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.

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