Thursday, December 21, 2017

Back through New Brunswick and Ontario: Surprisingly Not Awful

It's been a long time since our trip. Something like 16 months. I'm not going to do the math. 

I choose to blame motherhood on the fact that I didn't keep up with this blog at all and pretend that mom-blogging isn't a whole genre in itself. 

I'm getting there! 
Yes, that's wine in a mug


After our blah St John, New Brunswick experience, we were skeptical about what we would find in Fredericton, New Brunswick's capital. (For anyone wanting a brief review: Saint John was boring and weird.)

We were only in Fredericton to sleep after a long drive from the ferry that took us back from Newfoundland. We had to get back on the road early the next day to head to Ottawa to hang out with my family before picking up our pace westward. 

Unfortunately, a rainy Monday night in Fredericton isn't really the best time to be a tourist, but we had a phenomenal Airbnb stay (think luxurious sheets, chocolates on the pillows, spotless ensuite bathroom) and we found a Smoke's Poutinerie while walking around downtown! It wasn't enough time to get a feel for the city at all, but no complaints from us.

Driving through Ontario Didn't Suck
After getting stuck in bonkers Montreal traffic, we arrived fashionably late to dinner with my wonderful Ontario-based family.

We slept soundly and met up with my grandparents at Tim Horton's on our way to the part of the trip I dreaded most: over two solid days of driving through Ontario. Now, this could be totally avoided by skipping through the US. Several people made this recommendation to us when we told them what we were planning. But it seemed wrong to do a cross Canada road trip and skip out the middle bit. 

Unfortunately, due to our late start and my tiny bladder, Sister Bernadette was still chugging along the highway as the sun went down. For those of you unfamiliar with rural driving in North America, this is incredibly dangerous. Our teeny car would crumble to pieces if we hit a medium-sized dog. Knowing that we're driving through areas teeming with full-sized wildlife, like bears, deer, and moose, had us on edge. I scanned the horizon, very alert, looking for potential hazards. 

As we were nearing our Airbnb, I screamed as we passed a moose on the side of the road. Thankfully, he had no interest in crossing the road at that moment. We definitely would have been road toast. By the time we left Ontario, I had also spotted a couple of bears along the highway.

When we were planning our trip, I scanned the web for somewhere in our budget to stay that wasn't completely boring. Black-River Matheson, population 2,500, is an odd place to stop but I am so glad we did. PEOPLE, THERE IS A REINDEER FARM WITH PEACOCKS, HOMEMADE WINE, AND BUNNIES RUNNING AROUND EVERYWHERE FOR ONLY $70 A NIGHT

Who'd have thought that one of the coolest things we'd do in the course of our 6 week drive would be in Northern Ontario? No one. Especially not me.
Stuff (no pun intended) of nightmares
We chatted with our host Steve over a glass of his homemade fruit wine, learning about how he came to Canada from the US as a mining engineer and had a shortlived career as a local teacher. His house is full of taxidermied animals (which he did himself thanks to a random elective he took in college) and skulls of animals that he's shot on his property. This made sleep a little difficult to come by for us after touring his dimly lit house before bed.

Following a restless night, we were treated to delicious eggs fresh from his chickens and a tour, complete with reindeer breakfast duty. I am a city girl through and through, but I love animals. And Steve's cabin in the woods is full of them. The dozens of reindeer are, of course, the highlight. Being able to tell our nephews and nieces that we're friends with Santa (who is Canadian, adding credibility to our story) with photos of the Irishman with reindeer as proof is pretty fantastic. Definitely worth $70.
Proof (that's Santa behind Cathal)
Reindeer fact time! Did you know they shed their antlers every year? Poor Steve has piles of them in his house. If you have any ideas for crafts or obscure rituals that could use them, give him a call.

Sadly, we only had time to say hi to the animals and then had to be on our way. 

Let the Guest Room Crashing Begin!
Reindeer Way was our last paid-for accommodation on the trip. 

As we made our way across the country, kind friends reached out over Facebook to offer us places to crash. One perk of doing this trip at 30 vs. in our early 20's is that many of our friends have spare rooms. Score! 

The first guest room we crashed in was in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Ola, a classmate from my University of Toronto days, had moved back to her hometown, gotten married, and had two kids since I had last seen her. Yikes! Are we old? Don't answer.

