Coming home from a vacation always leaves me feeling dazed. “Was I really there?” “Did that really happen?” And when I’m always imagining a map, thinking of where my feet are standing at that exact moment and realizing how far I’ve come.
To go from Mid-Western Canada to Eastern Canada is like going to a completely different country. The air is chilled and humid, bearing a thick fog that tumbles across rocky terrain and rough barren trees. The down-town core is littered with bustling pubs and run-down lunch joints. The brightly coloured jelly-bean row can be found down street after street, cheerful gummy bear colours dancing among the fallen foggy skies. From the brave open windows drift the smells of fish and chips and beer, folk music with lilting violin, and loud laughter and banter among the afternoon drinkers.
If you stop in St. John’s, you need to stop at Big R’s fish and chips on Harvey Road. For ten years as I lived 6,000km West, this was one of my favourite memories. A two-story restaurant with sticky floors and hot pink table tops – greasy doesn’t cut it, but ohh.. the fish. This stuff melts in your mouth. Crisp light batter holds the white cod in the square fillets that fall apart if you let your hand slip ever so slightly. If you were up early enough, you used to be able to watch the fishermen bring in the fresh catch that would feed those same fisherman at lunch. I don’t speak more highly of fish and chips than this, ladies and gentlemen. This is an absolute must. It’s also recommended to douse your french fries in vinegar – the Irish tradition Newfoundland cherishes. I usually pass it up, but as you can see below, it’s very serious business.
When you leave the big city, the little towns nestled in coves and under rocks are full of more colourful jelly bean square houses, rocky coastline, and rough skinned sailors with friendly smiles. Fishing nets and chipped buoys line the wooden docks and salt kisses trail across chapped lips as the old van lumbers into Trout River. An old battered wooden path trails along the rocky beach. Fishing huts with lobster traps piled up to the roofs and lacy curtains hanging in open windows, overlooking laundry swaying gently in the wind. With the closed windows of the van the air lightly brushed dry skin. With them opened, the harsh Arctic breeze flitted through and licked my cheeks a bone chilling wet. As bones start to ache from the cold, stiff fingers hastily grasp to roll the windows up and enclose the heat back in.
As we turn the van away from the ocean, the houses darken and the grass grows. The mountains grow over roof tops that begin to dwindle to bushes and frozen puddles. As we reach the top of a hill the ocean fades from view. Through the fog you can see that the tops of the mountains aren’t shroud in cloud, but have grow flat like they’re squashed against a pane of glass. To the right the mountains pass with the highway weaving between them and their shorter, lusher hills. It is the dividing plane between two worlds – brown and green hills and snow capped yellow rocks cascading up to the Tabletop mountains.
All the little towns are the same. Sometimes the houses are newer, sometimes they’ve been freshly painted. But the salty fresh air and the smiling faces are the same. It’s a very special place, Newfoundland. I recommend visiting, and maybe stay there for a while. Have a pint and listen to one of the characters at the bar.