After turning south from the rolling farmlands and quaint villages bordering the St. Lawrence River and heading toward the ocean, we entered an intensely wild and beautiful region of Canada known as the Maritimes. The Maritimes, as the name implies, are adjacent or surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and include the provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Because of their proximity to Europe, these three provinces were settled far longer ago than anywhere in the US and are rich in history as well as beauty.
Before we even got close to the sea though, we stopped overnight in the tiny outpost (outpost in the sense that it's the last city before a 100 mile eastern jaunt to the Atlantic through a veritable blanket of trees) of Plaster Rock. Plaster Rock is home to the World's Largest Fiddleheads, which is significant mostly because it provides an excellent opportunity to characterize the Canadian approach to roadside attractions. The Canadians seem to absolutely LOVE enormous effigies and they're found all over the country, even if there aren't any Fiji mermaids or two headed calves to be found.
Since Plaster Rock serves as a famous harvesting ground for the tasty fiddlehead fern (that's right...a fern you can eat!), they've chosen to celebrate the fact with a tall wooden sculpture proclaiming their prowess. I picked up a jar of pickled fiddleheads at one of the many fabulous cheese shops along our way and they made a delicious addition to our picnic hamper (oops! - world's largest basket is in Ohio - sorry, Canada!)
Our first stop after reaching the coastline was in the seaside holiday destination of Shediac, New Brunswick where we celebrated the ocean with a fried clam extravaganza and a visit to - you guessed it - the world's largest lobster!
Actually the world's largest lobster is tremendously impressive. The Shediac Rotary club hired a noted naturalist to design the sculpture and it's not only very realistic looking, but also beautifully painted. In fact, everything is great about the giant lobster: it's in an appealing setting, very accessible and inviting and very photogenic - there was a constant stream of happy tourists clicking photos while we were there.
Right beside the giant lobster I got an opportunity to pose in my second set of stocks of the trip, even if the pirate wasn't very scary since the blade of his epee apparently fell off without him having noticed.
Mark and I spent a very pleasant day Thursday driving over to Prince Edward Island ($45 toll for the bridge - ouch!), home of world famous P.E.I. mussels. Our first stop was a trio of bottle houses in Cape Egmont, built by retired lighthouse keeper Edouard Arsenault in the 1980s.
Arsenault used over 25,000 bottles to construct three modest structures on his property, but we were delighted to discover when we arrived that the splendor of the gardens easily rivalled the beauty of the bottle houses. A wide variety of blooming plants held the visitor's eye between buildings in addition to several charming sculptures that were tucked in between flower beds.
I particularly liked this carving which is a portrait of Edouard's 99 year old aunt Edna that was carved into the stump of a favorite tree that had toppled in a particularly bad storm, carved by a local artist as a gift to Edouard:
After taking in the bottle houses, we stopped in the city of Summerside at an excellent wharf-side eatery called the Mussel Shed and enjoyed a mound of fresh local mollusks steamed in a pair of tasty broths. Mark ordered a local ale made with blueberries and it was one of the best beers I've tasted in a long time. In fact, he had to order a second one since I kept helping myself to large swigs.
Friday morning, Mark and I drove a ruggedly beautiful and startlingly remote stretch of highway out to the World Heritage Site known as Joggins Fossil Cliffs for an early morning tour. We arrived almost two hours before our tour time since we hadn't known quite what navigational problems we might encounter (not to mention I was beyond excited), but took the opportunity to haul out the coffee making rig I'd packed in the car and brew up an excellent pot of coffee on the outdoor patio of the interpretation center. We sipped it in the lee of a driving cold wind that whipped the oxide colored water of the bay below us into red-brown crests of foam, just the two of us, taking in the dramatic sweep of the scenery. It was one of those moments I'll likely never forget, the result of many different irons accumulating in the fire without a thought as to what reward they might yield when taken together.
Joggins Fossil Cliffs sit at the northeastern end of the Bay of Fundy (pictured at right). The land mass you see to the left of the Bay is a combination of New Brunswick and a tiny bit of Maine. The Bay of Fundy is known for having the highest tidal range in the world - an average daily differential between 45 and 50 feet. That's the equivalent of a five story building, for crying out loud! For example, when we arrived shortly after 8:00 a.m., the water was at least a football field's distance or more from the shore and when we finished up our tour just after noon, people were hurrying to finish their strolls because the beach would soon be entirely covered by water. The Bay is definitely an impressive force to be reckoned with.
