Highlands Honeymoon: Part Two

Crossing over the Canso Causeway, Ali and I were filled with great expectations. We were now on Cape Breton, the island most like the province’s namesake, Scotland. Visions of rocky highlands, with steep bluffs shearing off into the sea, danced through our heads. In fact, Canada spends a fair amount of their own dollars advertising the views of this small island. Without question there are some stunningly beautiful views, as the pictures will hopefully show. Web views don’t always capture the majesty of landscape.

Photo: A Cabot Trail Bluff

Photo: The Cabot Trail

Truth told, we do think that maybe the area is a bit oversold. Yet even that commentary requires a qualifier. Cape Breton is quite lovely in many places. However, we were under the impression that nearly everywhere you looked we would be arrested with awe. Nor is it quite as remote or isolated as we thought. A bit of the hype, in the well packaged propaganda, fed our preconceptions a bit. In reality, the island supports a pretty healthy trade of inns, lodges, artisans, crafters, and knickknack shops, certainly far more than we anticipated. That being said it is still remarkably rural. Moreover, I was made to understand that the tourism trade was down a bit this year, as the lure of New Foundland and Prince Edward’s Island had for some reason surged. Regardless, I would still recommend that anyone visit. Despite any misconceptions, we were certainly not disappointed. One of the truly great things about our new nuptial bliss is that we pretty much find a way to have fun no matter where we go.

Photo: Shoreside on Cape Breton

We spent the majority of our stay in the center of the island at the Silver Dart Lodge, nestled in Baddeck, on the banks of the giant, saltwater lake basin Bras d’Or, which sits centrally in the island like the filling of a Twinkee. Incidentally, the lake is pronounced bra-door, which I learned from a woman at an information booth who gave me a run for my money with her coy replies to my questions about the area. She was on to me from jump and Ali delighted in it the whole time. Aside from that the lodge was certainly the plum spot in the area, with a grand glass fronted dining room that provided a magnificent view of the lake. Yet, the lodge afforded a host of other amusements, most notably the entertainment.

Photo: Silver Dart Lodge

Photo: Boats on Bras d'Or

If only the guy we asked to take this picture of us below could have gotten a bit more of the scenery in the background!

Photo: The Happy Couple! Photo: Bras d'Or at Night

First, Cape Breton is world famous for its traditional musical culture. In fact, it is not uncommon that musicians from Ireland and Scotland find there way to the shores of this tiny island to relearn the folk music that local residents have preserved with ceilidhs and the like. While we did not stop in stomp with the fiddlers in ceilidh country, we were treated to the endlessly macabre musical mastery of Darryl Keegan at the Silver Dart Lodge. Now, the man was a fine singer and guitar player, to be sure. Nonetheless, it is his shtick that proved imminently more amusing. In the interludes, he would tell short stories about the songwriter or the inspiration for the diddy he was to play next. This is all fine and good until you listen to him over a stretch for a few nights, wherein every “wonderful, wonderful song” he sang was with written or inspired by ye old Grim Reaper. It was as if every songwriter, original singer, or subject matter of each song was “tragically killed.” It became quite comical by the third night we were there.

Photo: Boats on Bras d'Or

Photo: Fisherman's Cove

As in most cases, it is the people that can make the trip and this one was no different. Ali and I have a real knack for finding all kinds. In addition to the tragic songs of Darryl Keegan, there was an extraordinarily odd older couple, the wife of which would not give the poor songsmith a rest. The woman was transfixed by the singer and spent hours sketching the man in between bites of dinner. It was as if he was playing a private concert for her. Meanwhile, the poor husband, whose best days were long gone, struggled to stay conscious at the table during all the drawing and conversation. Despite the help’s delicate inquiries to the octogenarian artist as to whether her husband might be more comfortable in the room, she continued to flirt and capture the minstrel on paper. Meanwhile, the poor old guy was falling asleep in his soup, literally! Beak first, the old guy took a nose dive and could have drown, while his wife was oblivious to both him and the staff’s entreaties. This went on for all the days we were there. We felt a bit bad laughing, but it was so remarkably absurd that it was nearly impossible. We also shared a lunch table with a biker couple from Yarmouth, seeking shelter from the rain, as they prepared to ride the Cabot Trail.

