The Wheels on the Bus go round and round

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In French, Grand Pre means Big Trouble. Look it up

The intrepid Meanderers continue trail-blazing their way along the coastline of the Bay of Fundy unaware of the horrors ahead.

Hmm, a tad melodramatic perhaps but, hey, it’s how I felt at the time.

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The church at Grande Pre in happier times

But first let me step back to happier times. Having left the scallops of Digby behind we wind up the coast to Grand Pre, another (yawn) historic place with ocean side camping, yada yada yada.

After staying at many, many sites we get a vibe, a sixth sense about whether a campground is right for us. Grand Pre wasn’t. The site is crowded with year-rounders, permanent people who build porches and fences and put up hokey signs. I had visions of keg parties until midnight. Not that I haven’t participated in many a last call at the bar but I’ve got the Dude and Dog to think about.

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The Dog, is either enjoying the view on the Bay of Fundy or a laugh at our expense

We take a quick side-trip to Grand Pre’s historic Acadian settlement, a miniature version of the Acadian village we saw previously in New Brunswick, a mini-me of history. Post Labour Day weekend, the frantic tourist spots are winding down, and the best part is the half price sales have started in the gift shops.

three ducks

When I’m down Ducks and red chairs always cheer me up

Walking back out to the Grey Ghost, our first hint of trouble begins. There’s a strange smell in the air, like something’s burning. Fire is a huge concern when you’re pulling your house on wheels. The fire exits are tiny escape windows in the living and bedroom area (one of which you may recall I squeezed through to unlock the door in blog “Musing about Mishaps” in June.)

We check the Ghost inside and out and can find no hint of smoke or fire. We decide to drive for a while and check everything at that point.

Now GPS Gertrude always looking for efficiency has us winding up a secondary highway towards Truro, which we have determined is our new destination. The drive takes us through farm country, large swaths of land with the occasional house to break up the scenery. Not a great place to be if anything goes wrong (cue the melodramatic music).

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The Dude and one of our church parking lot helpers trade car stories, guess who’s stories are fake

I have taken on the characteristics of the Dog, opening the window to stick my nose out and sniff the air. What I smell is not good.

We pull into a church parking lot. You will recall that houses of worship are as ubiquitous as McDonald’s out here. Drive through a town with twenty houses you’ll probably find two churches.

Church parking lot

We didn’t meet Pastor Rick but the rest of his flock was very helpful to us

They are handy places, even for lapsed Catholics, spots to wheel the Grey Ghost around when you’ve made a wrong turn (thanks Gertrude) and make convenient stops for food, bathroom breaks and stretching. We spot Newport Baptist church, which thanks to Kevin Bacon, brings to mind a ban on dancing. Not to worry, we’re not in a dancing mood.

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A rustic bathroom break in the Bay of Fundy area

I get on the phone to CAA but given that it’s late afternoon on Saturday the situation looks grim. Being in bum-tooty Nova Scotia doesn’t bode well for proximity to a repair shop.

Cue the helpful country folk. A fifth wheel at the church is the most exciting thing that’s happened in weeks. Before we can say boiled lobster, three guys materialize from nearby houses to do what guys do best–point, discuss, ponder and point some more, all the while peppering the conversation with mechanical terms that might as well be a foreign language to the Dude, who nods gravely while fighting back tears. One strapping lad crawls under the trailer and advises that our wheel may have locked up, which doesn’t sound good despite his upbeat delivery.

The gentlemen go back to pointing and pondering until one of them advises that a fella they know has a shop close by and proceeds to call him. In fact, they make several calls, all in vain, looking for help.

The Dude’s cynical take on the human race aside, we’ve found along our travels that Canadians are kind. Perfect strangers are willing to go above and beyond to help out someone they’ve never met and will never see again. It renews my faith in mankind, with the exception of the clerk from hell in Quebec City. But I digress.

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While waiting for news on the Grey Ghost we stop in Windsor NS, known for a hockey museum and apparently this mural

Luckily a nearby campground has space. The site is essentially in the middle of a field, exposed and surrounded on all sides by the aforementioned year-rounders, but at this point we’d camp in a cow pasture.

