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Trip Report - Newfoundland - September 2018 - Very Long

Trip Report - Newfoundland - September 2018 - Very Long

Old Oct 2nd, 2018, 03:15 PM
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Trip Report - Newfoundland - September 2018 - Very Long

We have long wanted to travel to Newfoundland, and finally decided that it was time to go. Iím 67, John is 71, and weíre experienced travelers with a lot of experience in Latin America and some experience in other parts of the world. I originally wanted to go in June to see the icebergs, but John is an avid gardener and preferred the idea of September (when heís starting to lose his interest in the garden). In retrospect, we made the right decision going in September. I was booked for knee replacement surgery on September 24, and knew I had to make the trip before my surgery.

We flew on WestJet, an easy trip from Toronto. We arrived before noon. The St. Johnís airport is smallish, easily maneuverable, and thankfully we were able to pick up our rental car early. I had booked the Budget car rental through Costco, but oddly enough we ended up picking it up early and dropping it off later, and it ended up being cheaper than the Costco rate. Driving on the island is easy, although the Trans-Canada is very boring.

OVERALL SUMMARY Ė Everything (or most of it anyway) that we had read about Newfoundland is true. Itís a beautiful holiday destination. The people are friendly and there was so much to see and do there. The island is huge, and we were glad that we didnít try to drive all the way to Gros Morne. Given my physical limitations with my knees, I wouldnít have been able to hike so what we did was perfect. The Trans-Canada highway is also really boring. The province reminds me a little of Iceland, where we visited 2 years ago. Apart from St. Johnís, the towns are small. There are more trees than there are in Iceland, but they are scrubby looking, bent over from the wind. What wasnít true and was a welcome surprise for was that the food scene in Newfoundland has definitely improved. St. Johnís has some fabulous restaurants and other places such as Fogo Island have definitely benefited from tourism.

IRISH LOOP - Our first destination was Calvert, which is a very small community on the southern shore of the island about 70 km from St. Johnís. We were booked at the Inn at Capelin Bay, a lovely B&B run by Kevin, a friendly Newfoundlander. We had a larger room, with a king sized bed, decent sized private bathroom, balcony (shared with the room across the hall) with wonderful views, and a TV. We spent 2 nights there, and it was great choice for us. The garden area is lovely, and there are a couple of seating areas in addition to the balcony off the room. Breakfasts were delicious and huge Ė you donít go away hungry! The first morning, in addition to eggs, bacon, pancakes and so on, we had salt fish cakes that were delicious. Kevin had asked us if we had any dietary restrictions but I donít know if he had asked the other guests, and 2 of them were vegetarian. (I think if I was a vegetarian, I would have taken the initiative to tell him, as he had gone to a lot of trouble making that breakfast.)

That first day, we didnít do much other than relax. We went to a restaurant called the Squid Jigger that was only a few minutesí drive from our B&B. Neither of us was too hungry, so we just ordered their delicious fish chowder and an appetizer of the calamari.

Calvert is near Ferryland, and Ferryland is close to the colony of Avalon, which is one of the reasons we chose to stay in that area. So much history and it's incredible to think of settlers coming to Newfoundland in the 17th century. Such a tough life! There is an impressive active archeological site there. Included in the entrance to the site is a tour of the area, which was very informative and worth your time. Off the shore, we could see whales. There is an island where a family brings their sheep to graze for the summer and we were told that the meat is excellent because of their salty diet.

After our visit to Avalon, we had arranged a picnic at the lighthouse. I highly recommend this. The food was great, and we had an incredible view. You need to book it early, and I can see why it is so popular. You canít bring your own car up to the lighthouse, and a lot of people walk from the carpark. We took a vehicle up as it is too far for me to walk with my bad knees and that was definitely worth it ($10 per person round trip). Our late lunch was delicious with an orzo salad, sandwich with homebaked bread and ham and brie or curried chicken, selection of desserts (we can recommend the gingerbread and the blueberry cake) and lemonade. We didnít need dinner after that giant lunch. It was ~ $29 / person depending on what type of sandwich you select.

