A total of 26 trips in 100 days through four countries in 2010.
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Following a delayed and circuitous route to Nova Scotia (don’t get me started with airline delays) I arrived in Halifax, Canada by evening. So did my friend, Barb, from Colorado and that left us with a day to explore the city before our photography workshop with Bryan Peterson. But, I was also left without my luggage.
We began walking in the direction of the Old Burying Ground across from Government House (circa 1799) which reminded me of civic buildings in Belfast or Edinburgh. I’d passed a statue of Queen Victoria on my taxi ride into town, giving another UK feel to the city.
The haunting old cemetery dates back to 1749 and holds over 12,000 graves but only 1,200 headstones. A number of the markers are carved with detailed motifs common to the 1700-1800’s and contain poignant epitaphs honoring the deceased. Stopping here brought a personal connection to the early maritime history of the province.
We strolled along Barrington Street to St Paul’s, the first church built in Nova Scotia and the oldest building in Halifax. The church survived the tremendous explosion of 1917 when two warships carrying TNT collided in the harbor. The resulting fire, said to be the largest blast before the atomic bomb, caused a death toll of 1,900 with an additional 9,000 injured.
Reaching City Hall, we headed uphill toward the Citadel, one of the most visited National Historic Sites in Canada. Rightly so; this stronghold presents living history, costume and color, plus a grand view of the seaport below. The star-shaped enclosure was built in the19th century as a British fortification with multiple lookouts. I reckon it would be nearly impossible for a surprise attack.
Every noon the 78th Highlanders perform a gun ceremony and blast the canon atop the Citadel. Unfortunately, we just missed the event but encountered a friendly bagpiper dressed in a green plaid kilt. Another member of the regiment, festooned with an ostrich-feathered hat, took us on a tour of the musket galleries, garrison cells and parade grounds. Barb and I snapped away at the photo worthy changing of the guard and smaller canon firing by the royal artillery.
We then stopped at corner of Argyle and Sackville Street for lunch at Durty Nelly’s, an authentic Irish Pub which was designed and built in Ireland and shipped to Canada. The restaurant sports an elongated wooden bar and apparently is ‘ the place’ for listening to the Craic, what the Irish call storytelling and partying. FYI- My seafood chowder was mighty fine, too.
Halifax boasts a deep, natural harbor, actually the second-largest in the world which called for investigation. A ferry crosses the harbor to and fro Dartmouth so we grabbed a seat and began photographing the skyline and waterfront. Apparently you can ride all day on your $2.50 ticket. Sadly, we did not leave time for The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, the city’s signature museum. To be honest, my feet were killing me as I’d worn heeled boots on the plane and they were my only shoe choice. If I ever return I’d like to see the Titanic displays in the museum. Halifax was closest to the tragic sinking of the oceanliner.
We strolled along the restored buildings on the wharf, a popular tourist haven, and stopped into Nova Scotia Crystal. To my surprise, we found crystal being mouth blown, hand-cut and etched right there in the factory. Irish artisans hoping to keep their craft alive opened the facility in 1996 and it remains the singular crystal manufacturer in Canada. Each master craftsmen, from glass blower to cutter, have apprenticed their skills for a minimum of ten years. The showroom pieces glisten in the light and tempt purchase, but watching the operation remains the best part.
After just one day in the walking- friendly city, I felt I had it under control. The layout is straight forward and pretty directionally unchallenging. The thing I will remember was the aura of welcome emanating from the citizens: the baristas in Starbucks,the regimental members in the Citadel, the waiters and waitresses and workers on the ferry. They couldn’t have made a tourist feel more appreciated, something I don’t usually perceive in American cities. At the time, I did not know the awe inspiring sense of wonder I would garner from the Oceanstone Inn near Peggy’s Cove, but, I left Halifax grateful to have taken the extra day to tour and connect.
If you go:
The Halliburton, a boutique hotel, became an excellent choice for downtown lodging within easy walking distance of all the sites. The inn, now connected with three townhouse-style buildings, was built in 1809 for the Nova Scotia Supreme Court’s first chief justice. Their small restaurant offered service and food far above expected and really quite sensational.
Read also about lodging at the Oceanstone Inn in my previous article here: A Mystical Escape in Nova Scotia.
