On the Edge

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This is the season of endings and beginnings. Where I live we are only now seeing spring come into its fullness with all its attendant hope and promise. Our current spring followed a particularly hard winter, both in real and metaphorical terms, so the season of rebirth is particularly welcome this year. The calendar may tell us summer begins in a few days, but I intend to savor spring as long as I can.

The spring of 2021 brought a number of graduations to our family. After more than a year of almost zero in-person events, I count myself lucky to have been able to attend one of these ceremonies—a high school graduation. Somehow, high school graduations seem a little more exhilarating than the same event following a college career. Perhaps it is because these seventeen and eighteen year olds find themselves on one of life’s particularly sharp edges. Whatever futures await them, their lives are about to change in some very big ways.

Until now, most of them—though certainly not all—have lived under the protective wings of family. The clothes they wear, the roofs they sleep under, the food they eat have been the worries of others. When the car broke down, when they were upset about something a teacher said or a classmate did, or when they hit upon a problem they didn’t know how to solve they knew help was in the next room or a mere phone call away. Their tomorrows will be different and they can feel it, but they understand they can’t really comprehend what that’s going to mean.

They are on the edge. On the edge that separates childhood and adulthood. Maybe that’s why their joy in this moment seems particularly honest and pure. The heavy stuff comes tomorrow or the next day or next month. Today they feel only relief and pride at having reached their biggest-yet milestone as they smile and laugh and hug and mug like the children to whom they are saying good-bye.

After the festivities of last week were over and hundreds of snapshots were taken, the remainder of our graduate’s evening was celebrated with family. The next day was reserved for friends. One after another hosted get-togethers, whether a day on the lake or a cookout complete with toasted marshmallows. We got to participate in one of those, too.

It started out as a family party, but quickly expanded to include now-former classmates. They were the stars; family members became spectators. That was fine by me because, except for the laughter of babies, almost nothing can rival the unadulterated exuberance of teenagers enjoying each others’ company. I eavesdropped unabashedly on their giggles as they reminisced about moments passed, shared favorite television and online programs and episodes, laughed at every scene in the movie they were watching as they munched on chips, gummy worms, and M&Ms. Their already high spirits rose with every chuckle.

Edges can be scary. But they amplify what is joyous. I hope all this year’s graduates and everyone who is sitting on an edge feels the same kind of elation I was part of a few days ago. As the salutatorian at our stadium-filled celebration ended her address to her classmates, “Peace out, Shawties.”

Selecting the Airbnb that’s Right for You

(This is the second of two ‘classic’ posts (that means reruns) about our Airbnb experiences. You can read the first one by clicking Read this .) We took a slow dive into the Airbnb world a few years ago. When we made our road trip to Nova Scotia, we decided to try it again–mostly because it might give us a chance to interact with some of the locals to get a more personal feel for the place. But there were other reasons, and other perks. Here’s a brief wrap-up of what we’ve learned in case you’re thinking about it–and I promise, I’m getting zilch from Airbnb.)

If you’ve wondered about Airbnb but been too uneasy to give it a go, read this post for tips to make traveling with Airbnb safe, easy, and fun. (Airbnb’s website changes from time to time, so things may be a little different when you try it, but these guidelines should still be useful.)

What a cheery studio apartment this was, attached to our host’s home but with a private entrance.

1. In the search bar at the top of the page, type the name of a location. (You can go through the entire process up to reserving a space to see how it works.) Additional options will appear including number of guests, type of place you’re looking for, and price range. These options help narrow your search, saving considerable time.

2. A list of places matching your needs will pop up along with a map showing the general location of each rental. So, if you’re looking for a place in the heart of a city, you won’t accidentally end up thirty miles away. You’ll see the per night price and, in smaller print, the total price, which accounts for cleaning, service fees, and taxes, so it’s all inclusive. Keeping this in mind, don’t let the nightly rate fool you. Sometimes the one that looks more expensive at first glance costs less overall because the fees can vary significantly.

3. When you select a property, click on the photo at the top of the page for a slideshow of the place. I don’t advise staying somewhere that doesn’t provide enough pictures—interior and exterior—to size up the place.

4. Close the slideshow to read the description and list of amenities. Each has a ‘read more’ option. For the record, all the Airbnbs I’ve stayed at had all the promised amenities and often others missing from the written list.

5. Scroll down fora diagram of sleeping arrangements. In addition to the slideshow, this shows where and what type of sleeping arrangements are available (bed, futon, air mattress).

6. Even farther down the page are guest reviews. I’m highly unlikely to stay in an Airbnb so new that there are no reviews. Sorry, but I don’t want to be the guinea pig. In fact, I like to see plenty of reviews. That way, I’m guaranteed a good cross section of experiences and perspectives.

7. The listing also has a host photo and usually a brief host bio. There’s even a place where you can contact the host if you have questions or need any clarification.

8. Lastly, you’ll see a neighborhood description. What you won’t find, for security reasons, is a street address. That’s provided one or two days before your arrival, along with instructions on how to get in. Some hosts will greet you in person to show you around. Others offer a keypad or lock box.

