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Trip Report Two Wonderful Weeks in the Maritimes

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If you’re looking for a bare bones, just the facts trip report, you’re probably not going to like this one. When I read trip reports I like detail and anecdotes, so that’s what I try to provide when I write one. And then there’s the fact that brevity is definitely not my strong suit! :"> Also, for us, eating is a big part of the joy of travel. So there will be detail about where we ate and what we ate.

I really struggled with planning this trip. While we’ve had some lovely short trips in the interim, this was the first major trip we’d taken in seven years. My trip planning skills were rusty and my knowledge of the area was very spotty. The reason I’d chosen this destination was that I’d been in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with my parents in 1967 and had always wanted to go back. But that was a pass through kind of visit in a two week road trip the main destination of which had been Expo 67 in Montreal. And it was 49 years ago! So it really wasn’t any help in planning this trip. I had very little grasp of distances and what we could realistically plan to cover in a two week trip. Since it’d taken me so long to get back there (and figuring I probably wouldn’t be around in another 49 years :D), I wanted to see as much as possible. But I didn’t want this to be a blur through the windshield as you pass kind of trip, either. The beauty and serenity of the area were also a big part of our choice and I wanted it to be relaxing.

One of the first problems I hit was the lack of info here. In the past I’ve relied heavily on Fodor’s trip reports to help me plan. IMO, it’s hard to beat the advantage of benefiting from the experiences of others. Seeing what worked for them and what didn’t, what they enjoyed and what they didn’t was always a big help. But when I came looking this time, I found very little. And when I posted a query, I got one response! That’s why it’s so important to me to try to get this trip report written and posted. Maybe I can pay back a little of the help I’ve gotten in the past by making sure that the next person who comes looking will at least find a little more info here.

I panicked a bit when I read somewhere (possibly the Fodor’s guide) that lodgings should be reserved three to six months in advance. That was, I think, three or four months out from our trip. Though I had at least a couple of definite destinations in mind by then, our itinerary was still shaky, to say the least. But I figured I’d better pull it together in a hurry. And that feeling was reinforced when I began going to the third party sites looking for lodging. There were at least two instances where I started out with the idea of staying in one town but had to reconsider because I couldn’t find a place to stay. It was more of a problem for us because there were three of us; my husband, our 26 year old son and myself. Finding a room with two double or queen size beds is rarely a problem with chain hotels. But we were going to be staying in towns where chain hotels weren‘t an option.

As time went on and I read more (and began to get help from Fodorites and former Fodorites in other places), I began to worry about the itinerary I’d wound up using for our reservations. I realized that there were places I probably should have included and hadn’t. And now that the trip is over, there are places that I certainly regret having missed. But when I try to figure out what I would’ve done differently, I’m at a loss. In order to add any of those places, we would’ve had to give up some of the places we went. And there’s nothing we did that I would’ve been willing to miss.

However, in hind sight, I would have done our lodging reservations differently. First of all, I wish I’d started earlier and done more research before I made those choices. Second, I wouldn’t have relied so heavily on third party sites. It’s not because I’m unhappy with any of the places we chose. In fact, we were, for the most part, very happy with them. But after seeing the towns, I realize there were a lot more options than I was aware of at the time. As for third party sites, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them again for chain hotels. But I don’t see myself ever again using them for small, independent places. For one thing, it was made clear to us a couple of times that the owners of those kind of places really don’t like working with them, and for reasons that are understandable. And then there’s the fact that in the case of the three nights we booked through Expedia in Alma, NB, the inn didn’t get the reservations. Thank goodness I’d been advised to check with the hotel in the case of third party reservations. At the time I called, the room we thought we had booked was still available for the first two nights and the inn had another room available that would work for our third night. By the time we got there, they were full every night. I suspect we would’ve had a very hard time finding a room anywhere in Alma.

I was also warned that car rental should be dealt with early because they go quickly in that area. And renting one turned out to be somewhat of an ordeal. As far as I was able to determine, there’s no such thing as an inexpensive car rental from Halifax airport. We looked into the possibility of renting in town because it was considerably cheaper. But the airport is quite a distance from the city and we came to the realization that the hassles involved just weren’t worth the money saved. We rented through Priceline and one of their Express Deals. We ran into what we felt was a bit of a scam when we arrived at the Budget desk. We had chosen the least expensive class of car. It was listed as a Kia Rio or similar, which we figured would be fine for the three of us. Well, when we arrived we were told that they have no Kia Rios and that we’d be getting a VW Beetle. The guy told us that the third party sites often offer models that they never carry. He offered to bump us up to the next level for an additional $13 a day. We were very concerned that a Beetle would be very uncomfortable for three people, two of whom are over 6 feet tall, for two weeks. But we really didn’t want to pay an additional $13 a day on top of the $400 plus (American) we’d already paid! When we hesitated, he asked what airline we’d flown. We told him we’d come in on American and were leaving on Air Canada. He said that because of our airline choices he could offer us a deal that would bring it down to $6 a day. We went with it. I don’t regret it because I think we would’ve been miserable in the Beetle. But it still rankles.

I found the Fodor’s guide for the Maritimes to be very helpful, though there wasn’t a lot of lodging and restaurant info and often the places they mentioned seemed to be beyond our budget. I got wonderful packets from all three provinces. But they, of course, sent the 2016 ones, which didn’t arrive until after our itinerary and lodging choices had already been set. I also got a lot of help from some Nova Scotia Facebook pages. We Love Nova Scotia is full of beautiful photos posted on a daily basis and the people there were very helpful when I asked for restaurant recommendations. There’s a travel page that I think is just called “Nova Scotia” and Out and About Nova Scotia was also helpful. I did find Facebook pages for PEI and New Brunswick, but they weren’t nearly as active.