We lucked out totally with the weather Ė all blue skies and lovely temperature. I know that thereís a lot more to see in that area Ė people at the B&B talked about birding tours, whaling tours, and so on, but we found our 2 nights were perfect for us. We had time to sit in Kevinís lovely garden and just enjoy our time there. Some people do a day trip from St. Johnís to Avalon, but we really enjoyed being right there.

TRINITY - After another one of Kevinís huge breakfasts, we set off for Trinity. I had booked 3 nights at Maidment House, which is a historic B&B that my sister had highly recommended. Itís run by Karen, who is an excellent host. We had the queen sized room overlooking the garden. I specifically chose that room because the bathroom is ensuite and it has a walk in shower, but Iím sure the other rooms are lovely as well. Breakfasts were very good Ė Karen always tries to make something a little special (homemade granola, yogurt, fabulous muffins and quiche, etc.) and we enjoyed her cooking a lot. She also has a business making soaps, and I bought a couple of bars from her.

After getting settled at the Maidment, we headed to Trinity Mercantile for the best bagel and house smoked salmon. Itís absolutely delicious, and one bagel was definitely enough to share. We met a couple of locals, older women, who go there most days for a coffee or tea so that they can socialize with all the people who go there! We went back one other day as well to have another one of those bagels and smoked salmon Ė so good. Iím sure the other dishes are good, but I canít resist excellent smoked salmon.

We wandered around town for a while, and then stopped for a cocktail at the Twine Loft happy hour, where we made a reservation for dinner. They have a nice deck overlooking the water, and itís a very pleasant place for a drink. Unfortunately the weather turned and we had few minutes of heavy rain, so we ended up going upstairs to finish our drinks. Dinner at the Twine Loft is fixed price ($50 / person not including alcohol, tax or tip), with a choice of 2 entrees. When you make the reservation, youíre asked to select your entrťe. Both of us ordered the cod en papillote, which was delicious. The salad before our entrees was especially delicious, very fresh and flavourful. Dessert was a partridgeberry tart. (We decided that partridgeberries are our favourite berries.) There was also a lovely chocolate (from the local chocolate company) served with coffee or tea. They offer 2 seatings, and the earlier one sells out more quickly, I believe because there is a local theatre that people book for the evening.

Our first full day was a Sunday, and we decided to drive to Bonavista, which is about 45 km from Trinity. Our first stop was in Elliston at Home from the Sea. This is an interpretive centre about the sealing industry. Although I did own sealskin boots back in my university days in Edmonton in the early 70ís, Iím not a fan of hunting seals. However, this was extremely moving and definitely worth the small fee to visit. I literally felt like I would cry in the gallery with the 3 large paintings of 2 young brothers, one of whom died in the ice. Descriptions of the men and boys who died in 1914 in a terrible storm were also heartbreaking.

Our next stop was an area near Elliston which is known for puffins and root cellars. (Elliston is, after all, billed as the Root Cellar Capital of the World!) We were too late for puffins (although we did hear that there were a few out on the water), but the views were spectacular. We also saw some of the 100+ root cellars in the area.

Finally we made our way back to Bonavista proper. The town is much bigger than Trinity, but it doesnít seem as charming as Trinity. (Mind you, the whole of Trinity is a heritage site, so everything is cohesive, and probably kind of Ďfakeí.) What we did notice was a disproportionate number of cemeteries for what seems to be a small town. We stopped at Sweet Rock Ice Cream, where we shared some fabulous dark salted caramel ice cream. We also stopped at the Newfoundland Salt Company where we chatted with Peter Burt, one of the 2 owners. Peter is a chef who used to work for one of the celebrity chefs in Toronto when he lived in Toronto (some interesting stories there!), and later at Raymonds in St John's. We bought a couple of his salts and really enjoyed talking with him. He actually sells his salts at Hooked, a fish shop 2 blocks from our house! John bought a hoodie with the company name and logo on it, and wore it the rest of our trip. That got lots of comments Ė Peter is well known. We then went to see the Matthew, which is a replica of John Cabot's ship that sailed from Bristol to Newfoundland back in the 1400s. I didnít know any of that history, and it was quite interesting.

