Newfoundland part 1: From Northwest to Northeast

Feb 27, 2015 | 0 comments

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
One of my favorite things about Alaska are the serendipitous opportunities that come up that you never would have expected — some even coming up years later. And that’s exactly how I found myself on the island of Newfoundland this past weekend. 
Working in Nome, AK for two summers I made so many great friends, one of whom happened to be a student going to college in St. John’s, NL. We stayed in touch over the last couple years; he always invited me to come to Canada, I always said I would someday. Finally sucked in by my wanderlust again, I decided to make that “someday” last Thursday. I booked the cheapest ticket I could find, loaded my backpack, and took off for a whirlwind weekend with my friend I hadn’t seen in two years on the opposite side of the continent from where we first met. Whoever would’ve guessed!

So that’s how it all started. I arrived at 3am Thursday night/Friday morning, after flying for 15 hours and having to re-route my flight through Toronto when my connection was canceled. With just a few hours of sleep, we were up the next morning to go to my friend’s class and then spent the rest of the day exploring beautiful St. Johns, the capitol of Newfoundland.

View of St. Johns from the coast
Fun fact! It’s pronounced “NEW-fin-LAND,” not “new-FOUND-lund” or “NEW-fin-lund.” Make sure “land” is quite clear when you say it! 
View from The Rooms
The first couple days were unusually sunny and warm for the area. I was told not to get used it, but we took advantage of the weather and walked all over town. My first view of the city was from a museum called The Rooms, which overlooked the harbor and town below. I was astonished by the colors and such distinct character of the town.

Colorful buildings

Apparently back in the day, fishermen would paint their houses to match their boats, so you could tell whose was whose. The tradition stuck, and today everyone paints their houses in vibrant colors. I can’t help but wonder what the rest of the world would be like if we all painted our neighborhoods in rainbows. Especially places like this that are normally so cold and grey!

Jelly bean row

The Battery

The buildings in the photo above make up a small neighborhood known as The Battery. Located at the entrance to Signal Hill, which I’ll talk about more later, The Battery was a significant location during WWII where they strung large chains underwater to prevent German U-boats from entering the harbor.

Signal Hill

Above The Battery stands Signal Hill, which was the location of the first transatlantic wireless transmission reception, on December 1901. There were also battles fought here in the 1700s, then again in the 1800s during the Napoleonic Wars and American Civil War, and the tower was built in 1897.

Inside the Basilica
Before conquering our way to the top of Signal Hill however, we meandered through town, taking in the sights and sounds. We walked through the Basilica one of the largest buildings in downtown St. Johns that dominates its skyline. And then along Water Street, the main drag through town, we were serenaded by sea shanties from street buskers, and the hum of city traffic, the clang of the harbor, and the loud claps and booms of construction nearby. 

Neat old mural

Street busker downtown

View of downtown
The Battery up close

Following the coastline, we wound our way through the narrow streets, through the Battery, and finally to the trail of Signal Hill. Across the Narrows (the entrance to the harbor), we could see Ft. Amherst and in the distance, Cape Spear, which is the the easternmost point of North America.

Ft. Amherst, foreground, and Cape Spear, background

Coastline at the base of Signal Hill

Signal Hill trail

Taking in the view from the summit
The trail was absolutely gorgeous, but a wee bit treacherous due to the intermittent patches of slick ice and deep snowdrifts on the edge of the cliff. Nonetheless, we made it to the top about 20 minutes before sunset, enough time for a short break to catch our breath before booking it back downhill to the next village over. 
Tower at Signal Hill
Quidi Vidi

Quidi Vidi (pronounced “kiddy viddy”) is a neighborhood and historic fishing village of St. Johns. We arrived on the nose of the golden hour just as the sun was setting and casting the shacks in gorgeous light.

Entrance to the harbor
Nic and I in Quidi Vidi

The harbor is known as “The Gut”


We had a bit of time before catching the bus back to the university, so we stopped into a local pub called “Linda’s: Stories, Beers & Wood Burning Stoves.” The place was totally empty when we walked in, and Linda, herself, was sitting in the back watching TV in a rocking chair.

“Aye, duckies,” she greeted us, “looking for a pint?” We ordered a drink and then settled in next to the wood burning stove. Linda returned to her rocking chair in front of the TV in the back, evidently having no stories for us this evening, but the walls of the pub had plenty of stories to tell of their own. Every inch of the place was covered in photos, knick-knacks, and fishing gear. It was strange to be the only ones in such a lively looking place — not even any music playing — but I soon found out that Newfoundland doesn’t get going until about 11pm.

After resting at home for a few hours, we headed downtown again around 10:30 to watch Newfoundland’s famous “Screeching in” ceremony. I was encouraged to do it myself, but once you hear what it is you may see why I was content to just be a participant observer!

To become “screeched in” is to become an honorary Newfoundlander. Around 11pm, the pub we were in filled up and a bearded fellow in a fisherman’s cap quieted the room and began telling the story of NL’s proud history. I couldn’t hear most of it from the back of the room, but at some point samples of “Newfie steak” (cubes of baloney) were handed out, followed by the presentation of a gnarly, slimy codfish that participants had to kiss. This was followed by shots of Newfoundland’s famed Screecher’s rum for those partaking in the ceremony. Before drinking the rum, the fisherman asked, “Are ye a Screecher?” to which the proper response was “‘Deed I is, me ol’ cock! And long may yer big jib draw!” (translating to “Yes I am, my old friend, and may your sails always catch wind”). Afterwards the old pub began to shake and thump with the pounding of dancing feet to sea shanties that played through the jukebox in the corner.

And that was my first introduction to the great people of Newfoundland. It seemed totally unreal, and yet there I was in the middle of all of it. The next day, we would be taking off to another part of the island for a new day of entirely unexpected adventures.

Jump to Part 2! 


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