Apparently Halloween has come early. Costumed children and adults roam the campsite in what we learn is a final blow-out before people shut up their units for the winter. Given the day we’ve had it seems appropriate.

Third lucky break is the RV repair shop that has left business cards at the campground. The Dude calls and books us in for Tuesday and so our relationship with Phil began.

Phil’s shop is close by and he will wait by the road to guide us in as it is set back from the street. We approach from the wrong direction, miss the entrance and whiz by Phil, continuing along the narrow road until we find a church parking lot to turn around in.

Phil’s full service shop at the end of a long dirt driveway looks even better to us than a church. A compact chatty Nova Scotian with encyclopedic knowledge of RV repair, Phil watches us pull in before calmly advising that we are missing a wheel.

“Must be back there in the ditch,” he says. “Thought it was a deer when I saw the movement in the grass.”

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This doesn’t look good

The Dude and I stand in stunned silence, staring at our wheel-less axle, before the Dude mans up and accompanies Phil a quarter mile back along the driveway in search of Grey Ghost’s missing appendage.

For the next two weeks The Meanderers’ journey will be spent in various hotel and motel rooms from Halifax to Truro and back to Halifax with various side trips sans trailer. The routine includes daily conversations with Phil about his efforts to find parts, have said parts shipped from Quebec, have said parts reshipped when the wrong axles arrive, have said parts welded and welded again when the first weld is measured wrong. By the end the Dude is overheard consoling Phil, who has come to regret answering that first phone call.

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Phil may be wishing he had posted this sign when the Meander’s came to call

The Grey Ghost was a challenge even for a man with a 30-year resume in RV repair. He cites manufacturer’s axles not up to the load, points out scored bearings whose scars are mute testimony to shoddy servicing and indicates worn tires that resulted from spindle nuts improperly tightened. At the end of the day, someone was looking out for us. With almost 15,000 kilometers travelled we broke down only minutes away from the one guy in the area who could help us out.

Next…Hello again Halifax and Fun in Fundy

Peggy and George – a love story

A piper at Peggys

A wee Piper on the shores of Peggy’s Cove (not actual life size)

Peggy’s Cove is one of those impossibly photogenic places. You know the type–quaint clapboard houses nestled on the rocky shore, weathered boats snugged up against the dock, colourful buoys and netting lying carelessly on the ground. I picture the townsfolk rising each morning and hurrying to stage the area before the tourists hordes arrive.

View of Peggy's Cove

Having finished staging the town, the townsfolk scurry back into their twee houses on the Cove

It’s a working town I’m told. All those boats ply the sea for a living. Forget the twee shops with Peggy’s Cove paraphernalia, the folks who live here year-round can’t survive on the tourist trade. They fish and live in tiny little houses heated by heaps of wood you see surrounding most places in Nova Scotia.

As we circumnavigate we run into yet another picturesque village, Yawn…..

Our plan (such as it is) is to circumnavigate the coast of Nova Scotia ending up in The Bay of Fundy, which we know only as the place with those weird rock formations and a tide that rises hundreds of feet each day. (Editor’s note: the Dame is given to wild fits of imagination, Fundy tides average around 46 feet.)

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Lunenburg home of the Blue Nose II and a World Unesco historic site

We end up in Lunenburg, which, sorry Peggy, has our vote for the most photogenic town we’ve seen. It’s also on the UNESCO heritage list. (Take that Peggy!) Oh, and it’s home to the Bluenose II, that iconic, multi-sailed wooden racing yacht on the Canuck dime. The original was built and launched from Lunenburg in 1921.

Blue nose prow shot

The Blue Nose II former racing ship, working fishing vessel and now tourism magnet

Our first order of business is to hire a carriage to take us around. The town is so old-school they still use horse and buggy. (Editor’s note – the Dame exaggerates, there is one horse and buggy for tourists.)

