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Trip Report PEI- We get lost daily, eat pounds of potatoes, and love every minute

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My alternate title for this trip report was PEI: Gluten Free Wonderland.

This was a surprise 40th birthday trip for my sister, who just went on a strict gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free diet. It was planned by our mom, who is lactose intolerant and a self-proclaimed unadventurous eater and me, the foodie who will eat anything. Yes, these food issues crop up throughout the journey in very positive ways.

Our trip ended up having two main themes: Incredible natural beauty and delicious food at every turn.

Okay, it actually had THREE main themes: Incredible beauty, delicious food, and the kindness of everyone we met.

Or maybe FOUR main themes (sounding like a Monty Python skit now): beauty, food, kindness, and intense relaxation.

Picking a location that would have some significance for my sister, plus be a great destination for a mother-daughter trip was tough. In the end, we couldn’t have been more delighted with PEI. Mom is already planning to take my dad for a 3 week driving trip in the fall. We all want to win the lottery and buy vacation homes there. To sum up, we fell in love with PEI. Steve_Sharratt here on this board gave me fabulous tips and helped make the trip, so a big thanks to him!

Significance: I was obsessed with the Anne of Green Gables series as a child. Anne inspired me to be a teacher, and I re-read the entire series every few years. I know some people who go to PEI sort of find the Anne focus annoying, but as a child of the ugly modern suburban 70s, the charm of the Anne books showed me the beauty of a different lifestyle. No, I haven’t died my hair red or tried to find a guy named Gilbert to marry. My mom and sister were big fans of the movie versions, so this made it a bit of a pilgrimage.

My sister was horse-crazy as a child and has always dreamed of riding on a beach like in The Black Stallion. We found that this was also possible in PEI. Beautiful weather and lots of charm sealed the deal. We had our significant location.

Planning: Well, let us just say that we spent way too much on airfare. The only drawback to the trip was the cost of flying from Baltimore to Halifax. My mom and dad are going to drive it in the fall, because they are retired and have the time. Air Canada flights were nice and empty (we all got our own rows for sleeping!) and right on time. Very nice staff all around.

I am going to divide my trip report up. Day 1 coming soon!

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    Day 1- Arrival, Journey to PEI and Lodging

    Arrival: We left the house at 4:15 am to make a very early flight, so by the time we arrived in Halifax at lunch time, we were all exhausted and starving after a lousy breakfast in the Toronto airport. The Halifax airport was small and friendly.

    Our emergency rations of almonds and fruit bars was not cutting it. We were all trying hard to have a good attitude but feeling “hangry” (hungry+ angry=hangry) because of low blood sugar. We got our rental car (Ford Focus- LOVED IT!) and decided to get on the road and find somewhere to eat. Little did we know that the roads on the way to PEI provide sweeping, majestic scenery of forests and farms, but very few places to stop.

    We saw lots of Tim Horton’s, the Canadian donut and coffee chain, but with one gluten free person, a diabetic, and me, who has always loathed donuts, we didn’t think that would be an option for us. We also wanted some real food after being awake since the crack of dawn.

    Lunch en route:
    We found a place near Turo, right off the highway, called the Saltscape. It was maybe 45 minutes from the airport. Sort of a Canadian Cracker Barrel with a country store attached. Decent wholesome food, nothing fancy, very friendly service, and it was quick- maybe we had a crazy look in our eyes but they hustled our lunches out tout suite! It wasn’t anything special but it saved the day for us and got us into an adventurous travel mood.

    Drive to PEI-
    The drive was easy and lovely- nice smooth rolling highways through beautiful scenery. We marveled at how empty it was- coming from the Baltimore/DC area, we are used to non-stop development. We had SiriusXM satellite radio in our rental car, and enjoyed singing along to the decades stations, working our way from 40s to 80s. Signage was great and we didn’t get lost. In fact, this may have been the only day of our trip where we didn’t get lost.

    The Bridge:
    The Confederation Bridge over to PEI was indeed very, very long. We were disappointed that the guard walls on the sides were just a little too high for us to get a good view of the water. We rolled into PEI and followed the signs to our base, Charlottetown.

    Charlottetown:
    We were delighted with our choice of Charlottetown as a base.