Photo: One of the Greatest Views

Photo: A Shoreline Farm

The Cabot Trail is the draw on the island. In addition to its beauty, the trail is remarkably comical, historically speaking. For those from Massachusetts, they should be able to relate. A lot like Plymouth Rock, nobody can be sure exactly where “John Cabot” landed. A lot of people and even some evidence suggest he may have actually landed on New Foundland. Yet, the trail is on Cape Breton. Either way he is supposed to be the first European to run into North America in 1497. More ridiculous, however, is the name considering that “John Cabot” is actually Giovanni Caboto. Since he was sailing for England he apparently lost his actual name. I guess, Giovanni doesn’t sound appropriate enough for Canada’s Highland National Park, in New Scotland. Still, nearly all the views seen here were taken along the trail of the paisano, whose name seems to have been unnecessarily Anglicized.

Photo: Continuing on the Cabot Trail

While driving through the Highland’s I began to ruminate on an interesting observation. While many inhabitants of the island seemed to live in relatively modest, but nicely kept homes, there was a fair amount of rundown, derelict-looking shacks, tucked in the hills. Add to that the fact that Cape Breton is home to a once considerable and still functioning coal mining industry, and considering that many of the same Irish and Scottish immigrants found there way to places like Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia to tunnel for the same ebony earth. It begged the question, “Is Highlander merely Scottish code for Hillbilly?” I’ll let all of you make the call, but as a descendant of some of those same Stateside mining folk from the hills of West Virginia, I know where my instincts lie.

Along the Westside of the trail, is one of the Acadian strongholds on the island. Interestingly, none of those with French heritage had their name’s butchered into English. Of course the English did try to purge all those French speakers from the province after they got control of the colony. It was in the sleepy Acadian village where we found this French Tim Horton’s sign.

Photo: French Tim Horton's Sign Photo: Sun Descending

In fact, I learned even more about the Acadians then I had previously known on this trip. Next installment, the journey back to the States. But have no fear it is almost ready and will be posted in a day or so. I promise.

Highlands Honeymoon: Part One

More pictures from the wedding week are coming in but at more of a trickle than I expected. So I will post more, but I am hoping to throw a whole lot more. Even my mother has been a bit delinquent in getting me a host of photos. Even pics of Reception 2.0 arrived slowly. It is kind of hard to be snapping a lot of photos when you are supposed to be the center of an event. Thus, Ali and I had cameras that were short on images and long on batteries. Plus, I guess we were supposed to be in most of the photos. It just makes it a bit challenging when you are trying to gather images from half a dozen different people and their cameras. Here are a few choice selections.

Photo: Wedding Preparations Photo: Vince and Ken - Rehearsal

Here we have preparations being made. Who could have known the rain was on its way?! Plus, the two of the most invaluable contributors the MVP Vince and Best Man Ken.

Photo: Pig Head Photo: Cupcake Tree - Reception 2.0

The food is always a huge part of any celebration. Here we find the head of the pig at the end of the evening. Things took a slightly Lord of the Flies turn by the end of the evening, and more than one person kissed this pleasant creature before sunrise. Always the recycler, Ali made use of the cupcake tree again at Reception 2.0.

Photo: Me and Ali with Gifts

Here we are opening some of the wonderfully generous gifts. Once again we cannot thank people enough. Everyone was exceedingly kind!

Also, have a look at the ankle that had me limping for Reception 2.0. The day after the party I felt compelled to make a trip to the Urgent Care facility just to make certain I hadn’t broken the damn thing. Man, that’s ugly! Fortunately, this did not adversely impact the honeymoon too badly. As a matter of fact, I am pretty well on the mend now, but man it hurt at the time.