This was an amazing adventure. I can find very little negative to say about our two weeks. But if I absolutely had to complain about something, it would be that the restaurants tend to close early in the smaller towns. That can present problems on travel days when it took you longer to reach your destination than expected, or when you’ve done a day trip and are hoping to get back to base in time to eat. There were a few places we’d really hoped to try that we wound up not getting to because we weren’t around at lunch time and they closed too early in the evening. I think this would be a little less of a problem in July and August when places seem to stay open at least a little later.

Which brings me to one more thing before I close this part of my report. Another thing we struggled with was finding two weeks that worked for all three of us. I’d originally thought we’d go in July or August. And the two weeks we did go was definitely off limits at first because our daughter and son-in-law were going to be in Ireland for part of the time and we normally take their dogs when they’re gone. But between our son teaching summer school, my husband finding a block of time that hadn’t already been taken and the next school year starting earlier for me than in the past, June 19th to July 2nd turned out to be the only thing that worked for us. And that ended up being a very good thing. We were extremely fortunate in that we had wonderful weather. And because the tourist season doesn’t really start until July, the only time we dealt with crowds was on Canada Day in Halifax and, to a lesser degree, at the Hopewell Rocks. I can’t tell you how many times we found ourselves to be the only people on a beautiful beach or at a breathtaking viewing spot. And traffic was never an issue.

I think that about covers all the preliminaries I can think of at the moment. It may take me a while to finish this report. But I’ll be back to start a day by day rundown in the next installment.

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    Thank you for the information! I head out with my family in August. We have rented a vehicle from the airport...I don't have a good feeling about it and more so after hearing about your situation. I am glad it worked out for you in the end.

    Did you have a favourite site? Favourite restaurant? Experience?

    We are there for 10 days and very excited. I have never been to the Maritimes but it certainly has been on the bucket list.

    Appreciated your report. Thanks again.

    Renée

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    Being verbose myself, I appreciate verbosity in others. I like trip anecdotes! Things one learns, things that surprise, reactions to a new place and its customs.

    I've only been to Halifax & surrounding sites in NS, Moncton NB and the Charlottetown & Cavendish area in PEI, so I feel like I've just scratched the surface... I consequently look forward to your report for getting ideas!

    Best wishes, Daniel

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    Thanks for your comments, Renee and Daniel! It's heartening to know that someone's reading it! :-d

    Am about to post day one, which I'd hoped to post yesterday but got side-tracked. Will try to get the second day up soon.

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    DAY ONE-- SUNDAY, JUNE 19th

    We’d chosen the earliest flight out of the O’Hare to our destination partly because we wanted to get there in time to use part of the day and partly because that flight had a shorter layover (53 minutes in Philadelphia) than the other morning flights. When things began to get so crazy with the TSA lines, we doubted the wisdom of our choice. With people waiting for hours and missing flights, we were concerned that we might have to arrive at the airport the night before. By the time we left, we knew things had settled down some. But my brother and his wife returned from a week long trip to Ireland the Wednesday before we left. While they didn’t have any problems with TSA lines, they did have delays coming and going. In fact, they missed their connection coming home. We began to get a little nervous about that 53 minute layover as, in the case of the missed connection, they were supposed to have a two hour twenty minute layover!

    When we checked in for our flights on Saturday we realized we’d made a rusty traveler/rookie mistake. We’d forgotten that for American flights you choose your seats when you buy your tickets and somehow missed any mention of it when we booked our flights through Expedia. It was immediately apparent that we weren’t going to be able to sit together. But DS and I can’t remember exactly what the deal was on the remaining seats, whether all of them were priority requiring an additional charge or just some of them. I know that we did pay an additional charge for our seats, but I can’t remember whether it was for all three. Fortunately, we were able to get seats on the second leg that were three aisle seats one in front of the other for no additional charge.

    We arrived at O’Hare at about 3:30 AM. There were quite a few people in the security line, but I think there may have only been one line open. And it moved quickly, all things considered. We were through in 15 to 20 minutes.

    I remember very little about that flight, I think because of lack of sleep. But there weren’t any problems. And the 53 minute layover turned out not to be a problem, either. Our gates were close to each other and, in fact, the flight to Halifax wound up being delayed. I was not overjoyed when I realized that leg of the flight was on American Eagle as I’m not a fan of small planes. It’s just as well that I didn’t know our planes would be even smaller on the return flight!

    Despite the delay, we weren’t very late arriving in Halifax. I don’t think more than a few minutes. We got through customs quickly. And I’ve already described the issue with car rental. The drive to Halifax, finding the hotel and checking in all went smoothly.

    I’d been slightly apprehensive about my hotel choice because they offer very limited parking for which they charge $20 per night. It has to be requested when you make a reservation, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get it. When I called to verify the reservation, I asked about parking and was told that there is some on-street parking as well as a garage across the street that charges the same as the hotel and a gravel lot about a block away that charges $8 a day. I felt better about it after that and, as it turned out, we got in to the hotel garage. The room was on the 16th floor and had a very nice view of the Citadel Hill.

    I’d have to think long and hard about ever choosing to fly that early again. Between lack of sleep (I think I might have gotten a couple of hours) and losing two hours (the Maritimes are on Atlantic time), I felt pretty much the same as if I’d flown to Europe. But we were all hungry and determined to keep moving. We headed out for the waterfront, which was about a 10 minute walk. I was to learn that day (and have reinforced when we came back at the end of the trip) that Halifax is a lovely, but very hilly, city. Some of the streets are, to this Midwesterner, very steep.

    The boardwalk is touristy, but very nice. We walked around for a bit, visited the tourist information office to pick up a road map and stopped at the Battered Fish, a small stand on the boardwalk, for an order of their Maritime Poutine and a Coke to split, which we ate at a nearby table. DS had his heart set on stopping there because he’d seen reviews (I think on TripAdvisor) that told him this was a place he’d like. And it was! My favorite part was the fish nuggets on top, but the poutine was excellent, too. We were given a choice of sauces for dipping the fish and we picked their sweet chili mayo. It was so good! And I suspect I might be able to duplicate it with Trader Joe’s sweet chili sauce. The tab was $12.75.