9. Read it all. Reread it. Just like real estate ads, you might find code words. If they give you pause, jump to the next listing. However, I’ve almost always found that the pictures and descriptions are entirely accurate. Hosts have a vested interest in portraying their sites accurately. After all, if you arrive with a set of expectations that aren’t met, your host can expect a negative review for all to see.

10. On the right side of the page you’ll see pricing detail and the chance to book. It’s an easy process.

This New Mexico casita was one of our early Aibnb experiments. We were astounded at the low price. Fresh, airy, filled with original art, it’s a mother-in-law home which the host rents out when she isn’t visiting. The patio was  perfect for taking in the mountain view. 

11. For each rental, there is a heart at the top right. Click on that if you’re interested but not ready to make a commitment. You’ll be creating a sort of wish list to choose from. By the way, each time you click on a listing, it opens a new tab, so you don’t lose the original.

12. Another menu item, ‘Trips,’ shows the places you’ve stayed before in case you want to return. Still another lets you message your hosts as your arrival date nears or even when it’s over. Who knows? You might start up a lifelong friendship.

13. A day or so after your visit, Airbnb will ask you to complete a questionnaire and review. Please do this. It helps others like you. All reviews are posted on the listing’s site. If you have a complaint, the host may respond. You also have a chance to give Airbnb private information which allows them to follow up.

More Tips

Consider your ethos. If green is paramount, you may be able to find it. If it’s community investment, you’ll want to shy away from hosts who hollow out neighborhoods by buying up multiple properties for short-term rentals. How about diversity? Airbnb hosts can’t state that they discriminate, but some make abundantly clear that they don’t, stating for instance that they’re LGTB-friendly.

You can change or cancel a reservation, though hosts have individual rules for when and whether you lose some portion of your payment. Airbnb may also deduct the service fee. Most of the time, nothing is paid up front. These details are on the website.

Respect the host’s rules, also posted. If something doesn’t appeal to you, simply pass.  Sometimes, hosts may want you to strip the bed or put used towels in a designated spot before you leave. If you rent an entire house, they’ll certainly want you to wash any dishes you use. They won’t ask you to vacuum or actually change the linens, but they’ll want you to leave the place basically as you found it—as you would with family or friends, right?

The view from our Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia, Airbnb included  both water and mountains. Best of all worlds.

Always, always remember that you’re staying at someone’s private property, whether or not they’re in the next room, and treat the space with the respect you want your own home to receive. If you accidentally break something, say so. Your host will probably be understanding, certainly more so than if you slink off without saying a word.

Planning a trip with Airbnb may take a while longer than making a reservation with your favorite hotel chain. But if you’re someone who comparison shops for lodging anyway, one process may not take longer than the other, though it’s easy to become infatuated with some of the Airbnb options. You may find so many desirable choices that you forget the original purpose of your travels.

In the end, Airbnb is a means, not an end. At some point, you may need to rein in your impulses and remember your travel goals. But if unique travel opportunities and adventure figure into those goals, Airbnb is one way to realize them.

Almost all the Airbnbs we’ve visited cost less—often significantly less—than any hotel or roadside motel we could have found, and were ever so much more interesting.

A few more places we’ve stayed with Airbnb. Sometimes you get amazing views, sometimes a hammock or even your own Airbnb cat. (Don’t worry, hosts make it very clear if animals are on the premises, at least in our experience. But you can always ask in a message, a good idea if you have allergies).

Have you tried Airbnb?

Why I Use Airbnb—Sometimes

(This is the first of two ‘classic’ posts (that means reruns) about our Airbnb experiences. We took a slow dive into the Airbnb world a few years ago. When we made our road trip to Nova Scotia, we decided to try it again–mostly because it might give us a chance to interact with some of the locals to get a more personal feel for the place. But there were other reasons, and other perks. Here’s a brief wrap-up of what we’ve learned.)

Does the notion of using Airbnb sound a little scary to you? It did to me. But a couple of years ago when the Gnome and I took an adventurous cross country road trip, we decided to add one more adventure and selected three Airbnbs to add to our nights with relatives, old-fashioned Bed and Breakfast inns, and roadside motels.

We found we liked this relatively new lodging alternative and used it another time or two with equally good results. So, when we made another road trip last fall, this time to Nova Scotia, we decided we could happily and safely use Airbnb almost exclusively.

Airbnbs may be chic, quirky (waterfall Jacuzzi, anyone?) or rustic. (Click individual pictures to see a larger image.)

Happily and safely—those are the key words. The trick is to know how. In this post, I share a few of the reasons we sometimes choose Airbnb. But first, a disclaimer: I have absolutely no stake, financial or otherwise, in Airbnb—except to give it money in exchange for a good night’s sleep.

1. In our experience, Airbnb is a less expensive form of travel with a higher comfort level than hotels.

2. We’ve found Airbnb to be a homier option. There’s usually a choice of comfy upholstered furniture to relax your tired bones. We specifically look for this benefit.

