When it comes to vacations, I like to get off the beaten path. My favorite trips usually involve far-flung locales, breathtaking vistas, and a good bit of solitude. The ones I don’t care to relive usually entail crowds and tourist traps. I kind of hated Rome for this reason, while my heart still longs for Montana. It’s why Iceland is on my list of future destinations, while Las Vegas is notably absent.
Even so, I ended up spending a week in Nova Scotia earlier this month almost by accident. It started with an advertisement on the train for the new ferry from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. I’d been contemplating a trip to Acadia, but a boat ride sounded fun. I mentioned it to a cousin, who mentioned it to her dad. Suddenly, it was a seven-person family trip. A Suburban was rented. Tickets were booked. Between all of my other travel last month, I didn’t have much time to think about it. I packed my bags, loaded up my bike, and we were off.
The ferry ride ended up being a low light of the trip. It’s main redeeming quality is that it’s an overnight trip, so you go to sleep off the Maine Coast and when you wake up, you’re there. I also liked that it enabled you to bring your car, which meant space for coolers, luggage, and bikes. But the whole boat smelled like the aquarium, the entertainment options were kind of terrible, and while the bunks were comfortable, the staterooms were miniscule. There was no quiet place to sit outside, and the whole thing seemed more like a cheap cruise than the laid-back ferry I’m used to taking to Martha’s Vineyard. We cancelled our round trip tickets and decided to drive back to Boston.
We landed in Yarmouth, and after clearing customs, headed straight to the town’s Farmer’s Market. I was half expecting a tourist trap to lure ferry passengers, but I could not have been more wrong. Local farmers sold wild blueberries and delicious little yellow plums, a guy hawked lobster rolls, and a woman named Su Morley sold me a slice of the best coconut cream pie I’ve ever had. There were stands selling homemade soaps, chocolates, scones, and oysters. Folks were friendly and chatty, everyone seemed happy to be there. It was my first experience in Nova Scotia and it ended up being one of my favorites.
From Yarmouth we headed to Digby, exploring the coast along the way. Each vista seemed more scenic and beautiful than the last. People were few and far between. It was like Maine, without all the tourists. We lunched at La Cuisine Robicheau, a family owned spot that specializes in local seafood and Acadian cuisine. It was one of the best meals we had on the trip- simple seared scallops, a hearty seafood chowder, and some excellent desserts. The chocolate cream pie was huge and decadent, and the coconut cream pie was also pretty great (yes, I ate coconut cream pie twice in one day, and while the Robicheau’s make an admirable one, Su Morley’s at the Yarmouth Farmer’s Market was the best.)
After a night in Digby, we drove out Digby Neck and took a small ferry to Long Island. Most folks pass on through and go on to Brier Island, but we stopped in Tiverton, which I highly recommend. We stumbled upon a “free will” breakfast put on by the local volunteer fire department, that featured some excellent homemade baked beans and French toast (free will = pay what you can). The breakfast, held in a town hall of sorts gave us a chance to chat with some locals about the lobstering season, the weather, fishing, and the economy. It was casual talk, but friendly and welcoming, the kind that doesn’t happen often enough in a city like Boston.
After breakfast we headed up the street to embark on a whale watch. Whale watching is abundant in New England, but I never get sick of it. This trip was particularly neat as we went out in a small, hard-bottomed inflatable that really got you close to the whales. It was pretty spectacular. We saw two species of whales, porpoises and seals.
From Digby we went north to Canning, where I did a nice bike ride, had some great food, and hiked Cape Split. The hike was about two hours each way, and featured some spectacular views of the Bay of Fundy.
The Bay of Fundy has long fascinated me. As a New Englander, I’m well familiar with the ebbs and flows of the tides, but the Bay of Fundy makes our nine-foot fluctuations look puny. Each day 160 billion tons of water flow through this 170-mile stretch, causing tidal fluctuations of almost 30 feet. Boats that seem normal at high tide look pretty ridiculous a few hours later.
Here’s another example.
The fluctuations also enable something called tidal bore rafting, in which you ride on rapids created by the incoming rush of water. After Canning, we headed to Urbania, where we gave it a try on the Shubenacadie River. Photos weren’t possible, given that we spent four hours filling a small inflatable boat up with water, but it was amazing. The first part of the trip entailed admiring the scenery, looking out for bald eagles (so many!), and sliding down the muddy river banks like they were a slip n slide (so fun!). When the tide turned, the water started to come in fast, whole sandbars were covered in minutes. That’s when the real fun began as we raced through rapids and waves. (If you’re curious, this video is a pretty accurate depiction.)
From Urbania we headed up to Cape Bretton Island, home to one of Canada’s best national parks. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore it properly, so I’m already making plans for a return visit.
Cape Bretton is probably the most touristy part of Nova Scotia, and yet it still didn’t feel crowded when compared to what Cape Cod and Maine are like during the summer. We spent one day in Baddeck (home to Alexander Graham Bell), and then headed across to Maragee Harbour and down the coast.
We left Nova Scotia on a Thursday and spent a day in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick before driving home Saturday. I have a feeling it won’t be long before I head back.