Leaving The Rock

We closed out our trip to Newfoundland with a hike in Little Cove, just south of the village of Twillingate. Our hike took us to Jones Cove and then up and over the ridge to Lower Little Harbour.

The Twillingate hiking website listed this particular hike as easy, but we found it to be a bit more—four or so miles with a lot of up and down. Perhaps this was due to weather in the low 50s (Fahrenheit) and high winds (25-30 mph gusts), or maybe we are just flatlander tourists. In any case, the hiking was interesting, with sections of heavy forest, sections of bare rock, a summit ridge, and even a short stretch of rocky beach.

Along the way, we passed a natural arch and the remains of a settlement from the 1930s, including what was left of a restaurant called Kelley’s Sunset Chat. Our hike was a nice mix of nature, history, and exercise–including some scrambling and some up-hill climbs.

Back in Twillingate at Oceanview Retreat, we closed out our stay with another interesting Newfoundland dish, seafood chowder. It’s pretty clear why I haven’t lost weight on this trip.

Some other local dishes this week included Newfoundland fish cakes, pickled herring, and fried dulse. Menu staples here are highly seasonal, revolve around the sea as well as roots and berries, and have a simple charm about them.

We are back in Virginia now, but we have some great memories of “The Rock,” as Newfoundland is often called. We didn’t know much about any of these places before planning this trip, and now we’ll never forget them. The culture is interesting, the people are amazingly friendly…and there is so much more to see.

On our way to the airport in Gander, Souzz uttered the telltale phrase that marks the end of a great vacation: “I wish we had one more day.”

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A Festival in Fogo

One of the nice things about travel is that you get to discover new things, starting obviously enough with new geographies…but extending to new activities, new foods, new drinks, new accents, sometimes new languages—and, as it turns out, new festivals. Maybe that’s why our current vacation spot is called Newfoundland.

We’ve had some fun adventures already, and set out looking for more. So we left our rented cottage in Twillingate on the north Atlantic, headed south, and hopped the Norcon Galatea ferry to Fogo Island.

Fogo Island is the largest of the off-shore islands up here, about 15 miles long by 8 miles wide, and boasts a population of nearly 3000. Fogo has had permanent settlements dating to the early 1600s, and the island saw visits by Beothuk natives for hundreds of years before that. It was mostly settled by the French and the Irish in pursuit of seal skins, cod, and lumber (presumably not all at the same time, as I don’t think seals and cod hung out in the forest).

A number of small villages dot Fogo Island, including the artist community of Joe Batt’s Arm. As the story goes, Joe Batt was a member of Captain Cook’s crew in the 1700s that either deserted, was thrown overboard, or fell overboard. In any case, all accounts agree that he eventually swam ashore. Also of note for us is that Joe Batt shared a last name with one side of Souzz’s family. Perhaps Joe Batt was a distant relation, we don’t know. But Souzz has been calling me Captain Cook all week–so you can imagine why my learning Joe Batt’s story was a little disconcerting.

Anyway, it turns out that we set off for Fogo Island during their annual Partridgeberry Festival. I’d never heard of partridgeberries until we drove past the sign for the festival at the local hockey arena. Wikipedia describes partridgeberry bushes as “creeping prostrate herbacious woody shrubs,” hardly befitting of a berry that can inspire it’s own festival.

I’ve since learned that partridgeberries have a huge range that extends south to Florida, but they are especially plentiful up here–including a bunch right around our cottage. We sampled a few and they are pretty tart, which is why they are commonly mixed with some sort of sugar to make a jam or a preserve.

As for the festival, Fogo Island’s Iceberg Arena had cars stacked in all directions, including ours, and the live music could be heard from a block away. Inside the arena, we found hundreds of people, a fiddle band, local artists and authors, crafts, lots of food, and a bunch of products from this ubiquitous berry. There were jams, spreads, preserves, and even partridgeberry mayonnaise, all for sale. We did our part for the local economy, reinforcing our love for creeping prostrate herbacious woody shrubs.

Shockingly, we felt like we were the only folks at the festival that came from Virginia. But like all of our Newfoundland experiences on this trip, we felt quite at home and were greeted with smiles all around. You could even say we were welcomed with open arms (not to be confused with Joe Batt’s, of course).

Twilling-great

We’ve been having fun in and around Twillingate, Newfoundland, for the past few days. That includes a visit to Auk Island Winery, some hiking, and a sampling of some of the local seafood. We’re up here in shoulder season, so a lot of businesses aren’t open…but we pretty much have the place to ourselves (along with 2,500 delightfully friendly residents).