    Besides being the “big city” where Anne goes to Queen’s Academy to get her teaching degree (told you I was mildly obsessed!), it was also a charming, walkable, beautiful waterfront town. We adored the vibe- to us it felt just a little British. We really enjoyed returning to Charlottetown each evening, and doing a little shopping a couple of mornings, too.

    Lodging- Heritage Harbour House Inn:
    We chose the Heritage Harbour House Inn for a couple of reasons. 1.) Great reviews on TripAdvisor. 2.) We wanted the charm of a B&B for our “girls trip”- the hubbies in the family all hate B&B type places, so it was our chance to get girly. 3.) They had a room that would fit the three of us comfortable and the price was reasonable. 4.) they advertised gluten free breakfast options.

    Directions from their website were easy to navigate. We arrived and parked- even the parking lot is charming, surrounded by lovely garden beds. The location is perfect! In a block full of beautiful inns and private homes that dead-ends on the water. It was a nice stroll over to the waterfront park or the other direction into the center of town. We felt very safe walking back at night and loved the strolling around the neighborhood looking at the beautiful homes.

    We were shown around and taken to our room by a nice young man, the first of the many super-kind and friendly locals we encountered.

    Our room was one of the king suites. It was spacious, with a very comfortable king bed and a sofa bed where I slept. The sofa bed was, well, a typical sofa bed in terms of comfort (ie I could feel the metal frame through the thin mattress.) However, the cool PEI air and all the food I ate meant that I slept pretty well anyway.

    It was a perfect size room for three family members or really close friends. We liked having a tiny kitchenette for sodas and snacks, we loved the tiny balcony as a place to “get away from one another” and we loved the incredible cleanliness of everything at the Heritage Harbour House Inn.

    The public spaces were very nice and provided additional places for hanging out. The décor wasn’t as charming and old fashioned as we hoped for- it was more an early 90s version of semi-Victorian- lots of floral borders. However, everything was spotless, attractive, and functional. The bedding was quite nice, and the people were great. We would stay again. Our hubbies who hate B&Bs wouldn’t mind this place- it wasn’t too cutesy at all.

    The breakfasts were only okay, not the gourmet extravaganzas that you get at some B&Bs. They did provide gluten free muffins for my sister, which was really nice. The hot dish each day was usually some variation of eggs and ham. It was serviceable but nothing to write a trip report about:). They had a nice selection of scores and muffins, yogurt, cereal, and coffee, tea, and juice.

    They did the B&B thing in which they seat you with other guests so you can chat. I know some people love this, but we would have preferred to sit at our own table and plan our day. One day, we came down 10 minutes before the posted end time for breakfast and found everything cleared away and breakfast over. We shrugged and went out instead. This was the only glitch in an otherwise great stay. Maybe we misunderstood and they meant that you had to finish eating by that time, not that you could arrive until that time. We ended up having a stellar breakfast in Charlottetown, which I will describe in my Charlottetown dining installment.

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    BlueSwimmer--
    Enjoying this trip report. PEI is beautiful and must have felt like a terrific change of pace from DC/Balto I'm sure. Glad you based yourseful in Charlottetown which I'm 100% agreed has "a charming, walkable, beautiful waterfront". Keep it coming! Daniel

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    Charlottetown Dining

    Cladagh Oyster House- We found this place after strolling around looking at menus on our first night in town. It was chilly out, a little misty, and I was getting over a cough and cold, so I was craving soup or something spicy. We also had dietary restrictions in our group, as mentioned before, so this menu looked promising to us.

    The décor was charming Irish pub combined with a modern glass wall with water cascading inside. Very comfortable and relaxing. Service was super friendly and nice. I had their seafood cioppino- very spicy with the freshest fish and shellfish. Fabulous and just what I was craving. Gluten-and-everything-else free sister (who is a really good sport about making her diet issues not a big deal, btw) had a big plate of local oysters- each described by the bay on PEI where they came from- and the waitress said they could do her a side of vegetables. The oysters- amazing!! I stole two, and she ate most of the mussels from my stew.

    The side of vegetables was the revelation. We knew that PEI was a farming island, and I remembered reading about potato farming in the Anne books, but we had no idea until this first meal just how special the potatoes are. We are an Irish-Catholic family that LOVES potatoes in all forms and these were just amazing. Tiny new potatoes, just dug, roasted with sea salt. They were so good we got two more orders. The flavor went way beyond just a good potato to other-worldly delicious. The other veggies were all local, fresh, steamed, and good, too.