After meeting her kids and sister, getting lovingly (right?) trash-talked by her hardcore road tripping mom for only driving about 10 hours a day, and dropping off our stuff, we headed downtown for, you guessed it, poutine. One bonus of knowing a local is getting the inside scoop on where poutine and amazing gelato are on offer. 

The Calderons gave us a tour which included dodging dozens of Pokémon Go players at a local lookout point. (Is that still a thing? It was THE THING that summer.) Beautiful scenery, fun conversation, and delicious food punctuated our last night in Northern Ontario.

But the Northern Ontario goodness was not over.

On Ola and Andrew's recommendation, we hit up Kakabeka Falls on our way to Manitoba the next day. While "Niagara of the North" is a bit of an overstatement, they are an incredible sight. Especially after years of living in intensely urban and dense Shanghai, having near total privacy near a natural wonder is surreal. 

Just don't ask us to come back in the winter.

And that was the end of Ontario for us! With "eastern Canada" in our rearview mirror, we prepared to meet up with one of my personal heroes in Winnipeg and visit one of my must-sees, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Can I actually wrap up these road trip posts before the end of 2017? Stay tuned...

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Newfoundland: Worth the schlep!

The Ferry to Newfoundland

On our way to the ferry to Newfoundland, we stopped in Sydney, Nova Scotia, to meet up with a friend of mine from Shanghai (Hi Ian!) for poutine and beers. He advised us that the only real activity in town for tourists is posing with a giant fiddle. He wasn't kidding: there is a giant fiddle and we were not the only tourists who stopped to take a picture with it...

We took the overnight ferry both ways from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland. Departing at 11:45 pm on both ends, it arrives around 7:00 am on the other side. 

For the first ferry, we bought individual seats and tried to settle in to sleep. Cabins had sold out more than six weeks in advance! Thank goodness for ear plugs and eye covers. The seats were not particularly comfortable and in a room of hundreds of other people, it was impossible to sleep properly.

Tips for the Newfoundland ferry: 
  • Book this ferry well in advance! Despite the mandatory form field, you don't need to provide your licence plate number if you don't know it yet; you can email or call and let them know your updated details once you have your car organized. 
  • BOOK A CABIN! The two-berth room clocked in at $143 ($100 more than our two seats on the way over) but it was more than worth it. The room was cute, quiet, clean, and had its own bathroom. We were able to shower and crash hard in our twin beds after the intense day of driving from St. John's to Port-Aux-Basques. I will definitely do it again! Also, at the time of our booking, a two-berth cabin and four-berth cabin were the same price. Sweet deal for groups or families!
  • Skilled car maneuvering required! I am terrible at parking, even in tiny Sister Bernadette (although by the time we made it to Vancouver, I had improved demonstrably!). To get our car onto the ferry, we were instructed to do some pretty strange maneuvers. Thankfully, we had the foresight to have the Irishman behind the wheel when we pulled up at the terminal. 
  • Bring your own water. There are no water fountains on the ferry.
On a boat

The Drive

Newfoundland is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. The view from trains through Malaysia, the Ring of Kerry in spring, and the surprise that was PEI do not hold a candle to the majesty of Newfoundland. 

However, our extreme wonder was also offset by raw fear. Around 12 hours of driving through scenery that looked like it came out of a CGI'd fantasy film after very little sleep through long drags of torrential rain, potholes nearly as big as our car, few gas stations, 0 mobile phone reception, large vehicles passing us at high speeds, no shoulders to pull over on, and the realization we hadn't Googled what types of large animals may make us roadkill probably took years off of our lives. (Turns out there are moose and bears like the rest of the country, for future reference.)

Also, radio stations kept announcing hydroplaning warnings. Having no idea what hydroplaning is, and with no internet access, we could only imagine what risk we were putting ourselves in. (It is what it sounds like: your tires lose traction because of water and it's super hazardous.)

I will not do it justice with photos or my description of it, so I will just say, "Drive in Newfoundland [slowly, because of the hydroplaning thing]". You will crest over hill after hill where you get a foggy view of evergreen forests, then approach glittering ponds and fields of wildflowers as you descend. It did not get old over the days (of nail-biting terror) we drove from the ferry terminal to St. John's and back. 

It is a blessing that the ferry is on the opposite side of the island from St. John's. We had no concept of what a natural wonder Newfoundland would be and wouldn't have made the trek otherwise!

