Searching for Duffy

Fish truck

We stop for some sustenance during our search for the Senator’s house

We didn’t start out looking for the portly Senator from PEI. We were on our way to see the green and white clapboard house/tourist trap for the fictional red-haired lass who dominates the tourism landscape in the little province.

AOGG chocolates

AOGG as she’s affectionately called..by me, is everywhere

Yes, I’m referring to dear Anne of Green Gables, she of the tousled red braids and impish freckled face about whom, I confess with deep shame, I know next to nothing about. Caught up in the “we must do, see, experience” frenzy of constant travel I point The Dude towards Cavendish, where author Lucy Maud Montgomery earthly remains rest, and where PEI residents recognized an economic opportunity and turned the modest little town into a tourism mecca.

PEI Charlottetown to Twin campground 128

They really love Maud out in these parts

Fun fact, Avonlea is the town Anne and her adopted parents lived in as portrayed in the 50 million plus books that author Montgomery sold. Fifty million – try and get your head around a Canadian author selling that many books when a best-seller in Canada today means a writer has sold about 10 thousand books. No wonder they’ve got a shrine to old Maud, she’s a Canadian legend.

Fox museum

A sidetrip to the Fox Museum in Summerside, one of the former leading industries in PEI, both disturbing and interesting,

Listening to CBC news expound on the Duffy trial, a tiny kernel of memory forced its way into my travel brain. Those who have been on the road for long periods might recognize travel brain as a mush of thoughts about planning next stops, reading about things to see and do, dog walks and sussing out a laundromat. Anything resembling critical thinking is tucked away where information about work, bill payments etc. etc. reside.

“Isn’t Duffy from Cavendish?”

Having seen pictures of the disgraced ex-broadcaster’s PEI home on the evening news, and given the tiny towns that speckle the countryside, a stranger might expect to find the house and shout out a “How’s it going.” if the Duffster was in the yard pulling weeds or burying cheques, whatever the case might be.

Ferris wheel

To heck with all those breathtaking vistas, PEI has a Ferris Wheel!!

Turns out, every second house in the widespread area that makes up Cavendish looks like the Duffy abode. In fact we were hard-pressed to find the actual town of Cavendish. Whatever charm there once was has succumbed to a strip mall conglomeration of campgrounds, t-shirt stores, shops flogging Anne of Green Gables baubles and restaurants promising the best “seafood, fish and chips, ice cream” in town. There’s even a Ferris wheel. Not to be outdone by the whirling circle of death, Ripley’s Believe or Not established a franchise here alongside Wax World of the Stars, Jurassic Bart’s Dinosaur Museum and my personal favourite the Fan-Taz-Mag-oric Museum, which is devoted to random interests and, bonus points, has a mini-golf course attached.

Two maids

A couple of shoppers stroll through Avonlea Village, yet another shopping opportunity when visiting Cavendish

This is not to say that The Dude and I paid admission to any of these fine establishments. In fact, The Dude, who prefers non-fiction to fiction, the show 20/20 to The Walking Dead and a bio-pic to any Bond movie (sacrilege!) wouldn’t go if you paid him. The “Cavendish Boardwalk”, which despite proximity to the sea is on dry land, is the only stop we made in Cavendish.

Cavendish boardwalk

The Cavendish Boardwalk with it’s disturbing half-shark, bringing back memories of Jaws, damn you Steven Spielberg!!

Okay… except for my unauthorized and clandestine visit to the Anne of Green Gables site for a photo-op. Having little to no knowledge of what the big deal was, and at first intending to take a quick glance into the onsite gift shop (big surprise), I wandered onto the grounds without a ticket. No burly guard yelled stop, you with the camera and shifty eyes. My visit lasted about five minutes, time enough to snap a couple pics, admire the lovely English garden, buy an AOGG t-shirt, (on sale even!) and head back out to the grassy knoll where Dude and Dog were snoozing in the shade.

Anne's house

So this is what all the fuss is about, the revered home of AOGG,

Since I’m confessing, I have one guilty pleasure to share. During a drive back to our breathtaking campsite in Darnley, which encapsulates the beauty of PEI with its red dirt, tall grasses and ocean views, we meandered through the town of Kensington, a small town that was once a railway link between Charlottetown and Summerside, the largest town on this part of the island. Its main claim to fame is… wait for it…The Haunted Mansion.

Gargoyle

Gargoyles, even on a sunny day, they are creepy

The local story recounts a British doctor moving to the area and building a Tudor-style home to remind him of the jolly old island he had left. Somehow I convinced The Dude to tour the house with me. Given his aversion to scary movies, which in my family are a rite of passage, he earned big props by agreeing to accompany me. Let the cheese fest begin!

Skull

A skull in a microwave, a 10 on the cheese scale

The Haunted House is a warren of dark passages, haunting music, ghostly figures popping up and lots of fake blood everywhere. Bonus points for the microwave with a skull lazily turning inside. There’s even a strange little area that mimics a London street with little shops. The whole house is massive and musty, a giant version of the fun-house at the PNE.

