Wednesday, July 26, 2017

St. John's, Newfoundland

Jellybean Houses. Fried Cod. Lighthouses. Whales. Crazy amazing scenery. We had to pinch ourselves at least a dozen times. We made it!  

We arrived, post ferry ride, to Pippy Park Campground in Downtown St. John's.  It was well before noon but the check-in line was already backed up with ferry folk such as ourselves. We set up camp quickly in the perfect weather and headed off to grab lunch at Ches's Famous Fish and Chips (another recommendation from our PEI pal, Realtor Wayne).

As would be expected, the fresh fish in Newfoundland is soooooo good, and this was no exception.

Fish History Lesson: Cod is the local fare here, and it comes fresh off the boat...but you won't get a whole lot of Cod from here elsewhere. Why? Well in the late half of the 20th century the Cod fishery here was dramatically over-fished and it suffered a massive collapse. So much so that the Canadian government had to ban Cod fishing starting in the 1990s, forcing tens of thousands out of work as the industry imploded. The few processing operations that survived had to pivot to shellfish (snow crab, etc). After 25 years, the fishery is showing good signs of recovery in what is arguably the most significant rebound in fishery management ever. Commercial fishing is still restricted, but is sustainable now. There is plenty of Cod to supply the local establishments and some exports..... and the Royan family of course.

Bellies full, we desperately wanted to take a post-ferry nap, but knew that it was probably better for everyone if we took a jet-lag approach to this day and pushed on through.  A visit to The Rooms was just what we needed.  These rooms full of interesting and interactive exhibits about Newfoundland came with a creepy security guard that followed April around, repeatedly telling her how much he liked her shirt. Not to be outdone, the gift shop also offered a large selection of canned stuffed animals. Creepy all around. 

Spying an opportunity to dress up like a soldier, Andrew insisted on dressing himself, his brother and Mark. He then asked April to take pictures with an "old fashioned" filter.  

Back in his Calvin and Hobbes t-shirt, Andrew finished out his visit with a WWI flight simulator.  

Following The Rooms, we took a trip to the local Sobeys for groceries and headed back to the campsite to relax. We were fortunate to have a nice area of woods all to ourselves, surrounded by fresh pines, a forest bed that entertained our kids for hours, and just one neighbor in sight: a lone pop-up trailer whose inhabitants smoked the most massive amounts of marijuana that one can possibly imagine a human could consume.

Every day, every hour, day and night, smoke billowed from the otherwise lifeless trailer. Were they setting an hourly alarm? How could they be so punctual... especially considering the activity? What was happening in there? Were they trying to euthanize a polar bear? We never saw the occupants, but did note that one of their tires was completely off the ground... balanced solely on an upside down tire chock (Marcus Lemonis would not be pleased with the mis-use of such Camping World equipment).

In our semi-private pine forest, Eagle Scout Mark helped the boys build a debris hut, which quickly became the kids’ “fort.” The fort was put through a series of tests (pouring a bottle of water over the branches) to determine if it was “waterproof enough for sleeping.” It was most definitely not waterproof, but was approved by Andrew for sleeping nonetheless.

Sleeping bag, lantern, and American Boys Handy Book in hand, Andrew made his way into the fort around 7pm. 

Shortly after, some new neighbors fiddled with fireworks in their campsite. Andrew, in his moose pajamas and windbreaker, walked right over to them and asked them to “Please keep it down, (he was) trying to get some sleep in his fort.”

The parents paid little attention but their boys were intrigued by the idea of a fort, so they grabbed their Nerf guns and asked Andrew for a tour.  He beamed with pride, and soon our little debris hut was the social epicenter of the campground. Another pair of cousins from across the street came to join in the fun as Andrew opened up our arsenal of toy weapons and distributed foam swords and pop guns, simultaneously assigning roles to each child.  As darkness fell, zombies stood no chance in this forest. 

At some point after Andrew fell into the pond, after his friends had been called home for dinner, and after the sun had set and the forest went completely dark, he slowly sloshed up the RV stairs, knocked on the screen door, and announced he was too scared to sleep in the hut alone.