    Sitting for a bit made us realize that it was time to find a place indoors to sit and have a drink. We’d passed the Old Triangle Irish Alehouse on our way and had seen it mentioned in the Doers and Dreamers guide so decided to give it a try. Not only was their draft selection of local beers very good, they had a traditional music session going. A nice treat! Not too long after arriving, we ordered mussels to split. They were so fresh and tasty! Because they were so good and because we were really too tired to be bothered finding another place, we eventually ordered dinner there. I was so tired at that point that my memory is a little shaky. The three beers probably didn’t help, either! I didn’t get a copy of the receipt so I’m having a little trouble remembering exactly what we ordered. DS got the fish cakes and we think DH got the pan fried haddock. I know I got a cup of seafood chowder and something else, but I can’t remember what the something else was. The chowder was fine, but we were to have better in the days ahead. The other two were happy with their meals. According to my credit card statement, the American total was $105.65. Not bad, all things considered.

    At some point during that meal I finally got a bit of a second wind. We walked around a little more and found a pharmacy to stock up on all of the things we hadn’t been able to bring in our carry on luggage. Because of that fairly short layover in Philadelphia, we’d been reluctant to check baggage.

    DS had noticed earlier that one of the main Halifax craft breweries was very near our hotel. So after we got back to the hotel, the two of us walked over to Propeller and picked up a mixed 6 pack to take back to the room. I think we might have each had one before turning in early.

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    I'm more of a wine drinker at home. But I enjoy trying local beers. And we had a lot of good ones on this trip! Largely because DS is really into craft beers. Also, I hate to say this, but I found the local beers to be much better than the wine. I did try some Nova Scotia wine, but I found it a little sweet for my taste. I've noticed that with wines from Illinois wineries, too. I don't know if it's a difference in the grapes or the fact that they're smaller wineries...

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    DAY TWO--MONDAY, JUNE 20th

    I realized that in the installment on Day One I didn’t mention that we’d meant to find an ATM at the airport and had forgotten. Fortunately, when we crossed the bridge, the toll taker told us he’d take an American dollar! And we were pleased to find an ATM in our hotel.

    Besides the convenient location, one of the reasons I chose the Hampton Inn was that we’ve had good luck with that chain before, particularly with their breakfasts. And this location didn’t disappoint! Their hot buffet consisted of oatmeal, breakfast potatoes, two kinds of sausage and mini cheese omelets. They had a nice selection of breads and rolls, fruit salad, cold cereals and three kinds of juice. They put out real cups for the coffee and had the best selection of tea bags I would see until we returned there at the end of our trip. All in all, a very nice way to start the day.

    I also forgot to mention that as DS and I were getting on the elevator with our beer the evening before, two couples who, judging by their accents I assume to have been German or Austrian, saw our beer and asked where we’d gotten it. We explained as best we could where Propeller was. The next morning I happened to notice them at the next table over. As they were leaving, I asked whether they’d found it. The woman who’d asked the night before cheerfully responded that they’d found it and they drank it! I have a feeling spending the evening with them would have been a lot of fun!

    I’d printed out Google map directions for three different possible routes for that day’s trip to Baddeck on Cape Breton Island. We knew that we wanted to, as much as possible, follow the coast. But we also knew that trying to do so all the way would take more time than we had. I’d printed out directions because the international plan we’d purchased from AT&T didn’t allow us enough data to use the GPS on DS’s and my phones. Fortunately, at the last minute DH was given permission to use his work phone which had unlimited data. That turned out to be a godsend on the trip!

    We started out on Route 7, the coastal route, and took it to Sherbrooke, which was a very nice drive on an absolutely beautiful morning. In Sherbrooke, we stopped for lunch at a cute little place called Main Street Café. It must’ve been around 1:30 when we arrived and we were at first the only ones there. But several people came in and out as we ate, most taking advantage of the gorgeous day to eat on the deck. We each got a bowl of very good seafood chowder, much better than I’d had the evening before. It was served with an excellent homemade biscuit. We all followed it with a piece of pie. DS and I got butterscotch meringue, which was delicious. DH got rhubarb, I think strawberry rhubarb.

    When Route 7 split from the coastal route shortly past Sherbrooke, we stayed with 7 and took it inland. Outside of Antigonish we switched to Route 4 which I think we took across the Causeway and then picked up 105 to Baddeck. Despite quick stops at a convenience store for a Styrofoam cooler (which started leaking a couple of days later) and at a Tim Horton’s, we arrived in Baddeck earlier than we’d expected. I think around 5:30. Upon checking in to The Water’s Edge Inn & Gallery we learned that they were in the midst of a town wide power outage. The woman at the desk said this was very unusual. It seemed unlikely to have been weather-related on such a beautiful day. Fortunately, the inn still uses old-fashioned keys rather than an electronic system so getting into our room wasn’t a problem. It was a nicely appointed room with a very comfortable double bed and a pullout couch. We had a view of the “garden” rather than of Bras d‘Or lake, but we’d known that would be the case.

    After we settled in, we set out for a bit of a walk, ending with a nice stroll on the town's lovely boardwalk bordering the lake. I was not pleased when we stopped at a convenience store along the way and were told that the power was expected to come back on around 8:00--just the time most of the restaurants in town close! I certainly didn’t relish the idea of having a dinner of the chips and candy bars we had! But even more than that, food was one of the major reasons I’d chosen Baddeck as our destination for that night. Well, that and the fact that it’s at the beginning of the Cabot Trail. Since I didn’t know how long it’d take us to drive from Halifax, I figured it was better not to try to drive too far onto the island that first night. But Baddeck Lobster Suppers was an equally big factor. I’d read about it in the Fodor’s guide and knew immediately I wanted to try it. So I was very disappointed to learn that the power was expected to come back on at just about what I’d read was their closing time.

