A bend in the road… and not for the first time.

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It was near the end of the year and Jacob Will thought he knew where he was going until he didn’t. Like all plans upon the impact of the unexpected, they’re destined to change without notice. No map, GPS, or even the best of intentions will ensure an unfettered arrival. There will be turns or detours that might reveal something of value. And then again, maybe not.

But it definitely won’t be boring. #elevenlittle deaths

Words of wisdom from Alan Doyle and Russell Crowe.

One of the joys about traveling around Newfoundland while working on Arn? Narn. was learning about their culture, more specifically their music. One of my favorite groups then and now is Great Big Sea. I defy anyone to sit still while listening to their music and if you get the opportunity to attend their concerts, be prepared to have the time of your life.

Alan Doyle, the lead singer, addressed a hospitality group in Newfoundland and shared these thoughts. They’re applicable to all of us.

Great Big Sea frontman promotes province’s uniqueness

NOT ORDINARY – The message musician/actor Alan Doyle had for the delegates at Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador’s annual Conference and Trade Show in Gander last Thursday was simple — Newfoundland and Labrador is unique, and it’s this that makes it attractive to tourists. The lead singer for Great Big Sea also passed along some steps of success the band has followed during the past 21 years.

Alan Doyle has travelled around the world and rubbed shoulders with men and women from all walks of life — that’s just an ordinary day for the lead singer of Great Big Sea.However, his love and pride for his home province is not so ordinary, and he expressed his sentiments very clearly Thursday to delegates attending Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador’s annual Conference and Trade Show in Gander last week.Doyle, who was born and raised in Petty Harbour, said the best thing about Newfoundland and Labrador is its uniqueness — a uniqueness that makes it stand out globally.“The more I talk to people (about Newfoundland and Labrador through my travels) the thing I get most often if I ask ‘Why are you going? Why are you here? What’d you think of it?’ They say it’s different…they love it because it’s different,” he said. “That’s so amazing. We have something that’s different than anywhere else. We have something that’s like nowhere else in this day and age, when everything is like everything else.“I’m blown away with what we (Newfoundland and Labrador) have. The experiences we can offer people in music, geography, weird places to stay, weird meals to eat that they never had before, stories, acting, drama, bars, streets, hikes…the product, the material, the heart of what we sell to people we don’t need to make up, and I think almost everyone (else) needs to do that.”He said those involved in the hospitality and tourism industries in the province are so lucky to be from a place where the heart of what they sell is readymade.

“It’s key for us (in the tourism business) to be ourselves…people love that and it’s why they come,” he said.

To illustrate the point Doyle recounted a conversation he had with his good friend, Russell Crowe, during one of the actor’s visits to this province.

Crowe is a world-renowned actor, producer and musician, having starred in such films as Gladiator and Robin Hood.

“I wrote a song with Russell, after I asked him why he comes here, and he said he feels like he comes to a different place…he said, ‘I’ve been in Canada (Toronto and Hamilton) and now I’m in a different place…I don’t feel like I’ve been in the same place…I don’t feel that I’ve been anywhere like this place before…That doesn’t happen to me very often’,” said Doyle. “The song (Where We Belong) speaks to the heart of the unique place we’re from.”

Working advice

Doyle’s address was not just filled with anecdotes, but sprinkled with suggestions.

He offered advice on how people in the hospitality industry can keep visitors coming.

“Make a plan, be organized, and work with people —not have people work for you or you work for people,” he said, referring to some advice that was handed to him, Sean McCann and Bob Hallett from Sean’s father, Ed McCann, when they first formed Great Big Sea.

Doyle compared the entertainment business to the hospitality industry in the fact that every day a hospitality operation is open for business is showtime — just like in the music or movie industries.

“They both have a showtime, and there’s nothing more important than to be ready for showtime,” he said, noting this is something he has been more aware of since becoming friends with Crowe.

“You need to be ready. Getting ready is something you can do nine times out of 10. The most successful people are ready for what they have to do. You can’t fake being ready.”