A warm shower and one frozen Amy's Mac later, he fell instantly asleep.

Morning brought more beautiful weather and our first full day of St. John's sightseeing.

Up at the crack of dawn, April sent Mark to the campground office with a list of "must-sees" and instruction to "get a map." The super helpful clerk cheerfully highlighted all the hot spots, and Mark piled back into the F350 with map in hand and a smile on his face. April taped the list and map to the dashboard with the determination of a foreign tourist. We were on our way!

First up, Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site.  A bit of a drive out of town, we fell speechless as we finally emerged from the kilometers of trees and saw the deep blue sea before us with hundreds of whales splashing about.

As we opened our doors with unbridled enthusiasm, a fierce gust of wind ripped April's to-do list off the dashboard and blew it across the parking lot, down the jagged cliffs, and into the sea. Great, now we’re litterbugs. And unorganized. Sorry, whales.

Our hike around Cape Spear (the most Easterly point in North America) was jaw dropping and terrifying.  Construction had limited the “safe” portion of the path, causing tourists to walk along the cliffs’ edges if they wanted to go all the way around the property.  No worries, our kids can walk along the edge of a cliff in high winds… they’ve got Target sneakers and discount windbreakers. We’re totally prepared.

Braving the cliffs was not without its rewards. We found ourselves on an outcropping of rocks that afforded us a panoramic view of the ocean and coves, including the hundred or so whales that were chasing capelin for their afternoon snack.

Having both endured whale watching boats as children, Mark and April were relieved to finally see whales some thirty years later from the stable serenity of land. 

We sat for about half an hour exclaiming "There's another one!" as the whales splashed and blew their spouts into the air. We could hear the screams of passengers hundreds of meters below us on the whale watching ships as they tossed and turned in the rough sees.

We eventually moved on from the whales and cliffs to explore the actual structure at Cape Spear, its Lighthouse. Giddy as a couple of Americans near a foreign lighthouse, April lost her mind in the gift shop and started collecting all things Newfoundland.  Andrew, much more reasonable, settled for a knit newsboy cap and coordinating scarf.  Totally cute.

Following Cape Spear, we took the advice of several mom bloggers and stopped by a “Take It Easy” (as Mark calls all convenience stores) to pick up a few loaves of bread to feed the ducks at Bowring Park

We arrived at the huge park, bread in hand, and walked toward the gates, and the much-discussed duck pond.

Mark doesn't get fired up about much, but the idea that ducks can't eat bread went against everything that being raised in the 80s had taught him. He muttered something about his refusal to add a couple of sissies to the next generation and stuffed a slice of bread in his mouth. Crumbs rained down as he growled, "Good enough for me, good enough for their little beaks."

Risking trouble and condemning glances in a foreign country, we gave the kids the bread anyway. The ducks ate it anyway, despite the fact that the calories would go straight to their thighs.  Our guilt was assuaged by the fact that the families from a nearby picnic were unloading their leftover hamburger buns into the water as well.  #takingchances #rebels #quackquack 

Ready to flee the park, we headed downtown for some lunch and more sightseeing! 

In Downtown St. John's, we spied a great parking lot and pulled in. As he does every time, Mark greeted the attendant with his favorite parking lot line: 

Mark: "Hi there! Do you have room for a big, beautiful truck like this? "

Most parking lot attendants we've encountered crack up at this greeting, but not this lady. She was old, rough, and not in the mood.

Lady: "No, I don't think so." 
Mark: "Really?" 
Lady: "Don't you come into my parking lot with those dogs!" 
Mark: "Dogs?"
Lady: "You got dogs in the back! I seen 'em with my own two eyes shagging around back there. You got dogs so you don't park here. Not on my watch." 

At this point, April told Mark to roll down the window and spoil the surprise that our dogs were actually kids... but he refused... on principle.  

Mark:  "We don't have dogs." 
Lady: "I know what I seen. Move along." 