Ferry terminal to St. John's

An Unforgettable Day in St. John's

In stark contrast to the dud that was St. John, New Brunswick, our day in St. John's was a day of a lifetime. Yes, we have confused several people over the past year who think we are flip-flopping. I can say definitively of all the cities we visited over this holiday: St. John's was the best, St John was the worst. Of course the universe had to make it that way to confuse everyone. 

We arrived in the evening at Lana and Roshni's Airbnb, stinking of sweat and tense from a day of trying to not perish on the road. Their place was perfect and they are a super lovely couple --highly recommended. We got some groceries, chatted to our hosts, and tucked in early so we could be ready for one of our trip "must-dos": whale watching.

Whale (and Bird) Watching

Thankfully we left early, as O'Brien's Whale and Bird Tours was tricky to find as our GPS didn't quite have a handle on Newfoundland side roads. We made it with time to spare and were ushered onto a busy boat of tourists. 

We saw thousands of puffins and common murres. Birds (and bird poop) everywhere. I was there for the puffins, but the "common birds" were adorable, penguin-like little dudes! 

However, we didn't pay >$60 per ticket to look at birds. We, like all the other giddy people on that boat, were there for whales. And did we ever see whales! No matter where you were on the boat, you could catch a good view of minke and humpback whales doing their thing. We saw over a dozen minke whales, tricky to catch on camera as their fins just peek out for a moment, and a handful of humpbacks. It's really hard to get a good photo of whales, so I will leave it to the pros. 

Our guide was charming and funny and the boat captain did a great job (as far as we can tell) of steering us towards the whales. The Irishman was even able to grab a beer to sip while he rolled his eyes at my sobbing at the miracle we had witnessed. Can you believe I was the only one on the boat crying? Really? Okay, fine, well maybe no one else was as touched by the experience but 10/10 for me, highly recommend.

Puffins are real animals...Not everyone knows this, we have since learned

Fail of an Afternoon

We had a few hiccups due to poor planning. Besides the boat, I hadn't booked anything and planned to wing it. Perhaps not the best idea.

Amusingly, I'm writing this post in 40 degree weather in Shanghai, exactly one year later. But on July 16, 2016, we were roasting in the 24 degree Celsius heat of St. John's (that's 75F for the one American who may accidentally read this). 

After composing myself post-boat, we headed to Signal Hill, a military fort that overlooks St. John's. Both dressed in jeans, we were completely bathed in sweat after climbing the hill and had no water with us. We tried to make the most of it, taking photos, reading the captions in Cabot Tower history exhibits, and checking out the scenery. But we were hot, uncomfortable, and bored. After taking in the most incredible scenery of my life the previous day while being reminded repeatedly of my mortality, it was pretty anticlimactic.

It's a hill

An overpriced iced coffee and Coke later, we hopped into the car to check out the colourful houses that line the shore. We had seen photos before we arrived and thought "how hard could it be to drive over, park Sister B, and wander around"? We embarrassingly ended up getting lost and stuck in tiny, winding roads and having to reverse up steep slopes, narrowly missing other vehicles and people's porches. I don't even know how we managed it. Someone on TripAdvisor suggests going to the tourism office on Water Street and using a map from there. Noted for future reference. Sigh.
Not taken by us. Sigh. (Thanks, Ritche Perez)

Getting Screeched In

Dejected, we admitted to our amazing Airbnb hostesses that we had failed miserably at being tourists over the course of the afternoon. Ever helpful, they wouldn't let us give up hope on the rest of our day. They helped us to figure out where we would be "screeched in", another requirement of being a tourist in Newfoundland.

The "screech-in" is for non-Newfoundlanders ("come from aways" or "mainlanders") to be initiated in a ceremony to become honorary Newfoundlanders. On Lana and Roshni's recommendation, we called ahead to a couple of bars that are known to perform the rite well, and the popular Christian's had a few spaces still available that evening. FYI -this is not necessarily something you can just walk into. The times are scheduled and can fill up!
Lucky for me, I was first up to kiss the rapidly defrosting cod

After eating a surprisingly decent poutine at Green Sleeves pub down the road, we headed upstairs at Christian's for the ceremony. It was hilarious. An epic monologue about Newfoundland was followed by offerings of "Newfoundland steak" (baloney pieces), kissing a [frozen] cod, and then a shot, of course, of screech (rum). We recited a few key phrases and walked away with certificates we managed to hang onto the whole way down the street as we bar hopped.

