Driving toward St John’s, Newfoundland’s capital city on the Avalon Peninsula, is a bit of culture shock. It’s been three weeks since I’ve seen any semblance of “traffic,” so to roll up to the first stop light in so many days just seems odd, if not downright intimidating. I’m eager to tour the city, but going from night after night of freedom in remote boondocking spots to a crowded RV Park is tough to swallow, in spite of my desire to see the sights.
According to wikipedia, “Of major Canadian cities, St. John’s is the foggiest (124 days), windiest (15.1 mph) average speed), and cloudiest (1,497 hours of sunshine.) Precipitation is frequent and often heavy, falling year round.” So I feel fortunate to have arrived on a day fit for exploration.
There’s lots to see in North America’s most easterly city. But this time around, my “list” doesn’t only include places, it includes people! For a month now, I’ve been shadowing Ed and Marti as they make this same loop a few weeks in front of me. They have been kind enough to let me “cheat off their homework,” as they send text messages back on recommendations of their favorite places, which have quickly become my favorite places. They have been very kind in their generous sharing of information, even more helpful considering I didn’t have much time to research once I finally made up my mind to head north. I often wondered if our paths would eventually cross, so St. John’s, it is! We’ll meet up at Pippy Park, St John’s 3,400 acre urban park, complete with campground.
In addition to sharing a couple of “fancy meals,” Ed, Marti and I pile into their View for a city tour. This is the first time I’ve ever sat in the back of a View while someone else is driving. It feels bizarre to be sitting on their couch in the coach, tipping like a see-saw as Ed navigates the San Francisco-like hills of St. John’s. I enjoy the rare treat of not having to drive, but instead of looking out the window, I am watching the interior for movement, studying how our View coaches handle the road.
We visit St. John’s most iconic tourist attraction, Signal Hill, which offers beautiful vistas of the port city below, overlooking The Narrows, entrance to St. John’s harbor, only 200 ft wide at it’s narrowest point. A long standing military installation, Signal Hill has been the keystone where Newfoundland’s most active harbor has been protected and defended since the early 17th century.
The Gothic stone building at the top, Cabot Tower, was constructed in 1897 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland. It was also the site of the first transatlantic wireless transmission in 1901, when Marconi suspended an antenna attached to a telephone receiver 500 feet up by kite, resulting in the first transatlantic wireless signal, the letter ‘S’ in Morse code.
Another stop on my St. John’s “must do” list is the beautiful museum and cultural center, “The Rooms.” Again to quote Wikipedia, “The building’s name, as well as its architecture, is a reference to the simple gable-roofed sheds called “fishing rooms” that were once so common at the waterline in Newfoundland fishing villages.” The museum houses four floors full of artifacts of indigenous peoples, history of the fishing industry up to the cod collapse, examples of native flora and fauna species, audible exhibits of musical history and Newfie dialects.
But history aside, I think my favorite thing about the city of St. John’s is “Jelly Bean Row.” Although there is much marketing about the “row,” the vividly colored row houses are not confined to just one street. They’re all over the place! As I wander from block to block snapping photos, I run into many of the same travelers, one who captures the essence by saying, “It’s impossible not be happy looking at this block!”
While Signal Hill is St. John’s most famous landmark in town, just 10 miles on the outskirts is its rural rival, Cape Spear, Canada’s oldest surviving lighthouse and North America’s easternmost point. Built in 1836, the original wooden house with stone tower in the center is now a National Historic Site, filled with period furnishings, circa 1839. In 1955, a more modern concrete tower was built just 200 yards away. In 1912, the original equipment was replaced with a Fresnel lens, which now functions with a 500 w electrified lightbulb in the new tower.
Since this is a National Historic Site, I figure it’s a good idea to ask permission rather than forgiveness to park overnight in the parking lot. Since I have arrived in the midst of pea soup fog and darkness is soon to follow, I ask if it would be okay if I stay overnight and wait for the fog to lift. “Sure. No problem. People do it all the time. Sweet dreams!”