    After our walk we decided to go for a drive with the idea that we might head out of town to try to find a restaurant that was open. Thank goodness, DS happened to notice people walking around near Baddeck Lobster Suppers. We drove over and saw cars in the lot. As we were about to enter the building, someone came out and told us the power had just come back on and they were serving! Hooray!

    This is not by any means a fancy place. In fact, it’s in a former Legion building. But we were seated on an enclosed porch with a nice view of the lake, and it was perfect for us! The service was wonderful and very friendly. It’s a fairly limited menu of mostly lobster, snow crab, planked salmon and steak. The unlimited lobster option is $38 and comes with unlimited seafood chowder and mussles. I’m not clear on whether the other parts of the meal are also unlimited. But we felt it was a very good price for what we got. We started with a cup of very good seafood chowder. Not knowing how full we’d be, none of us opted for a refill, but we could have at any time. Next we were each served a very generous pasta-sized bowl full of excellent mussels. We chose to get one more bowl to split. Because of the power outage, the lobsters weren’t quite ready, so she brought our salad plates. Those consisted of a scoop of potato salad, a scoop of cole slaw and a cucumber salad. All were very good. And then came the lobster. It was perfect! Pre-cracked, sweet and delicious! That first taste was pure heaven! To top it all off, we all had great desserts. DS chose the rhubarb custard pie, DH had apple crisp with ice cream and I picked the chocolate cake, which I think had mocha frosting. All three were excellent! This place was also licensed, which apparently a lot of the lobster supper type places aren’t. It was a wonderful, memorable meal!

    At some point during the meal I asked the waitress whether she had any idea what might have caused the power outage. She said the man who planks their salmon used to work for the power company and had gone in and been able to tell them what the problem was. We probably should’ve tipped him on our way out!

    After dinner we drove around town a bit. We were struck by the diversity of the homes. Sometimes within a block or two we saw everything from very upscale, well-maintained homes to not so well maintained mobile homes. Maybe I’m being naïve, but to me that signified less class distinction, which was nice to see.

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    DAY THREE--TUESDAY, JUNE 21ST

    We woke to a rainy, misty day. Disappointing, but given the fact that the past two days had been so beautiful, we really didn’t feel we could complain. Especially considering that when we’d been watching the weather forecasts before we left, we’d seen predictions for nothing but clouds and much cooler weather than we’d been experiencing.

    We were served a nice meal in The Water’s Edge’s bright and cheery breakfast room of yogurt, fruit salad and four kinds of homemade bread. I had the banana, which was very good. In what I found was going to be the norm, I had to request tea. We very much enjoyed chatting with the owner during breakfast. Though he’s from the U.S. and lives in Florida during the winter, he’s been going to Baddeck for 23 years and has spent at least a winter or two there. He’s very knowledgeable about the area.

    Alexander Graham Bell and family lived in Baddeck for many years and there’s a very good museum there dedicated to him. Had the weather been better, we might have skipped it and that would’ve been a real shame. We learned that there was much more to Mr. Bell than the invention of the telephone! It’s very well done and I highly recommend it.

    For a week or two before we left, I’d noticed some minor eye irritation that I knew from past experience stemmed from seasonal allergies. It started in my left eye and cleared up on its own. So, being distracted with trip preparations, I really didn’t give it much thought when it started in my right eye. Well, that morning I’d woken to the realization that my eyelid was beginning to swell and feel uncomfortable. By the time we left the museum it was really bothering me. So we stopped at the pharmacy in Baddeck. The pharmacist was very helpful and recommended antibiotic eye drops. He told me if it hadn’t cleared up in a day or two I’d need to see a doctor. Not something you really want to hear when you’re traveling in another country!

    Since it was still overcast and rainy we decided to have lunch before heading out of Baddeck. The owner of The Water’s Edge had recommended the Bell Buoy, which also had very good reviews. We were so glad we decided to stop there. We all ordered from the lunch specials. DS had a lobster sandwich and chowder, DH ordered crab cakes that came with a small salad and I had one of the best lunches I’ve ever had! It was mushroom caps stuffed with lobster, served in the kind of dish escargot is served in and covered with melted cheese. So deliciously decadent! It was also served with a small, very good house salad. Our tab there was $70.67.

    We also stopped in the provincial liquor store before leaving Baddeck. We hadn’t been able to go there the night before because of the power outage. The woman at the convenience store told us they normally close at 6:00. That made me think we might have trouble buying beer and wine on the trip, but that proved not to be the case.

    As we headed out onto the Cabot Trail the weather began to clear. The owner of The Water’s Edge had suggested that we stop at Cape Smokey Provincial Park, shortly before Ingonish, which was our destination. He said it has a wonderful view that most people miss because they’re in a hurry to get to the national park. He also said that the one advantage to the overcast day was that, unless the view was obscured by fog, we’d have a better chance of seeing whales than on a sunny day. Well, we did stop. And wouldn’t you know, by the time we got there the sun was out! So we didn’t see any whales. But that’s okay, it was beautiful! And I think in the time we were there maybe two other cars stopped. So we had it pretty much to ourselves. My advice to anyone who stops there is to walk from the parking lot through the undergrowth to where there’s a fence just before a sheer drop. By all means, stay behind the fence!

    We then drove on through the entrance to Cape Breton Highlands National Park to the Ingonish Chalets which is on the other side of Ingonish. We had reservations there for that night and the next. This turned out to be one of our favorite lodgings. We were in the middle of a row of maybe ten suites. There were individual cabins across the parking area from us. It’s in a lovely wooded setting with a bit of a playground area. The rooms aren’t fancy. In fact I’d describe them as rustic, with high ceilings and everything wood paneled. As we entered there was a living room area with a pullout couch, TV, refrigerator, microwave and a dining table and chairs. The large, nicely appointed bathroom led off of a short hallway which, in turn, led to a good sized bedroom. DS was glad to have DH and me in a separate room as our snoring had been keeping him awake! This was the only lodging we had on the trip that didn’t include breakfast. With the fridge and microwave, we’d talked about picking up something to have in the morning, but didn’t get around to it.