April, having had enough, rolled down the windows. Max stuck his head out the window, waved with a spitty hand, and cracked the biggest, cutest smile that Newfoundland has ever seen. 

Lady: "Kids! And boys! I love kids! I have a grandson about your age! Well of course you can come on in! I though you was dogs! We've got plenty of room!" 

Clearly it was time for a beer. 

At the recommendation of Erin Reichert, we made our way to The Duke of Duckworth for more fresh cod, delicious salads, and some ice cold brews from the Quidi Vidi Brewing Company.

Mark: "The house made beer... I should probably try that, right?"
Waiter: "Definitely not, it's terrible. Don't get that."
Mark: "Glad I asked! So what is that Iceberg lager I saw a sign for outside? Should I try it?"
Waiter: "Absolutely, everybody loves it! It's made with water from real icebergs, ya know! You have one of those, you're drinking 10,000 years of history, mate! Right there in your glass! Ya know, climate change and what not... ya better get one while ya can! We had a whole mess of icebergs come through this spring... they literally go out on a boat and chip off giant chunks of the things for the beer!"
Mark: "Seriously?! I'm not so sure about the climate change... but taking giant chunks off the bergs probably isn't helping matters! Nevertheless, that sounds fantastically refreshing! I'll take a pint! After a few of those I'll be ready to head back out and bag myself a whale! I know exactly where they are right now!!"

Oh Mark...

After lunch, we headed up to Signal Hill.  The view was amazing but the wind was once again so intense that we wondered if Maxer might fly away.  Bundled up in April's over-sized sweatshirt, he was basically a sail, after all. 

Just down the road from Signal Hill was the Johnson Geo Center. Amidst geology exhibits and science experiment stations is a very detailed, very angry Titanic exhibit.  What do we mean by angry? Well.... ummmm... imagine a series of informative posters about the Titanic. And then imagine smaller posters hung under each of these that said "WHAT REALLY HAPPENED" in red, followed by a lot of words about who was to blame for the disaster.  The author of the red posters blames America, Britain, and society... but mostly rich people and the pursuit of wealth. Rich people and greed sank the Titanic, according to the posters.  We thought it was an iceberg but who are we to say? 

Hoping for better luck at our next stop, we visited the only Fluvarium in the world. Actually, the folks here think it's the only one, because they claim to have made up the word.

They're not sure... but we're sure that it's not worth the $25 entry fee. It's a man-made pond with glass on one side. Like an aquarium... but not... because it's a Fluvarium. Anyway, if you ever see a Fluvarium, skip it... and be glad they gave it a unique name so that it's easier to avoid in the future :)

Below is the extent of the fish you will see in the wild at the Fluvarium:

Accepting that we were striking out with St. John's attempts a nature museums, we drove our massive truck through the narrow streets of Quidi Vidi Village. This cute fishing town is home to the previously mentioned Quidi Vidi Brewery... and not much else. But what it lacks in shopping it makes up for in adorableness. We would have loved to pony up at the brewery for the rest of the day...but our kids were exhausted. Time to head back to camp! 

As we drove back to our campsite, we spied a random sign on the side of the road for Memorial University. We couldn't help but take note of their slogan... "Where people and ideas become..."

Become what??!?!?!?!

The Newfies may be ok with this sort of unfinished business, but we're not! We enrolled to attend classes this Fall... just to see what happens! 

Kidding :) 

As we packed up the RV and made plans to move on the next morning, Mark headed back into town for a Jiu-Jitsu class and to refill our propane tanks.   A few hours later, April heard him pawing at the door. 

Mark: "Hey sweetie, I need your help lifting the propane tank into the camper."

As April emerged from the camper, she saw Mark lugging the propane canister around with just his right arm, still dressed fully in his Gi, his left arm suspended in a makeshift Jiu-Jitsu belt sling. 

Mark: "I dislocated my shoulder a bit. Don't worry, it's back in the socket now. I just can't lift this 60 pound tank up into the storage cabinet." 

