Newfoundland is an odd cod, and the time zone is only part of that difference.
Newfoundland and Labrador became the 8th Canadian province I have visited and in many ways, the hardest so far. The cold spell in Ottawa last August was warmth and sunshine compared to the daytime highs of 10-11ºC (50-52ºF) during the weekend I spent in St. John's. This does not factor in the wind from the ocean via the St. John's port. The Roots Canada pullover I bought last August in Ottawa came in really handy in the Newfoundland capital.
The Friday night of my inbound flight, my decision to do the milk run via Porter (Toronto-Ottawa-Halifax-St. John's) worked out very well in that we were 25 minutes late. The United flight that night from Newark ended up in Stephenville in Western Newfoundland. The passengers were nowhere near the Eastern most city in the province and the continent. They were also stuck on the tarmac because there were no customs at Stephenville. Finally, the RCMP came to act as customs.
When you fly in from St. John's, you have 2 options basically: rent a car or get a taxi. The city sort of runs a bus sort of near the airport. Getting a car at the airport was an issue if you didn't have a reservation. The standard fare for the taxi from the airport to downtown was $25. Round trip puts you at $50. Not a great way to say howdy to tourists.
Then again, the passengers that landed in Stephenville likely paid more than $50 just to get to St. John's.
Until recently, there were options to rent a car in downtown St. John's but those options had disappeared before my arrival. This lends itself to renting from the airport, which costs more, or figuring out how to get to the area by the mall, which serves as the only alternative to renting at the airport. Every other major city in the Maritimes has downtown car rental options.
If you go at the height of the limited travel window, reserve well in advance or you won't get a car.
Let's be clear: it's a rough start, but the story gets better.
Saturday offered up the St. John's Farmers Market. Walking away from the water means walking uphill. San Francisco is a fair comparison. If the temperature was in the 30s C (upper 80s F), as it was last summer, the sweat would be severe. No sweat literally this year.
The farmers market is trying to convert the old bus depot into the new market. In the interim, the market is using the Lion's Club and the outdoor parking area.
Walking up Signal Hill (there is a trolley in bus form) is a fun activity regardless of weather. The Battery Road option is more scenic though potentially more dangerous. Wear good footwear when picking this option.
Quidi Vidi Village is also close by downtown St. John's. Getting there is a good walk, but the fact that both Signal Hill and Quidi Vidi Village are close by St. John's that you can do both in one day.
Why go to St. John's and Newfoundland? Plenty. But that can't always be spelled out in tourist speak.
The people are as warm as it was cold in St. John's. Countless moments of kindness and generosity. Welcoming to tourists but not too touristy. If you need to escape a frantic pace to your life, St. John's and surrounding areas will help you relax.
Despite a province that has a Progressive Conservative government, the people are surprisingly liberal. If you lean conservative, sure you'll find people that fit that view, but more so in the rural areas.
Downtown St. John's can serve as its own workout layout. Similar to San Francisco, St. John's involve walking up hills. Halifax does too but St. John's felt like more of a workout.
If you are familiar with "Republic of Doyle" from the CBC, you will feel at home in downtown St. John's. The shot of Halliday's Meat Market was fascinating since it was just down the street from where I stayed.
The cutest mailboxes, pictures of the brightly coloured houses you see all through St. John's.
George Street, for those like consuming alcohol with numerous bars in a confined 2-block stretch, is very unique. Walked through the stretch on a Sunday morning was a nice contrast to the splendor that is George Street when they are people who are drinking.
Cod tongues, seal, scrunchions, partridge berries, mustard pickles, moose, "dressing or gravy," oatcakes: the food was very different even for most of the Maritimes. An escape from what you usually run into food-wise.
When you rent that car and go out to Cape Spear, knowing that you are in the eastern most part of North America is amazing in itself but the views from there are gorgeous. When you work your way down to Petty Harbour, and you eat at Chafe's Landing (not much else to do in Petty Harbour), you literally see the water where your dinner could have been caught. Picturesque like out of some book or film.
Anecdotal, but I only got to eat at that restaurant because this very nice older couple shared their table with me and another stranger, whom I did not know. The company was even more delightful than the food, and the food was wonderful.
Took a tour of the House of Assembly with Alison. One visitor, one tour guide. I even got a chocolate chip cookie at the end of the tour. The cookie was good; the tour even better.
Whales and puffins outside of Witless Bay: touristy perhaps to take a ocean trip to see these creatures. But the trip was beautiful in terms of scenery and presence. The trip didn't take you far out of St. John's in kilometres but far in terms of what you experienced.
The Shipping News, The Grand Seduction, Hold Fast, Rare Birds, Republic of Doyle: these are some of the many TV shows and films shot in Newfoundland. You know how amazing these places look on the screen. See them for yourself.
Bob Cole and Rick Mercer, two long-time CBC legends in their fields, are from this majestic place.
The customs officer, when I landed in Toronto, gave me a guide to where I should go in Newfoundland (I clearly was doing this all wrong). Anecdotal, but if you had heard this guy's enthusiasm for Newfoundland — I've never had that positive a reaction to anywhere I was traveling in Canada.
The seal hunt: people would warmly tell me in a pleasant manner about why the seal hunt was important to Newfoundland. These are people who care about who they are and where they are from and eager to share with a tourist with an open ear. You will fall in love with the enthusiasm very easily.
The lantern festival I experienced was unlike anything I had run across. We got to see a light show/mini-play while surrounded by people and lanterns. Quaint, but that is what to expect.
At Rocket Bakery and Cafe on Water Street, I got to experience a talk on sustainability in relation to cod fishing and separately, local musicians sitting around a table playing traditional Newfoundland music. The sustainability was a special session; the musicians were there … because it was Tuesday.
Being on the half-hour: you feel it in terms of TV and radio programming and contacting people in other provinces, but the half-hour doesn't affect life otherwise. Still, the Newfoundland way is to be a little different; even Labrador is on Atlantic Time. Just the way things are in the eastern most province in Canada.