    The Chalets also have beach access across the street. After getting settled in, we went to check it out. It’s a lovely wooded path, maybe a quarter mile, maybe not that long, leading to a beautiful sandy beach. We saw one woman walking her dog. Other than that, we were alone the whole time. The owner had warned us that the path tends to be very buggy, but we really didn’t have any trouble.

    I really can’t remember how much time there was between coming back from the beach and going to dinner. We might have driven around a little bit, or just relaxed in the room.

    We had a really nice dinner at Main Street Restaurant & Bakery in Ingonish Beach. The reviews were good, though I’d seen some that complained about the service. We found it to be a little slow at times, but they were busy. The waitress wasn’t overly friendly, but neither was she unfriendly, and the hostess was quite pleasant. Most importantly, the food was great! We were brought a very good loaf of bread to start. DH and DS both ordered from the specials. DH had a halibut dish that he really liked. DS had a pasta dish that was in a light tomato sauce with seafood on top and the entire plate was ringed with mussels. That was one of his favorite meals of the trip! I had pan fried scallops with a baked potato and vegetables. Everything on the plate was delicious. Those were a tie for the best scallops I had on the trip. They were sweet and very well cooked. I had scallops elsewhere that were dry, these were not. Our tab for that meal was $126.11. By the way, wherever appropriate, the tabs I’m quoting include tip. I had wine and DS had beer. The bakery items looked very good, but we were stuffed!

    After dinner, we drove out a little beyond Ingonish on the Cabot Trail, stopping at two or three beautiful overlooks. But when it started to rain again, we returned to our chalet.

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    DAY FOUR--WEDNESDAY, JUNE 22ND

    The second I woke up the next morning I knew things were not going well with my eye. Looking in the mirror confirmed that we were going to have to figure out how I was going to see a doctor. DH immediately called the Chalets’ office and explained the situation. The woman working told him we’d have to go to the hospital in Neil’s Harbour, the next town up the road. And she said she’d call ahead for us. When we arrived at the hospital the woman at check in was expecting us. She told us that they’d try to get me in to the clinic, which would be $40. But if the clinic wouldn’t take me, she warned us that it would be, in her words, “very pricey”. And she wasn’t kidding. It would’ve been $927! (Or she might have said $937.) Presumably this was for an ER type of situation. Thank goodness, the clinic agreed to take me! I saw a very nice young doctor. She told me that my eyelid was infected and that normally she would want me to come back in two or three days to check whether the antibiotic she was prescribing was working. She understood that that wasn’t an option but warned us that, if it wasn’t getting better in two or three days, we’d need to find another clinic so that I could get IV antibiotics. We took the prescription to the pharmacy in Neil’s Harbour and were told there’d be half an hour wait. So we headed to the Chowder House for coffee and tea as we were waiting.

    Everyone I dealt with that day--from the woman at check in, to the doctor, to the woman working in the clinic office, the pharmacist and the people waiting in the clinic--was so nice and so helpful. And of course, I owe a huge thank you to Shirley, the woman in the Ingonish Chalets' office who knew immediately where to send us and called ahead for us. They all helped to make a stressful experience very much less so. However, I have to say, if I had a dollar for every time I was asked then, and for the next few days, whether I had a bite (often specifically a black fly bite), I’d have had enough to pay for a meal! /:) At that point, I took to wearing my sunglasses pretty much all the time. It was a bit annoying in dark restaurants. But it was better than the looks I got, answering questions or worrying that I’d frighten small children!

    Our itinerary for that day evolved a lot over time. Before the trip, I’d kind of assumed it’d be a park day. At one point, I’d planned to book the Sunset Hike that the park does on the Skyline Trail. But when I realized that it starts from the Cheticamp side, we decided it might not be practical. I’m sure it would be an amazing experience, though. Starting the night before, we began thinking we’d rather spend the day driving up to Bay St. Lawrence and Meat Cove and then going around to have dinner at the Rusty Anchor and possibly catching sunset on that side.

    We’d been thinking about having lunch at the Chowder House, anyway. Our stop there for coffee and tea convinced us that it was a good idea. After picking up the prescription, we headed back to get DS. I was quite pleased that the pharmacist said I could drink with the medication. I never drink during the week during the school year. But the thought of missing out on the local beer for the rest of the vacation was not a happy one! :d

    When DH and I were there earlier, just as the Chowder House opened, I think we may have been the only customers. By the time we got back, it was busy, but there were open tables. DS and I each had a cup of their crab and corn chowder and split an order of fried clams with fries. It was all very good. None of us, including DH, can remember what he ordered. Whatever it was, it was good! :-D This is another one of the places that I’m really glad we were able to include. We had read about it beforehand. It’s a quirky little place with a very good view. And good food!

    Again the day had started overcast. It began to clear around the time we finished lunch. By the time we’d headed off the main Cabot Trail toward the top of the island, it was becoming gorgeous again. This turned out to be one of those days out of time that we’ll always remember--maybe not the specifics, but the beautiful blue sky, breathtaking scenery, little fishing villages, nearly deserted roads--heaven, really! That day alone was worth having made the trip.

