An American Visitor to the Rock - Days 9, 10 and 11.
Day 9 - Frenchman's Cove to Fortune to Saint Pierre (41mi/56km - http://tinyurl.com/yfuyk9o)
After that legitimately cold night, and the first thing after McDonald's breakfast, we set about the purchase of gloves and toques. We went into Marystown and we were both amused that it wasn't the Marystown Mall or the Smallwood Mall, but just the Mall.
The mall didn't provide much, but after driving around town, we eventually arrived at a Riff's (think of a NL version of Giant Tiger or Biway).
At Riff's, we each purchased some gloves in anticipation of the cold nights ahead.
After our $6 of preparation, it was time to board the ferry. We traveled to Fortune, the town where we would be catching the boat, parked our car and consumed poutine while waiting.
Our destination today was just 25 kilometres (16 mi) off the coast of Newfoundland; where lies the last vestige of French rule in North America: Saint Pierre et Miquelon.
Not just a tourist attraction which has French heritage or a land which respects royal monarchs (like Canada with the Queen); Saint Pierre et Miquelon is truly French. Saint Pierre et Miquelon was used for its excellent fishing waters from the late 16th and early 17th century, eventually leading to permanent French settlers during the mid 17th century. Throughout the next centuries, the 8 islands in the chain passed between Britain and France several times as a result of different disputes like the American Revolution (the islands supported the revolution, Britain didn't support the revolution and attacked). Eventually, the islands were claimed peacefully by the French in 1941 and Saint Pierre et Miquelon was established as a French overseas territory on October 27, 1946.
Anyway, soon enough we were boarding the high speed ferry for the one hour crossing. The legitimacy of this visit to France grew as we received French h1n1 forms and paid for our Heinekens with Euros...
Arriving at the smaller island of the two (Saint Pierre), I suddenly grew scared at the sight of the border crossing - a result of dealing with the unsavory Windsor-Detroit guards throughout the years.
It ended up being quite nice though, the douanes welcomed us with a friendly bonjour then asked if we had any drugs (in English!) and promptly let us go on our way.
The first course of action was to find a place to stay for the night.
I had printed out the online tourist guide and found a place not far from the customs building. We stopped at an atm which we found in an apartment lobby and I found out that weiner dogs were not welcomed at said apartment.
After retrieving some Euros, we continued onto L'Hotel Paris-Madrid and found no one answering the doorbell. We tried the door handle and it was open, so we wandered upstairs, only to find that we weren't in a hotel, but in someone's apartment.
Kristen wanted to look around, but I didn't want to interact with an irate Frenchman, so down the stairs and back onto the street we went.
We continued down to the next place in our tourist guide, concluding L'Hotel Paris-Madrid must no longer exist. At the second hotel, we found out that it would be 120€ (Euros) per night.
Deciding against that, we instead went to the Tourist Centre and that's where it all began. Talking to the truly helpful lady at the counter, she couldn't believe we didn't reserve a place to stay. She called all nine places on her list and one by one, they all had no occupancy (even the hotel we just turned down was now occupied).
She had that look of, 'I'm sorry I can't help you, I really just want to leave', but thankfully she called her boss Pascal. Pascal was absolutely amazing and went to work on the phone, trying all of the same places again. Once that failed, he began to call people to see if we could be put up anywhere. All the while, he was very comforting and reassuring that he would find a place for us.
Eventually he found a house where they were planning to open a week later as a bed & breakfast, but just hadn't open yet!
He invited us to get in his car and that he would drive us over. Boy were we thankful we decided to go to the tourist centre and our lives crossed with the great Pascal!
The town of Saint Pierre isn't very large, so I believe we drove a grand total of 7 blocks from the tourist centre to the B&B. Along the way, our new favourite Frenchman, Pascal, stopped and talked to one of his buddies and I was very impressed by how well dressed the man was - it all seemed very European.
Soon enough, we arrived at the B&B and found the very friendly middle aged female owner, Ines. Her English wasn't the best, so our favourite Frenchman and her talked in French for a bit before he departed and let us to work out our linguistic differences. I knew enough French and she knew enough English for us to get situated and able to go explore.
An American and a Canadian, neither of whom having been to Europe, both of us were all too excited to drop off our stuff at the B&B and hit the pseudo-European streets. Within minutes, we were amused by the Euro signs, the strange work hours (they close in the afternoons everyday, then reopen in the evening!) and all of the unfamiliar Euro cars (Citroens, Renaults & Peugeots...oh my!)