3. Meeting Airbnb hosts is a good way to get to know the area. They’ll give you the local lowdown. If you’re in town for longer than a night or two, getting to know some locals gives your stay a whole new dimension. What better way to do that than stay in someone’s home? (However, if privacy is what you crave, hosts generally respect that.) Sometimes, the hosts don’t live on site, and you may never see them. Even so, many provide brochures or other information about areas of interest, nearby restaurants, etc. Some even have a three-ring binder chock full of helpful info.

4. Depending on your needs and wants, you can rent an entire house, a bedroom in a private home (with or without a private entrance), or even a shared room. Haven’t given that last one a try; don’t intend to. I’m not that adventurous!

5. If you’re traveling with family or friends, sharing a house, apartment, or condo cuts the price even further, and it’s so much more fun to spend your evenings relaxing together in a living room than stuffed into one or another’s hotel room.

6. Depending on your Airbnb selection, you can prepare your own meals. You can eat in your pjs if you want and even save a little extra money and time. Often, the hosts stock the fridge or pantry with a few essentials, but don’t count on more than coffee makings and maybe salt and pepper. Previous guests sometimes leave what they didn’t use, so you might find cooking oil, mayo, or other condiments. You never know.

7. Airbnb hosts provide most, if not all, the amenities hotels do: bed linens, towels, soap, shampoo. In my experience, hairdryers and irons have also been universally available. One place even had a selection of condoms and feminine hygiene products. (Again, you never know!) Sometimes there’s a washer and dryer, a real convenience on longer trips.

8. Typically, Airbnb hosts do not provide a hot breakfast, though we’ve experienced a couple of happy exceptions. However, they almost always provide a coffee maker with coffee and tea bags as well as breakfast bars and sometimes fruit or other snacks. You might even find a choice of yogurts, instant oatmeal, or muffins. We stayed at one place that stocked the fridge with soft drinks, and had an entire tray full of prepackaged baked goods on the counter. Another host left us some homemade whole wheat rolls. Yum!

9. With Airbnb, you’re almost certainly putting money into the local economy, often helping a self-employed craftsperson or a young family supplement their income. That feels a lot better than lining the pockets of faceless corporations to me.

10. Airbnb is always an adventure, in our experience a happy one filled with little surprises, homey touches, unique decorating styles, and other treats. Think about how different the homes of your various friends and family are; be prepared for a quirk or two. It all makes for much more interesting travels. If you’re not a person who can go with the flow, the Airbnb experience may not be for you.

This welcoming two-bedroom home is one of the least expensive places we’ve stayed, even though we had the whole place to ourselves.

To be sure the experience is a positive one, it’s important to do your homework and make your Airbnb selection judiciously. In my next post, I’ll share tips on selecting an Airbnb site that fits you to a T. Stay tuned.

Nova Scotia: Land of Kindness and Humor

(With this post, we wrap up the virtual tour of our Nova Scotia road trip from 2018–sort of. There might be a couple of semi-related follow-up posts. Enjoy.  We sure did!)

If you’ve ever watched the TV series Due South, you know the running joke about the uber politeness of  Benton Fraser, the Canadian Mountie assigned to work in Chicago. (If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch.) The nice Canadian is such a tired stereotype that I’m a little embarrassed to acknowledge I found it to be true, at least as far as Nova Scotia is concerned—-New Brunswick, too, which we passed through on our way to and from.

Not just polite, but downright nice. Folks struck up conversations with us from the next table in a restaurant, on hiking trails, at roadside overlooks. It was more than politeness; there was a real genuineness to their overtures. The bonhomie was contagious—everyone seemed friendlier in Nova Scotia. We had long, delightful chats with folks from the Philippines, China, New Zealand, and Scotland. It’s hard to define, but the truth of it was amplified as soon as we returned to the States. After 2 1/2 weeks in Nova Scotia, a Maine “I’m sorry” uttered after an accidental brush sounded mechanical, almost brusque, by comparison.

Sorry to my Canadian friends if you’re sick of hearing this cliché, but there are far worse character traits to be had. After all, niceness is a moral virtue. And I thank you for it. You brought out my best self.

Speaking of niceness, I found it particularly touching that from the first Canadian we met to the last, as soon as someone knew we were from North Carolina, the first words out of their mouths were about Hurricane Florence. Almost to a person. They’d been following the news, they’d mourned the losses, they commiserated with us.  Even though the Gnome and I were virtually unaffected by the hurricane’s wrath, we were comforted by this display of concern and caring.

Kindness in Nova Scotia extends to the environment. A friend of mine once noted about our outdoor clothesline that she didn’t know anyone else who had one. Well, if she lived in Nova Scotia, she would! Every dry day in every part of the province, we saw laundry drying in the breeze. And I was impressed to see that almost every public trash receptacle in Nova Scotia was accompanied by not one but two, and usually three, recycling units, including one for food waste. Note how well-maintained they are.

Containers for almost all ready-to-serve beverages, not just soft drinks, are recycled. Got a half-gallon orange juice carton? An individual apple juice carton? Recyclable. They’ve been doing this for more than twenty years! (We didn’t realize until too late that we’d been paying deposits on all our containers and could have gotten refunds. Guess we’ll  file that info away till our next visit.)