Doyle told the audience of a recent experience he had requiring a level of readiness from a hospitality operator that proved just what he was saying about readiness brings success.

Just a few weeks ago he was stranded at the Inn when the ferry didn’t run.

However, he said, the operators of the Inn are ready for such incidents, and he was flown to St. John’s so he could meet his other obligations, while an Inn staff member drove his vehicle back to St. John’s.

“They’re ready, and I can’t stress it enough that you need to be ready.”

The third bit of advice he passed along was that in the world of business you need to do whatever it takes to be successful.

“You need to do whatever the days asks of you, not what you would hope the day would ask of, not what you thought it would ask of you, or not what is convenient, ” he said. “People need to do the good and the bad stuff…it’s the small stuff, if they go wrong, that results in big problems. You need to do whatever it takes.”

These have been three of the strategies followed by Great Big Sea, and himself, have followed to earn success.

“I wish you luck with it all,” he said in closing.

In which I get it right.

As I wrote earlier, when we were sitting in the airport, my lovely bride happened upon a postcard for a perfectly wonderful B&B. And as I wrote, I through my infinite wisdom had booked us for three nights in this wonderful place. Am I good or what?

We are now on our way to this wonderful Newfoundland version of Brigadoon, but without bagpipes. Since we are departing from the southern tip of the Avalon Peninsula and driving up to Port Rexton near Trinity, about 260 miles. Not a bad drive, 4-5 hours with stops especially if we can find a Tim Horton’s.

Typical Newfoundland bog. (eoearth.org.)

Newfoundland has been settled almost exclusively on the coast line. It is a very big coast. As we drive from Burin north, we travel mostly inland. Lots of bogs, ponds, no moose sightings, and lots of rocks and birch trees. Since everything revolved around fishing, there is hardly anything resembling a town. This is not to say no one lives out there. We pass small enclaves of homes along the way. Just what they do for employment is something we haven’t been able to determine. Still, I wouldn’t mind living there either.

As we head towards that days destination, we start to see more small towns. They are different from the outports since they are still a ways inland from the water. But it lets us know we’re almost there. And then we crest a hill and a sign for our destination appears. Hot damn! This is where I really start to look like I know what I’m doing on this trip. Fisher’s Loft is even better in real life than the beautiful image on their postcard. The views are spectacular and it’s getting on towards dinner.

We check in to our room (it’s a suite!) with an incredible vista of the bay with some small islands in it. In the distant is a fog partially covering a small mountain/hill(?) – beautiful whatever its nomenclature. We clean up and go downstairs to enjoy a drink on the front porch of the main building. At the bar is a picture of Kevin Spacey and the entire crew of the film The Shipping News. They stayed there. Oh, yes, this is getting better by the minute.

Fisher’s Loft (been-seen.com)

We finish our drinks and head into the dining room. OK, this is getting ridiculous. The dining room is decorated beautifully with hand-made furniture from a local craftsman. His furniture also occupies our room. Wait, it gets even better.

The menus arrive and this is foodie heaven. And locavore heaven. They grow all their own produce. And wine heaven. Oh hell, it’s just heaven! And this is just dinner! We almost can’t wait for breakfast. The food is marvelous.

Breakfast doesn’t disappoint – along with regular fare, there are fresh pastries from the oven and partridgeberry jam. I wrote about partridgeberry jam in an earlier post, but it bears repeating. This jam is incredible.

I don’t want to leave. I wonder if they need a groundskeeper!

Watching the fog roll around and drinking wine.

After the initial concussion of our cottage by the bay, Carla and I are acting like we live there. We could do this – downsize and do it here. We don’t need all: the clothes, furniture, tchotchkes, appliances, whatever that we have. This is life simplified. This is life without pretense, life without malls, life without Walmart. This is good.

We go to the general store up the road for all the immediate essentials we need. We get to know the shopkeeper by name. That’s easy – this is Newfoundland after all. How many times have I said that? But it’s true. We chat daily and she shares with us her nephew is in a band (all teenagers) and we ought to buy their new CD. We do. It’s really good! No, it’s very good. The group is called Eventide and they’ve recorded a number of traditional Newfoundland folk songs. We play it a lot. Even the record store in St. John’s carries it. How cool is that?