Of course, the hiking trails around Twillingate don’t ever really close down (depending on your tolerance for cold weather, I guess), and we had an awesome day for a hike. After a visit to Crow Head and Long Point Lighthouse, we enjoyed hikes to French Beach and French Head. The views were stunning, the sky was crystal blue, and we were the only folks around.

As nice as the hiking was, the highlight of the day was our visit to Auk Island Winery, where we chatted with our friendly host, Nicole, for nearly an hour. She shared a lot of insight into their berry wines, and also shared her love for Twillingate and the surrounding country. We covered a lot of ground, including stories of Nicole’s travels to the Dominican Republic and Cuba, and a brief conversation about her experience during 9-11.

Our cottage in Twillingate is really terrific, located up on a bluff overlooking the harbour with windows across the whole back of the place. I’ve gotten more vitamin D on the porch here in the last few days than in the last month. And Souzz has spent every possible moment enjoying the sounds of the waves slapping against the rocks in Twillingate Harbour. The cottage also includes a full kitchen, which is a great luxury.

As for the kitchen, we’ve continued our obsession with local cuisines and regional dishes. Our menu has included cod, Atlantic salmon, mussels, and lobster. Also on the list is a locally bottled rum called Screech, a brand that has been somewhat taken over by tourists but is a regional specialty just the same.

As the Screech story goes, an American military officer stationed here back in the day let out a loud screech the first time he took a shot. Whether that is true or not is hardly the point. We tried it straight up, and also made our own signature cocktail with pineapple juice and cinnamon, which Souzz called a Twillingate Tangle. Pineapples and cinammon aren’t native to Newfoundland, but neither are we–so we figured why not.

In addition to the cod, salmon, and Screech, there are some more obscure traditional foods, like seal flipper pie, pickled herring, and a natural sea vegetable called dulse. We are still looking for seal flipper pie (it’s out of season, much to Souzz’s relief), but we have found the herring and the dulse and they are on the menu for the next few nights (wish me luck).

So far, our dinners have included cod au gratin, steamed mussels, maple smoked salmon, and lobster risotto (ok, so risotto isn’t really a Newfoundland dish). As I watch the waves roll in, I appreciate that the ocean is the source for food here more often than not. Let’s hope that Souzz agrees. 🙂

Is Gander In Canada?

We just headed off to Gander, Newfoundland for a quick trip. So where is Gander, you might ask? We knew this place was a bit off the beaten path when we checked into our flights on Air Canada, and Jessie, the Air Canada agent, asked “is Gander in Canada?”

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Gander is a town of 10,000 that has an airport with a big runway and it has a lot of aviation history. A walk through town reveals streets named after Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Eddie Richenbacker, and Chuck Yeager. Gander was a stopover for almost all trans-Atlantic flights back in the day–until fuel capacities got bigger in the 1970s. And Gander continues to be a safe haven for flights over the North Atlantic that have mechanical problems (thankfully, that wasn’t us).

Gander also had a big role in helping the world on September 11, 2001, when US-bound planes were diverted here and 6500 passengers spent five days in town waiting for US airspace to re-open. The town’s population nearly doubled in just a few hours, and the people of Gander answered the call. They opened their homes to total strangers, the hockey rink was converted to a giant refrigerator to store food for the “plane people,” and citizens made weary travelers feel as comfortable as they could (imagine hearing this: “Hi, welcome to Walmart. Would you like to come to our house and take a shower?”).

Gander’s post-9/11 role was largely overlooked at the time, but it is an amazing story—even inspiring a musical that is playing now at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC called “Come from Away.” One of the many passengers stranded in Gander back in 2001 was so touched that she started a highly successful scholarship program for the high school in nearby Lewisporte. The stories from that time offered a ray of hope in the midst of a very dark time.

As for us, we took in a few local sites, including the Silent Witness Memorial, and then stopped by the North Atlantic Aviation Museum. It offered up some fascinating artifacts from Newfoundland’s rich aviation history, as well as a few more reminders of 9-11 (including a piece of steel from one of the Twin Towers).

From Gander, we headed on to Twillingate, about an hour and a half north, where we’ve rented a cottage overlooking the harbor. We are going to take in as much local culture as we can, hike a bunch, cook up some local treats, and perhaps learn a little more about a corner of the world that we don’t know that much about.