    Mom the self-proclaimed picky eater had a nice shrimp cocktail and a lovely beet salad, and one of the orders of roasted potatoes. Everything was fresh, well-prepared, and nicely presented. It was a little pricey but worth it.

    Lobster Pound/ Lobsters on the Wharf- Two names for the same place- a big, tourist-oriented restaurant with a view of the working harbor. Friendly service. Okay food. Not the lobster experience we were hoping for. We had lobster rolls, chowder, fries. Gluten free sis had salad and steamed mussels. It was absolutely serviceable, just nothing out of the ordinary. I really liked the chowder. Fries, like all the fries on PEI, were great.

    I think in the back of my mind I was expecting something like the lobster pound on the wharf in Eastport, Maine, and this didn’t quite match up. It didn’t help that it was starting to get grey and misty.

    On our way out, we were delighted by the sign for a local radio station: SPUD MAGIC! Maybe it was two stations SPUD and MAGIC? Anyway, with our potato love throughout the trip, we had to take a photo under the sign.

    We heard later from locals that the Water Prince Corner Shop is where we should have gone- we wanted a water view too, so live and learn.

    Casa Mia Café for Breakfast- We had a wonderful, fabulous breakfast at Casa Mia Café on the main street. It looked sleek and Euro in design, had wifi, and sit down or counter service. I had locally made PEI sausage and PEI potato hash. Delicious! The sausage was german wurst style- smooth and garlicky. Like every potato dish we ate (and we ate many) the potato hash was hearty and amazing. Service was confused but friendly.

    Cows Ice Cream- It is indeed great ice cream. Dairy-free sister took lactaid so she could have some. She had island berry flavor- excellent. I had coffee-toffee something, also excellent. The Cows t-shirts for sale are amusing too!

    Papa Joe’s- This place was out on the commercial strip in the only non-charming area of Charlottetown. Friendly service like everywhere. Sort of a Greek diner/Family restaurant type place. Not charming, but comfy. We had gotten home late, we were all tired and knew we needed to eat (mom is diabetic) but too tired to fix ourselves up or deal with a big meal. This fit the bill. We could look slobby, relax in the booth, have a drink, and eat a big Greek salad (me), big chef salad (sis) and stuffed cabbage for mom. The stuffed cabbages were middle Eastern with a sort of cinnamon/nutmeg flavor in the meat.

    This place is famous for a special burger they do: the goddess burger. It is a Mediterranean style burger with spices, garlic sauce, banana peppers, etc. It sounded AMAZING, but I was just not hungry enough to go for it.

    Sadly, we only had time for a few meals in Charlottetown. The pedestrian street filled with outdoor cafes looked wonderful, but we didn’t have a chance to try any of them. Shopping in Charlottetown was lots of fun, and we also enjoyed walking along the water in Victoria Park.

    More later on our other meals around the island...including bacon crusted potato pie!

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    This trip sounds fantastic, almost surreal! Glad you've been able to work through the food issues, handy to know what's around (and... I have to admit that Anne has influenced not only my career choice, but also my love of landscapes...). Waiting to hear more.

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    Thanks for the report, BlueSwimmer.

    I've saved this as Word doc since we're leaving for Maine, Nova Scotia, P.E.I., and New Brunswick right after Labor Day.

    Love potatoes in pretty much any form, so this will be my food guide a lot of the time. Not to say the other food didn't sound equally tasty. :-) I just enjoy really good potatoes. The rest of your info will also come in handy.

    Fran

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    Thanks for the comments everyone! After a crazed summer of work, I finally have time to write more. Sorry if I am long-winded. I am really enjoying re-living the trip by writing about it.


    Getting Lost, Finding Green Gables, and More Potatoes!

    Our first day out, we realized how dependent we all are on our smart phones for maps, restaurants, etc. We would all have had pricey roaming charges if we had used our data plans, and a 4 day trip didn’t seem long enough to warrant getting a special international plan rate, so we decided to do without. We checked email via wifi in our hotel room, but on the road, we were doing it old school, with tourist guidebooks.

