St. John’s – Jellybeans and Other Sweet Treats

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.

Quidi Vidi Brewery, home of Iceberg Beer, made with water from 15,000 year old icebergs.

Quidi Vidi Brewery, home of Iceberg Beer, made with water from 15,000 year old icebergs.

Quidi Vidi Village, pronounced "Kiddie Viddie."

Quidi Vidi Village, pronounced “Kiddie Viddie.”

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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.

View from atop Signal Hill.

View from atop Signal Hill.

Cabot Tower, built 1897 to commemorate 400th anniversary of John Cabot discovering the indigenous peoples inhabiting Newfoundland.

Cabot Tower, built 1897 to commemorate 400th anniversary of John Cabot discovering the indigenous peoples inhabiting Newfoundland.

Looking back over St. John's Harbour.

Looking back over St. John’s Harbour.

Fort Amherst, site if first lightstaion in Newfoundland, constructed in 1813 at the entrance to St. John's harbour.

Fort Amherst, site if first lightstation in Newfoundland, constructed in 1813 at the entrance to St. John’s harbour.

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.

The Rooms Museum and Cultural Center, built 2005.

The Rooms Museum and Cultural Center, built 2005.

inside the museum.

inside the museum.

Located high up on a hill, the museum offers several observation decks to look down on the town of St. John's.

Located high up on a hill, the museum offers several observation decks to look down on the town of St. John’s.

Snowmobile, circa 1965. Newfies call them "Ski-doos."

Snowmobile, circa 1965. Newfies call them “Ski-doos.”

Life vest from the Titanic.

Life vest from the Titanic.

Really creepy giant squid.

Really creepy giant squid.

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!”

I love often seen example of "art imitating life" where mailboxes are painted as Jellybean Row."

I love often seen example of “art imitating life” where mailboxes are painted as Jellybean Row.”


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I think parking should not be allowed in front of this beautiful mural in front of the jellybean houses!

I think parking should not be allowed in front of this beautiful mural in front of the jellybean houses!

A brief glimpse in between cars.

A brief glimpse in between cars.

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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.

Ascending the hill, you see the new Cape Spear lighthouse on the left (1955) and the old on the right (1836.)

Ascending the hill, you see the new Cape Spear lighthouse on the left (1955) and the old on the right (1836.)

This style of wooden house around stone tower is similar to Cape Bonavista Lighthouse.

This style of wooden house around stone tower is similar to Cape Bonavista Lighthouse.

The only difference in the two is Cape Bonavista's wooden structure is red and white striped, while Cape Spear is solid white.

The only difference in the two is Cape Bonavista’s wooden structure is red and white striped, while Cape Spear is solid white.

Can you see the whale spouts offshore?

Can you see the whale spouts offshore?

If you click to enlarge this photo, you will see a whale's tale to the right.

If you click to enlarge this photo, you will see a whale’s tale to the right.

Feeding frenzy.

Feeding frenzy.

Why just the top half of the 1955 lighthouse? Because some moronic fool spray-painted graffiti in the bottom half! I will not publicize their crime!

Why just the top half of the 1955 lighthouse? Because some moronic fool spray-painted graffiti in the bottom half! I will not publicize their crime!

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!”

My boondocking neighbors for the night.

My boondocking neighbors for the night.

North America's most easterly point. Behind me is the entire population of North America, in front, Ireland.

Note fog bank rolling in toward North America’s most easterly point. Behind me is the entire population of North America, in front, Ireland.

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Wooden Boats to my Heart’s Content

Each of the “fingers” that extend from Newfoundland’s northern shore has its own personality.   Each has a scenic road that runs around its perimeter, all with their own “trail” name.   My next exploratory jaunt around one of these fingers is called the “Baccalieu Trail,” named for the small Baccalieu Island off the coast, most likely named after the Portuguese or Spanish word for cod.