Photo: Ankle Injury

Since there is a dearth of more wedding pics, I will commense with a recap of the honeymoon, which was quite delightful all the way ‘round. We originally had envisioned a cruise to Alaska, in part because we had an inkling to avoid the normally warmer climes in the middle of the oppressive summer heat. Well, after one nightmarish cruise story after another beaming from television news, we rethought that position. We settled on a trip to Cape Breton, the island part of Canadian Nova Scotia. Having been to the province a year ago, we were pretty confident that we would enjoy ourselves. Plus, we never got as far north as Cape Breton on our last trip, which is supposed to be the lovliest and most Scottish looking part of “New Scotland.”

Driving north to Portland this time, rather than Bar Harbor, we left the Maine coast for a trip on the high speed Cat Ferry. As I have mentioned prior, it is a pretty fantastic vessel. The thing holds nearly 800 people and nearly half as many vehicles: cars, truck, motorcycles, even touring buses. Thinking that it would be easier to leave from Portland was a whole lot less driving stateside.

Photo: Boarding the Cat

However, the ferry voyage from Portland clocked in at about six hours, which we agreed was really pushing the limits of the ship. It is just a long time to be onboard. While it is big, it isn’t that big. Other than the a slim aft deck, there are no other opportunities to get outside along the trip. The food bars started to run out of food and all those little kiddies, with their parents, start getting pretty restless after about four hours or so. Of course we found out first-hand on the way North, as Ali wanted to sit in the section that was showing the kids animated movies in lieu of a paucity of other quality film choices. It was all manageable and we still enjoyed the ride, but it starts to push the limits of what that ship was really designed to do, comfortably.

So if any of you are planning to take the Cat, our recommendation is stay in your vehicle a bit longer and make the trek to Bar Harbor. You will get into port (Yarmouth, NS) a lot earlier too, as we didn’t arrive until about 9:00 PM.

The next morning we jetted north towards Halifax, a city to which I have taken quite a shine, stopping at a couple of spots along the coast on our way. On our previous trip Halifax was as far north as we coud go, so this time we knew where we were going and what we though might be most interesting along the first leg. We tooled through the coastal towns of Lunenburg and Mahone Bay, which are two of the more beautiful little coastal towns, and were hosting an art and old ship festival respectively.

Photo: Port of Lunenburg

Still getting to Halifax before dinner was a priority, for we were set on heading to Henry House, one of our all-time favorite dining establishments. I cannot recommend that place highly enough, for anyone that finds themselves in Nova Scotia’s capital city. The food is outstanding, the beer selection surpasses most micro-breweries of its kind, and the atmosphere, especially in the basement pub, is second to none. Even more, the place just looks beautiful. Make sure you get the bread pudding. It is exquisite.

Photo: Henry House

Photo: Amistad

Before leaving the city and navigating our way to the lodge we would spend the bulk of our time, we wandered along the waterfront and other sites. As you can see above, the historical recreated slave ship Amistad was in port while we were there. Overall, the place just fascinates me, the history, the Citadel, everything. Of course the Explosion that almost wiped it off the map hooked me straight away last time we were there. So this time, I picked up a book. Aside from being the Atlantic Canadian port, Halifax was pretty much Canada’s Ellis Island, which we found as we wandered down to Pier 21, once the immigration nexus and now tourist attraction. Ali is not quite as crazy about the place as I am; but hell, they even have a bus named after me!

Photo: Fred - The Free Trolley

Photo: Halifax Clock Tower at Night

From Halifax it was off to Cape Breton. Driving toward the Canso Causeway that joins the island with the mainland, we travelled through the breadbasket of Nova Scotia. Having grown up in the Midwest, I find something magnificent about coursing through rolling farmland, tracts of crops laid out across the landscape like a monochromatic mosaic. Yet, the landscape that was most captivating would prove to be the Highlands.