Nova Scotians are serious about their recycling. Every Airbnb, every restaurant, every attraction we visited featured recycling bins. Good for them.

And what could be more hospitable than to discover a set of red Adirondack chairs waiting for you at random scenic spots? The red chair program was first put into place by Canada’s national park system. Now, it seems to be a ubiquitous trend. We found them at other public venues as well as in the backyards of several of our Airbnb hosts. We relaxed in them every chance we got. Is there a better way to invite your guests to stay a while?

Even the postal boxes are festive and welcoming.

There’s another side to the people of Nova Scotia: their sense of humor. We encountered it over and over. There was the sign at the entrance to the Telegraph House in Baddeck exhorting guests to avoid trying to close the screen door, stating that “he is lazy and will close in his own time.”

There were more examples. For instance . . .

This public sculpture on the Halifax Boardwalk, titled Got Drunk, Fell Down, features not only the ‘drunk’ lamp post but its friend whose head hangs in embarrassment and (a little further away but unseen in this photo) a less engaged post who’s trying to ignore the whole thing.) Poignant, yes, but also funny.

Granted, this Disney cruise ship isn’t from Nova Scotia, but that’s where we saw it. We couldn’t help smiling at this scene.

I have no idea why we happened to pull off the road at this particular spot, but when we did, we came upon this sign. I’m glad we stopped. It gave us a chance to . . .

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do our part to keep the sea serpents at bay.

Pitch perfect sign on the bathroom door of a Yarmouth restaurant

We’d gotten used to seeing Nova Scotia houses painted in happy reds, purples, greens, and yellows. But this is the only one we saw that actually IS a painting. Gotta love the whimsy of it.

And then we saw this ‘news’ notice in the North Shore Community Museum—a new take on fascinators that highlights the amount of snow likely to be found in that part of Cape Breton.

With that chuckle, I say a nostalgic goodbye to our Nova Scotia road trip and will return to my usual fare of Living on the Diagonal miscellany.

Canadian Road Signs

(A couple of final looks back at our fall 2018 road trip to Nova Scotia. Such good times to remember! Maybe one day soon . . .)

I’m sure Nova Scotia’s pictogram road signs are universally standard, but The Gnome and I had never seen the likes of some of them before. Maybe we live sheltered lives. Or maybe we’d just been alone together too long. Whatever the reason, the road signs we saw along our Canadian travels finally started to crack us up. We did struggle with some, and then we started making up our own messages. Here are some examples.

It was the exclamation point that first got our attention. What could this say, we wondered: Hey, Mom, watch this? Don’t dive from a pyramid? “Running down a vertical slope is exclamation-point-worthy?” The chain link fence separating us from a sheer cliff-drop into the ocean might have given us a clue. Good advice in any case.

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Don’t know why, but we found this odd–a private railroad crossing.

dump truck

Doesn’t this look like a warning that a dump truck is about to crash into a wall? Look again–it actually means construction equipment may be entering the highway somewhere nearby.

Wow, those Canadians and their speed limits! Oh, wait, that’s kilometers, not miles per hour. Quick, calculate!

This one? Maybe mountains ahead? Nope. It means the road’s about to get bumpy

After trying to interpret some of the more obtuse road signs, we decided this one meant “No tossing a tin can from your car window when the lid’s still attached.”

I loved the extensiveness of informational signage and was impressed by the wifi notice, but do you know what some of the other images mean?

DSCF3914You may have seen this on a previous post, but it fits here, too. It took us a while to figure it out. It looks like cuts of meat or something on top of two capital H’s. Soon enough we learned it means the pavement is about to end in favor of gravel–or worse.

The next one’s not a road sign, but we did find it in Canada.

Okay, I know it’s done differently in different places, but I’d simply never seen anything like this sign before. Sitting in my stall, I laughed out loud–mostly because I could never manage the first position!

It’s good to laugh. We did plenty on our trip.

Joggins and Home

(The end of this reprise of our 2018 trip to Nova Scotia comes to a close with this post. But stay tuned for a couple of extras coming soon. To ‘travel’ virtually with us from the beginning, click here.)

Bittersweet is the best that can be said for what was to be our last day in Nova Scotia. To ensure as much time as possible in Cape Breton, we had planned this to be a long travel day. It would take us practically to the border with New Brunswick, in the tiny rural community of Joggins. So tiny that AAA couldn’t find it to map out this portion of our trip. So tiny even a number of Nova Scotians didn’t recognize the name. Yet Joggins is home to yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. The Joggins Fossil Cliffs contain the most complete fossil record of life during the Coal Age, 300 million years ago. That’s a full hundred million years before the dinosaurs, so these fossils, preserved in the very place they lived, are the dinosaurs’ ancestors. Some of the fossils found here are giant insects. According to the Joggins Fossil Cliffs website, this is the only place on earth where you can view these rare plant and animal fossils in situ. Well, I was impressed! 