Eventide CD (freds.nf.net)

Newfoundland doesn’t have some of the hangups the US does. Admittedly, there are some states which are more liberal than others, but I’m not talking politically. I’m talking about what are reasonable expectations. If you want to buy hard liquor along with wine and beer, go to the government store for the best selection. If you just want to buy some beer or some wine, hell, then just go to the general store and get some. What’s the big deal?

It was no big deal. It was late in the afternoon, we had done about as much traveling as we wanted to, so off to the general store and pick up a bottle or two of wine. If you’re a practicing locavore, try the Canadian Jackson Trigg wine, it’s surprisingly good and affordable. So we did. Or if you’re into beer, Quidi Vidi brewery out of St. John ‘s makes some mighty fine brews. Yes, I can attest to imbibing both of those.

Oh, yeah, good stuff. (signalblog.ca)

With our larder thus and properly stocked, we went home. It was just as well. It was getting on to dusk and a fog was rolling in. Time to get out on the porch, crack open a bottle of wine, sit back, listen to the waves, watch the fog make everything look mysterious and romantic at the same time and very much alive.

Yes, life is good.

Once more into the breach dear friends, once more!

We make our plans to head once more into the… yeah, right. (celluloidheroesreviews.com)

Rested, fed, and eager to get going, we head out of St. John’s to the Burin Peninsula. This is the only place we go that I haven’t been to, so it will be a new adventure for me as well. This will take the better part of the day as it’s on the southern most tip of the larger Avalon Peninsula, right off of the Grand Banks.

The Grand Banks in happier days had some of the best cod fishing in Newfoundland. So, when we arrive, we see many of the same scenes I witnessed in my earlier trips. But it was new to Carla and my photos while accurate, could not prepare anyone for the stark reality of the moratorium’s effect. Fishing like everywhere else in the province was non-existent. It was the same story told over again.

Marystown (on the Burin), a formerly active shipbuilding community, had not had any new contracts for quite some time and was suffering because of that as well. There was some hope of a couple of government contracts, but they had yet to be decided upon. If they were to happen, it would be a godsend for that community.

Still, with all the hardship these people have endured, the Newfoundland spirit of generosity, friendliness, and hospitality was always there, ready without any need of encouragement. It really is who they are.

So we arrived to our, I think, beautiful, little cottage right on the bay. I could have moved in and stayed forever right then. I could have. Unfortunately, Carla was not as impressed as I was. It was to be a rather quiet night.

This is it. Oh, yeah, I could stay here. (trails.com)

Before I write any more, let me recap our trip thus far: we arrive very late or very early depending on your POV and get a foul-mouthed but entertaining, cab driver to take us hastily to our first night’s stay; our B&B has locked us out of our room and we can’t reach the owners; there aren’t any rooms at any inns that night in St. John’s; we dozed in the lobby of a hotel; and now this, all in two days. Not exactly the auspicious beginning I had hoped for. I’m wondering how soon can I book us a flight out of there. This is not good. All the points I had scored at the airport were now gone like wasted political capital. Re-election didn’t look so good right now.

But to paraphrase a Cat Stevens song, “Morning had broken”, and so did her mood. It was in fact quite different. She was starting to really like our little house on the water. We had stopped at a market for provisions on our way in so I set about to making some coffee, sitting out on the front porch, looking at the fog over the water, and thinking, yes, I could very easily stay here. Oh, if only. Maybe one day.

Hi Ho all over again…Part 2

After our momentous arrival in St. John’s, daylight has finally arrived and we leave the hotel, but not before tipping generously the still on-duty, unbelievably helpful concierge. We grab a taxi and head over to the airport. It is still a bit too early as the car rental counters aren’t open yet, so we just sort of sit around looking at brochures and such.

Carla wandered off to find new reading materials and pamphlets, whatever is on the racks for tourists such as her. I, an inveterate snob, no longer consider myself a tourist in Newfoundland. Hey, I’ve been “screeched.” She returns with a small pile of them.