George has a snack

George has a snack before the unfortunate shovel incident

The problem with horses is they have needs that can’t wait. Our sojourn is delayed as George, our good- natured equine engine, feels the earth move, so to speak, and plops down a steaming mound of recycled hay as our group of six giggles in the carriage behind him. A further delay ensues as our human guide whips out a shovel and black garbage bag to hide the evidence.

Pink Lunenberg house

Colourful homes are everywhere in Lunenburg, Pepto-Bismol the shade of chose for this former Sea Captain’s home

Load lightened we move on, past former sea captains houses topped with widow’s walks, where fretting wives would gaze out to sea waiting for the ships to come home. George patiently clomps up and down the streets, so used to the route that he automatically stops at a large water barrel placed in case he needs a pick me up.

Lunenburgians take the UNESCO label seriously. Houses in designated areas have plaques that outline the pedigree of the home–who lived there, what they did for a living and the year the house was built. The circa 1700s houses, with their brilliant colours, impeccable trim and window treatments, shamefully look better than the Meanderer’s circa 1980’s abode. The only designation our Kaleden house is getting is least likely to be sold by a drive-by.

Dog at the Pub

Just a random shot of The Dog leaving the pub on a day trip to Mahone Bay NS

Lunenburg golf course beckons from across the Bay. An interesting course if you like hitting balls blindly over hills while waiting for golfers from other tees to hit across your fairway. The one lane track leading to the course makes for an interesting game of chicken on the way to the clubhouse. The views of town across the bay make up for the inconvenience. Oh, and it has a cannon on the course in case we get attacked on the ninth hole.

Lunenburg skyline

View from the golf course, for this we can forgive the golf ball dodging fairways

Taking our leave , we head around the coast and make a side trip to Shelburne, settled by British Loyalists after the American Revolution, along with a large contingent of blacks who fled the U.S. in search of a better life Surprise, surprise, the land they were given was sub-standard to that given to white Loyalists.

Unlike Lunenburg, Shelburne has a “down on its heels” feel to it. The historic waterfront is well-kept but almost deserted when we arrive on a sunny weekday. This leads to the inevitable ice-cream stop, because as you know, sunny day equals ice cream. My new favourite is vanilla with salted caramel and licorice swirls with almonds. Shelburne, I think I love you. (Editor’s note – The Dame’s love is fleeting.)

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New word learned in Shelburne – Dory – meaning small, incredibly over-priced boat

Gorged with dairy, we finish the day in Yarmouth, not to be confused with Dartmouth which is across the Bay from Halifax. Yarmouth’s claim to fame is lobster fishing and a ferry to Maine.

Our campground, about 12k outside town, is weekend home to half the population of the surrounding area, and their cousins and in-laws. We are literally the only non-Nova Scotians in the park. They are a friendly bunch, inviting us to join a game of ring toss which appears to involve throwing metal washers into containers and drinking copious amounts of the beverage of your choice. The winner is determined by whoever is standing at the end of the game. (Editor’s note – all participants safely left the playing field after the game)

Giant beer can

All that remains from the Wharf Rat Rally is this giant beer can

The Dude’s insatiable appetite for all things scallop, leads us to Digby, self-proclaimed scallop capital of Canada. It’s also the gateway to the Bay of Fundy, of the aforementioned tides of doom.

Wharf rat rally riders

Rally Rats escape Digby

We arrive at the end of the long weekend and the Wharf Rat Rally, Canada’s answer to Sturgess, a massive mélange of motorcycle enthusiasts billed as Canada’s largest two-wheeled party. Given the number of bikes we passed on our way in, it lived up to its billing. Boomers with expensive topped out Harleys, trikers with grandma on the back, serious bearded riders with sleeve tats, posers with sleek foreign bikes, designer sunglasses and harness boots and biker club wannabee’s, leather jackets emblazoned with logos vaguely hinting at a Sons of Anarchy vibe, roared past on their way back to civilian life.