But who can even remember “Baccalieu,” when you have such interesting town names along this trail!   There is Heart’s Desire, Heart’s Delight, Heart’s Content, Cupids, and Continue reading

Photo-hike on the Skerwink Trail

The weather has been gray and drizzly since leaving Bonavista, but the forecast shows a brief window of relief. So I b-line it for the Skerwink Trail. It will mean hiking in the late afternoon, but it’s the only rain-free window for the next 24 hours, so I’m going for it. The trail is reported to have some muddy, slippery stretches along the cliffsides, and I don’t want to walk it in the rain.

The Skerwink Trail is a 5.3km/3.5 mile loop that skirts the perimeter of Skerwink Head, between Trinity Bay and Port Rexton’s Robinhood Bay. For what it’s worth, to quote Continue reading

Nuthin’ but Puffins!

The chance to see a puffin up close is haunting me, particularly after reading in the Newfoundland Travel Guide that it’s one of the only remaining places in the world where one can see them up close in the wild.  But it means a 30 mile drive back to Elliston in the rain, and still no guarantee. However, the weekend is now behind me, so crowds should have let up. I decide I will boondock at the scenic overlook just beyond the puffin site.  This will give me two opportunities, one later in the evening, and another the following morning if I don’t have success. Continue reading

Bonavista Peninsula — Down the Other Side

After spending the night with whales feeding right outside my window, I am too wired for sleep.  I wake up with the sun, which is quite a feat considering it rises at 5:30am.  After my hike up to the lighthouse in hopes of getting some nice color in the clouds before the ubiquitous fog rolls in, I contemplate a nap.

But the weather forecast shows this to be the most favorable day in a while.  So no crawling back into bed for a few more winks, even though it was only a few hours sleep.  I’ve got to keep moving.  Weather changes fast here on the east coast, Continue reading

Bonavista Peninsula — Up One Side…

Ever eager to keep up my circumnavigation around the island, I move east, clockwise around the perimeter. Newfoundland’s “other” national park, Terra Nova, Gros Morne’s baby sibling sits on the east coast. If you drew an imaginary line across the northern part of the island from Gros Morne on the western side, chopping off all the “fingers and arms” that jut off from the coast, you would hit Terra Nova National Park on the eastern side.

Every national park has a reason to warrant protection and conservation by the National Park Service. In the case of Terra Nova, Continue reading

From a Fogo State of Mind to a New York State of Mind

To say I left Fogo Island reluctantly is a gross understatement.  It’s one of those places where I know I am going to look back and say “Why didn’t I spend more time there?”  But I’ve made a commitment back in Maine at the end of August, so I must keep moving.

I want to stop at the North Atlantic Aviation Museum in Gander as I head east around the island of Newfoundland.  Often referred to as “the lifeboat of the North Atlantic,” Continue reading

Fogo Island’s Juxtaposition

Fogo Island has another side….an intentionally contrasting side. One of art and architecture, where life is lived in the contridiction. And I hate to say it, but also what appears at first glance to be obscene opulence. But I was quick to judge it seems, as it bears further examination.

Mention “Fogo Island,” and those who are familiar will chuckle and ask tongue and cheek, “So did you stay at the Inn?” Fogo Island Inn, built in 2013, a 29 room luxury hotel, is getting a crazy amount of press these days. In fact, just this past month, Continue reading

A Fogo State of Mind

The tourist influx is in full swing in Twillingate, with people racing from cove to cove asking “Have you seen any icebergs?” like it was a game of real life pokemon. It’s an energy that’s hard to describe, but I haven’t felt it since leaving the crowded Bay of Fundy. I’ve come to thrive on the solitude I’ve experienced since being in Newfoundland, and as my friend Ed recently said, “I miss the empty.”  Continue reading

Twillingate: Tire Troubles, Terrible Roads, and Tour Buses

I’ve been eager to get on to Twillingate, southern end of “Iceberg Alley” for some time now, as reports on the Newfoundland Iceberg Facebook group show giant skyscrapers of ice floating just offshore. If Saint Anthony’s holds the lock on iceberg viewing at the northern end of Iceberg Alley, Twillingate reigns as the place to be at the southern end. I’ve been patiently anticipating my arrival in Twillingate, not wanting to rush through my planned stops in between, but eager to finally arrive. Continue reading