The tide is out at Joggins Fossil Cliffs. It will rise by an astounding 43 feet at high tide, cutting off access to the beach area.

See the tiny person in the middle foreground. You must walk down many, many steps from the top of the cliffs to reach the beach, something like 75, as I recall. That’s about six or seven stories! But we did it.

Giant insect?

We stayed the night at a true bed and breakfast inn, though we’d found it through Airbnb. We were joined by a young couple driving from Halifax to be with family for Canada’s Thanksgiving weekend. The four of us enjoyed a visit in the living room where we shared our respective’ backgrounds and learned a bit about cultural similarities and differences while enjoying some of our host’s homemade wine. Not only does Bridget own and run the B&B and make wine, but she’s also begun a business manufacturing buckwheat pillows—and she’s a former international professional singer, besides. (And her breakfast was fabulous!)

Crab Apple Inn, Joggins, Nova Scotia

The next day saw us driving across New Brunswick and into Maine. Though the leaves had only just begun changing color in Nova Scotia, they were really showing off in New Brunswick.

Not be the sharpest photos ever taken, but hey . . .

we were going 110! (in kilometers, of course)

Crossing the border back into the States was harrowing—at least the waiting was. We’d read that we needed to itemize all our purchases and have them and all receipts readily available for inspection, so we’d spent a long couple of evenings getting our documentation and souvenirs organized. Though we’d practically sailed into Canada (no lines and only a single benign question by the border agent), we waited here for close to forty-five minutes. Plenty of time for us to begin feeling guilty for merely imagined offenses. Cameras were watching from every angle. We tried to look innocent and nonchalant. Did that make us look like crooks instead? Our unease only increased when the border patrol unlocked and entered the RV in line in front of us.

Finally, it was our turn. We were asked the nature of our visit, if we’d enjoyed our stay, and whether we’d purchased anything other than souvenirs, personal gifts, and incidentals. That was it. A lot of worry for nothing.

In Maine, we made a little detour to stay in Seal Harbor, right at an entrance to Acadia National Park, a place I’ve always yearned to visit. Was it exhaustion as we were nearing the end of our travels? Was it being surrounded by so many leaf-peekers and their vehicles after so much Nova Scotia tranquility? Whatever the reason, we were underwhelmed. It was the only disappointment of our twenty-five-day journey, but it was about to be made up for in a big way!

We made one last detour before the big push to get home. When we’d come across an Airbnb listing in the small village of Newbury, Vermont, we added a day to our itinerary just so we could take it in. Everything about our host, her home, her village seemed so iconically New England.

And so it turned out to be. The home we stayed in is almost two hundred years old on a street of similarly aged residences, mostly modest clapboard homes with gabled fronts. Most of the village’s structures were built either between 1790 and 1860 or in the ten years following a devastating fire in 1913.

Not every residential neighborhood is on a town’s Main Street, which, in this case, is also Vermont Highway 5. Never was there a quieter thoroughfare. Between the residences is the core of the village, the Village Common, a large green space for public use. The village hall, village school, and Methodist Church sit on one edge of the Common. The entire village, flanked by the Connecticut River, is a historic district.

Simply idyllic. Just our style.

Linda, our host, is a professional photographer. She works in black and white, uses old cameras with actual film, and has her own darkroom. Like the Gnome, she collects cameras. (I told her she should count them before we left–wink, wink.)

She was kind enough to take us on a walking tour of her charming village the next morning. We passed the Village Common, the school, the church, the post office, the village hall, the public library. We stopped for chats with other morning strollers. We talked about the village’s history and Vermont’s fabled town meetings. We took in the village store (the oldest country store in Vermont) for a steaming cup of coffee and yummy homemade cinnamon rolls, then sat on the steps to chow down. We dropped in at the bank to study old black and white pictures of the fire.

The bank is closed on Saturdays, but our host has a key. (It seems that the few villagers who lock their doors share their keys with the neighbors.) Linda loves her hometown and its history, and it shows.

Unfortunately, sometime between our return home and getting to this point in my travel diary, the last two hundred or so photos mysteriously disappeared from our camera. I had to resort to Google to find a couple of photos to share. 

Newbury Village Store. Photo credit: redjar [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Tenney Public Library, Newbury Village, VT. Photo credit: Magicpiano [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Newbury Village UCC Church. Photo credit: wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/56/NewburyVT_UCCChurch.jpg

Just because our travels are over, don’t think I’m through writing about Nova Scotia, There are still a couple of reflective posts (and, of course, photos), so I hope you’ll come back to see what they are.

Cabot Trail, Part II

(While we’re all busy keeping safe by staying home, you might like to join me on a recap of my 2018 road trip with The Gnome to Nova Scotia.  This week, we’re on the second leg of the breathtaking Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. and I recently took a long (and long-awaited) road trip throughout Nova Scotia. To read about—and see—it from the beginning, click here.)

It was almost mid-afternoon on our trek around the Cabot Trail when we stepped into a small museum near Dingwall (on the northern edge of Cape Breton Highlands National Park) for a much-needed bathroom break. A couple of (very) young women from New Zealand had the same idea. (Amazing how you meet people from all over the world on the trail!) They were cycling the trail from the opposite direction. While we were going downhill, they’d been climbing all day, since dawn, in the chilly rain. How I felt for them!

