Tourism…& then Halifax
Let’s talk about tourism, and the fate that befell my trip for a day or two after we left the southern tip of Nova Scotia. It’s not that watching whales and eating scallops isn’t a tourist activity down there, it certainly is (after all, Digby is the scallop capital of the world), but it’s more that there’s so much more in Nova Scotia beyond the Bay of Fundy.
For instance, did you know that Nova Scotia is home to the only tidal generating station in North America? G. & I are nerds (he’s an energy nerd, I’m an enviro nerd, and the two kinda go together), so we did, and while we figured we wouldn’t be able to actually go inside the Annapolis Royal Generating Station (energy security and all that), for some odd reason the Canadians let us in.
Clean energy is cool!
Outside of the plant, everything is calm–a river, some ducks, a clear blue sky. And the plant itself is tiny–a square three storey building plopped on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere. (Wait, everywhere in Nova Scotia is the middle of nowhere…) The point is, though, that if we were driving by and knew nothing about the plant then we wouldn’t have noticed it. As an undergrad in environmental studies, I’ve toured my fair share of power plants. This one takes the cake for the smallest footprint with the biggest output, by far.
Once inside, the tallest man I’ve seen in a long time directed us upstairs to a museum that featured a replica of the generating system, two large picture windows, and videos about clean energy, the station itself, and the future of tidal power generation. After waiting 20 minutes or so, we donned hard hats and stepped into the station itself. Since the station wasn’t running (it only runs at high & low tide) it was quiet and calm–simply a bunch of machines & pipes & empty chambers. According to the employees, the station generates ~30 million kwh per year (lighting about 4,500 homes), but since construction in the early 80s, it hasn’t actually created any profits. But for clean energy, it’s certainly a marvel, and I always like my power plant tours. Ecotourism at it’s finest!
After visiting the power plant and driving through some very Appalachian-esque landscape (Nova Scotia inland is farm country with small mountains/large hills that look very much like Virginia), we altered our plan to spend the night camping in Five Islands, and drove into Halifax to see what was what. Without internet (it being Canada and my mobile internet only working in the US), we relied on the AAA guidebook to point us in the way of restaurants. Luckily for us, Halfax isn’t that big (pop: 400,000) and we were able to find the university section of town easily (where, we figured, all the good food & beer was to be found). We guessed correctly!
Immediately, we came upon Morris East, a wood-fired pizzaria, and after looking in the windows at the young, cute, intellectual crowd and reading the menu, I fell in love with it. Complex cocktails and interesting pizza? Yes please!
Immediately we ordered drinks, G. & I wanting the exact same one, but my sense of adventure refusing to let me get the same as his. So I ordered the Balm Collins, a mix of house-infused lemon balm gin with lemon wheels and balm leaves. A swanky, ginny, lemonade of sorts. Coincidentally, for the first time since entering Canada, it was hot (or relatively so), and I was sweating with my layers of wool and socks and jeans, so the cold drink helped on that level. G. ordered our favorite drink (I knew it would be the one), the Cherry Mash Sour with house-infused cherry brandy, Wild Turkey, and lemon. Holy deliciousness. We ended up splitting another one of those before the end of the night.
Reading the menu was like reading an erotic novel. To me, at least. How could I honestly choose between the luscious pizza with oven roasted vegetables, goat cheese, reduced balsamic, fresh basil or the voluptuous one with sweet potato, roasted apple, bacon, chili and sage cream cheese or the drop dead sexy pizza of peaches, rosemary aioli, la quercia prosciuto, shallot, and goat cheese? In a rush of blood to the tongue, I demanded we order the charcuterie board since I can’t find that anywhere in Roanoke (OH how I miss bigger cities sometimes): white wine fennel braised rabbit, prosciutto, sweetbreads, in-house mustard, in-house pickles, a raspberry, orange, rosemary jam, challah. Could have done without the challah, actually. It was dry and too bready for the rest. But the rabbit? Perfect and moist and gamey with the light hint of fennel. And the sweetbreads were incredible, and they could have been bad (I’ve had some horribly oily or bitter ones before), and the mustard…oh that mustard. I have love affairs with mustard and this one certainly makes the list.
