Friday, September 29 – Day 32
The group enjoyed a quiet night waking to a light frost and partly sunny skies, another furnace morning.
Our driving time today should be less than 4 hours we took advantage of our short drive delaying our departure to 10 am.
Once on the road, the scenery improved as the clouds lifted revealing rugged coastlines. The windswept trees looked as though a giant comb had passed through their branches.
As we neared St. John’s and the Atlantic Ocean the landscape changed to rugged rocky hills spotted with groves of stunted evergreens surrounding small lakes.
Each small lake sported a sign with a name. Newfoundland’s rivers are called brooks and lakes are called ponds, not sure why?
We arrived in St. John’s early afternoon, our destination is Pippy Park a large urban campground within city limits. Camping was pricey at $51. per night for an unkept pull-through spot complete with large puddles from recent rains, but handy to downtown St. John’s.
It was apparent we had not allowed enough time on the rock (the Island of Newfoundland as the locals describe it).
Our itinerary allowed only one day in St. John’s, hopefully, enough time to experience the culture and the people. Our plan included meeting up with a friend of our neighbor’s back home who promised to show us the town.
Terry and his wife Denise are younger than our group thus they still belonged to the workforce. We contacted them and agreed to meet for happy hour and dinner downtown St. John’s.
After setting up our rigs for the one night stay, a quick lunch and a cab ride downtown. The taxi driver was quite chatty as Newfies seem to be and asked if we minded a slight detour past his son’s school to check on him.
We drove past the school as his son emerged. The cabby and son exchanged a loud conversation as we slowly drove past. A strange but kind of refreshing encounter.
The cabby suggested we visit Signal Hill high above the city, one of the must-see sights in St. John’s. We took the cabby’s suggestion and headed to Signal Hill. Clouds and a cool wind greeted us as we got out of the taxi.
Signal Hill overlooks the St. John’s harbor to the right and the North Atlantic Ocean to the left. The look-out was the perfect vantage point to spot approaching enemy ships and protect the harbor during the Napoleonic Wars.
Just below Signal Hill is the Queens Battery, an installation of large cannons guarding the narrow entrance to the harbor.
Signal Hill is also where Marconi made his famous first Trans-Atlantic radio transmission in 1901.
After the Signal hill tour, we walked down the hill to the St. John’s historic waterfront. This district apparently houses more than a hundred bars and pubs in a few blocks.
The sightseeing and two-kilometer walk made the group thirsty. We decided to duck into the first bar we came to.
We entered an old tiny bar featuring a talented soloist singing Celtic ballads. The middle-aged comical gentleman was entertaining and impossible to understand, probably the Newfie accent.
After a beer, we moved along the street to the next establishment, a proper Irish pub, The Golden Belly Brewery. A nicer bar but not exactly what we were looking for, no Celtic music like the first bar.
Newfoundland was settled by many groups, but the Irish influence seems to be the strongest especially in St. John’s.
The Irish pub was fun, the group enjoyed beer flights (5 samples) and a local delicacy, deep fried dill pickles with a spicy sauce. A surprisingly tasty fare although pricey at $7 for two pickles cut into lengthwise quarters.
The next bar, Shamrock City, was exactly what we thought an Irish pub should be, loud Celtic music belted out by Irish looking lads playing guitars and singing their hearts out.
We found a table, I phoned Terry and Denise and gave the name of the pub.
Terry and Denise were already in town. Soon they arrived and introduced themselves to the group. They shared stories of the St. John’s waterfront, their accent although thick was not difficult to understand, although the loud music didn’t help.
Terry explained his accent was mild compared to the small coastal communities where the ‘baymen’ live. Many of these coastal communities are only accessible by boat limiting outside contact thus preserving the old language and customs. They are almost impossible to understand, even for him.
We enjoyed strong Irish beer and shared Irish nachos as the place jumped with Celtic music and singalongs, most of which I could not understand.
Despite the language barrier, the group was swept away by the friendly party atmosphere.
The next pub O’Riley’s, is a two-story newly renovated pub, like any other Irish pub except for the second-floor balcony open to the stage and dance floor below.
This place was the most fun, the band played guitars, ukuleles, fiddles and sung their hearts out as everyone sang, danced, and indulged, reminded me of an old fashion country wedding.
Denise suggested we try a Newfoundland delicacy, Touton, a doughy bun stuffed with salt cod. As we tried this strange appy Terry explained he was raised on salt cod and there is nothing better than salt cod for breakfast.
There must be more to the description of Touton, but as often happens with Newfoundlanders, he got distracted by something shiny and didn’t share the rest of the story.
O’Riley’s became special to our group this night, we became honorary Newfies, ‘screeched in’ as it is called. The process is short and gross but hilarious.