I had to chuckle at the sign on the inside of the bathroom door. It said something to the effect of, “We get it. You really need to go,” and welcomed folks to use the amenities (they are few and far between on the trail), but it also asked for a donation if you planned to skip the museum itself. Fair enough! We decided to take it in, though. It was surprisingly professional and enlightening, especially for such a tiny place. There’s even an area for genealogical research.

We saw lots of informational exhibits like this one at the North Highlands Community Museum which explains why all the island’s small communities are so tightknit. Note how doctors made house calls well into the mid-20th century!

Oh, my! I sat at a desk like these in my rural elementary school.

The pleasant woman staffing the museum told us she thought the part of the trail still ahead of us was its prettiest section. That was hard to believe, given the vistas of our previous two days. Turned out she was right, though the day was so stormy it wasn’t such a good picture-taking day. We decided to come back for more the next day, which was less rainy, but extraordinarily windy and often almost as hazy. Still, we took lots of photos. (You knew we would!) 

We took a few damp hikes, including the bog walk at which, if we’d been there a few hours earlier, we’d have surely seen moose—we sure saw lots of tracks. We also hiked the short trail to this Scottish Highland shieling, a hut to shelter crofters (farmers) and their livestock from the brutal weather on the moutaintops. And we hiked enough of the Skyline Trail to see . . .

this! After 49 years’ worth of trips searching in vain, we were able to prove to ourselves once and for all that moose are not the mythical creatures we’d begun to believe them to be.

From the road far below, you can see folks that made it to the end of the Skyline Trail, at least with binoculars—or a telephoto lens.

Photos of the curvy, coast-hugging Cabot Trail, where the mountains kiss the sea.

Our destination was Chéticamp. Little did we know that on one of our look-off stops, our camera had captured an image of the home where we’d be spending the next couple of nights.DSCF5596 Our charmed, and charming, hosts had found themselves one of the most perfect places on earth to live. Not only is their home on the edge of the Chéticamp River (which they often kayak, lucky ducks!), but on the opposite side of the river is the majestic park itself. From their huge living room windows, they can also see where the river empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Where else could you get that kind of view? It was a good way to end our trip around the park.

The view from the living room window includes this mountainous cliff, part of Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

This spit of land is all that separates the river from the ocean, also seen from our hosts’ living room window. How cool is that?!

Come back for the last days of our travel adventure and some more reflections, won’t you?

The Cabot Trail, Part I

((I’m reposting a travel series from a couple of years ago. If you’re like me, you are patiently (or maybe not so patiently) waiting for a safe return to the road. If so, how about traveling along with me on a virtual road trip. To read about our Nova Scotia travels from the beginning, start here.)

When it comes to the Cabot Trail, the winding road that hugs the coastline in Cape Breton, much of it in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, words are a waste. Let’s just look at some pictures!

seal island bridge, sydney river

We crossed the Sydney River by way of the Seal Island Bridge (vantage point: atop Kelly’s Mountain) to reach the Cabot Trail.

Someday I want to go here to see if I can learn Gaelic. Really, I do.

The sky was angry and so was the sea! Can you see a bit of the white house hiding behind that huge spray of water in the lower right photo? (Click on individual photos for larger view.)

Cabot Trail: Anglican ChurchA stand of birch, an Anglican church, and a workshop adorned with moose antlers

DSCF5295

Scenes from Neil’s Harbour (I believe).

Meat Cove: much prettier than it sounds. You reach this beautiful spot after a very long (30 minutes or so) drive on a rutted dirt road (only to return the same way). Not much more than a campground (see the little cottages in the foreground of the bottom picture?), it’s worth the drive. They say that on a clear day you can see Newfoundland from this northernmost Nova Scotia community. We weren’t there on a clear day.

Check out all those balancing rock cairns on the rocky beach far below us at Meat Cove.

Why, yes, you can find sand on Nova Scotia’s beaches! (A wee bit, anyway.)

Freshwater Lake, Ingonish Beach

cabot trail shoreJust some pretty Cabot Trail views, even on a rainy, foggy, hazy day

Stay tuned for more on Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail.

Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore and More

(I’m reposting a travel series from a couple of years ago. If you’re like me, you are patiently (or maybe not so patiently) waiting for a safe return to the road. If so, how about traveling along with me on a virtual road trip. To read about our Nova Scotia travels from the beginning, start here.)

From Wolfville, we headed for Cape Breton Island by way of Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. The province is divided into seven geographical regions, and this one may be the least well-known. It’s surely the least visited by outsiders and maybe even other Nova Scotians. There are no towns to speak of, only communities—and small ones at that. Places with names like Ecum Secum. According to Wikipedia, the name comes from the M′ikmaq (aka Mi′kmaw) language and means ‘a red house,’ which suggests to me that may be about all that was there at the time. The nearest town of any size is Antigonish on the west coast, 45 miles away, with a population of 4,200.