As she’s sifting through them, she comes a cross a large postcard for a beautiful, pastoral looking B&B, photographed in a soft, romantic fog. (By the way, fog can make almost anything and anyplace look good.) She’s smitten by it. “Look at this,” she says. “Oh, this is perfect.” I, being the perfect husband, say “Yes it is. We’re staying there later on the trip.” She thinks I’m joking as I am prone to do. Not this time, I assure her. I’ve booked us there for three nights. As I wrote in the previous post, major points here! Carla’s getting excited.

Something to get excited about alright. (bedbreakfasthome.com)

The car rental counter opens, we get our car and head out. As it is still early and we are somewhat famished, we find the nearest Tim Horton‘s and indulge in good coffee and less than nourishing donut-related pastries. Finally, it’s late enough in the morning to find out why there was no room at the inn last night.

(waymarking.com)               It’s always safe at Tim Horton’s.

We raise the proprietors of our B&B and explain what happened. They check their books and determine that the person who took our reservation booked us for arriving that night. She probably got confused when I told her we were arriving very early that morning. The hosts could not be more apologetic and told us to come right over. They would get a room ready for us to crash in if we wanted to while they got our proper room ready. We got in, crashed and slept well for the next few hours. Our hosts would move all our stuff to the right room while we were out doing whatever we would do.

What we were going to do was get some lunch, show Carla around and meet up later with my photographer friend Randy and his wife Vickie for dinner. Food, drink, and rest are amazing for what they can do for the body and spirit. Thus fortified, we were ready for St. John’s, Newfoundland, and what new adventures were in front of us.

Dinner tonight, road trip tomorrow, and Burin by late afternoon. It’s good to be back.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to… (with apologies to Snow White and her minions, not to mention Steve McQueen).

In the estimation of my wife, I had become obsessed with Newfoundland. Yeah, alright, it’s true. (Could an intervention be far behind?) The two trips up there had been transformative experiences for me. Now that she had seen what I had seen, she wanted to go there. Who was I to argue?

Planning the trip was easy as she wanted to go to the places to where I’d been. Since we did not have as much time as I did originally, I planned a truncated version which I felt would give her good exposure to this land with which I’d fallen in love. Keepin’ my fingers crossed!

Our flight would get us into St. John’s well after midnight, so we would have to take a taxi to the B&B I’d booked. I stayed there on each previous trip as my starting point and didn’t see any reason to change that. Since we would be arriving late, they left me the punch-key code to get in and our room key outside our room. Cool.

As it was so late, the car rental counters were closed until later that morning. We would have to come back then and pick up our car. So, we hailed a taxi and were treated to a rapid, Bullitt-(the movie) like trip downtown. The driver was a typical friendly Newfoundlander and quite fond of using the f-word. “F” this, “F” that, entertaining to a point, but losing its charm halfway there.

(auto.howstuffworks.com)                 Our driver only thought he was Steve McQueen.

We arrive at the B&B around 1:30 AM. I punch in the code, go upstairs, schlepping the luggage up (three flights!) to our room, look for the key, and hear snoring…in our room! Since I didn’t book a semi-private room, this could not be right. I tried calling the owners several times, leaving messages, but to no avail.

But we were downtown and just a block or two away from a large hotel. Down three flights with the luggage and out on to the street. Off we went to see if there was any room at the inn. Down a hill, up a hill with our luggage in tow. (Do you think I’m making a really good impression on my wife at this point? Surly is not one of her more attractive traits.) We enter the hotel and go to the reception desk and ask for a room. No, there was no room at this inn. There was a Harley Davidson convention in town and all the rooms were booked.

Sort of like this. (examiner.com)

However, this being Newfoundland, the uber-friendly concierge started calling all, and I do mean all, the other hotels and B&B’s in town in an effort to get us lodging for the night. At 2:00 in the morning! But to no avail. The bikers weren’t the only convention in town. The other convention could have been Beanie Baby collectors for all I cared. (No, this was not starting out at all as I planned and my wife was quickly resenting this trip.)