Our final stop was the Bonavista Social Club for a late lunch. Itís a lovely restaurant on the Bonavista Peninsula. They grow all their vegetables in their gardens on the property and they have a huge oven for pizza and bread. The restaurant is very popular and apparently people may have to wait for a table some of the time. We lucked out Ė it was busy, but we were able to get a table on their enclosed patio area. The views are spectacular! I had a shrimp pizza (their special of the day) and John had their famous moose burger, both really good choices, but the star was the partridgeberry bread pudding that we shared. (I actually brought home half my pizza to make sure that I had room for that bread pudding.) When we left, we bought some of their delicious partridgeberry ketchup and jam to bring home with us. I assume that there are some good restaurants in Bonavista, but Iíd really recommend this place. Their vegetable gardens are lovely and we enjoyed their food.

That night, we had tickets to a production at the Rising Tide Theatre in Trinity. The play was ok Ė not great drama, but the cast clearly put a lot of effort into it, and we like to support local theatre. Itís a stoneís throw from Maidment House.

The following morning, we did the excellent and highly recommended Trinity Historical Walking Tour. There is a huge amount of history, especially for such a small community. The tour is led by Kevin Toope, who is a retired teacher. He was born in the tiny resettled outport of Ireland's Eye, where his family had lived since the early 1800ís. He moved to Trinity with his parents in the early 50ís. Heís extremely knowledgeable, and he gives the tour 6 days a week at 10 AM. We saw 4 generations of saltbox homes (who knew there were 4 generations of them?) as well as the 2 cemeteries and churches. The whole town is now protected as a historic site and new homes have to be built in the historic style. The town is busy in the tourist season but only 40 people lived here last winter. (Two of the 40 were children, and one of them is the son of Karen at Maidment House.) There was a lot of talk about the devastating impact of the cod moratorium on Newfoundland. It should have been preventable. I used a cane for the walking, but there were frequent stops so I also brought a small 3 legged stool that I had bought at Lee Valley.

After the tour, we wandered around a little more seeking out the Sweet Rock Ice Cream. It was a much longer walk than we expected it to be! The signs were definitely misleading, but once we got there, the views were terrific. That night, we had dinner at the Dock Marina, which is a mid-priced restaurant on the water. It gets mixed reviews but we were happy with what we had (more cod).

FOGO ISLAND Ė After a final breakfast at the Maidment, we headed out to the Fogo Island Ferry. The schedule was Ďchallengingí to interpret Ė looks like Tuesday (the day we were travelling) had a different schedule, and we got there far too early. We thought that the ferry was to sail at 2 pm (as did a lot of other people), but it really left at 3:15. There is nothing at the ferry other than a washroom. We should have bought a sandwich when we passed through Gander.

We definitely felt better after we arrived on Fogo and found our B&B at Tilting Harbour, where the host is Tom. We had booked this through AirBnB. Fogo is surprisingly big, but there are very few restaurants. Not a surprise given that itís an island off an island. We finally broke down and ate fish and chips at the Cod Jigger, one of the few restaurants on Fogo. The fish and chips were delicious, although the ambiance is nothing special given that the restaurant shares the space with a convenience store.

We had a very tiny bedroom at the B&B in Tilting, and at first, it felt like a letdown after our previous places. (To be honest, I seriously doubted my choice that first night.) However, we quickly changed our minds Ė the hospitality was excellent, breakfasts were wonderful (delicious partridgeberry scones, eggs and bacon, and so on). There were 3 other couples staying at the B&B, and it was a great mix of people. Tom, the host, actually was only there the 1 night as he himself was travelling, but his sister and brother-in-law filled in and they were terrific hosts. The B&B has wonderful views and in the end, we both agreed that the small room didnít really make much of a difference! It probably helped actually as everyone congregated in the comfortable living room in the evening and that really made the place special. (Note that there are 2 double rooms and 2 queen rooms at Tomís B&B Ė I just wasnít able to book a queen.)