April sprang into action and displayed an uncanny amount of strength and finesse as she settled the propane into its very awkward storage container on the side of the RV. So she can lift things... she just chooses not to :) 

Mark emerged from the shower a few minutes later, now using Max's scarf from the Cape Spear Lighthouse as a new sling.  Mark told April how he'd dislocated his shoulder and began to list off all the things that she'd have to take care of now that he was injured: dishes, cooking, laundry... and driving the RV the next day. 

April told him that none of that was going to happen, especially the driving of the RV part, and that she'd be happy to stay in St. John's as long as it took for him to recover. 

Spoiler alert: we left St. John's the next day. 

Having overheard the conversation from their bedroom, the boys emerged to check on Mark. 

Andrew: "Dad, you dislocated your shoulder? Are you ok? How did this happen?"
Max: "How did that do that thing to your shoulder, Dad?"

Mark explained "Well, I was holding on too tight I guess....I had a good position and I lost it. Then I tried to fight back to where I was. I should have just looked for a new opportunity to present itself. " 

Ahhhhh.... a deep Jiu-Jitsu/life metaphor.  

Ice pack in hand, Mark would continue to explain some basic first aid for shoulder injuries to the boys as they peppered him with questions. They then returned the favor by sharing some lessons they'd learned from playing Legend of Zelda:Breath of the Wild.  

St. John's in the books, we set our alarms and fell blissfully asleep! Tomorrow, more Newfoundland! 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Long Way to Newfoundland

Newfoundland.  Whoa.

We consider ourselves to be fairly seasoned travelers, but even we took a step back at least a dozen times before we had the balls to book the 17 hour ferry from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Argentia, Newfoundland. With our kids. Overnight.

What was on our mind, you ask? Well, the Titanic, for one.  Night sailing. Icebergs (2017 has been a "banner year" for icebergs in Newfoundland). Leonardo DiCaprio. All of it. In fact, Cape Race, Newfoundland was the closest point of land to the Titanic the night it sank, its wireless station near the Cape Race Lighthouse receiving the ship's cry for help.

Second, puke. Seasickness. Us. Kids. Should we give them something? Will it make them crazy? Will it make them tired? Should we take something? Dramamine? Will we be totally out of it? That seems unsafe.  If we're drugged up, who will look out for... you know... icebergs?

Third, is this sooooo dumb? We don't even have a guide book... or a map.  What are we doing? We only know one other person who has ever even been to Newfoundland... but she (Erin Reichert) is so cool and seems to have great taste and she loved her time with the Newfies. And she gave us a whole paragraph of Newfoundland suggestions via Facebook Messenger. Plus, we read 4 or 5 mom blogs on "Things To Do with Kids in Newfoundland." Surely that's enough? Right?

Fourth, our massive camper. Driving it. On a ferry. Off of a ferry. This fear had calmed itself slightly since we'd already ferried from Prince Edward Island to Nova Scotia, but that ferry was child's play compared to this giant open-water cruise-ship-looking no-nonsense ferry.

Due to our vehicle size, we arrived the required 2 hours before our 5:30pm departure and checked in via the "commercial" lane.  A very friendly attendant answered our questions and found us quite amusing.  As we waited for her to process our paperwork, we rolled down the windows and admired the beautifully sunny day.  Two seconds later, ice started to fall from the sky. Hail.  Lots of hail. In July.

As they like to say in these parts: "If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes."

Five minutes later, the hail subsided, the sun returned, and we were ushered onto the vessel.  We followed behind semi trucks and other campers through the narrow passageways of Deck 3 until we were expertly parked, bumper-to-bumper, for the night.  We turned off our propane as required, hoped the blocks of ice we'd set in our freezer would keep things cool until morning, and grabbed our overnight bags and room keys.  Time to get our ferry on!

Once aboard, we took a walk around the deck as the crew readied for departure.  We were suddenly surrounded by heavy fog and some serious wind.  The kids humored April with a few pictures from inside her jacket, and then begged to go inside.  

Considering that they had a long night ahead of them, Mark tried to make the "outdoor time" last a little longer with a few games of "See if you're able to walk into the wind!" and "Who can do twenty jumping jacks?" 