Although the majority of cars may be European, about 20% of the vehicles are North American.
So you'll be walking down the road and see a Renault Eurovan next to something very familiar.
Continuing along, Kristen pointed out the whale door handles on the main church in Saint Pierre.
The Saint Pierre Cathedral was rebuilt between 1905 and 1907 on the same ground where a church has been found since the late 17th century. It features stained glass windows which were a gift from French prime minister Charles De Gaulle and also a rebuilt steeple featuring rhyolite from Saint Pierre and sandstone from Alsace, France.
After an hour or two in Saint Pierre, we began to be more selective with the photographing of colourful houses.
Some of them still demanded their picture taken.
We didn't find much in terms of boarded up buildings; in fact, it was rare to even find anything that needed a coat of paint.
(Even though the above needs a coat of paint, she's still a beauty.)
We had a good laugh when we were moving up some street and I noticed these white pants hung out to dry.
A mental picture arises of the Frenchman stuffed into them, dancing up a storm at the local discotheque...
Or at least now it does.
Ridiculous biking setup found along the way.
If I return to Saint Pierre et Miquelon, I'm bringing the bike.
Another hour or so and we had worked up quite the appetite. We meandered until finding a restaurant which was a little classy in comparison to our shabby clothes, but we were hungry and made due.
After being placed in a secluded corner, we received our menus and then my French language confidence fell like the stock market in 1929. Where I know enough words to get by in a French country, converting the menagerie of words found on a fancy restaurant menu was a whole different kettle of fish.
Eventually Kristen was sick of my inadequate French skills and just asked the waiter, who suggested the, uh, beuf (beef). Kristen didn't want the beef, so she asked if there was anything without beuf and the disgusted waiter shrugged, then finally grew irate at the awkward indecision and pointed at an item without beuf and Kristen's decision was made.
Both of us weren't entirely sure what she got, but Kristen was impressed by the presentation and declared the meal, presented on a slab of slate, to be the fanciest meal she had ever eaten.
My beverage was fairly easy as I simply ordered the French beer which I had never heard of - a fantastic decision as the Pelforth Brune was easily top 10 and maybe even top 5 - very delicious.
I thought I also had the dinner under control as I confidently ordered what I thought to be scallops. Once my dinner came, I found something resembling a piece of sirloin or maybe a pork chop? Regardless, it ended up being the best meal I've ever eaten. Holy crow was it phenomenal!
I know it may not look like much, and it didn't in person either, but there were things like a slice of tomato which was the perfect thickness with unbelievable spices; then the linguine alfredo, which is a very simple & basic food item, but kicked up about 10 levels on the taste scale.
I really thought all linguine alfredo was the same until I tried this island prepared dish and I was awoken to a whole new world of taste.
I instantly wondered about dining in France, because if Saint Pierre, an island which has to import everything, can make food this delicious, how amazing could it be in actual, mainland France?
Vive Le France!
After dinner, it was time to head back to the B&B for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals.
Since Saint Pierre et Miquelon is another 1/2 hour past Newfoundland time, we were now a grand total of 2 hours later than Eastern North America - meaning the game was on at 9:30 and continued on to well after 1 a.m. Our amazing host offered us wine and her television. She had some of her girls over in the kitchen and they were partaking in some card game and growing amused whenever Kristen would wander in and try to use one of the 7 French words in her vocabulary. (I'm not taking a shot, Canadians learn French in school, Americans learn spanish).
Anyway, I'm actually going somewhere with this - the Penguins won and I rejoiced; all the while waiting for Malkin to get the cup so I could take a picture of the screen to make fun of all my Red Wings friends back home (and in Halifax). Just after I snapped the above picture, the B&B owner came into the room and spurted, "Oh! Le Stanley Coupe was tonight? Who's that team that won? Yellow? Did Boston win Le Stanley Cup?"
Arg. No. Boston didn't win the cup.
It was like all of my Red Wings friends were there and had put me back in my place.
It was about 1:30 by this time and we set about acquiring much needed sleep.
Day 10 - Saint Pierre
The next morning I went into the bathroom and quickly rushed back to Kristen...
"The faucets have C & F (Choid & Froid) instead of H & C!!!"
"Yes Navi, I noticed that yesterday." Kristen replied curtly.
After showering and deciding against the bidet, I came downstairs to find that our B&B owner was up long before us and had already been to the bakery for fresh bread this morning!