That first full day, I had booked lunch at the Fogo Island Inn. While I certainly canít afford to stay there (rooms + meals start at $1900 CAD / night and thereís a minimum 3 night stay), they do allow non-guests to have lunch there, and lunch is doable. Included in the fixed price menu is a wonderful salad bar with lovely selection of vegetables and a delicious split pea puree with blackened onions. All of the 3 courses are delicious. You can choose 3 items from the menu. If you want 3 desserts, ok. If you donít want a dessert, ok. I had the mussel & shrimp ragout, the poached cod with a bacon broth, and a partridgeberry chocolate tart. John had the cod tongues, the grilled beef, and an interesting twist on baked Alaska. Tipping is not allowed. Staff are friendly. The setting is drop dead gorgeous. We thoroughly enjoyed it. So if you can arrange a meal at the inn, Iíd highly recommend it.

The next day, we took a tour of the inn. I had tried to arrange it the previous day, but they only take 8 people at a time. (Coincidentally, 4 of those people were staying at our B&B.)The inn is extremely protective of their guests' privacy but we were able to see the more public areas. All of the work is local except for chairs in the conference room, which are Nienkamper. The wooden furniture is wonderful. The hand designed wallpapers are gorgeous. It was a $40M build with apparently very little money coming from the province or the Feds. The architect is Newfoundland born, but based in Norway. The owner is Zita Cobb, a ďlocal girl made goodĒ. The inn is fully booked most of the year and only closes for a short period of time for maintenance activities. It can be booked for weddings, family reunions, conferences and so on. I wish! We did hear that a few people were not happy with it because Fogo is supposed to be for fishing. However, I think most of the islanders are happy that the inn is there Ė it employs a lot of people, and the spillover effect is considerable.

As mentioned, there are very few restaurants on Fogo (maybe 6 or 7), but there is a new one that is open only during the day called Bangbelly. Excellent coffee, sandwiches, pastries and it's owned by a young guy who I believe used to be with the Inn. After fueling up with coffee, we explored more of the island. Part of the mandate of the Inn is to foster the artistic community on Fogo. There are 4 studios that were built by the same architect. We hoped to see all 4 of them, but only ended up seeing 2 of them. The foundation receives over 1000 applications a year to come to the island and while the artists live in houses, the studios are their work space. One is very close to our B&B and it is called Squish. Itís also probably the most photographed studio Ė amazing architecture and views right down on the water. On our walk after seeing Squish, we passed by an Catholic cemetery dating from the 1700s to 1872 that is in serious disrepair. You can't read most of the stones although a couple are still in good condition. The area was covered with lichen on the rocks, wild blueberries (that were ripe) and partridgeberries. Very picturesque. To leave the cemetery, we literally had to walk through someoneís yard.

That night, we had arranged to have dinner at a wonderful new restaurant called Scoff. We shared our 3 dishes and dessert. We started with smoked salmon with thinly sliced pickled kohlrabi, radishes and a lemony aioli. Next up were salt cod pierogis with scrunchions (love those!), fried onions, mustard pickles, and creme fraiche. The last course was a special - roasted carrots with onions pickled lightly in orange juice, walnuts, yogurt and tomato jam. Heaven! Finished it all off with a slice of delicious coconut cream pie. All the dishes were excellent. Again the chef came from the Inn and has gone into business on his own. They also have fried chicken, burgers and fish & chips on the menu, but this was really elevated food comfort food in a casual atmosphere. I had made a reservation in advance, as I understand it gets quite busy, although they do set aside some tables for walk ins.

GANDER / GLOVERTOWN - We left Fogo on the 10 AM ferry and drove to Gander, where we stopped to see the North Atlantic Aviation Museum. I didnít realize that Gander had such a significant place in aviation history, even before 9/11, so the museum was really interesting. Itís not large and probably takes less than an hour to go through. We spent the night at the Lilac Inn in Glovertown, about a half hour from Gander. The Lilac Inn is a lovely place Ė large room (especially after Fogo), very comfortable. It looks like a traditional B&B in a historic home. The host, Keith, is excellent. Apparently there is apparently a very good restaurant about 25 minutesí drive away, but we decided we didnít want to drive so we ended up having dinner at a little local place called the Whitecap Cafť. The menu is pretty straight forward and we both had the panfried cod with baked potato and vegetables. (I think the veg were frozen from a bag, but the rest was really good.) The waiter was the ownerís grandson Ė while she was in the kitchen cooking, he waited on tables. I think he was about 12 y/o.