    It must have been late afternoon/early evening when we got back on the main Trail towards Pleasant Bay. Rusty Anchor was one of the places on our “must do” list. It pops up in pretty much everything you read about Cape Breton Island restaurants, if not Nova Scotia restaurants in general. We’d originally thought we’d stop there for lunch the next day as we traveled to Mabou. But I think this worked out better. I’d looked forward to eating in their outside area overlooking the water, but it wasn’t open. Nor were any of the window tables on that side. But there were plenty of open tables. Their specials that night included a half order of their warm lobster dip served with tortilla chips. It was fine. DH had their half crab roll/half lobster roll. DS and I both had the lobster roll, which is supposed to have been named the best on Cape Breton by National Geographic. DH and DS were both very happy with their sandwiches. I have to admit to being disappointed. I tasted more bread than lobster. It just didn’t live up to the hype, IMO. And it was expensive in comparison to other places we ate. I can’t find the receipt, but the charge that went through on our card was $107.76 (American, of course). In the course of looking for the receipt, I found the final one from our meal at the Bell Buoy. The tab I quoted earlier didn’t include the tip.

    Although the sun was beginning to come down by the time we finished eating, we were still quite a ways from actual sunset. We drove around a little bit and found a place to sit and watch the sun for a while. It was beautiful, but unfortunately, very buggy. We were getting tired by that point and still had at least an hour’s drive back to Ingonish, so we didn’t wait for the sun to go down.

    This brings me to one of my few real disappointments about this trip. I’d really looked forward to seeing stars! Living in a major metropolitan area, the idea of seeing the night sky in all its glory was very appealing. But of course, in that part of the world it stays light later and we were there at the time of the solstice. Between the fact that we were almost always back in our room by the time it got really dark and the few overcast evenings, we never did see the stars. One more reason for a trip back!

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    DAY FIVE--THURSDAY, JUNE 23RD

    Oops! Forgot to add that we split a piece of very tasty lemon meringue pie at the Rusty Anchor.

    We all agreed that my eye looked better when I got up that morning. And it felt better. I was obviously very relieved to see that the antibiotic and the Lid-Care Towelettes I’d bought at the pharmacy were working.

    We stopped for breakfast at the Bean Barn Café, which was not far down the road from the Ingonish Chalets. It gets good reviews. DH ordered oatmeal and coffee, DS got a waffle with strawberries and dollops of whipped cream and coffee, I got a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on an English muffin and tea. The food was good, the tea was a little strong. The negatives, IMO, were that this is an order at the counter and find a table place. It was pretty busy so that makes for a less than relaxing way to start the day. And we were caught off guard by the fact that they don’t accept cards, so we had to dig to come up with enough cash. According to a review I just now saw on TripAdvisor, it sounds like they do take Canadian cards. As I said, the food was good. But I think it was expensive for what it was. I can’t find the receipt, but as I recall, it was about $33.00.

    Our next stop was the Freshmart. As we were paying, I asked where the nearest ATM was. The manager told me, but then said that I could get cash back on a debit card purchase. I told her it was an American card and she said that was fine. It worked! We were able to get $100 back. But that proved to be the only time on the trip. The next time I tried, it went through as a credit card, giving me no opportunity to choose debit or request cash back. The third and final time I tried, the card was declined altogether.

    The next stop we made was one that I highly recommend. It was at an overlook not too far out of Ingonish called Green Cove Look off. This was our third stop there in the time we’d spent in Ingonish, but the first time I’d taken the stairs and climbed out onto the rocks. Life just doesn’t get much better than the experience of standing out on those rocks on that beautiful morning looking at that breathtaking view!

    After that we did two hikes in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The first was the Lone Shieling hiking trail. It was a very enjoyable short, easy hike. We followed that with the MacIntosh Brook trail. It was a little longer, but a very nice hike that ends at a beautiful, peaceful waterfall. I’m not normally a hiker, but I loved both of these. While I’m thinking of it, I also want to mention how much we appreciated all of the wonderful signs here and in Fundy National Park (as well as a few other places we stopped during this trip). They were very interesting, informative and educational. We learned a lot!

    From there until Cheticamp we enjoyed the beauty of the Cabot Trail, making the occasional quick stop at an overlook. I’d been warned on the We Love Nova Scotia Facebook page to expect some road construction on the Cabot Trail, and we did hit some that day. There were a two or three times when we were stopped for maybe as much as 10 minutes. But what a beautiful place to have to stop!

    Our plan was to stop for lunch in Cheticamp since we’d hit the Rusty Anchor the night before. It was quite late by the time we got there, I think around 3:30, and we were hungry! We had a few places in mind but what with one thing and another, we wound up at the Seafood Stop Restaurant, which is also a fish market. It was a very good choice. At that time of the day, of course, it wasn’t crowded. The woman who waited on us was very friendly and efficient. We started by splitting an order of poutine with lobster. So good! DH and I both had bowls of very tasty chowder and DS thinks he did, too. DH had coffee, DS had Coke and I just had water. I don’t think we split a dessert here. The tab, with tip, was $52.92.

    I would have liked to have spent more time in Cheticamp, but at that point, we needed to push on towards Mabou, where we had booked our room directly with the Inn and had paid in advance. The reason I booked directly was that I was unable to find anything in Mabou on the third party sites. I had my heart set on staying there because of the Red Shoe Pub. It’s owned by the Rankin sisters and has music every night. I’m not familiar with them, but my understanding is that the Rankin family are very well known members of the traditional music community in that part of the world.

    Duncreigan Country Inn was recommended in the Fodor’s guide and turned out to be one of my favorite lodgings on this trip. Even though it’s in a very convenient location, walking distance to the Red Shoe, the Inn is in a lovely wooded, flower-filled spot off the road and along the harbor. There are two buildings, the main house and a smaller one, which is where we were. Our room was large, comfortable, light and airy and had two double beds on opposite sides of the room. We had a lovely view through the trees of the harbor. Everyone we dealt with here was friendly and helpful. It’s a family run place and they made us feel comfortable, inviting us to help ourselves to coffee or tea in the kitchen at any time, etc. All in all, just an extremely pleasant place to stay. At, I think, $167 American, it was beyond our usual budget. But a nice treat.

