Saturday, April 16, 2011

Day 1 – Arrival in Halifax

Wednesday, June 22

Welcome to Nova Scotia in the Canadian Maritimes. The first thing we'll do is move our watches forward one hour to Atlantic Time. We're so far east that we're due north of Hamilton, Bermuda.

After stopping by our hotel, if time allows we'll head downtown to get acquainted with Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia (New Scotland). Halifax is a small city (pop. under 140,000) located on the world's second largest natural harbor (Sydney, Australia is first), which remains ice free all winter. Halifax is the oldest British settlement in Canada, founded in 1749. Local inhabitants of Halifax are called Haligonians. I'm not making this up.

Rick's awesome poster made from a composite of 10 photographs of Halifax:

Our 11-day tour covers three provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. We'll all need a passport, so make sure yours is valid. Bring your ATM card, but no traveler's checks (no one will accept them). Canadian dollar coins are called "loonies," because they depict a loon. CAD 2 coins are called "twoonies."

Halifax Historic District (photo): Many visitors say Halifax reminds them of a mini-Boston. It sits on the west side of the harbor, opposite the city of Dartmouth. A commuter ferry connects the two, and the short ride offers splendid views of Halifax on the return.

Practical matters: Our first hotel is the Hilton Garden Inn out near the airport, where our coach tour participants will assemble. The hotel has an ATM machine in the lobby, as well as an on-site convenience store and casual restaurant serving throughout the day.

We have a tour orientation meeting at 8:00 pm at our hotel, so we'll get to meet our other coach tour travelers and guide. Days 2 through 9 will find us on a commercial motorcoach tour operated by Caravan.

Average high temps this time of year: 68 degrees F; average lows 52 degrees F, so pack a sweater or light jacket and bring an umbrella. Note: Electricity is the same as in the U.S., so no need to take a converter.

Day 2 – Cape Breton Island (Chéticamp)

Thursday, June 23

Scenic Cape Breton Island (above).

We begin our motorcoach tour on a morning drive to the northeast toward Cape Breton Island. We begin with an encounter with the First Nation people of Nova Scotia at the Mi’kmaq heritage center. We'll learn about their history, legends and present day life. Look out for the really big Indian.

We continue to Cape Breton Island. We'll traverse inspiring mountain and coastal scenery en route to Chéticamp. We'll spend two nights in this French-speaking Acadian fishing village. The Cape Bretoners are renowned for celebrating with traditional Celtic and Acadian music and dance.

Cape Breton Island lies northeast of mainland Nova Scotia.

Group dinner tonight, overnight at  Laurie’s Inn in Chéticamp. St. Peter's church dominates the town's harbor area.

Day 3 – Whale Watching

Friday, June 24

A morning whale watching cruise (weather permitting) brings us up close to these magnificent sea creatures. Cape Breton Island’s waters are the seasonal home to many whales. We'll likely see fin, minke, and pilot whales, as well as dolphins and porpoises.

Our afternoon is at leisure in Chéticamp, where we'll spend a second night at Laurie’s Inn. Chéticamp is a small fishing village populated by Acadians, whose native tongue is a special French dialect. They are famous for their crafts, chiefly elaborate hooked rugs.

Saint Pierre Catholic church, built in 1893, dominates the harbor area in Chéticamp. The locals used horses to haul stones across the ice when the church was constructed. Parishioners donated one work day per month until the structure was completed. St Peter's contains one of the first Casavant pipe organs (1904), for which Canada is still famous. It is a modest one-manual instrument of 10 stops.

Day 4 – Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Island

Saturday, June 25


On the famed Cabot Trail, we'll motor through forests, mountains and valleys in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Ocean scenery and rugged cliffs are on offer from Pleasant Bay to Cape Smokey.

Next we drive to Baddeck to visit the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, dedicated to the inventor of the telephone, who made his home here. One of the highlights of the museum is a replica of his hydrofoil invention (photo below).

We stay two nights in the resort town of Baddeck (see map Day 2).

A group dinner tonight.

Auberge Gisele's Inn

Friday, April 15, 2011

Day 5 – Fortress of Louisbourg

Sunday, June 26

We'll make a visit to the Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton, where we can stroll through this 18th-century stronghold, as actors bring to life colorful characters and events from Louisbourg’s past.  The is the "Williamsburg" of Nova Scotia, since it was rebuilt in the 1960s to its appearance in 1744, when Louisbourg was an important French military capital and seaport.

Afternoon at leisure in Baddeck for our second overnight at Auberge Gisele's Inn.

Day 6 – Prince Edward Island

Monday, June 27

We drive to mainland Nova Scotia to board a ferry to the picturesque province of Prince Edward Island, where we pass over unspoiled farmlands en route to Prince Edward Island National Seashore Park, a 25-mile long sliver of land protecting some of Canada’s best beaches. The seashore park is home to red sand beaches and bluffs, wetlands, red fox and great blue heron and over 300 species of birds. These beaches on the island's north central coast are among the best in Canada.