We'll be Back!

Sadly, we had to leave the next day. Knowing we had a long drive ahead which could involve any number of hazards, we left early and didn't get to enjoy any more St. John's flavour.

Like everywhere on the east coast, the culture and accents seemed halfway to Ireland, making us feel right at home. 

Next time, maybe we'll try it in a bigger car, though...

Friday, June 30, 2017

Books, beer, and boats: Halifax feels like home

For anyone who is still interested in what I thought about our cross Canada tour, we still have a whole length of the country to go! I confess, it's been over a year since we departed for this summer of a lifetime (spoiler alert! It was the time of our lives) and I had to go back to our Google Map to remind myself of where we've been.

Halifax views are pretty fantastic

I did consider abandoning this embarrassingly delayed task, but I do want to share the key joys, mistakes, and tips from our holiday for anyone else considering doing something similar.

I last left you all in PEI. If you'll recall, it was stunning beyond belief and rivals the Ring of Kerry for beautiful greenery. We drove the unsettling 12.9 km (8 mile) back over the Confederation Bridge to New Brunswick, then crossed into Nova Scotia.

Our drive to Halifax was sprinkled with bilingual directional signs, Gaelic (similar to Scottish Gaelic) and English, continuing the trend of feeling like we were in Ireland (where directional signs are also bilingual, Irish Gaelic and English).


Halifax was the first city we visited where we had a family "aha!" moment. We could live somewhere else in Canada besides Ottawa and Toronto?! 

Our Airbnb left a lot to be desired and the listing was generous in its description of proximity to downtown. Which was actually a good thing! Walking back and forth from central Halifax meant that we went through a park packed with people playing recreational sports, found a fun craft brewery around the corner (shout out to the wonderful people at Good Robot!), and generally saw a lot of presumably normal Haligonians going about their lives. (Screw you spellcheck, Haligonian is a word.) We felt pretty at home and comfortable wandering around the small city of 400,000. 

Alexander Keith's Brewery Tour

We arrived in the afternoon and managed to squeeze into one of the last Alexander Keith's brewery tours of the day. While we waited for the tour to start, we enjoyed a pre-tour Keith's pint next door at the Red Stag Tavern. The tour was educational and entertaining, including traditional musical performances at the end over a couple of glasses of beer. There were some fun anecdotes about the creation of the brewery and lessons about beer delivered by enthusiastic tour guides and performers.

Word of warning: Do not take this tour if you are looking to get hammered! It seems to be a regular complaint on forums (and in person on our tour) that the tour isn't a booze fest. The Keith's Brewery tour is more museum/"living history" tour than bar. They also had some type of iced tea for the non-drinkers and kids on the tour, so it would be fine for the whole family.

Halifax Central Library

One of the major reasons we felt drawn to the city is its gorgeous, active library. The Irishman is working on his master's (which we realized around this point in our trip meant that he qualified for student pricing. Bonus!) and, with a deadline looming, needed to buckle down while we were in Nova Scotia. This could not have happened in a better place.

He did not appreciate me taking photos in the library

While he worked, I explored the library, noting the packed events calendar and diverse course offerings. I couldn't help daydreaming about spending hours every week hanging out there, as I did with my neighbourhood library growing up.

Pier 21

Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21?! Right up this [semi-]second generation Canadian's alley. (Actual question: Is that offensive if one of my parents' heritage is placed in Canada for several generations?)

For non-Canadians or those who skipped history class, Pier 21 is Canada's equivalent of Ellis Island. Over one million immigrants arrived there in the 1900's, resulting in its nickname of "Gateway to Canada". The museum contains information about the history of the people immigrating and includes artifacts like the trunks people used to carry their things. Also, people can research their genealogy.

Unfortunately, we didn't have much time to explore the museum. With less than a couple of hours before closing, we figured a tour was our best bet to see the highlights.

Maybe it was just bad luck but our tour guide at Pier 21 took the cake for the worst tour guide I have ever had. She was monotone and seemed to have no interest in the tourist destination she was introducing. Maybe she was just having a bad day, but what a disappointment for a museum full of stories, heart-wrenching and inspirational.