    After having had lunch so late, we were glad to hear that the kitchen at the Red Shoe Pub stays open until 9:30. I stopped in around 6:30 or 7:00 to verify that and to ask whether we were likely to have trouble getting a table around 8:00. I was told that we probably would normally, but that they weren’t as busy as usual that evening. When we went back there were two or three tables open. I had the one piece fish and chips, DS had the steak sandwich and DH had the grilled vegetable and goat cheese flat bread. All very good. DS and I also each had two very good draft beers. I can’t find the receipt, but the $74.17 on our credit card, including tip, is among the more reasonable dinners on the trip.

    Sadly, it turned out that the music that night was not traditional. This was disappointing considering it was my reason for choosing Mabou. But to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I was up for it that night, anyway. We could have stayed to see what the music was like, but we were all too tired to deal with the noise in what was, by then, a crowded place. And I’m grateful to the Red Shoe Pub because, had it not been for them, we may not have chosen Mabou and we very much enjoyed it. It was also a good stopping point since we would be driving to the ferry the next day.

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    Thanks for all the info. My husband and a few friends will be biking the trail in the opposite direction than you came (I will be in a car). How do you think the construction will impact the bicycle riders? Did you see many on your trip?

    We too are staying near Mabou at the end of our trip.

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    Thanks so much for the feedback, LibraLeo, retired04 and Sberg.

    We did see some cyclists, though more motorcycles than bicycles. I don't think the construction should be a problem. But to be perfectly honest, I just don't know.

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    DAY SIX--FRIDAY, JUNE 24TH

    We started the day with a very nice meal in the lovely breakfast room of the Duncreigan. There was a buffet of scrambled eggs, bacon, blueberry pancakes, several kinds of bread, jams/spreads and coffee and juice. I was brought a china pot of hot water and two tea bags. A nice touch, I thought. A perfect ending to our stay there.

    Not too far out of Mabou, we stopped at the Celtic Music Interpretive Center in Judique. There was an $8 charge for the museum and we really didn’t feel we had time to do it justice, so we browsed their gift shop. I bought a Nova Scotia music CD, which I think was my first souvenir of the trip. The Center has a pub that features traditional music every day at lunch. I would’ve loved to do that, but it just didn’t work with our itinerary. Someday, I’m going to go back with my brother and sister-in-law who are big fans of traditional music, rent a house somewhere on the island and take in all of the music we can! ;;)

    We were sad to cross the Causeway and say goodbye to Cape Breton Island. We all agreed that we wished we’d had more time there.

    Back in April or early May, I’d tried to make reservations for the ferry to PEI, only to be told we couldn’t do that. It was explained to me that you don’t pay to get on PEI, you only pay to get off! I told her when we’d be there and asked if we’d have any problem. She said we shouldn’t, that we should just make sure to arrive 30 minutes before departure. We decided to take the 1:45 ferry, which was supposed to get us to PEI at 3:00. We arrived at the departure point about 12:15. The plan was to check out the situation and then try to find somewhere to eat lunch. Surprisingly, people were already lined up and we were advised to do the same. We were later to learn that there was only one ferry running instead of the usual two. So, of course, there were half as many trips per day, leading to long lines. We also learned that because of the situation, they were taking reservations. Obviously, the woman I’d spoken to early on didn’t know this was going to be the case and I hadn’t seen any reason to call again. We heard someone in the line next to us talking loudly on her phone telling someone she’d been told she might not get on the next ferry. That, of course, made us a bit nervous though we’d been given no indication that we wouldn’t get on when we came through the gate somewhat earlier than she had.

    Add to that the fact that the ferry was late loading, so we had quite a wait. There’s a terminal building with a cafeteria type place to eat and a tourist information desk. We went in and walked around, but decided not to eat there. Fortunately, we did get on the ferry. As did the woman who’d been complaining loudly!

    Despite the problems, I’m very glad we opted to take the ferry. It was a very pleasant way to travel and beat having to drive all the way over to the bridge. I had a hot dog, a bag of corn curls and a Coke on the ferry. It was actually pretty good! And I enjoyed the view from my window side table. DH and DS both waited in line, at separate times, to get the Cows ice cream rather than a meal. They were immediate fans!

    We were obviously a little late arriving in PEI. DH really wanted to try to take as scenic a route as possible to Souris, where we had reservations for three nights. But between getting a bit lost, wanting to make a stop at a grocery store and starting to worry that the restaurants in Souris would be closed by the time we arrived, we took a mostly inland route. All of the farmland was almost culture shock having just come from Cape Breton Island. As DS said, it was like the Midwest set down in the ocean.

    At one point, we talked about stopping to eat in Georgetown. I called the B&B to let her know we may not arrive until 8:00 or a little later. She was nice, but sounded less than happy at the prospect. I later learned that she doesn’t live there, so probably didn’t want to hang around, which is understandable. So we pushed on and arrived around 6:30.

    As we were checking in at The McLean House Inn, as I started to hand the proprietor my credit card, she told me that they don’t have a credit card machine! She said they’d been trying to get one for several weeks but kept running into problems. I wondered aloud why I hadn’t been made aware of this when I made the reservation. But I booked through Bookingdotcom and they either didn’t know the situation or thought it’d be handled by the time we arrived. The bill for the three nights was $547 and change, which of course we didn’t have in cash! Fortunately, there was a bank about a block away. I was nervous that we wouldn’t be able to access their ATM or that my bank wouldn’t allow me to withdraw that much at once. I’m glad to say that neither of those worries proved true.

    McLean House was built in 1875. It’s a lovely old home, but our 2nd floor room was certainly more “worn” than the one we’d had the night before. It was a nice, bright room with two very comfortable double beds, a desk, a dresser holding the TV, a wardrobe and a loveseat in the bay window. We had a very nice, but distant view of the water and the lighthouse. However, the house is much closer to the water on the other side. We had a private bathroom across the hall.