When one arrives in Nova Scotia they enter the spellbinding zone of tidal time. On this Canadian province Mother Nature takes charge with clocklike precision, her tides ebb predictably and massively.
In fact, the miraculous shift of water in Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy is the highest in the world. Twice a day 115 billion tons of water move in and out causing a rise and fall of 20, 30, often 40 feet. During a full moon and high winds, Bay of Fundy tides rise as high as fifty feet as if to emphasize the smallness of man relative to nature.
Upon arrival, I was greeted with beguiling moonlight and the seductive sloshing of waves lulling me to sleep as they broke near my door. The fullness of the beach emerged with morning’s low tide, reminding me of the regularity of the universe: spring follows winter, rain falls, the sun rises.
If you head in the direction of famed Peggy’s Cove, a tiny fishing village known for its iconic lighthouse, you pass Indian Harbour where the sprawling Oceanstone Inn dons the landscape. Seven maritime cottages pepper the estate creating a private, romantic retreat, one of simple, rustic splendor and homey comforts. You kick-off your shoes and feel at ease, time slows and distractions fade. Nature’s vibes seep through my toes and feet.
Owners Ron and Carole Ron MacInnis manage the establishment with a benevolent spirit. They welcome each guest as family and coax them to relax and enjoy the glorious gardens and magical coast. Ron, the resident Thoreau, is a peaceful environmentalist concerned with discovering life’s spiritual needs. He’ll quote a line of poetry to make a point in the most charming way. Carole, on the other hand, darts about the grounds like a fire-fly. She is Goldilocks delivering baskets of breakfast goodies or offering help whenever needed.
I decided to venture along the property’s shoreline, negotiating a challenging, tiered mound of rocks. A torrent of random thoughts entered my head: be strong and tenacious, withstand the gusty storms just like these stones. But at the same time, be free to wander akin to the pebble I tossed in the ocean. I picked up another and rubbed my fingers along its smooth worn edges, perhaps a reminder to soften my own. Then, I simply sat, breathed, absorbed the sun’s warmth and began to feel radiant.
Next morning, I awoke before sunrise and slipped out on the upper deck of my two-story cabin, the Crow’s Nest. I stared to my right at the stalwart beacon of a tiny dilapidated light station. Paddy’s Head Lighthouse shined brightly within the vibrant, planetarium-clear night sky. I tiptoed down the cottage stairs to a small kitchen and brewed morning coffee. Sinking into a dreamlike stupor, I surrendered and relished the nothingness of the moment.
At dawn, my group and I departed to photograph the famous red and white lighthouse of Peggy’s Cove. Ghostly filaments of mist gradually evaporated as lavender skies awakened the coast. We carefully crossed over massive granite slabs; their elemental strength bespeaking ancient age. The Cove thrives as a stopping place for tourists, the most photographed destination in Canada, but also offers a pause for inward reflection. I listened and heard the repetitive beating of my heart as it matched the rhythm of the sea.
The wonderment of a new day emerged with gulls flying and squawking a cheery greeting. The treacherous taunts of the Atlantic turned more playful, frolicking and shooting salty spray over the gray behemoth boulders, only to retreat with a whimper. Again, I aligned with the ebb and flow of the tides.
Nova Scotia is home to some fabulous fishing and luscious lobster beckons as a decadent treat. After indulging in the savory crustacean, I practically dove onto a bed of yellow-green kelp to capture a picturesque shot. As kelp sustains sea life, I found it nourished my soul.
I returned to the lighthouse in the late afternoon and eyed purple hues and shades of mauve glittering off the water. They danced a sensuous bolero that I longed to join. The wind’s chill bore down on my skin stealing my concentration and resisting my attempts to stay warm.
Suddenly, low angled rays hit the windows of a small house reflecting a fiery golden glow. The scene looked so hauntingly dramatic and surreal. Was I actually in such a mystical place?
Eventually the sun set and an ancient Celtic ballad rose in the air sounding like a bagpiper’s lament. It’s been said there are thin places where the dividing line between the spiritual and ordinary come closer. Indeed, Nova Scotia is such a place and I lingered betwixt and between.
If you go: Oceanstone Inn and Cottages