My Canada

In the end, I came home early. The weather was miserable, and it was sunny and warm back home. This means I missed some stops. But I look at travel like this: Leave something to come back for. If the potato museum is still there the next time I visit, it was meant to be.

As I drove the 10 hours home, I thought about why I do this and how to express this to you. I do this because it’s beautiful in the Maritimes, and it’s cheaper than a flight to Ireland (which is similar in beauty, rain, and humor). I do this because the people are kind and honest. I do this to prove to myself that I can–I can go with the flow, be among strangers, and follow whatever course feels right. I do this to remind myself that all of my decisions need to be right for me. Life is too short to live a sub par existence set to someone else’s expectations.

My last day on the island was a mix of weather and as much road tripping as I could stand. I didn’t want to go indoors anywhere. I just kept driving and taking pictures. Sometimes getting out to take a walk if the sun popped out.

Canoe Cove
Canoe Cove

I drove by a pack of horses that started to gallop alongside the car. I watched them, their muscles and their manes. They were beautiful. And I felt pure joy, smiling for miles afterward.

Cape North
These are different horses, strong work horses enduring the winds of Cape North.

I saw lighthouses and enjoyed the undulating hillsides of quilt-like farmland. I took in red cliffs and watched children squeal while swimming in the Northumberland Strait.

Lupines, a boat in someone's yard, a yellow house, and rolling farmland. Could it get more Canadian than this?
Lupines, a boat in someone’s yard, a yellow house, and rolling farmland. Could it get more Maritime-y than this?

Against my better judgment, I took one more heritage road. And it was super steep. And I had another uh-oh moment like I might not make it. But I did.

HeritageRd2
Straight up.

This is my Canada. Remote and unpretentious. Beautiful and rugged. This is where I come to turn another year older and consider all that has passed and what is to come. This stills me.

Pants

And makes me laugh.

I was happy with my decision to head home early; it wasn’t a defeat. Because how lucky am I to be alive and healthy and able to do this? How lucky am I to stand in the middle of a canola field in full blossom, only to have a car stop and a woman chat with me about how quickly the blossoms fade and how she wished she’d had her camera as well.

Canola Canola2

And how lucky am I to have so many good people in my life? People who care about me and read my words and share this experience with me. I guess it’s primarily my facebook crowd. You grew up with me or worked with me or met me along the way. And I’m stronger and more amazing for it. Thank you for coming with me. It’s good to be home.

Victoria, PEI
Victoria, PEI

ANNE * ANNE * ANNE

I decided to come to PEI this year, rather than do my regular Nova Scotia trip, to pay homage to my second childhood boyfriend, after Mark Hamill:

Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert
Arg–so cute!

Jonathan Crombie was the most perfect Gilbert Blythe a girl could ever imagine. My crush never wavered. Every August, during PBS’s fund drive, I would wait out the long, boring studio segments–you know the ones where some poor bastard had to talk incessantly and rows of people sat in the background talking on telephones, taking donations? Yeah, I sat through a lot of those to watch Anne of Green Gables. I hear they’re filming a new version. And I’ll watch it. But nothing will replace Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie.

HeygirlGil

Sadly, Jonathan Crombie passed away unexpectedly this past spring. He was only 48. So this trip was my high five to his awesomeness, now that he’s hanging with Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth. (Holy crap–in researching, I just noticed that Colleen Dewhurst is/was Campbell Scott’s mom. Mind blown. Nerd moment. Sorry.)

Back to Anne. I’ve already mentioned that Anne is all over the island.

anne2 Anne3

potholder

What is it with PEI and potholders?

I did a lot of Anne stuff the first time I visited, so I kept it light this time around. I went to Avonlea Village, which is set up like a little town, but really houses shops serving pizza and grilled cheese, and some L.M. Montgomery (author) artifacts. So, like, maybe she knocked on this door once and so they moved the whole thing to this spot and now sell grilled cheese sandwiches out of it.

Avonlea4

And this was truly the church she attended:

Avonlea5

And these must be the shot glasses she drank from before starting in on a new story.

Avonlea2

And this is likely the pay phone she used to call her parents and tell them she wasn’t going to be bringing the horse and buggy home anytime soon because she’d had too many raspberry liqueur cordials out of those torso shot glasses.

Payphone

Too much?

Anyway, it’s a cute spot to get out and walk around for a few minutes, but it has nothing to do with Anne.

Avonlea Avonlea3

Then there’s Anne herself. I shouldn’t be so judgy, but I think it’s time to pull back on the fake tanner.

Anne

But of all the stuff I saw, I think my favorite Anne marketing was a simple campaign in a shop by the Bridge of Certain Death.

bad-anne3

Easy to walk by, until you see the pictures people have taken. These men are such good sports. Good on you for indulging your women in their childhood fantasies. I commend you!

bad-anne1 bad-anne2  bad-anne4 bad-anne5 bad-anne6

I think the mustaches really add that little je ne sais quoi to the moment.

Mill girl goes mudding!