    The maps in the guidebooks were not really up to specs for three ladies who get lost easily (because of constant chatting in the car, not because of any gender issues with directions, of course!) On day one, we thought we could manage without a map and find our way to Anne-land. We got turned around a few times but the scenery was so lovely everywhere that we just enjoyed being together and seeing the sites.

    We loved the tiny hamlet of Rustico, and all bought cute sweaters and mittens at the wool shop right off the main drag.

    We stopped for lunch at the PEI Preserve Company. The view from this restaurant and store combo is of a curving river lined (in June at least) with pink dog roses and lupines. It was so stunning we spent about 15 minutes in the parking lot enjoying the view (you know it is a scenic island when the views from the parking lots are stupendous- I even have some gorgeous photos from behind a gas station on the island!)

    We lucked out and hit the PEI Preserve Co on a non-crowded day with no tour busses in the lot. We got a table right away, and were served by a darling young man with incredible blue eyes. We all had iced tea (they make their own each day and have a full menu of teas- if you asked they will make any of them into iced tea for you). Mom and I both had the house special, potato and cheese pie with a bacon crust. It wasn’t overly cheesey or bacon-y, but just right. It was served with a maple-bacon cream sauce that was sublime. They even give out photocopies of the recipe for this wonderful dish! It came with a delightful little mixed greens salad. My sis had potato and codfish cakes, served with a wonderful house-made green tomato chutney and salad.

    Mom and I had split the special local raspberry pie- it was intensely berry-flavored and had a thin layer of sweetened cream cheese between the crust and the berries that was delicious. Gluten-free sis was in heaven with a gluten free chocolate lava cake with fresh berry sauce (she hadn’t had any desserts in months since starting this restricted diet).

    She was in such heaven that this meal caused her to fall immediately into a deep sleep in the backseat of the car after lunch. Of course we took lots of unflattering photos of her snoring! What is family for?

    The view from the restaurant is lovely, as mentioned before, and the open bright dining room is surrounded with gorgeous stained glass of local birds and fish. There is an attached shop where the sell their home-made jams. They also make ice-cream on site and have a take out window for dairy treats. The only drawback seems to be getting there when tour busses are in town. We tried to go back a second day for lunch but there were four busses outside- and a 1.5 hour wait for a table. We loved the food but were too hungry to wait that long, even for a second helping of maple-bacon cream sauce.

    Next we wended our way to Green Gables. We opted to just see Green Gables and not any of the other Anne attractions. It was just enough for me, the huge fan, and not too much for my mom and sister, the medium fans. They first take you through an entry with some displays and photos. You next sit in a tiny theatre to view a Ken Burns- style film about LM Montgomery’s life and career (you know, lots of fading in out sepia-toned photos with voice over narration). It was moderately interesting, and seemed more designed to keep the crowds at Green Gables flowing in a way that would keep the site from feeling over crowded.

    Once we entered the farm yard, I was entranced. The gardens, perennial borders, views, etc were all charming and beautiful. Any gardeners out there will appreciate them. We self toured through the house. If you are a die-hard fan of the books you will notice lots of little touches, like Bonnie the geranium in the kitchen window, the brown puffed-sleeves dress, etc. We all enjoyed it so much- just lots of olden-days charm, very low key, very pretty.

    We also walked a little way along the “Lovers’ Lane” path into the woods. My mom broke her foot a few years ago and though getting around very well for someone in her 70s isn’t exactly a hiker. The walking was pretty easy though, and she had on good walking shoes, so she decided to press on and do the entire loop with us. It was about a mile, with a nice viewing bench about halfway. It was a lovely stroll with birches, streams, ferns, and lots of good woodsy smells to enjoy.

    After this we headed back to hang out in Charlottetown and have dinner. A very successful day!

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    Day Three: We get a real map, go horseback riding on the beach, and eat poutine

    Before heading to the east end of the island, we pulled into a gas-station/convenience store in search of a map to help us navigate better without our smart phones.

    The girl at the checkout counter was the only non-fresh faced islander we met on the entire trip. Instead, her fresh face was obscured by an overlay of black nail polish, tattoos, and harsh makeup. Despite her tough exterior, she was just as kind and helpful as everyone else we met.

