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Trip Report A Week in Nova Scotia

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My wife and I just spent a week in Nova Scotia, traveling from Montreal on Via Rail Canada's "Ocean" and arriving in Halifax on Thursday, June 30. Our inspiration for the trip dates back to November 2, 2008, when I read a marvelous article in The Washington Post, "The Rail Way," describing the overnight trip through the Canadian Maritime Provinces on this popular train.
As most folks who have traveled by train in North America already know, it's as much about the journey as it is about the destination. If you're in a hurry or are counting vacation days, flying is both less expensive and much, much faster. But my wife and I are both retired, and for us train travel is far more relaxing and sociable than traveling by plane or car.

Since the "Ocean" is an overnight train, we highly recommend booking a cabin for two. Cabin class includes dinner, breakfast, and lunch, as well as access to the tail car -- a vintage Canadian National dome car with a comfortable lounge beneath it. There may be no better way to enjoy the splendid scenery as you wind your way across Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

But let's move on to some of the details of our week in Nova Scotia. We started with three nights in Halifax (Thursday June 30, Friday July 1, and Saturday July 2), meeting up with our daughter at the Marriott Residence Inn, located on Grafton Street in downtown Halifax. The hotel was perfect for the three of us, and provides a kitchen that we used to cook up some fresh PEI mussels for one of our three dinners. We took our two other meals in town. Durty Nelly's Irish Pub, just around the corner from the hotel, offers an excellent selection of draft ales and beers along with reasonably priced PEI mussels, lobster rolls, and fish & chips -- all fresh from the nearby waters! We also dined at the upstairs dining room at Salty's on the Halifax wharf, which was pricey but excellent. If you enjoy fresh seafood, you really can't go wrong at any restaurant in downtown Halifax.

Friday, July 1, as it turns out, was Canada Day -- the Canadian equivalent to our U.S. Fourth of July. So we spent the entire day exploring Halifax: visiting Halifax Citadel National Historic Site (free admission on Canada Day), watching the Canada Day Parade at the foot of Citadel Hill, and exploring the Halifax wharf from one end to the other. One of the highlights was the Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market, where we enjoyed fresh lobster rolls and a flight of beers at the adjacent Garrison Brewing Company. We also visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (also free on Canada Day), lingering at the Titanic exhibits and the Halifax Explosion disaster exhibits. We finished the day watching fireworks over the harbour from Citadel Hill.

On Saturday, July 2, we picked up a rental car -- booked and prepaid in advance -- from Avis, just down Grafton Street from our hotel. Out first stop was Fairview Cemetery, where we visited the Titanic Grave Site, the final resting place for over one hundred victims of the sinking of the "RMS Titanic." Then it was on to Hall's Harbour and the Bay of Fundy on the north side of Nova Scotia -- about a 1h15m drive. Google "Bay of Fundy 7 days Tidal Predictions" to help time your visit. For Hall's Harbour, check the tides for Baxters Harbour. We arrived around 11:00a, within minutes of the day's high tides, then explored the rocky beaches, docks, and Eco Trail before settling down to a lunch of freshly-steamed lobsters at the Hall's Harbour Lobster Pound. By the time we were done with lunch, around 1:30p, the tide had already dropped about 20 feet, leaving the lobster boats sitting at the bottom of the almost dry harbour. Amazing!

Next we were off to Lunenburg on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia -- about a 1h15m drive from the Bay of Fundy. Lunenburg is mentioned so frequently in this Forum -- as well as by Canadians we talked to in Halifax -- that we made sure to visit it. What I don't remember reading is that Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What a marvelous, historic old fishing village, full of quaint shops, cozy restaurants, and an interesting and busy waterfront. After shopping and exploring for about an hour, we then drove back to Halifax (about 1h as I recall), where we bought our fresh mussels and beer and cooked our own dinner at the hotel.

On Sunday morning, July 3, we bid goodby to Halifax and drove our rental car north to our next destination, Baddeck on Cape Breton Island, where we had booked two nights at the Telegraph House & Motel. Baddeck is also mentioned frequently on this Forum as a excellent base for exploring the Cabot Trail and Cape Breton Highlands National Park, so thank you posters! We were not disappointed with our accommodations or the town. As it happens our visit coincided with the first ever "FestiVille Baddeck," a street fair featuring music, dance, artisans, and local foods on the town's main street that took place on Monday, July 4 (the festival will be repeated during 2016 on August 8 and September 1).

But first we took on the Cabot Trail, getting an early start Monday morning and traveling clockwise from Baddeck. At 186 miles long, don't underestimate the time it takes to drive the entire loop! We gave ourselves the entire day, but still were pressed for time to make it back to Baddeck for our 6:30p dinner reservation at the Telegraph House. Of course, we made several stops along the way, hiking the entire Skyline Trail (9.2 km), Green Cove Trail (0.2 km), Middle Head Trail (3.8 km), and a short section of the Coastal Trail -- all described on the excellent Cape Breton Highlands National Park website:

I should also note that there were several road construction stoppages along the Cabot Trail where the road was reduced to single lane traffic in alternating directions -- which probably added from 30 minutes to an hour to our day-long journey. Still, we were back in Baddeck by about 6:00p, where we enjoyed a marvelous dinner at the Telegraph House (a complete lobster dinner for $29 CAN, plus fresh seafood selections).

Tuesday, July 5 was our last full day in Nova Scotia. With a 6:10a flight to catch the following morning, we had booked a reservation at the Alt Hotel at the Halifax Airport for the night. Still, we had all day Tuesday to explore more of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island, so we decided to linger at Baddeck, first hiking to Uisge Ban Falls in a small provincial park a few miles outside of town, then taking the small ferry across Baddeck Harbour to Kidston Island and hiking to the lighthouse. For our last lunch, we ordered a batch of fresh steamed mussels from the Kissing Cod Seafood Market on the Baddeck wharf and enjoyed them with draft beers on the deck of the adjacent yacht club.

We were back on the road by 1:00p for the 3h30m drive to Halifax Airport, making a final sidetrip to Pictou, a small, historic seaport community off the road to the PEI ferry. Here we settled for ice cream cones on the waterfront before returning to the road. We arrived at Halifax Airport by 5:30p, returned our rental car, and literally walked to the Alt Hotel, which is adjacent to the airport terminal and, as it turns out, just a 15-minute walk to our departure gate the following morning.

We had a surprisingly good dinner of fresh seafood at a pub in the airport terminal, printed out our boarding passes for our return flight, and settled into our very comfortable and quiet room at the Alt Hotel for the night. We were up early on Wednesday, July 5 for our 6:10a flight to Newark, arriving at the U.S. Departures gate by about 4:30a, proceeding promptly through security, and then proceeding through U.S. Customs, which doesn't open until 5:00a. Make a note of this if you have an early flight to the U.S. from Halifax, as arriving too early at the airport will necessitate a wait until 5:00a. We were at our Gate by about 5:15a, and boarded our flight promptly at 5:40a. Unfortunately, a passing thunderstorm -- the only rain we had our entire week -- delayed our departure until 6:40a.