I'd really like to return and explore more of the museum on my own or with a better guide...Better yet, if you're hiring tour guides, Pier 21, gimme a call! I've got the handsomest Irishman, most charming Chinese baby, and happiest Chinese Pup around who are looking to immigrate to Canada.

In deep thought about how we can move here

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Best Poutine in Canada (Or Whatever)

This photo is the #1 way people found my travel blog. Poutine blogging legacy. 

As we can all see, I'm way behind on the documentation of Cross Canada Crimez. Maybe I'll get to it but, as many of you know, I'm now a mom of a 5 month old kid. (Don't worry, she's not biologically my daughter; I would have eaten at least twice as much poutine if I knew I was growing a little Canadian in my womb. And had at least 90% less beer.).

Since the NYT decided that Canada is the #1 place to be this year, tourism is bound to skyrocket and I want to be a resource for people on a mission for the best poutine. This is how other people plan their travel destinations, right?

Depending on how you slice it, I ate anywhere from 26-29 poutines this summer. There were two that didn't have real cheese curds and one (see "The Worst" below) that was just...not a poutine by any definition.

Unfortunately, I had a counting fail and skipped #17 (oops), so my "30th poutine" crowning achievement of kinda gross A&W poutine in the Vancouver airport was a false celebration. I want to apologize to everyone who waited with bated breath, refreshing their Instagram feeds to see if I could do it.

That's what I get for not making a poutine hashtag to keep track. I fail as a millennial. Anyone want to intern for me to catalog my poutine and/or Guinness shots? I write really good recommendation letters.

Okay, so back to the poutine. Here's my attempt at "The Best Poutines in Canada [that I ate this summer on a limited time scale and budget and stomach capacity but ignore this bit for SEO]"

The Best

I was hungover and sad I didn't have more stomach room for Fritz's

The Best of the West

Fritz European Fry House in Vancouver was amazing. Great curd to chip ratio. All elements were delicious. Fries were thick and crispy. Go there.
St John's! Not be confused with St John...

The Best of the East

St John's, Newfoundland was our favourite spot on our whole trip (spoiler alert), and it cemented its place in my heart forever with a solid poutine showing at Green Sleeves Pub. The service there was also up there with the best in the country. Can someone please just teleport me back to St John's?

That's jet lag in my eyes, not weed.

Runner Up

A random chip truck on Canada Day at Major's Hill Park. However, this place has an unfair advantage: cold weather, tipsy me, CANADA DAY, and early in the trip. So take this one with a grain of greasy chip salt.

Cross Canada Crimez Best Poutine Award Goes To...

Blaming the Irishman for getting the sign and not the poutine in this one.
Obviously the best poutine that I ate was in Quebec. I'm not so edgy that I could even pretend anywhere had cheese that could compare. Every poutine the I ate in that province had cheese that was far superior to the other provinces' fare.

However, it came from an unexpected source: Pub Saint-Patrick. Yeah, I know, an Irish pub in super touristy Old Québec City. I was 100% sober, eating it for breakfast with a coffee. It had the perfect thick cut chips, squeaky cheese curds, and classic gravy. Nothing fancy (except the $13 + tax + tip price tag).
An insult to Canada. To Ireland. To food.

The Worst

WTF Halifax? You were one of our favourite cities on this journey but Durty Nelly's Irish Pub is definitely taking the piss with their "Irish Poutine". I don't know if this Canadians playing tricks on Irish people or vice versa (welcome to my marriage) but gnocchi, white sauce, a few pieces of beef, and cheese curds does not a poutine (or edible meal) make.

Pleasant Surprises

I was skeptical

Full Meal Poutine

Lots of places like to get fancy with their poutines, adding extra ingredients beyond the gravy, cheese curds, and french fries. I generally try to steer clear of these concoctions, but the Irishman and I took a leap in Charlottetown, PEI. And we were delighted that we did. Peas, stuffing, turkey, cheese curds, cranberry sauce, on a bed of french fries, slathered in turkey gravy = one of the more balanced meals on our trip. We shared it for two meals and enjoyed every bite. And it felt like we got a few vitamins we may have been lacking.
Go figure.

Nice Touch Award

Lowertown Brewery in Ottawa has a poutine with pickled jalapenos. On a chicken gravy poutine, it's pretty tasty!
Not great. But much better than expected.