The baguette was so fresh and so good, and the things in the foreground had some chocolate filling and were equally delicious.
I would be a big man if I lived in France.
I went for a walk while Kristen was showering and there were plenty of cats in windows and in the streets.
It was nice since I still miss my Street Cred0 back home.
Two more pictures I took while walking around waiting on Kristen.
The first shows the school, where there were some 6 or 7 year old kids who looked like they would absolutely school me at soccer.
The second is the area where the town discotheque and liquor store is. You can buy wine & beer in the general stores, but the dedicated liquor store is on the right with the giant wine bottle out front.
I returned to the B&B and had to wait a couple more minutes, so I asked the B&B owner if I could use the computer. She had no problem with it, so I began to type and realized that Europeans have different keyboards! Suddenly I was back to touch typing!
In addition to keys being in different places, there were also letters with accent graves and circumflexes; so I had to use character map half the time just to log into web sites with English characters.
After about 20 minutes I managed to check my facebook and log into one website...that was enough of that.
Kristen was ready anyway, so we walked down to the harbour and onto the ferry to L'Île-aux-Marins (the above island).
We landed on L'Île-aux-Marins (the Island of the Sailors) and the fellow passengers all departed for their homes as Kristen and I took to exploring. We were told we wouldn't want to visit today as their wasn't an official tour, but that was fine with us, and we were happy to cross with the locals.
L'Île-aux-Marins was settled in 1604, but has had no official population since 1965. Modern fishing techniques and the proximity of Saint Pierre (it's about 10 minutes away by boat) led to people gradually leaving the island until there was no remaining population. They call the island a ghost town on the St Pierre et Miquelon website, but people come here from May until November, so I personally wouldn't classify it as a ghost town.
The real reason I had planned our one full French day around ferrying to L'Île-aux-Marins, wasn't because of the pseudo ghost town, but because of the remnant of the German freighter Transpacific.
In 1971, the German freighter was carrying cargo consisting of lawn mowers and jukeboxes, when it ran aground here in Saint Pierre et Miquelon.
There is a vacant skyscraper in Detroit that used to be home to the Wurlitzer company.
The jukeboxes on the Transpacific were actually Wurlitzers and quite a few were looted by resident islanders.
I only learned this fact after coming home from Saint Pierre; or we would have been on a dedicated hunt to find one of those Wurlitzers for a picture.
There are only so many pictures you can take of a hull fragment, and since it was high tide, we could only get so close to it. (I only learned the tide varied enough here to make it fully accessible when I was doing this write-up).
Therefore we still had about 2 hours until the ferry was coming back for us; so we took to seeing what else the island had to offer. After climbing a small hill where Kristen chased butterflies, we saw some cannons and also noticed a large number of house foundations - killing any hope for abandoned houses (I figured they had to get rid of them somehow by the number of foundations about.)
I just so happened to take a picture of one house foundation which was being used for lawnmower storage.
Possibly a lawnmower from the Transpacific ?
The island also had an old, intriguing cemetery.
The Saint Pierre et Miquelon tourist website says that the cemetery here on L'Île-aux-Marins is much older than the one in Saint Pierre. Walking around and inspecting the tombstones, many were from the 30s or 40s with a few being recent.
A French couple was sitting by the surrounding white picket fence and neither Kristen or I knew if we could go inside said fence...but we did anyway. They said something in French and departed.
They seemed disgusted, but we later learned from the tourist website, that we didn't do anything wrong. (It only says that you should respect French cemeteries - which we did.)
We then took our time walking to the L'Île-aux-Marins lighthouse and on the other
roads pathways. The lighthouse here was built in 1874 and stands at 47 ft in height. It is inactive and you could see the inside, but it wasn't worth manipulating the plywood board.
After the lighthouse, we realized that we had visited the entire island and went about sitting down by the dock waiting for the ferry.
I would recommend L'Île-aux-Marins to visitors to the eight island chain, but then again, others might also want to visit Miquelon, which we couldn't visit due to schedule conflicts. (Miquelon is the other actual sizable island, but it only has a ferry certain days of the week and you need to go there and come back by ferry (or plane)...so it didn't work out for us. Next time...)
Once back in Saint Pierre, we went out for dinner where I bought a cider as my drink, only to find that it was only 2% alcohol!
Kristen had a good laugh at my expense.
After the restaurant, we hurried to the general store while it was still open, so that we could purchase some adult beverages. Since Leffe is my favourite beer, I was very excited to find that they had different types of Leffe!