As usual, we drove as close to the coast as we could get, this time on Trunk 7, also known as Marine Drive. Our Airbnb stop for the night was at Moser River, in what was billed as a former prospector’s cottage. It was an instant hit, and Gail, our Airbnb host, was simply delightful. (More about her in a future post.)

Our Moser River prospector’s cottage Airbnb and area images. (Click on individual photos for larger view.)

We were advised to stop for food or gas in the community of Sheet’s Harbor, about 30 miles away—that’s how unpopulated this place is. People here are mostly connected to either the fishing or gold mining industry.

The Eastern Shore is not a place to go if you depend on theme park style extravaganzas for entertainment (though if you time it right you can join in a sand sculpture competition, a parade, a cakewalk, or a Celtic jam session). But if you want a little solitude away from everyday hassles, it’s perfect. I can imagine hanging out here for a long weekend with a hammock and a good book or hiking boots and a walking stick. It’s the perfect retreat stop—as long as you bring your own meals. Unfortunately, we had only one night at this peaceful place.

And the next day we finally made it to the place that had held onto our hearts for so many decades, Cape Breton Island. We would be here for six days instead of the one of so long ago. It would still be too little.

But first, we made a little detour to the opposite side of the province. We kept having to remind ourselves how short a drive it is from one side to the other. This side trip was to Cape George, near the town of Antigonish. It was well worth the drive.

Our first Cape Breton stop was the town of Baddeck (pronounced Buh-DECK). We stayed at the historic Victorian-style Telegraph House, built in 1861, one of the few non-Airbnb places we stayed during our travels. At one time, the Telegraph Inn contained the office of the first Trans-Oceanic Cable Company. Some of the first telegraph messages in North America emanated from here.

Baddeck is famous for two things. It’s home to the Bras d’Or Lake (arm of gold), actually an inland sea. It’s roughly sixty miles long and thirty miles wide. Pretty darned big. And beautiful, surrounded as it is by low mountains. We could never get a photo that came near to doing it justice.

Baddeck is also where Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell lived for the latter half of their lives. It was here that Bell established a research laboratory—the first Bell Labs. He used the lake to test his huge kites, hydrofoil boats, and airplanes, just a few of his varied research projects.

Of course, there’s a museum, and since the Gnome is interested in anything having to do with inventiveness, we had to go.

Married as I am to someone who observes every little thing, I was especially drawn to this quote memorialized in the museum.

I was impressed to learn that Bell was much more interested in his work teaching deaf students (Mabel was deaf), and later with aviation, than with his best-known invention, the telephone. In fact, he was rarely interested in following through with any of his inventions after the initial creation; he was ready to move on to the next thing, leaving the details to others.

The highlight of our time in Baddeck had to be finding a ceilidh (KAY-lee), or kitchen party, where we got to listen to some lively traditional Cape Breton tunes by fiddler Mike Hall. Mike didn’t just play; he talked about the history of the music and how the Scottish Highlanders who were driven from their homelands with no instruments or written music managed to keep their musical tradition alive and true to its roots. It was mesmerizing—and quite different from the bluegrass jams we attend at home.

Cape Breton is where you might hear not only English and French, but also Gaelic and Mi′kmaq, an Algonquin language. It was fascinating to see multi-lingual signs everywhere. Appropriately, top billing usually matched the primary culture and language of a given area, as far as I could tell. Here’s a little Gaelic for you: Fàilte gu Cridhe Gàidhealach Albainn Ùr.  (Don’t bother trying to pronounce it—it sounds nothing like you’d think if English is your primary language.) As best I can determine, it translates to “welcome to the heart of New Highland Scotland.”

We left Baddeck by way of Iona, traveling ever so briefly on a cable ferry to Grand Narrows, then on to Sydney and the Cabot Trail, the subject of my next blog post.

Here comes the ferry. Short crossing—very short.

(Check back next week for more of our Nova Scotia travels as we head to the famed Cabot Trail and Cape Breton Highlands National Park.)

A Couple of Nova Scotia’s Historical Sites

(I’m reposting a travel series from a couple of years ago. If you’re like me, you are patiently (or maybe not so patiently) waiting for a safe return to the road. If so, how about traveling along with me on a virtual road trip. To read about our Nova Scotia travels from the beginning, start here.)

In previous posts about our visit to Nova Scotia, I’ve mentioned a couple of sites that deeply moved me, promising to delve into them later. Today, I’m keeping that promise with memories and photos of our visits to Grand Pre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Canadian Museum of Immigration.

A little history is called for here. The Canadian encyclopedia entry about the Acadians of Grand Pré begins this way: “Soldiers rounding up terrified civilians, expelling them from their land, burning their homes and crops ‒ it sounds like a 20th century nightmare in one of the world’s trouble spots, but it describes a scene from Canada’s early history, the Deportation of the Acadians.” The story of the expulsion of Acadians from Grand Pré is painfully evocative of our own Trail of Tears history, when the Cherokee were led on a forced march from the east to Oklahoma.