    As we’d driven in, we’d noticed a restaurant less than a block from McLean House that was open. The innkeeper assured us that it’d be open for a while and that there were two others out near the lighthouse that were still open. We opted for Sheltered Harbour near the lighthouse which, we were happy to see, had a sign saying they were open until 8:00. DS and I each had a beer. He started with a cup of chowder and had their shipwreck platter which was basically ground beef, fries, gravy and peas. He seemed to like it! I had the island bar clams with a baked potato and slaw. The clams had good flavor but were extremely chewy. I had to ask for sour cream for my potato. DH had scallop stuffed salmon with rice pilaf and slaw, which he liked. The bill was $71.77 before tip. The service was good. Overall, this place was okay.

    After we ate, we drove over to the lighthouse and were surprised to find it still open. I climbed up to the second floor. DH and DS went all the way to the top and got quite a kick out of it. I don’t think we did anything else that evening.

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    DAY SEVEN--SATURDAY, JUNE 25TH

    I’d reached the point where I was no longer wearing sunglasses inside!

    We were served a good breakfast that morning. There was bread, bagels (a toaster), bananas, yogurt and coffee in the dining room. We were brought plates of scrambled egg and bacon along with a glass of orange juice. I requested and was brought a cup of tea.

    We took it fairly easy that day, starting out on Route 16 towards East Point where we drove out to the lighthouse. It’s a nice stop for looking out at sea and the red-tinged coastline. There’s also a very nice gift shop and a restaurant/café, though we didn’t go in the restaurant so I can’t comment on it. As I recall, the lighthouse was open, but we didn’t go in. It’s a good thing we arrived when we did because shortly after we parked, we saw something we’ve never experienced before or since. A caravan of at least a dozen vehicles, each presumably with a separate family unit, arrived, pretty much taking all of the parking spots. They all dispersed and really didn’t cause a glut at any point. It was akin to having a tour bus stop where you were, but all in separate vehicles! I’m not sure I’d want to deal with the logistics of traveling with that many cars!

    Our next stop was the visitor center at the Greenwich part of Prince Edward Island National Park. One of my regrets is that we didn’t explore any of the park outside of the visitor center. But at that point, we thought we’d be back the next day. After that, we kind of meandered our way over to St. Peter’s Bay where we’d decided we’d stop for lunch. We’d heard very good things about Rick’s Fish ‘N’ Chips. We started with an appetizer size order of their Cajun mussels. This was the only time we had fried mussels and they were really good! I had a one piece order of fish and chips and I think that’s what the other two had, as well. One of the reviews I’d read said something like, “You can’t go wrong with fresh caught haddock and hand cut PEI potatoes”. And they were right. Rick’s definitely lived up to it’s hype. Once again, I can’t find the receipt. But the charge that went through on the card was $54.95, including tip.

    From there, we headed to Basin Head Provincial Park which is not far from Souris and whose beach is home to the singing sands. Due to the high silica content, the white sand “squeaks” when you walk on it. This may well have been the best beach experience I’ve ever had. It’s a lovely beach with very nice facilities and it was an absolutely gorgeous day. It was a Saturday, so the beach was far from deserted. But it didn’t feel crowded, either. The water was cold, so we really didn’t do much more than walk along the edge. My memory of beaches so often seems to include a pounding hot sun, heating up and reflecting off of the sand. It was not at all like that that afternoon. It was warm enough to be very comfortable, but not hot. We spent a wonderful couple of hours just relaxing and soaking in the beauty.

    After heading back to Souris and dropping DS at the inn, DH and I went out to run a few “errands”, including a stop at the lighthouse gift shop. It’d been closed when we were there the evening before and DH had seen a map in the lighthouse that he knew the gift shop carried. It’s a really nice gift shop.

    We dropped our purchases back in the room and then DH and I decided to go for a walk. Although it wasn’t our original destination, we wound up walking to the Lobster Shack, which was a fairly good jaunt. We were planning to have dinner there later and just kind of wanted to check it out. Imagine our disappointment when we learned they were closing in less than half an hour!

    However, we’d also been thinking about trying 21 Breakwater, which gets very good reviews. We knew if we were going to eat there, this was our last opportunity as they’re closed on Sundays. DS had been a little reluctant because he was getting the impression from the reviews that it was a bit too upscale for our comfort level. But now that the Lobster Shack was no longer an option, we figured we may as well give it a try. However, though none of the reviews I’d read mentioned it, I should’ve realized that this was a place that required a reservation, especially on a Saturday night. There were no tables available when we arrived. They were able to squeeze us in for an hour later. We took the reservation, but later called to cancel it. I was very uneasy about the vibe I got. They were very accommodating, but it just didn’t feel comfortable to me. I should’ve listened to DS. He has a very good knack for interpreting reviews and sensing the places that will appeal to us.

    Fortunately, Blue Fin, the restaurant very close to McLean House, is open until 10:00. We’d been a bit reluctant to go there the evening before because the reviews were very mixed. But at this point, we were hungry and tired. Upon rereading the reviews, DS decided it really didn’t sound bad. And there weren’t a lot of options left! DH and I each got a bowl of clam chowder. He added a side caesar salad, I added a side garden salad. DS had hamburger steak and onions. I had a glass of merlot. And we split a piece of their very tasty lemon meringue pie, which many of the reviewers had liked. The clam chowder was a little too salty for my taste, so not the best we had on the trip. But it was still good, as were the salads. DS liked his meal. At $66.81, including tip, it was a very reasonable meal. And while the food may not have been as exciting, I think it was a much better choice for us that evening than 21 Breakwater would have been. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things still manage to work out for the better! (-:

    After dinner we drove to the beach on the edge of town in hopes that we might be able to catch the sunset on the part of the harbor on the other side of the bridge. Unfortunately, the setting sun sunk below a ridge. But we very much enjoyed walking on the red sand beach at low tide.

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