A friend and I decided to meet in Halifax, then head up to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. A girls’ road trip that promised to unspool scenery over the 185-mile Cabot Trail. It’s on many a traveler’s “scenic highways” bucket list. And I was pretty sure our friendship could withstand my driving and her navigating.
Theresa, my college roomie, and I planned a five-night trip around Cape Breton, starting out from Halifax. (Turns out, the natives are not “Halifaxians,” they are “Haligonians” which is even better.) On the waterfront boardwalk, we caught up over dinner at The Bicycle Thief restaurant.
Lobster rolls and shellfish. The Bicycle Thief is one of dozens of eateries and pubs downtown with very fresh, relatively cheap, local seafood. This is not a bad reason to visit in itself. And of course you’ll find poutine on most every menu, if a Canadian coagulation of cheese curds, fries and gravy is your thing. Wash it down with a very smooth Alexander Keith ale, at the original brewery or on tap around town. The Scottish immigrant started brewing back in 1820, making Alexander Keith one of the oldest breweries in North America.
By the way, the Halifax waterfront isn’t just eats and drinks–it’s a busy, working port. Swing in hammocks and watch the ships come in. Enjoy the relaxed Canuck-yet-cosmo atmosphere. Wonder to yourself if the plural of “leaf” isn’t in fact “leafs.”
If you visit one museum, let the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic lure you in with cool artifacts and horrific history. After more than 100 years, the Titanic disaster still haunts Halifax. The closest city to the maritime disaster, Halifax was the first to send aid. A deck chair and china saved from the Titanic are among the artifacts on display. The museum also explains another deeply scarring episode in Halifax history, the harbor explosion of 1917.
And then there’s a small display on what has to be the most out-there Canadian park. Crescent-shaped Sable Island National Park Reserve is located 190 miles southeast of Halifax, waaaay out in the Atlantic Ocean. It is a 13-square mile sandbar, home to about 500 wild horses and a few park employees. Sable Island looks far-flung and fantastic.
For breakfast in Halifax, the best tip I got was from a fellow traveler: Enjoy light breakfast, coffee and snacks on the rooftop garden at the Halifax Central Library. Plop down with a book, a gorgeous view and not too many people. (At the Halifax airport, there’s even a vending-machine type lending “branch” of the library, for readers on the go.)
Then, walk back the years at the Victorian-era Halifax Public Gardens. Fortify yourself with a baked good from the historic coffee shop on the grounds, like say, a Nanaimo Bar. Chocolatey and cheesecake-y, the bars are a classic, no-bake confection that originated in Nanaimo, British Columbia. And then, carbs in hand, you stroll. There’s really no other word for it, the layout of the garden practically forces you to slow down, breathe deeply, and take it in. While we strolled, a group in the bandstand sawed out “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” a song that is now neatly stitched into the soundtrack of my Halifax visit.
Next time, in part two, Theresa and I hit the Cabot Trail. Stops include trails in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Black Brook Beach, Ingonish Beach, Baddeck and lots of gas stations for Nestle “Aero” bars and Cadbury “Wunderbars.” (Oh, Canada, I salute your candy.)