His efforts burned at least 30 minutes. Only 16 hours and 30 more minutes to go!

Once we set sail, the ferry/discount cruise ship came alive. The bars opened, the casino (which turned out to be just an arcade... sigh) filled with disappointed adults and children begging for change, and the ships' two restaurants opened their doors to hungry customers.  Two options lay before us... a buffet or a classy-ish establishment serving steaks and salmon. Mark, a hater of buffets but a lover of Buffetts (both Jimmy and Warren), chose the classy establishment. 

Not long after our kids had ordered their New York Strip with Port Wine Reduction and their Teriyaki Salmon, the ship hit open water.  A slow, nauseating roll commenced. With vodka and a Transderm Scop patch on her side, April was in the best shape of the bunch. Mark and the boys slowly turned green.  

Mark knew why he felt sick, the kids didn't.  As the food arrived, Andrew took one bite and said he wasn't hungry. Max did the same.  "Mom," Andrew said, "I just don't feel like eating. I want to go back to the room." 

Puke fear. Heightened. 

It was now almost 8pm so we took another walk around the decks, perused the aisles of the gift shop, and finally climbed the stairs to the 8th floor. Our room had no windows but was surprisingly clean and smelled amazing. Side note: It was also the spitting image of Royal Caribbean room we had for Mark's 30th Birthday Cruise back in 2010.  Not a lot of floor plan creativity happening in the world of cruising, apparently? 

The discovery of bunk beds and a bag of pretzel chips distracted the kids long enough help settle their tummies, and the in-room shower with the best water pressure ever was just what they needed to get them back on track.  Everyone crawled in to bed, exhausted.  As we started to fall asleep, the kids took our silence as their cue to giggle and smack each other around for an hour.  The ships horn (which blows alllllllll night long... over and over again....) marked the passage of time as the kids repeatedly exclaimed that they were "just not tired." We wondered if they'd ever fall asleep.  

Finally, exhaustion met bribery.  

"Any kid who goes to sleep right now can have a Canadian coin in the morning," Mark announced. 


The ship's horn sounded again. The boys giggled again. And then they bounced around and lost their minds... again. Then Mark and April lost their minds.  Then everyone finally fell asleep.  

Somewhere around 5:30 am in the Newfoundland Time Zone (which is a real thing... and oddly adds just 30 minutes to the Atlantic Time Zone) Andrew woke up. Having no windows in our berth, and having no idea what time it was, he decided to start his day with some karate kicks. And then some meditation in the mirror. And then Mark took him for a walk and a bagel. Best hubby ever. 

Around 7am, Max and April emerged from the cabin and headed to the buffet for breakfast.  Max took the all-you-can-eat offer seriously, polishing off 3 pancakes, 6 pieces of bacon, 2 vanilla yogurts, a plate of watermelon and grapes, and two hot chocolates.  

Mark and Andrew were less enthusiastic, Andrew full from his bagel and Mark feeling his hatred of buffets and the roaring of the seas simultaneously, he headed out to the deck to calm his stomach.  

Ready to warm up, Mark made his way inside and found us a table in the Havana Club (a cute room with card tables, board games, and playing cards). Andrew decided he'd like to learn how to play poker. Max liked this idea as well. Super Dad obliged, dealing cards as his tummy turned.  

Hours later, somewhere around 10am, we pulled into port and saw the rugged coastline of Argentia, Newfoundland, blanketed by fog.  Our bunks packed up and ready to go, we waited to be called down to Deck 3 to be reunited with F350 and Jayco. 

Back in our truck and one of the first vehicles to get off the ship, Mark and Andrew perked up and began snacking like crazy at the sight of dry, stable land.  

Here we come, Newfoundland! We can't wait to see your amazing coastline, your Jellybean Houses, and maybe even a whale or two? Who knows what we'll find?  Adventure is out there! 

Snarfs and Snoozes

While driving the 1772 miles home from Bar Harbor, April looked and Mark and said... "What should we call our last blog of the summer?&...