In French, the forced deportation was known as le grand dérangement. Sounds fitting. Since 1604, Acadians had created a thriving, peaceful community in the Bay of Fundy area. During their 150 years here, they developed an impressive dyke system to control the bay’s high tides, a method still in use today; they developed and maintained a rich agriculture; they created a massive and gorgeous landscape

The arduous task of building earthen dykes to hold back the Bay of Fundy’s high tides

A  typical Acadian farmstead

An image of  an Acadian day in the fields

A portion of the 3200-acre landscape of Grand Pre’

Meanwhile, the British and French were engaged in a long tug of war over Nova Scotia. The Acadians had sworn neutrality in any conflict between the two countries, but that wasn’t enough for the British governor. In 1755, he hatched a plan to surround their churches, threatening entire families with bayonets, while breaching the dykes and burning homes and crops. The first 3,000 deportees were sent to Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Georgia while 7,000 more were shipped to other British colonies, France, and the Caribbean during the next seven years.

Try putting your family in this scene:  panicked flight, trying to stay together, leaving everything–everything–behind forever.

People found themselves left, like Longfellow’s Evangeline, to wander fruitlessly in search of the families they’d been separated from. That, too, sounds all too familiar in today’s troubled times. (Only later did Acadians find their way to Louisiana because of their familiarity with the language. Thus did the Cajun culture become established.)

Detail of the statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s heroine, Evangeline. It graces the entrance to the memorial church built in the early 20th century which serves as a museum today. It was a church at this approximate location where British soldiers set up headquarters, rounded up the village’s men and boys, and told them their land, livestock, and almost everything they owned were to be forfeited to the Crown, and that their families were to be deported.

By 1764, the British government allowed small groups of Acadians to return, but they didn’t return to their former lands—nothing was left for them there. Instead, those who returned settled on the mainland and in Cape Breton. It was, indeed, as the Acadian Shores restaurant patron we overheard had said, a shameful moment in Nova Scotia’s history.

But Nova Scotia can at least be proud of how it owns up to inglorious historical moments. I was impressed by this trait both here and at the Canadian Museum of Immigration, located in Halifax.

Even before you pay your admission fee to the immigration museum, the Wheel of Conscience almost smacks you in the face with its raw power. A circular steel structure about six feet in diameter, the wheel includes names of the approximately one thousand Jews who were aboard the MS St. Louis in May 1939, the eve of World War II. They were fleeing Nazi Germany, seeking and being refused entry into Canada and other countries, including the United States. With nowhere to go, the ship was forced to return to Germany where a quarter of its passengers ultimately died in concentration camps. 

 The kinetic sculpture also features four rotating, interlocking gears, each one larger than the one before and each emblazoned in red with a single word—from smallest to largest: hatred, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism. As visitors study the sculpture, they can’t help but see their own reflected faces looking back at them.

Inside, the exhibits are equally powerful. The museum is located in the very place, Halifax’s Pier 21, where more than a million immigrants came into Canada between 1928 and 1971. It’s logical that the museum would tell what that experience was like.

But the museum is more than that. It also tells the story of 400 years of immigration to Canada, and it takes an even broader approach, looking at refugee life as a whole, documenting through both visual and oral exhibits the horrors that force people to leave their home countries.

What horrific conditions would cause you to make this kind of journey? For how long? To what unknown future?

Imagine living in a tent this size with your entire family and all your very limited possessions, buckets for washing yourselves, your food, your dishes, and more. Imagine living here for up to eighteen years–or more? What would have brought you here?

Some of these painful exhibits come with a warning: “Not suitable for some visitors.” I tend to shy away from such stories, but I think we should force ourselves to face them so we can remember—cannot forget—the realities that send people fleeing all they know in hopes of finding a better life, a safer place, for their families. I did not photograph them.

Among other displays we visited were life-size replicas of a ship’s cabin, a life raft meant for eight that carried as many as thirty refugees, a child’s trunk, a family’s crate carrying everything they could cram in.

You can read notes handwritten on cardboard luggage tags from previous museum visitors who had immigrated, and you can watch videos of immigrants telling their personal stories. As moving as these exhibits are, what touched me most was finding myself in the company of a number of immigration ‘veterans,’ individuals who had landed at the immigration center in Halifax—at this very site when they were mere children. Other visitors were children of immigrants who had come through the port of Halifax. It was truly humbling to hear their stories, to be in their presence.

We didn’t want our visit to Nova Scotia to be touristy; we didn’t intend to spend much time inside museums. Our trip was meant to be about getting a feel for day-to-day life in the province and getting to know real-life Bluenosers while soaking in the phenomenal natural beauty of this place. But I’m really glad we took time out to visit these two sites. They, too, tell a story about the real Nova Scotia. And the rest of the world, in the past and, unfortunately, the present. They remind us about ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ as well as hope and the possibility of redemption.

This moving piece of public art, “The Emigrant,” near the Immigration Museum, pays tribute to those who have said goodbye to their families, hopefully temporarily, in search of a better life for all of them.

(Check back next time for more of our Nova Scotia travels.)