The concierge was quite apologetic. He suggested we could leave our bags with him and go further downtown (four blocks) for food and music if we were so inclined. My wife was a bit apprehensive, no, a lot, about walking in a dark city at 2:30 in the morning. We both tried to reassure her this was OK. How could anything could be open at this hour? Hah! This is St. John’s! Off we went.

Within a couple of blocks, music of all types could be heard. People were out and about having a fine time. Before long, so were we. We got food and drink, listened to some music, and wandered safely back to the hotel where we were invited to rest in the lobby (!) until morning. Try that anywhere else and you’ll be arrested for vagrancy! In Newfoundland, you are truly welcome and they’ll go out of their way to prove it.

Later that morning, we’ll go to the airport to get our car, where I’ll make major points!

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Whoa, there’s a moose, and another, and finally St. John’s!

After escaping the clutches of the bi-churchal minister, I am now on solid ground once again, figuratively speaking, and heading back to St. John’s. I heard of a short cut that will take two hours off my impending twelve+ hour drive. Should I take it? I’ve been warned that it is not a particularly well paved road, well, not very much pavement at all – gravel really, it might be muddy and isn’t well-traveled this time if year so if you get stuck which is a very real possibility, nay probability, you could be there for a day or two, but it’s your choice. Hell, that’s no choice, that’s a challenge. I’m taking the long way home!

Yeah, right! (en.wikipedia.com)

The way I figure it, if I speed, which I will, if I continue straight through, I’ll be driving in prime moose-dodge-’em time – at speed, at night, and on the TCH, (Trans Canada Highway). Not wanting to make the acquaintance of one so large, so heavy and a poor conversationalist from what I’ve heard, I decide that I’ll probably stop for the night somewhere around Gander, a good part of the trip would be now be behind me. When you’re in a hurry, and I really wasn’t, but there was no photography planned for this leg of the trip, – I just didn’t want to drive for twelve + hours, the scenery, however beautiful, becomes secondary to the task of getting there.

I’m sailing along. Yes, speeding, but I told you I would. Fueled by chocolate covered crackers and the occasional Tim Horton‘s, I’m making some serious time. I get to Gander considerably sooner than I thought, ahh, the joys of speeding and not getting caught, and make an executive decision. Moose, be damned, I going for it all. This is the big one!

Oh, yeah! (ahwooga.com)

So, I stop for refueling – both the car and me. The car gets gas and so will I later from the food at the rest stop. Should have stayed with the chocolate covered crackers. But I endure, I must, can’t stop, have to get to St. John’s – there’s a tall, cold beer with my name on it waiting patiently for me at Christian’s Pub. Actually, the beer had some friends waiting for me too and I would get to meet them as well.

Wait, what’s that up ahead? That signpost? Sorry, channeling “Twiight Zone” for a moment. Lights! and not in the rear view mirror either. It’s St. John’s! Yes! Made it and not in twelve hours! Not in eleven hours! No, just about ten and half! I did speed. A lot. That’s 902 miles worth of speeding. I didn’t hit any moose, didn’t get stopped by the RMCP, “No, officer, I didn’t realize I was going that fast.”, and made it back in time for Happy Hour, which by the way in St. John’s is anytime from opening to closing. Finally, off the road, out of the car, and back in the warm embrace of St. John’s.

Tomorrow will be laundry, packing, FedEx, and getting ready to go back to the states. It’ll be busy, but I’ll also get to visit with Randy (my photographer friend) and his wife Vicki once more before I leave. The amount of help and guidance they provided has been invaluable and much appreciated. I will also see Bren, my 84 year old wood- turning friend, again before my departure. Bren was the first Newfoundlander but not the last to invite this stranger in for tea. I will miss them and all the other new friends made while up here. I will be back.

Kicking back at Red’s Lounge, meeting the locals, being told where to go (in the nicest way possible, this is Newfoundland after all), and having my first beer in Ramea. Part 1.