Emerging back into sunlight, we walked through an English garden with ponds, flowers, and odds and sods of what appear to be gargoyles left over from the house. It must have been an idyllic outdoor space before commerce brought in the cheese factor. Got to pay those bills.

Pee on the umbrella

If you can get past the peeing kid fountain, the gardens are actually quite lovely

Tourism is the lifeblood of PEI, with its red dirt roads (The Dude bought an authentic, dyed-in-PEI dirt shirt.), fields of spuds, rolling green pastures, historic lighthouses and ocean vistas. The PEI coat of arms states “the small under the protection of the great.” I think it should be changed to “Small, but great”.

Dog on the dunes

This is the PEI we will remember

Next…Who knew Cape Breton was an Island..

Spud Radio

Confederation BridgeOkay you’ve got the curb appeal down pat PEI

For the smallest province in Canada the approach to it is awesome. The Confederation Bridge spans almost 13 kilometres of the Northumberland Strait connecting PEI to the mainland, an impressive start to our visit to the land of my favourite food group, the lowly potato.

PEI potatoesI couldn’t have said it better myself

The Dude scoffs at my potato fixation. He dreams of silky bowls of seafood chowder, a staple on the Island, along with breathtaking views, verdant hills and farmland with crops so lush and healthy and perfectly groomed it looks like a movie set for “The Stepford Farm”.

Red house and potato fieldWho knew potato farming could be so pretty

We set our sights on Charlottetown, the birthplace of Canadian Confederation. Oh yah, people, this is where it all began, that meeting that begat what Canada is today; a hockey-loving, Tim Horton’s coffee guzzling, touque-wearing bunch of folks who say ‘Eh’ a lot, who are for the most part polite (with some exceptions, I’m talking about the snotty clerk from Quebec City) and envy some aspects of the USA but are secretly glad we aren’t them.

street scene charlottetownCharlottetown short summer, long winters equal getting as much patio time as possible

Charlottetown has a happening downtown with busy restaurants, theatres and touristy shops vying for tourist business, which is apparently booming based on the packed dining terraces we pass.

Two things drive the tourism business here, a fictional red-headed heroine and the love of ice cream. Anne of Green Gables trinket shops abound. Apparently the ginger-headed pixie’s legacy includes candy pusher. Her chocolate emporiums can be found everywhere, chocolate-covered potato chips anyone? If you are strolling around PEI and suddenly find a giant bovine in front of you, a Cows franchise won’t be far away. Pumping out pricey cones with cutesy names like Mooey Gooey, Don Cherry (yummy), Fluff n’ Udder (might wanna’ rethink the optics of that name) Cowberry (again people, visuals!) the ice cream empire is moo..ving right along (a cow pun, how unexpected).

cows storeYou should see the line at the Anne of Green Gables chocolate shop

PEI is the ultimate road-trip province. Highways, little more than country roads, criss-cross the province. The GPS, always looking for the shortest route, constantly chirps instructions to turn left on an unpaved road. These usually end in heart-break with the Grey Ghost, so we’ve learned to ignore her and wait for the “recalculating” to kick in.

Lady & cowBessie and Martha from Florida throw it down at the COWS ice cream factory

Despite the tourist trappings that are an economic necessity here, PEI feels homey. It’s so damned pretty and peaceful and has such beautiful vistas that we start having The Talk. You know the one– you’re on vacation, you end up at a great spot that feels warm and welcoming, the food is good, people are great… so you start imagining what it would be like to live here, not full-time mind you, but part of the year, real estate is cheap. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I remind The Dude about his boredom threshold and what is involved with potato farming or running a Cow’s outlet.

Prim lighthouseLighthouses, you gotta love ’em

Befitting an ocean-locked province, lighthouses oversee every other cape. The Dude feels about lighthouses much like he does about churches, after about the fifth viewing, fatigue takes over. He manages two, persuaded by the promise of a seafood lunch for good behavior.

Blackboard of goodnessThe blackboard of goodness at the Chowder House

We are cautiously optimistic after the New Brunswick Wonderbread fiasco. We enter the Chowder House to discover good sign #1, a table of weathered locals. If every table is filled with sunburned tourists and the menu has fun names for food items, run, immediately. Good sign #2, the menu is on a blackboard listing items with clever descriptions designed to change your mind at least three times before you order. So descriptive in fact, that I order the curried crab corn chowder. The promise of the homemade buns served with it, definitely influenced the decision. I take the seafood plunge at last. The Dude, bent but not bowed by his last lobster roll encounter, orders one again, he is nothing if not optimistic. Optimism is rewarded, maybe this seafood thing isn’t so bad after all.

farm & oceeanOcean meets farm, so pretty it makes my eyes hurt

Rolling through the small towns that dot PEI feels like being transported back to the 1950’s. There’s something really homey about the province, despite the tourist trappings. They gotta pay the bills after all. Ice-cream, seafood and of course potatoes, so beloved they named their radio station SPUD FM.

How can you not love this place.