Fast Food Poutine

McDonald's poutine is okay, y'all. For real. I had one in Victoria and, I swear, it was not half bad for a fast food poutine. Generous with the curds, it was much better than KFC, A&W, and some of the restaurants we ate in outside of Quebec and Eastern Ontario.

I thought this was going to be the Holy Grail :'(

The Biggest Disappointment

La Banquise is known as one of the best poutines in Montreal and came recommended by nearly all the Montrealers I know. Therefore, it should be one of the best poutines in the world. And my fries were partly raw. It was a tragedy and must have been a one-off mistake. One day, we will meet again La Banquise so I can give you another chance!

What did I miss? Let me know in the comments so I can decide where my family should move when we leave China.

Monday, July 18, 2016

PEI: More than red dirt and Anne

Despite living in Canada for 24-ish years of my life, I didn't have many preconceived notions of what most places on our trip would be like. My travel experience of Canada has been limited to small sections of BC, Ontario, Quebec, and, as a child, Alberta.

When thinking of PEI, red soil, potatoes, and Anne of Green Gables were all that came to mind. Imagine our shock to find that PEI is easily as lush and green and gorgeous as my husband's homeland. Unfortunately, places to pull over weren't very plentiful so our photos don't do it justice. Striking emerald fields cover the landscape with occasional auburn soil peeking through crops and brilliant yellow canola fields.


After we had visited the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, we drove over the ugly but efficient bridge to PEI. We stayed at Brackley Beach Hostel, out in the country, "far from downtown Charlottetown". PEI is so small that nothing is too remote and the views from the car are so spectacular, it's even better to be based far out. Driving to Charlottetown took around half an hour, less time than my daily commute to work.

Keigan and Vanessa took good care of us there for two nights, a sweet teenage couple who work at the tiny hostel. They're normally in a long distance relationship, he's in Nova Scotia and she's in PEI, so they're having a first summer together working at the hostel.

One of the more charming moments on our trip was listening to Keigan's very polite, Maritime-y reaction to a boiling egg exploding on the stove. Lots of "gee whiz", "golly", and describing the event as "a major incident" and "excitement" added to the ambiance of the whole thing. Cute as buttons, those two.

Confederation Arts Centre

On top of theatre productions, the Confederation Arts Centre puts on a free daily musical performance about the history of Canada.

Depending on your level of scepticism and your love of musical theatre, this is either a must avoid or a must see. After getting past the lack of mention of First Nations people being here first or suffering under various policies and broken treaties, the almost all white cast dressing up in different ethnic costumes and dancing in stylistic approximations of those cultures, and the usual exaggerated Canadian propaganda about diversity and racial inclusion, it's a lovely show. Genuinely. The performers are really talented: singing, dancing, and playing instruments for an hour to catchy tunes. I can always get behind a tap dance and song about public healthcare. They really won me over by ending the show quoting Jack Layton.

The Rest

Our day was just beginning with the noon show. We hit up the terrible Anne of Green Gables Museum (consisting mainly of random relics of family members of Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of the beloved series), the small but not awful Lucy Maud Montgomery birthplace, and the awe-inspiring Cavendish Beach.

We rounded out our day with an overdue trip to Value Village to add much needed warm clothing to our luggage. While packing in 45C Shanghai, we foolishly forgot that coastal places are chilly! There were some American tourists there as well, presumably with the same objective.

I'm pretty excited to be rocking what I assume is an authentic Columbia-brand Canadian freestyle acrobatic skiing jacket across the rest of Atlantic Canada.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

No Funswick: A Public Service Announcement About Saint John

Happy to be out of Saint John in the woods at the Bay of Fundy.

Canada's only officially bilingual province is on our list twice: first, we visited Saint John and the Bay of Fundy, and soon we will return to Fredericton on our way back across the country.

It's probably unfair and a bit mean, but we aren't looking forward to it. In fact, if we weren't so afraid of hitting a moose or deer while driving in the dark, we would just skip it altogether and drive straight to Ottawa from Sydney, Nova Scotia after getting off the ferry from Newfoundland.

Maybe if we had more time, it would have grown on us. The Irishman refused to pull over for the Covered Bridge potato chips factory tour or the Potato World museum. Clearly missed opportunities for the province to charm us. I was also intrigued by the sign for New Maryland, "site of New Brunswick's last fatal duel". Vetoed by husband.

