning rig.  The indigenous peoples’ demonstration and teepee was just a bit behind us.

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We stayed there through the morning performances and opening ceremonies.  The rain slowly tapered off over the course of the morning, and had pretty much stopped by the time the opening ceremonies began.  One of the morning performers was a group called Choir Choir Choir that taught the audience the words to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and performed it as a sing-along piece.  We watched Justin Trudeau speak (lol, forgot Alberta when listing the provinces & territories) and Prince Charles, along with the performance by Bono.  We left after the opening ceremonies and exited out of the secured area onto Sparks Street.

Our original plan was to head back to Rideau Centre to get lunch at the food court, and then to kill some time before staking out our spot for the fireworks.  Apparently everyone else had the same idea because the mall was absolutely packed. We gave up any hope of getting food there and escaped out towards the Byward Market.  That area was also brimming with people, so we ended up just walking (quite a ways) down Rideau Street until we found a food truck around 15:00.  It was great to just sit down for a bit after being on our feet all morning.

We decided we might as well head back up Rideau Street and check our Major’s Hill Park, which was another concert and event site and a recommended spot to watch the evening fireworks at 23:00.  We walked around there a little bit and found a nice spot with a great view along one of the paths overlooking the escarpment and the Rideau Canal.

We were out of water at this point, so I grabbed our water bottles and walked back to one of the refill stations near the stage in Major’s Hill Park.  When I came back through, they’d barricaded off the escarpment area and were telling everyone inside that they had to find a different spot.  So I was stuck waiting outside, with the rest of my group inside and absolutely terrible cell service due to the crowds of people. I did manage to get one SMS to go out to my sister, and we did end up meeting up a short while later when they were forced to leave their spot.

We just sat around for a bit debating what to do next.  Even though it was only 17:30, we knew we wouldn’t get through security for Parliament Hill again in time for the fireworks.  We ended up just walking around for a bit and ended up on Sparks Street again, wandering down until we were past the long security line of people on Bank Street.  Ended up finding a Starbucks in the Marriott hotel, so we stopped there for a drink.  We were very lucky, since we were the last people in line before the hotel staff locked the doors since Starbucks closed at 19:00.

Upon exiting Starbucks, we discovered that gale-force winds had moved in and there was some distant thundering.  We walked up two blocks and it started spitting, and then just as we got under a covered area by the Justice building it started pouring rain.  Seriously torrential downpour, and the wind was blowing it in sheets.  Was kinda funny seeing everyone huddling under the tiny covered area, and across the street you could see people trying to stay dry in the doorway to a church and under trees in the nearby park.  It eventually let up after about 20 minutes, and we continued down a ways until we were up against the security fencing near the Supreme Court building.  We had a pretty good view there, so we decided to stake out place.

The rain came back at least twice in the intervening several hours of waiting.  At one point, my sister crawled into one of the window wells of a building to stay dry.  I had my poncho keeping my upper half dry, but the wind kept blowing it around and the rain had me soaked from mid-thigh down.  My shoes had never fully dried out from when we left the hotel, and they just kept getting filled with water every time the weather turned.

We were worried about the lightning, since it had been mentioned that a lightning storm might cause the fireworks to be cancelled for safety reasons, but apparently they decided to go ahead with it.  There were 5 sites from which they were setting the fireworks off, and we had a good view of the main display over the water and the ones going off behind the Parliament buildings.

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It has to be said, we are totally spoiled as Vancouverites with our annual Celebration of Light fireworks show.  The crowd around us through these were an amazing display, and it wasn’t a bad show, but it was nowhere near as impressive as what we routinely get to experience at English Bay.

When the show ended we tried to figure out how we were going to catch the bus back to our hotel, along with hundreds of thousands of other people all trying to do the same.  OCTranspo was smart and had stockpiled busses on the downtown streets, so we were pretty much able to get on the first bus we saw and ride it non-stop to the exchange we wanted.

Of course, by this time it was after midnight and we’d had almost nothing to eat all day. The mall was closed for the holiday (and wouldn’t have been open at that hour anyways), but there was a Pizza Pizza on the way to our hotel.  It might not be gourmet, but a medium cheese pizza for $5 at 1:00 in the morning will suffice.