Life moves at a slower pace on Prince Edward Island, a quality valued by its many visitors. PEI is a flat expanse of land only 120 miles long, located in the Gulf of St Lawrence, east of New Brunswick and north of Nova Scotia. The island's namesake Prince Edward (1767-1820) was the father of Queen Victoria. As the son of England's King George III, Prince Edward was a British military officer posted to Halifax in 1791. He became official commander of all British forces in North America in 1799.

There will be a group dinner tonight, and we'll enjoy the first of a 2 night stay in Brackley Beach, a mere speck of a town adjacent to the national seashore park, 25 minutes north of Charlottetown, the capital (pop. 40,000) of PEI. Brackley Beach is shown on the above map as a red dot.

North Wind Inn and Suites. Indoor heated pool, outdoor hot tub, complimentary WiFi, landscaped walking path.

Day 7 – Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown

Tuesday, June 28

This morning centers on the world of Anne of Green Gables. We'll visit the Anne of Green Gables House in Cavendish, where we'll stroll through Lover’s Lane and other settings from the literary classic. In the cemetery in Cavendish is the grave of Lucy Maud Montgomery, creator of a literary institution, Anne of Green Gables. Anne Shirley, heroine of the Anne of Green Gables stories, has spawned a thriving tourism industry on Prince Edward Island, where Montgomery was born. You’ll see more than one freckle faced girl sporting pigtails. The first of the eight books was published in 1908 and was a hit from the get go.

The Green Gables house, once owned by a Montgomery relative, was the inspiration for the house in the title. There is a farm/house museum where the author got married, a living history village with costumed re-enactors, plus Montgomery's birthplace and gravesite. “Anne of Green Gables: The Musical,” in its 44th season, is North America's longest-running musical.In case you haven't suspected, Cavendish really milks the Anne of Green Gables connection. A lot.

Charlottetown, the capital of Prince Edward Island, has a mere 35,000 residents. In fact, some liken PEI to Martha's Vineyard 30 years ago. We'll make a brief sightseeing tour of Charlottetown in the afternoon before returning to Brackley Beach for an overnight.

Province House, the seat of government in Charlottetown.

Day 8 – New Brunswick, Bay of Fundy

Wednesday, June 29

We’ll travel to the province of New Brunswick to see her most famous geological feature, the Flowerpot Rocks at Hopewell Cape (see video below). Tidal erosion has carved the sandstone rocks into fanciful free-standing sculptures that are decidedly top heavy. The rocks were once connected to the shore line.

Next we’ll witness the gradual rise (or fall) of the Bay of Fundy tides, an average change of 6 to 8 feet per hour. The Fundy Tides are the highest on earth and in some places rise and fall an astounding 40-50 feet. Twice each day one-hundred-billion tons of water flow into the Bay of Fundy. This creates the phenomenal Fundy Tides, which overpower the rivers flowing into the Bay of Fundy and reverse their direction two times a day.

City of Halifax, capital of Nova Scotia.

We leave New Brunswick to motor to the lively oceanfront city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The town was established in 1749 and is named after George Dunk, second Earl of Halifax (it was a great stroke of luck that they didn’t name the place Dunk, Nova Scotia). We’ll enjoy a three night stay at the ideally located waterfront Marriott hotel in the heart of downtown Halifax, our only urban destination on this trip.

Day 9 – Peggys Cove, Halifax

Thursday, June 30

Morning visit to the idyllic fishing village and artists’ retreat known as Peggys Cove (population 120; the lack of an apostrophe is not a typo), with a photo op at the classic red and white octagonal lighthouse, set atop a huge outcropping of granite. The picturesque harbor off St. Margarets Bay is the size of a postage stamp.

Then, we'll take a sightseeing drive around Halifax, including a visit to the 17th century fort, Citadel Hill, which looms 10 stories above downtown. Live interpreters strut around in kilts and bearskin hats while toodling on bagpipes, stopping to fire a cannon every day at noon.

The Old Town Clock Building (photo below) with its fanciful cupola perched on Citadel Hill has been displaying the time for the citizens of Halifax since 1803.
Afternoon at leisure in Halifax to explore the harbour area attractions and shopping within walking distance of our hotel. At the evening group dinner we'll say goodbye to the coach tour participants.

The Halifax waterfront has a bustling boardwalk with shops, restaurants, historic buildings and entertainment. Harbor cruises and the Dartmouth ferries leave from this area. A R/T Dartmouth ferry ticket with a return transfer good for 90 minutes costs only $2.25 CAD.

As the largest employer in the region, the Navy has a huge presence in Halifax, which is home to Maritime Forces Atlantic HQ and the navy's East Coast Fleet.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 10 – Halifax (Canada Day)

Friday, July 1

We celebrate Canada’s 144th birthday with the locals. The parade starts at 10:30a in downtown Halifax on a route beginning at Sackville Street and continuing to Metro Centre.

We have reservations for a 2:30p performance of the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, an indoor extravaganza of more than 2,000 performers:  marching bands, bagpipers, drummers, choirs, acrobats, dancers, cheesy comedy and other entertainers. The day wraps up with harbourfront fireworks at 10:00 pm.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 11 -- Heading home

Saturday, July 2

After breakfast at our hotel, we head to the Halifax airport for our return flights, concluding our tour of the Canadian Maritimes.