When traveling, one of the best ways to get the feel, the flavor, and the social climate of a new locale is to visit the local watering hole. And on Ramea. the best one is Red’s Lounge. Red’s being the best bar/lounge is not only my opinion, it’s also the opinion of all the locals and they should know. It wins hands down and the reason is quite simple – it’s the only bar on Ramea. And though it’s the only pub on the island, it’s not open everyday or all hours. The owner works at an oil company and that job comes first. Priorities – we all have them but I wish his matched mine better.

As in my trip to Fogo Island a week earlier, I needed to get to know the “powers-that-be” in Ramea. Since whoever wore the mantle of he/she-that-counts-as-the-big-cheese-or-poobah-of-the-island was not to be found, I did the next best thing. I went to Red’s. it was lunchtime after all and the light wouldn’t be good until 2:00 PM. Ahhh, the life of the photographer!

Certainly in an outport/island such as Ramea, a stranger stands out even if they’re not in a bar. As in the TV show “Cheers”, everyone knows your name and it wasn’t long before almost everyone knew mine. Hell, you walk into any place with cameras dangling all over you and people look up and take notice.

Before long, maybe at least two or three minutes(!), I was being “interrogated” by the locals. Actually, befriended is a much, much better description but not as humorous. The first of my “interrogators”, sorry,that’s friends, was Gerard. Gerard, born and raised on Ramea, was thrilled to have someone new to talk with. As in any bar anywhere, it’s the same people and the same stories, over and over again. I was going to be entertainment or least a source of new stories. Hey, their stories were new to me! That should count for something.

  So, over a beer or two, maybe three of the locally brewed Quidi Vidi variety, Gerard filled me on all the poop. Who was who in the bar, what people did, local color, etc. For me, he was a font of information – some of it was useful immediately, some not until later that day, but I was not to know that at the time. However, Red’s was to become my base of local operations for the time I would be there. In the meantime, I would need to get outside to photograph while the light was getting better. It turned out that they had a hell of lot more beer left than I did light.

Abducted by sea turtles AND the talk of the town.

With all apologies to the bard (Ramea, O’ Ramea, where art thou O’ Ramea?), Ramea is a small island off the southern coast of Newfoundland and I arrived safely on the good ship (well, ferry) Gallipoli. For those who may be history minded, Gallipoli is the name of a horrible battle in World War I in which allied soldiers were brutally massacred because of an incredibly dumb decision. It was also a movie starring the then uncontroversial and better-looking actor Mel Gibson. And Gallipoli was the boat of which I just got off! Should I have read something into that? Time enough to ponder as I’ll be getting back on it to return to the Newfoundland mainland in a few days.

Approaching Ramea, one travels though a beautiful though unexpected archipelago. It was a wonderful greeting. The only thing missing were giant sea turtles, but for all I knew they may have been laying in wait to ambush me and make mock-Bruce soup. Hey, it could happen.

This was going to be very cool. Ramea is a very small island, populated by about 600 people. At it’s peak in the early 1970’s, it had about double that, but when the fish were gone, half the populace followed. Yet, it holds on. There is a music festival, like so many other Newfoundland outports, in August. And there are a number of outdoor activities in which one can indulge. The electricity is furnished by a small wind turbine farm. OK, so much for the Chamber of Commerce business.

As I’ve come to learn and appreciate and obsessively seek out, the best activity of all in Newfoundland is talking and partying with Newfoundlanders, everywhere! And that more than anything would define this part of the journey. Oh, the photographs would be taken. And with the certainty of only those of the pure of heart and who sleep like babies, I knew they would be good. I didn’t really, I hoped they would be good. But I’m rambling. The beer would be drunk, but not I, oh, no! Moose what would be eaten. Sorry, Squirrel. More on that later,

I checked into the B&B on Ramea, unpacked, and then started out on which was to be my newest adventure. Without giving too much away, must be frugal with my words here, I was to see clothes-lines, coffins, windmills, hand-painted signs, a bar, so much more and unbeknownst to me at the time, become the talk of the island.