ST. JOHNíS Ė The next day, we headed to St. Johnís. We got there a little too early to check into our AirBnB apartment in St. Johnís so we headed to the excellent Rocket Bakery. The apartment is on Queens Road, about 2 short blocks from the bakery. When we were able to check in, we were thrilled with the apartment. Itís the main floor to an older home, and we have a combined living room and kitchen, big new bathroom, and a bedroom. Thereís lots of storage space, even a washing machine and dryer, so weíre well-equipped. Itís self-check in so we didnít meet the owners, but they were very responsive to any notes. The location is excellent. Not only are we close to Rocket, weíre close to the restaurants that I wanted to try. The owner provides a parking pass, so we were able to park on the street outside the apartment. I would definitely stay here again. After 9 nights of bed & breakfasts, it was nice to be on our own for a few days.

Our first dinner was at Seto, a restaurant a few blocks from our AirBnB. Apparently it's very popular with local chefs late at night but I can certainly attest to their good food earlier in the evening. There is a Chinese twist to the food. We shared their vegetable fried rice, the fabulous tuna tartare, and their confit duck leg with polenta. All of those were listed as appetizers, but the 3 dishes were perfect for sharing. The waiter even brought us a complimentary order of their biscuits with molasses butter because he thought that we were waiting for a 3rd person so he delayed taking our food order. We didnít think that they needed to give us anything. Service was great. Dessert was grilled Ontario peach with 5 spice French toast and ice cream. I really liked this place.

On Sunday, I had made a reservation at Mallard Cottage which is in Quidi Vidi, which I guess was a village on its own in the past, but is now a neighbourhood of St. Johnís. I had read that parking was an issue in Quidi Vidi, so we took a taxi there and back. You definitely need a reservation at Mallard Cottage Ė itís very busy and we saw a number of people turned away. You can order from the menu or get the buffet. Normally Iím not a buffet brunch person, but this is a personal buffet where the chef sends out a selection of items on the regular menu to your table - so much more civilized! Mind you, it was still too much food, even if all of the dishes were excellent. We knew we werenít going to have dinner that night. We spent the rest of the day wandering around and relaxing in the apartment. John had to look for a rain jacket to replace the one he lost somewhere on this trip, probably in Glovertown.

On our final full day in St. Johnís, we visited The Rooms, which is a beautiful museum in St. Johnís. We could likely have walked from our apartment, but with my knees and the possibility of rain, we decided to take the car. There is ample parking there, although the GPS directions were totally crazy! Honestly we could have walked faster. You really do need 3 hours at The Rooms and even then, you won't see it all. We had lunch in their dining room Ė their chowder is really good and the corn beef hash cakes are delicious. The displays at The Rooms are excellent, both their permanent exhibits and their temporary works. There is also a modern art gallery which has some really interesting work. After we finished at the Rooms, we headed up to Signal Hill for some panoramic views. It was a dull day but with 100% chance of rain the following day, we decided dull was better than fog and rain. Driving through the city to Signal Hill, we passed through some beautiful neighborhoods. St. Johnís is known for its Ďjellybeaní houses Ė the row houses in bright colours Ė but these homes were a different style, old and lovely. I did a bit of shopping that day Ė I went back to the Newfoundland Craft Council to buy a gorgeous piece of p te de verre made by a woman called Urve Manuel. She works in Rocky Harbour which is near Gros Morne and we didn't get to that part of the country, but I thought that it was lovely.