All around PEI are little heritage roads–adorable, small, unpaved lanes the width of one car and generally with trees shading overhead. They’re marked on maps, and they’re usually quick little crossroads. Having fond memories of them from my first visit, I wanted to relive the cute little country lane experience.

Heritage Road
Cute, unassuming little road, right?

Yeah, guess who forgot about the incessant rain? Mixed with that famous PEI red soil, the ride quickly got out of control. But I soldiered on. Because I’m an idiot. And I have no one beside me to tell me to cut the crap.

Heritage Road
Part-way in, I realized this was not the best idea I’ve come up with.

Even the cows were worried.

Heritage Road

Yes, I’m looking up at them. I was in a gully of mud.

So I fishtailed up and down this quaint country road and tried to think of the worst things that could happen. I could go off-road completely and hit a bush or tree. I could get stuck in the mud, in the rain, and have to walk a couple miles to a house and then just be the a-hole tourist who got stuck in the mud. But as the red water and mud splashed up high around the car, I enjoyed myself.

In fact, I think it’s safe to say it was exactly like this… except, you know, in a hatchback.

In the end I made it. And was grateful.

HeritageRd4

And off to my side, what do I see???

Lupine

Lupines! (Sans “e” in Canada.) I missed the lupines this year, and they’re juuust starting to pop here. Hopefully I’ll find more this week.

* * *

After my adrenaline rush, it was time time to act like a responsible adult and do some tourist shopping. Enter Village Pottery.

VillagePottery3 Noggin

The upstairs is all fiber arts. A local woman makes pictures out of fabric and thread.

VillagePottery VillagePottery2

I am in love with that barn. That’s all thread. I may have to own that…

After that, it was off to the PEI Preserve Company, where I sampled raspberry with champagne probably seven times. And had a decadent lunch of local eats.

Potato Potatopie

Mmm…potato pie. And yes, those are a million loose tea leaves floating all over my tea. I overshot on my first pour and screwed it up. I never said I was graceful.

Incidentally, the grounds at the Preserve Company are beautiful, and SHEEP.

Sheep PreserveCo2 PreserveCo

Beyond that, it was just me on the cloudy, open road…

AnneMuseum Church Hay    House House2And I broke down and stopped at Walmart. Sigh. I needed something more substantial than my capri summer jammies. Please note in the pic below that Walmart is selling bikinis AND GLOVES in July. What kind of malarkey is that, Canada?

Walmart

Marketing a small island

Prince Edward Island is about the size of Delaware, per Wikipedia. Its entire population is just a smidge over 140,000 (for references, Boston is about 650,000). And it’s known for four things:

4things

Potatoes, Anne of Green Gables, mussels, and red soil. One doesn’t need a master’s in marketing to realize this is not much to work with.

Once you cross the bridge of certain death, you are in Anne's land. Get used to it. It's a beautiful thing.
Once you cross the bridge of certain death, you are in Anne’s land. Embrace it. It’s a beautiful thing.

Anne of Green Gables is easy. And it’s EVERYWHERE. Like Salem has Witch City Cycles and Savannah sells sippy cups with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil on them. And I don’t mind. I’m a big fan of Anne. More on that later.

But let’s talk about some of the other things here. Mussels, so far, have not been bandied about in my experience. But let’s talk about potatoes.

What can one do with the humble potato? How about a keychain?

potato keychain
No. Just no.

Or maybe you like magnets?

Hmmm. No.
Hmmm. No.

Fan of hats?

Why?
Why?

Or, for the potato fan who has it all, just go all-out apeshit…

taters2

Granted, I haven’t been to every corner of the island, but my humble suggestion is to do what Canadians have been known for for years–weird potato chip flavors. Who doesn’t love that shit? Who wasn’t spellbound by ketchup potato chips out of Canada in the 1980s? Oh, just me? Those were good days–ketchup potato chips and a Monkees reunion. What else could a suburban girl want? (amiright, fellow fangirl Kelly Geiser?)

I digress. But I was listening to a woman talk about how there’s no processing plant on the island. (And is that true? I went by a McCain factory yesterday.) They send all these lovely taters over that retched bridge to be processed and get them back as PEI chips. I say have fun with it and make a million weird flavors instead of trying to sell potato oven mitts. I looked it up, and there’s no PEI potato chip store. Just sayin.

Can we switch gears and talk dirt?

PEI dirt shirt
PEI dirt shirts

Is this a hot seller? I admittedly stopped in my tracks and did a What the what?! This seems to go up there with faux moose dropping earrings I’ve seen in stores in Maine. You can’t wear this tshirt here, because you might as well also wear your Connecticut license plate around your neck and scream “Tourist!” And will you wear it at home? Like, out of the house? I’m going to guess no.

* * *

Some things that PEI is already doing but I’d like to see have higher billing:

Preserves. I’ll be doing some shopping today because guess what–it’s raining. And I’ll be hitting the PEI Preserve Company. I remember that being a good time on my last visit. I’ll report back after.