Digby campground overlooks a peninsula where we get our first look at the impact of the tides here. Every six hours the tide goes out leaving a barren landscape of sand and waterlogged plants. How anything survives in the salt water is amazing.
A day trip down the peninsula to Brier Island gives us a taste of the fickleness of coastal weather. We start out in a mixed bag of cloud and sun and end up at the ferry to the island in a thick pea soup fog and temperature drop of over 10 degrees. Turning tail we head back to Digby.

Dry docked boat Digby neck

Wow, somebody’s got some ‘splaining to do

The Dude, who has never met a nap he didn’t like to take, decides to sit out a day trip to Annapolis Royal, which is fine with The Dog, who has never met a car ride he didn’t want to take. Our first leg of the day trip is a photo-op at the Point Prim lighthouse, which in my mind is secondary to the wild rock formations which surround the place.

Stilt house in Bridgewater

Bear River where a deck party can turn into a water party real quick

Photos snapped, sniffing and leg-lifting over (for The Dog, to be clear) we head up coast to Annapolis. Of all the cities/towns we’ve visited with military backgrounds, this town has the historic cred. Attacked thirteen times throughout its tumultuous history, it has morphed into a peaceful quaint little town. The remnants of Fort Anne and its earthen walls are all that remains. Oh and the cannons, can’t forget the cannons.

George into the sunset

George clops off into the sunset

Next….The real Bay of Fundy and the Incident….

Muddy Dogs and Hybrid Frogs

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The mad fiddler of Halifax – patriotic and a mean fiddle player

I’m ba-a-a-ack. Okay, the Dude had his opportunity to expound (in great length) on the exotic travels and interesting people of a misspent youth in the company of Intrepid, an international Man of Mystery.

I can’t compete. I grew up in the seventies wearing wide-legged jeans while listening to April Wine (with some Van Halen thrown in for street cred.) My biggest claim to using illicit substances was smoking Players Light when I was thirteen and getting drunk on a can-and-a-half of Pilsner beer when I was fourteen.

My first travel experience couldn’t have been less adventurous. It comprised a two-week Hawaiian vacation with my best bud Wendel, complete with flowery lei’s, fruity cocktails, clean white sheets in our hotel and hours of playing pac-man in the lobby. The biggest danger we encountered was the blistering tropical sun that administered a massive burn while we rode rented mopeds around the island, resulting in two days spent in movie theatres wearing dark glasses to hide my swollen forehead and eyes.

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History boy leads the tourists in a rousing version of Oh Canada!

Fast forward a few decades and, thankfully, our meandering vacation includes a happy medium, part adventure, part everyday living, just enough of both to keep things relaxed and interesting.

My last missive related our Cape Breton adventures. Leaving behind the comical puffins and what we now know to be an Island, we motor south to mainland Nova Scotia and the capital of Halifax, a city better named “roadwork central.” Halifax takes the Canadian summer road repair ritual to new heights. Literally every main thru-fare in the city has some form of construction going on. Traffic is grid-locked. Throw in a couple of bridges to funnel people to the city of Dartmouth across the bay and things get ugly.

Shakespeare

See there’s lots of culture in Halifax

Thankfully Nova Scotians seem too laid-back for road rage. Traffic crawls through city streets without blaring horns, middle-finger salutes or other overt demonstrations of commuter anger. Maybe it’s because Haligonians vent their pent-up frustrations in other more violent ways. Did you know Halifax has the country’s highest per capita murder rate. During our brief stay two high profile cases dominate headlines—a pre-med student is charged with the murder of another student whose body is yet to be found; and a female Truro police officer’s body is discovered in bush beneath a bridge only minutes from the city’s downtown core.

Halifax Wharf

The historic Privateers Wharf – a fancy name for Pirates, but Privateers of the Caribbean didn’t have the same zing

Or maybe it’s because Halifax, despite its traffic woes and murder city rep, is a lovely waterfront city crisscrossed by a mish-mash of historic tree-lined streets and down-at-the-heels neighbourhoods.