Finally, though, we decided on one: Lamb (locally sourced, I checked), charred onion, apricot, spiced tomato sauce, and goat cheese. Very Moroccan. Very delicious. First, though, let’s talk about the crust and the wood-fired method. We ordered the traditional and not whole wheat crust (which I’m generally tempted to do), and I’m glad we went with the traditional, because there was lightness to it that I think the nuttiness of the whole wheat would have done away with. But maybe I’m wrong. Who knows. The upper crust was light and slightly chewy (though not too much), with a crunch leading down to the base. And the bottom was perfectly cooked–slightly charred and fully baked with a satisfying crunch. The sauce was sweet and spicy at the same time and I wish I’d focused on the elements of it more. All I can remember is that I loved it. And the lamb. Oh the lamb. Pefectly juicy and lean, the sage and goat cheese, and quick sweet bite of the dried apricots–it was a perfect pie. The onions could have been more charred, but I’ll over look it because I think we took an hour to eat it. Which is a very good sign. Which they say is the best way to eat anything anyway.
Part way through dinner, though, we realized that we had nowhere to spend the night, and although we’d talked about driving out of town to camp, we really wanted to hang out in a cultured place for a little while longer, drink a beer or two, and enjoy the city. Since our server (I forgot to write down her name, but she rocked! Best server I’ve had in a while) was so awesome, I asked her if she knew about couchsurfing, if she knew anyone who hosted. She said she knew of it but didn’t know anyone, but she did mention two different hostels–one, the Heritage House, being right around the corner.
After paying our bill, we tromped over to the hostel, arranged for two bunks (in separate dorms as only an all-female and an all-male room were left), and hit the town. Unfortunately it was a Tuesday night so the town wasn’t very hopping. But we had a beer and a half at a nice bar, enjoyed the clear night, and hit the sack. As my first hostel experience, I give it 2 thumbs up! It was clean, the folks working there were friendly, my bunk mates didn’t disturb me at all, the communal bathrooms were nice, and the price, $30 a night, wasn’t too steep for what we got.
In the morning, we tromped up a hill to find coffee (called a Canadiana–I mean, we were in Canada, so why order an Americano?!). The Canadiana was…strong. Strong is the only way to describe it (we got it at Steve-O-Renos). It was french press coffee with a shot of espresso. My esophagus is still yelling at me for it. But it worked, for sure! It’s my soy milk that’s making it look all weird in the picture.
After the morning cuppa, we hit the road again, saying farewell to our 2nd favorite place after Portland, and headed west and north to Cape Breton. Along the way, though, I made certain to find some ridiculous places. Like the GIANT MASTADON. I can’t not write it in capital letters. Giant. Mastadon! Why there is a giant plastic mastadon in the middle of Nova Scotia (Stewiacke, to be exact, also a place that advertised being half-way between the north pole and the equator…random…) I have no clue (well, I do, there was a poster talking about how they excavated a mastadon there), but really…so random. So delightfully random. I took so many pictures there, it’s ridiculous. Maybe not as ridiculous at the Flintstones house and car, but still ridiculous.
Mastadon behind us (I was loathe to leave), we also found the Nova Scotia Africentric Heritage Park. Actually, it was incredibly hard to find, something our guidebook didn’t mention, and I had to have a hilarious conversation with two very caucasian business women about where it was (keep in mind that I’m so white it’s not even funny). But we found it. And there really is a “pyramid structure” as advertised that celebrates the African pioneers of Nova Scotia. So there you go: New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, home of the Africentric Heritage Park.
Detours aside, we did, finally, make the big leap to Cape Breton Island, the top of Nova Scotia, an island, separated from the rest of Nova Scotia and Canada by the Bay of St. Lawrence and the Canso Canal. And hilariously enough, the bridge from Nova Scotia proper to Cape Breton moves. It moves. Actually, it opens up to let ships through the canal, but it’s trippy to watch your bridge swing around, leaving a gap of water between you and the other side of the road. Eventually, though, it swings back and allows you to cross, thus facilitating our entrance to the northern hinterlands of the province: Cape Breton, land of Gaelic culture, whiskey, the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen, and some of the worst food of the trip.