Crafts. Okay, okay. I’m the only cross stitcher under the age of 104. But I have seen a few patterns here on the island, which is exciting. But they’re beginner patterns. I’d love to see something sophisticated for making during these endlessly rainy days. Software can create patterns out of pictures in minutes–with such scenery, there are myriad options for the discerning stitcher.

Wine. Eastern Canada has really rallied on the vineyard front. And PEI has been in the game for a while with, I think, three vineyards. I will be indulging in some local wine and bringing some home with me.

All this is to say that I shouldn’t see this in any shop on PEI:

A framed Bob Marley print below a framed map of historical shipwrecks around the island. *shakes head*
A framed Bob Marley print below a framed map of historical shipwrecks around the island. *shakes head*

* * *

In the end, mine is an outsider perspective. And I don’t know all the ins and outs of what happens here and who decides dirt shirts are where it’s at. And hell, I’m only on day three. But PEI, you are an adorable island throwback to an earlier time. Use that with an air of sophistication. You go on with your bad self.

Having crossed the bridge of certain death…

I got a bit arrogant (hard for some of you to imagine, I’m sure) after driving home from central Nova Scotia in one day last year. So I tried to relive that Friday, driving from southern New Hampshire up to the marvelous spot where New Brunswick, PEI, and Nova Scotia all meet. Ten hours of driving after a week of very little sleep and with only almonds to subsist on because I’m stubbornly dieting at the moment and refused to stop at any of the 50 Burger Kings I passed.

The Katahdin view is my favorite thing about driving all the hell through Maine. Even if it never comes out quite as majestic looking as I’d like.

Mount Katahdin lookoff
Mount Katahdin lookoff from I95

I have what I guess you might consider a dad sense of things on the road. Gotta see how extreme I can make this. So I get to a perfectly reasonable place to stop for the night and think, “Well, the next city is only two hours away…” and then go like hell trying to do that. And onward. And that puts me, of course, in a place with no hotel rooms. Oh, Moncton, NB, you never fail to disappoint.

Sunset view through mirror
Somewhere between Fredericton (where I should have stopped) and Moncton, NB (where there were no rooms at the dozen hotels). It’s a two-hour wasteland, and I know better. Bye-bye, sun.

And you don’t want to go driving around Canada in the dark because the moose apparently just tip toe up to your car.

Moose sign

And that usually leaves me…well, to say desperate would admit defeat. Let’s just say that I may have kept my mouth shut at the front desk of the Comfort Inn while standing behind a couple who decided to go down the road to see if they could get a cheaper room at another hotel, which I knew for a fact was full up.

* * *

Waking up in Nova Scotia is a marvelous thing. To me, anyway. Even if I’m just on the border and heading back out. I stopped at their beautiful visitor center.

Nova Scotia visitor center
Cairns, the smell of wild roses, and a bagpiper playing–if I always make NS seem magical, that’s because it is.

Back on the road, I approached what I find to be the scariest part of the trip. The Confederation Bridge is an 8-mile passage over the Northumberland Strait, and one of two ways to get to the island (the other being a ferry from NS). It takes 10 minutes to cross, which is plenty of time to think about an accident sending me flying over the wall and into the blue and dying swiftly.

And on the New Brunswick side, they’ve kindly built a lookout tower so you can really take a good look at your impending death ride.

Confederation Bridge
Confederation Bridge. Eight miles long, finished in 1997, and scary as all get out.

Because I’m writing this post, you can assume that things went well, though I kept looking at the clock on the dash and counting the minutes to safety.

So here I am, on Prince Edward Island. I made it. It’s been 10+ years since my first visit, so I don’t remember a damn thing and we’ll be exploring this together.

First awesome thing I saw–neon yellow canola fields.

Canola fields

Second awesome thing–an insanely large mailbox.

Giant mailbox
This picture doesn’t do it justice. I’ll have to go back and park my car under it. Honestly, I could host a sleepover inside.

And then there are the beautiful churches, like all around the Maritimes.

Between Alberton and Tignish.
Between Alberton and Tignish.

As for lodgings, I’m at the Briarwood Inn and Cottages in Alberton. I went for the screened-in porch because mosquitoes dominate PEI.

Briarwood Inn and Cottages
The first cottage on the left contains an angry baby who cries all the time. The third cottage contains a loud family that shouts at their dog. I’m, of course, the cottage in between.

It’s nice to have a home base for a change, so I won’t be dashing about and living out of a bag. (I put stuff in drawers–look at me all growed up!) But that means I’m also a bit lazier than usual so far. And though the forecast initially said 70s-80s and sun, it’s now going to be 60s and rain, so I’m woefully unprepared. I may join the ranks of tourists walking around in a new PEI hoodie. Sigh.

But whatever happens, I’m here because it’s beautiful and remote and a little odd (more on that later–and I say it with love).

Beach at Jacques Cartier Provincial Park
Jacques Cartier Provincial Park and the famous red soil of PEI.