We board the Harbour Hopper, a weird-looking boat with wheels first used to transport American troops from ship to shore and from river to jungle during the Vietnam War. I doubt the Americans decorated the amphibious vehicles with bright green and yellow smiling frogs to frighten the Viet Cong (or perhaps they did, which might explain a lot about that war).

Harbour Hopper

A beautiful day on the water on the former troops carrier turned tourist carrier

Our guide is an enthusiastic history major from Dalhousie University (a pint-sized Harvard with brick/sandstone buildings dating back to 1818). It’s always a pleasure to have a tour guide who knows his stuff and can answer obscure questions. Many of these type of tours are guided by summer students who recite the memorized script and are flummoxed if you ask a question outside their comfort zone, like where to find a bathroom.

Halifax Citadel soldier

One of the ceremonial guards on the Citadel looking over Halifax

Before boarding we cruised the waterfront boardwalk with its collection of restaurants, gift shops, buskers, hordes of tourists and… nostalgia alert… a Cows outlet. You remember Cows, they of the kitschy named ice-cream and large plastic bovines outside. Sadly they were out of my favourite Don Cherry flavor. A sea salt caramel cone would have to do. Ice cream on our chins, we stop to watch glass blowers through an open door as they craft crystal beer glasses from a molten blob. The Dude’s eyes light up at the prospect of sipping suds with class but the price and his proclivity towards clumsiness when imbibing discourage a purchase.

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What’s with the Dude in the red Hat?

The Harbour Hopper winds its way through the streets of downtown Halifax, past the Citadel, a military fortification built in 1749 to defend Canada against attacks that never came. It overlooks the harbour and until recently bylaws restricted building heights so as not to obstruct the Citadel’s sightlines. Money talks, however, and a building boom has started along the waterfront (see my previous traffic comments).

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The Dude in the Red Hat is everywhere it seems

The water portion of the tour is fascinating, we enter the harbour by the Casino Nova Scotia, (gotta’ give it to the province for the snappy naming of entertainment facilities).

Entering the water is relatively smooth, one minute we’re on land, the next we are getting an ocean-side perspective of the boardwalk. Our guide fascinates his captive crew with the history of the explosion of 1917, the largest in Canadian history. A French cargo ship loaded with wartime explosives collided with a Norwegian vessel in fog, the resulting blast killed more than 2,000 people, and injured 9,000 others. The explosion was so large it bared the ocean floor and caused a mini- tsunami.

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It’s all smooth sailing on the way in….flash forward an hour

A half-hour later, things get a bit dicey on our return to land. A proliferation of green algae on the exit ramp make it a tad slippery. For a few tense moments it looks like The Dude and I will be swimming with the fishes. Maybe it’s part of the “scare the tourists” shtick for drumming up additional tips.

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Prince of Wales Tower in Point Pleasant Park on top of a very steep hill with no water in sight

My favourite memory of Halifax is Point Pleasant Park, a swath of heavily treed paths, 90 per cent of which are off-leash. It’s dog nirvana, a meanderer’s delight, with trails snaking every which way off the main road, the only on-leash portion of the ocean-side park. Paths wind along the water and through canopies of Acadian trees. Hurricane Juan devastated the park in 2003 destroying almost three-quarters of its trees. It’s hard to believe as we walk through it. A massive replanting was undertaken and to my outsider’s eyes the trees seem to have been there for decades.

Devil dog

Devil Dog minus his mud boots emerges from the water

There are no in-park water sources other than the ocean. Savvy pet owners carry water for their fur buddies. Shamefully I have nothing. The Dog, ever-resourceful, sniffs out the only “fresh” water source in the park, a stagnate pond near the entrance. Before I can shout “Oh no you don’t!” he leaps into the pond and sheepishly emerges, legs blackened with thick pond scum. The kind of mud that dries into a thick smelly paste and leaves crusty tracks everywhere. People and their dogs give us a wide berth as we wander the unfamiliar trails looking for a path to the ocean for a vigorous dog-dunking exercise. Minus the mud, but smelling like a seafood factory, we head back to our campground.

Next…Who is Peggy and why’d they name a cove after her