The cliffs themselves stretch a little more than 9 miles along the Nova Scotian coastline and are considered to be the most complete and diverse record of the Pennsylvanian Coal Age, around 310 to 350 millions years ago. They greatly inspired several early 19th century scientists who were busy inventing geology and were featured prominently by their student Darwin in his game-changing treatise On the Origin of Species. This led to a discovery at Joggins in the mid 1800s of what is widely considered to be the most important fossil ever discovered.
The erosion of the cliffs by extreme weather conditions and tidal surges slowly crumbles the face away, constantly exposing new fossils. When we went on our tour, the tour guide pointed out several impressive examples of intact tree trunks and a variety of different foliage forms, but what impressed me the most was the number of times she crowed, "I haven't seen that before!" when someone brought her an interesting rock or pointed out something lodged in the wall. Everywhere you looked were amazing fossil records - you couldn't step anywhere without walking right on top of them. It was thrilling - I know no better word to describe it.
We were positively glowing by the time we departed. It was a buzz that lasted all day long as we snaked along the lovely road that follows the Novia Scotia coastline southward. We were lodging for the evening in the remote coastal town of Advocate Harbor at a place called the Driftwood Inn where we found incredibly gracious hosts, a fantastically comfortable cabin and access to the beach no more than 10 feet from our front door. Mark settled down for a delicious nap listening to the cool sea breeze sing through the screens of the window and I strolled the beach and made a rock stack which I crowned with a large lobster head I found lying at the water's edge.
For dinner we supped at a restaurant that everyone raved about (locals, visitors, the internet - you name it) called the Wild Caraway. It was an oasis of foodie delight in the middle of nowhere. Here's the amuse bouche they brought us before the meal - a tiny thimble full of refreshing cool soup with a freshly baked herb roll. You can also see my rhubarb soda in the background.
We shared an exquisite chanterelle mushroom soup with house made double smoked bacon:
For my entree I chose pan seared local scallops with pickled cucumber slices, beet puree, cilantro cream and borage jelly cubes, garnished with fresh beet relish with wild currants and tiny fresh mint leaves.
Our visit to Wild Caraway was the icing on the insanely delicious cake of Nova Scotia. We were so impressed to find such world class cuisine in a town with less than a thousand residents. It mirrored our experience in Nova Scotia, though - full of satisfying surprises.
Saturday was spent reluctantly leaving our seaside retreat and making our way to the Nova Scotian capital of Halifax. We made a quick stop in Parrsboro at a famous rock shop where we bought some fossilized souvenirs to bring home with us. Mark selected a delicate fern of the same variety he had discovered first on our stroll down the beach at Joggins - a perfect reminder of that glorious morning.
In Halifax, we stayed overnight at the sumptuous Prince George hotel in the downtown harbor area where the clerk was nice enough to upgrade us to an absurdly decadent executive suite. We enjoyed another delicious dinner at a nearby gastro pub.
Sunday morning, I bid Mark a fond adieu and dropped him at the Halifax airport before making a beeline for the oldest city in Canada (founded in 1604!), Annapolis Royal. I had an appointment to meet shoemaker Fred Longtin in the nearby city of Granville Ferry to see his fantastic workshop and inquire about ordering a pair of custom made shoes. Fred makes boots and shoes for the theater and you should absolutely take a minute and look here at pictures of some of the shoes he and his two assistants Janel and Jon have made. As you might guess, my favorites are the boots produced for the hit musical "Wicked". Once you see them, you'll know instantly why I became obsessed with meeting him and seeing if he'd make me a pair of shoes - he is most definitely from my planet.
Fred doesn't really make shoes for the general public anymore, but he generously relented after seeing my obvious kookiness and affection for him and what he does and I now happily have a starter pair of black leather Mary Janes on order.
I loved looking around his workshop at all the amazing leathers he had squirreled away. I often find people's workshops as compelling as any work they produce - giving a view into the mind that a tangible object isn't necessarily able to provide. I had a ball chatting with Fred and Janel and would welcome the opportunity to go back and do it again.
After lodging in Annapolis Royal Sunday night, I got up before dawn the next morning and made my way through a thick fog to board the ferry at Digby so I could cross the Bay of Fundy and land at St. John. Less than an hour later, I crossed the border back into the U.S. and ended my wonderful sojourn in Canada. I knew before I'd even cast a scathing glare into my rear view mirror at the U.S. Border station that I'd be missing the quiet unassuming beauty of Canada in short order. I was so glad to have taken the time to be there and experience it fully.
Moonset on the Bay of Fundy, Advocate Harbor