    I couldn’t find an island only map, so I took a 15 dollar Nova Scotia and PEI map up to the counter (we were pretty desperate for navigational assistance). She looked at me and said, “Are you going to Nova Scotia too?” with one eyebrow raised. When I said no, she got down on her hands and knees to unearth a dusty PEI only map for only 3 bucks, telling me that it would be silly to pay for a map I didn’t need. What a sweetie!

    We confidently headed east with our new map, ready to spend the day in Georgetown before our riding on the beach adventure with Brudenell Stables. We read here that Georgetown was a charming port town. We were expecting something like Annapolis or St Michaels in Maryland, where we could stroll, shop, have lunch, etc. Instead it was a tiny working port town with homes, a fish processing plant, and only a few businesses on the road into town and no real main street area to stroll around.

    Instead, we stopped for an early lunch at Clamdiggers, a waterfront restaurant recommended here on Fodors. It was amazing. Cute and airy inside, nice service, the freshest seafood imaginable. Highly recommended!

    I was attracted to the seafood stew appetizer- tomato and chili lime broth- yum! The waitress told me it was a large bowl but I went for it as an app after my sister agreed to help me eat it. Wow! Delicious broth and seriously the freshest seafood ever (and I have fishermen in the family, so I have eaten fish right out of the water and know my seafood pretty well.)

    I had fried clams and French fries as an entrée. So fresh, so good, love those island fries! My mom had the fish and chips. Now, my mom and dad are mildly obsessed with fish and chips and get it everywhere they go (and will actually travel to get good fish and chips they have heard about). This was so good we took a picture to send my dad!

    Gluten free sis had Thai flavored steamed mussels and fries. (It is so nice that fries are gluten free!). Very, very good lunch!

    We then drove around the east end of the island, seeing the views, stopping at the Panmure Head lighthouse for photos (gorgeous vistas) and spending some time sleeping and walking on the beach. (We kept a beach bag in the trunk. Though we never changed into swimsuits, having a blanket and sunscreen was nice for short beach stops as we drove around.)

    Next my sister and I changed into jeans and we headed to Brudenell Stables for our scheduled horseback riding session. The people there were extremely nice. The other people in our group were two adorable college-aged sisters and their mom; our mom had no desire to ride so she relaxed in the car (aka napped) while we rode.

    We were all given helmets and brief riding instructions. Everyone else had ridden a number of times and seemed confident, except for me. The couple of trail rides I’ve been on in the past were on much more elderly-seeming horses who just plodded along. These horses were gorgeous and filled with personality, meaning you actually had to "drive" them instead of knowing they would plod right back to the barn for their oats no matter what you did.

    I was told that the horse in front of me in line hated “tailgaters” and would try to kick if I got too close, but that my horse had a tendency to tail gate! Yikes! I was so stressed about this at first and wondered why they lined us up in this way? The young ladies who took us on the ride were so comfortable on horseback that maybe they didn’t think it was as big of a worry as I did. Eventually, my horse and I made friends and I got the hang of actually controlling her, rather than just letting her go where she wanted. It felt pretty cool when I realized she actually responded and went faster if I squeezed my knees or stopped if I said “Whoa”.

    My sister, who went to Girl Scout riding camp in the summer as a kid, was in heaven. The ride was so beautiful, through gorgeous forest, meadows, and along a river mouth type beach (not an ocean beach). It was a magical experience for both of us! Highly recommended!

    We were tired and dusty and turned the car for home- I was driving and I know everyone was shocked when I made a sharp left and peeled into the parking lot of a little roadside stand. We were almost passed it when the name- Route Three Eatery- registered in my mind as the place recommended by a fellow Fodorite for real Quebec-style poutine (one of my goals for this trip was to try this Canadian delight).

    It was a tiny place with just a few tables inside and a few more on the front porch. It was around 5:00- too early for a full dinner- but I had to try the poutine. Once we got inside and saw the brick oven pizzas being made, we decided to try a pizza and a large poutine. My sister took some lactaid so that she could have her first cheese in months, and decided to risk feeling a little sick to have a slice of pizza (gluten!).

    Wow! Wow! Wow! The poutine was everything I had been expecting- crispy fries, rich brown gravy, and slightly melted cheese curds. I am in love. Thank you Canada for inventing this dish! The pizza was crispy, fresh, and delicious. They plucked some basil from a planter to put on top! We thoroughly enjoyed this impromptu stop to round out our day on the eastern half of the island.

    One more day to come!

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