Compromise: Buying a pack of Covered Bridge chips at a gas station

Alas, we only have thirty days with Sister Bernadette and Canada is massive, so no time for unscheduled potato eating or weird historical sites (except the Anne of Green Gables museum, but that's in PEI, so I'm getting ahead of myself).

We decided to stay on track and beeline to our Airbnb "walking distance" to "downtown" Saint John. As one of our few weekend days on our travels, we were excited to get into town, have some beers, and see the sights. Saturday night in Saint John, New Brunswick. Yeehaw!

I will also note that everyone living in Atlantic Canada that we have met since has said, "Saint John?! Why??" No one warns people about this outside of the region, so heed this public service announcement.

Well, we arrived. And then headed for the not quite bright lights of the city. Crossing a highway into deserted street after deserted street, it felt like we were in constantly in danger. At 6:30 pm on a Saturday. We saw fewer than a dozen people after walking right through the centre of town.

I think our city living brains took barren streets to mean we should be nervous, when, in reality, it probably just means there are no freaking people there. (We were told the population is 60-70,000 but I am so indifferent, I won't even look it up to verify.)

We walked past closed restaurant after closed restaurant, mentally going through what food we had left in the car (chocolate chips, carrots, and celery. Yum.).

The Irish pub it is.

We wandered in and encountered wall to wall people. Like Shanghai, except everyone was white. Basically everyone in Saint John was inside, eating off of paper plates with plastic cutlery and downing bottles of Moosehead Light beer.

The super friendly bartender explained, with tears in her eyes, that today was the annual fundraising golf tournament in honour of the life of a man who died ten years ago. We received conflicting reports from people we chatted with about what charity exactly the event was supporting. We tried to Google it later to no avail. As far as we know, it could have been for the local dog fighting league or Maritime separatists, but at that point we were so desperate for a beer and dinner that we may have turned a blind eye. And the band wasn't half bad.

After consulting the organizers, we were permitted to pay to join the BBQ. The Irishman collected our barbecued beef, Caesar salad, and gigantic baked potatoes while I chatted to a lovely local woman on the back patio. She said she was a missionary, but didn't mention for what. Which got me thinking the event might have been for a cult.

We joined two men at a table who had spent the day golfing in the cold and dreary weather. They complained about how chilly it was (13C-ish) but when we asked what seasonal temperatures were, they confirmed it was completely normal.

The conversation seemed to go alright until one of the men noticed we hadn't eaten any of the salmon. My husband is a famously picky eater and fish is on his gag list. The pieces of beef were so big, he didn't bother to add salmon to my overflowing plate either. And thus committed a major faux pas.

After repeatedly confirming that we had not tried the salmon, the possible cult member left to go inside, followed by his companion. It may have been because the raffle was starting, but I choose to believe a passion for seafood or call to the annual post-golf witch burning were to blame.
At least they had my order

A couple of pints later, we made our way to Cask and Kettle, a new "Irish Gastropub". Bustling, yes. Gastropub...Irish... Less so. The bartender, standing in front of a chalkboard listing beers on tap told us, sadly, they didn't have the beer the Irishman ordered. Off the list. Behind the bar. Written in an easily erasable substance. Alrighty.

Notably, both pubs didn't have anywhere in the women's bathroom stalls for people to dispose of sanitary products. I saw pads in the garbage bin by the sinks...What??? People who design washroom spaces, please note that no person with a period (with a few weirdo exceptions, I suppose...perhaps Saint Johners) wants to step out of a stall into a public-ish space holding a bloody sanitary product.
So confused by this place

Finally, we got to the boardwalk, the saving grace of the evening. Kind of. A rousing band, East Coast Love Story, played along Market Square Boardwalk while no one danced or seemed to even notice them in general. The Irishman held me in my seat so I wouldn't express any joy or enthusiasm. It was so strange to me, late on a Saturday night, to have no one reacting at all to upbeat, fun maritime tunes, besides sparse clapping at the end of songs.

We returned to our Airbnb to find that the sheets were dirty and the water out of the taps tasted like they were liquified copper. Water has not tasted remotely weird in any other place we have been before or since, across six provinces.

Saint John, we will not be back. The hosts at our current, amazing Airbnb in St John's told us about the nickname "No Funswick", which should be much more widely known. Fredericton, our opinion of the province lies in your hands.

Bay of Fundy was brilliant, though. Ocean floor at noon.
Almost 40 feet of water appeared by 4:30 pm.