Day 1: It's raining, men
Friday, August 31, Halifax
Here we are in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the largest city on Canada's east coast and one of the oldest and most historic cities in the country. Named after the arrival of Scottish Highlanders in the 1700s, the province was actually settled much earlier than that. In the 1600s, French-speaking Acadians were here. Later, after their expulsion, they retreated to New Brunswick (the only other legally bilingual province in Canada besides Quebec) and other places including New Orleans (the Cajuns).
It's a bit rainy and cool and we (I traveled here with my partner, Robb) are both a bit tired, so we are planning on staying in our lovely hotel, The Prince George (902/425-1986; www.princegeorgehotel.com) and eating at the in-house restaurant Gio, which prides itself in utilizing locally grown or harvested produce, game and seafood.
I was able to meet with two local tourism officials, who've mapped out a fantastic-sounding itinerary for us, which includes kayaking, sightseeing and biking. One of them has a very James Bond-girl-sounding name: Holly Hedd. She's from Newfoundland and says she is typical in that she's not timid about expressing her opinions. I've never been but I think I like Newfoundland people already.
Tomorrow Holly and Susan recommended we go check out the Fireman Challenge, an all-day event gathering fire fighters from throughout Canada competing in a variety of events. Afterwards, we hop in our rental car and head out for a half day of kayaking. In addition, we may go check out Peggy's Cove's famous lighthouse, the ritzy coastal town of Chester and scenic Lunenburg. Check back!
Day 2: Battle of the hose
Saturday, September 1, Lunenburg
This morning in Halifax, Robb and I had to decide between checking out the annual fireman's competition and the men in kilts at the Citadel overlooking the city. As I described it, the battle of the men with a hose and the men with no hose.
We ended up doing both and making it just in the nick of time to watch the young men in the Citadel performing the changing of the guard. For their part, the firefighters were quite 'hot.' And the competition was actually pretty gripping. They even had a women's division and we guessed a good portion of the gals might be, ahem, on our team. Or at least their enthusiastic female fans were.
We've just arrived in the historic town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, along the coast an hour and a half west of Halifax. This charming heritage site preserves the original layout of a planned Colonial settlement established in 1753.
The old town boasts fine examples of 18th and 19th-centruy buildings and, in addition to tourism, the city's economy still relies on the traditional industries of fishing and shipbuilding.
Our lodging for the night is the 1880 Kaulbach House Historic Inn (75 Pelham St; 902-634-8818; www.kaulbachhouse.com), a 'family'-owned and run bed and breakfast with 6 adorable rooms (with en suite bathrooms).
Tonight dinner is at the Fleur de Sel Restaurant (902-634-2121; www.fleurdesel.net), which we haven't visited but have been told by multiple sources is one of the best in town.
The drive here was incredibly beautiful winding along the coastline and offering glimpses of inlets of the sea, craggy coastlines and little islands with the occasional lone house. A real highlight of the drive and a 'must-visit' is Peggy's Cove Lighthouse, a small but alluring beacon set atop a granite hill stretching from the sea to many hundreds of feet in all directions.
Day 3: just 'yaking away
Sunday, September 2, Mahone Bay
We've just arrived at our final destination, Wolfville, NS to the north of Halifax along the coast near Minas Bay, an inlet of the Bay of Fundy. We drove a good hour northward from Mahone Bay this afternoon. It's beautiful and you get the welcome feeling of really being in the middle of nowhere.
We just checked into the super-charming, 29-room Blomidon Inn (195 Main St; 902-542-2291; www.theblomidon.net). We'll get to rest up before heading to dinner at the Tempest (117 Front St; www.tempest.ca), by all accounts one of the best spots in town. (We'll see.)
Speaking of dinner, the Fleur de Sel (see below) was truly excellent, a real culinary treat. Who'd have thought that in the middle of the quiet province, you can find restaurants to rival the best in NYC. We tried lots of different items and everything was good. We particularly liked the local lobster (I know, almost heresy for a born-and-bred New Englander to state!) and Nova Scotian wines we tried.
This morning we arose for an amazing hot breakfast at the Kaulbach House Inn (see below). Then we scooted off for a day of bicycling and kayaking.
Mahone Bay's picturesque waterways and surrounding towns beg to be explored by either conveyance so we did a couple of hours of each. Kayaking always tires me out but it's a great upper-body workout.
Tomorrow we have to arise early to get on the road by 6 a.m. We'll try to update later, but if not, this trip has truly been eyeopening. I had no idea that so close to New York and Boston and other points north in the U.S., you'd find the perfect combination of outdoorsy fun and indoor elegance available here in Nova Scotia.
Day 3 (still): rappin' up
Sunday, September 2, late, Wolfville
A last-minute wrap up about the hotel, the restaurant and the trip. The Blomindon Inn (see below) is such a fabulous, welcoming, charming inn. The service is very friendly (which we've found throughout our entire trip), the grounds impeccably maintained, and the rooms warm, welcoming (in a 19th-century inn kind of way) and decked out with most amenities modern travelers would hope to find like free internet access.
The Tempest restaurant is as modern in terms of ambiance as you'd find in New York or San Francisco, with professional, attentive service (definitely not a given in most summer-season tourist spots) and inventive cuisine. Specializing in 'world food,' the Tempest relies upon locally grown ingredients, including its seafood, meat and wine.
I realize I haven't touched too much on the gay scene in Nova Scotia. That's probably because there isn't much of one that jumps out at you. We've met several local gay folks, including the inn keepers in Lunenburg and we've seen a number of other gay and lesbian travelers, mostly couples during our stay.
The island itself doesn't seem like a huge nightlife hotspot for straights or gays so it doesn't attract a circuit crowd. But from what we've gathered, Nova Scotia's many laid-back communities attract Canadian couples (mostly gay but many lesbian pairs) who wish to pursue a slightly slower pace than they would in their home cities of Montreal or Toronto.
Halifax may be the only destination in the province where you can get your gay fix of nightlife. You can also find gay-specific local trip-planning information at the following site: www.rainbowhalifax.com.