The rain held off so that we were able to wander around Signal Hill, but it hit that night. It may have been the effects of the hurricane in the US. Luckily we only had to do a 1 minute walk from our apartment to Chinched for a fabulous meal. Chinched specializes in their own sausage, charcuterie, etc. and itís really good. We started with a charcuterie platter for 2, and then moved to a really interesting and delicious dish - Korean fried chicken livers served in lettuce cups. Wow! Iíve had Korean fried chicken, but never Korean fried chicken livers Ė so delicious! Then we had cavatelli with local chanterelles, which our waitress had recommended. Iím a sucker for any dish with mushrooms, and this was wonderful. Our final dish was churros with their house made salted caramel sauce - yummy. They have interesting cocktails and all around itís a fab place to eat. All the dishes were excellent. Plus we spotted Rick Mercer seated at a table only a few meters from us. As Canadians, we thought that was pretty cool!

The next morning, we had to be out of our lovely AirBnB by 10:30 but they generously allowed us to keep the parking pass until we left for the airport in the midafternoon. It was dreary, wet and cold, so a good time to be flying home. I had made lunch plans at Merchant Tavern, again only a few minutesí walk from our apartment. Merchant Tavern is the sister restaurant to Raymonds, one of St. Johnís most expensive and highly rated restaurants. One of their chefs is Ross Larkin, who won last seasonís Top Chef Canada. I didnít want to spend the $ for Raymonds, but Merchant Tavern is much more casual and less expensive. I started with their special Caesar (complete with a raw oyster!), then the daily special of pan roasted halibut with squash and Brussels sprouts. John had their excellent pasta with lamb. We finished with vinegar pie (something I had never heard of) served with blueberries and tea ice cream made in-house. Portions were very generous. As a bonus, we saw Ross come into the restaurant carrying a huge tray of meat.

Our trip was finally over and we headed out to the airport. No problems getting there, and I was glad that the walkway from the car rental return was covered Ė the rains were definitely there. We had a wonderful trip. I probably wouldnít have done anything different.
SusanInToronto is offline  
Old Oct 2nd, 2018, 04:55 PM
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Enjoyed your report Susan, particularly the details. Newfoundland has intrigued us since we considered a work assignment in St John's several years ago.

Hopefully we'll get there for a visit one of these days, although as a non-seafood, non-moose eater (!) I do wonder about the food (although I managed to survive in Iceland). I reckon I could make do with partridge berry scones and tarts!
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 04:41 AM
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Well, Melnq8, you'd probably still have lots of choice on the menus - there is definitely more than seafood, although we like seafood, so that's what we went for. The partridge berry scones are fabulous!
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 06:11 AM
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Very nice report. The reference to Iceland is insightful. The people of both places have a very strong connection to their physical environment.

I met the man who was first on the scene at the very tragic Gander air crash of 1985. Newfoundlanders are incredibly good storytellers.
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Old Oct 4th, 2018, 08:06 AM
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The people really are incredible. I've seen Come From Away twice, and it's all about the Newfoundland people.
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Old Oct 5th, 2018, 12:56 PM
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Wonderful report, Susan. I loved my trip there a few years ago.
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Old Oct 7th, 2018, 09:46 AM
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Fantastic report, Susan! Many thanks!
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Old Oct 7th, 2018, 01:27 PM
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Such a great trip report thanks. I do need to get there and do a tour. Both my parents were born there but they moved to Vancouver after the war. I did do a trip at about age 13 but haven't been back since however I have met all 25 of my first cousins and keep in touch by facebook.
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Old Oct 13th, 2018, 08:41 AM
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Just saw this! Great report! When we were in Fogo there were some spots at the Inn for dinner for non-guests - no longer? We were actually disappointed in our meal (long story but it involves an abrupt change of menu and some really skimpy portions). I emailed after to express our disappointment. Much to my surprise they refunded our entire meal. I had not expected (nor asked) that. I replied thanking them profusely and asking them to bill us for the wine and the tip. We enjoyed the wine and the service was great and that seemed reasonable. Very impressed with their reaction. (we also spent 3 nights in the bar playing crib and pretending to stay there so they did well by us! I think they knew that)
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Old Oct 13th, 2018, 01:48 PM
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Hi Elizabeth. I booked our Fogo Island lunch reservation online through one of the third parties, and they only showed lunch reservations, so that's what we took. I'm not sure if they still offer some dinner reservations. We were really pleased with the menu for the lunch - the food was excellent and servings were more than ample. However, it sounds as though they handled your situation really well - that's nice to hear.
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