We would depart and consume some beers, but eventually I was very worn out from our day on the Island of Sailors and decided against visiting the local discotheque that night (something I still regret).
It's also worth noting that the beer was interesting because all of the bottles were only 9oz., but most were 6.5% or 7% - a different method of getting the necessary stoning elements into your body.
Day 11 - Saint Pierre to Home (660mi/1060km - http://tinyurl.com/yfuyk9o)
Kristen was happy to sleep in for our last day while I awoke early to catch one last glimpse and journey through Saint Pierre. My target for the morning walk was a lighthouse almost on the entire side of the island - but since Saint Pierre is a small island, it would be an achievable goal if I moved quickly.
Cutting through town, there is a large Jesus statue and a cemetery, but it is not as impressive as the L'Île-aux-Marins cemetery, so I spent very little time there. It did provide a nice vantage point of the town though (as well as a very tasty ledge for biking).
Speaking of biking, as I passed the island arena, I noticed the skatepark beside it.
I had to laugh because it looked better than 90% of the skateparks in Newfoundland.
Continuing around the bend in the harbour, I found myself in a subdivision eerily similar to the mcmansion-filled, sprawl complexes of Ontario and North America in general.
The only difference was that you had some amount of orange & yellow siding instead of every single house being a shade of light brown.
...oh yeah, and there were horses at the end of some of the subdivision cul-de-sacs!
Without a cell phone or a watch, I had taken a picture when I left the B&B and was basing my time upon the time had passed since taking that picture.
I calculated that I was running short on time and therefore made short work of the little hill which lie before the Galantry Lighthouse.
The Galantry Lighthouse was built in 1978 to replace the old Galantry Lighthouse from 1845. The old lighthouse was situated atop the hill to my right in the above picture; on higher ground than the current lighthouse. The 1845 light was deemed a hazard to arriving & departing flights, and was demolished in 1980 (to many people's dismay).
So instead of the picturesque location atop the island hill, the new lighthouse overlooks the town dump.
You can't see the dump from the road, so I was humoured as I walked up to the lighthouse and stared up with a smile (as I do when I approach lighthouses); only to check out the opposite side of the light and discover the dump on the beach below the sea cliff.
I was cutting it close for time, so I had to quickly make my way back to the B&B (at left, the yellow building).
We packed up our stuff and bid adieu to our gracious host.
With Saint Pierre et Miquelon being 8 hours away from me, it was sort of sad to wonder if I would ever return to this place. That sadness and thought came to my mind as I'm absolutely certain I would return to the same fantastic B&B.
Throughout the morning, the clouds were breaking and the colourful buildings were even more attractive than they were in the overcast light.
I had to laugh as the day we were leaving was the first sunny French day we had. While waiting for the ferry, I left Kristen at the main building and hustled over to get a shot of the Pointe Aux Canons light we had visited on our first day in Saint Pierre (it's right in town and you walk right past it.)
There is a fantastic historic postcard of the 1862, 33 ft. lighthouse right here.
Once back onto the ferry, we observed some whales off in the distance and we were also thankful that it was much smoother than the previous boat ride.
Through Canadian customs, we were in the Intrepid for all of 5 minutes before we stopped at the Fair Isle Motel, which we had come across just before our retreat from Newfoundland to France.
The Fair Isle wasn't worth much, but it did allow me to witness the elusive Massachusetter exhibiting habitual behaviour.
(We make fun of people from Massachusetts because they like taking pictures of peeling paint and lonely chairs...it's an inside joke.)
We sped back from Fortune through the Burin Peninsula to the Trans Canada Highway.
A lot of times when the 'favourite spot in NL' conversation comes up, I mention the 100-odd kilometres here on the Burin; where you drive through treeless, oceanic barren that looks like the surface of the moon...if the surface of the moon had shrub vegetation.
While it was already growing late in the day, we had to go east on the Trans Canada Highway towards St. John's because this would be the only time Kristen would be on this side of the island.
We ate some much desired dinner and then had a whirlwind tour of all the absolute necessary things to see in the NL capitol.
A hurried tour and it was back on the highway west to home. I finally wore down from all the driving and somehow Kristen proceeded to take over and drive all night to get us home at 7 a.m.
Big ups to her.
Onto Day 17.
1 - Wikipedia - L'Île-aux-Marins
2 - Wikipedia - Saint Pierre et Miquelon
3 - Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.com - Saint-Pierre and Miquelon