Getting Out of the Kitchen

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

THE BIG CHILL, Chapter 1:  
Days 1-2:  Atlanta to St. John's, NL
With both of us recovered from our European ails, we drove to St. Augustine, Florida, last week to check in on Uncle Joe and the invincible Aunt Eleanor, who had broken her hip on a recent journey to France. Finding both doing remarkably well considering the travails of their return trip from Nice (transport ambulance towed at JFK before it could pick her up, air ambulance emergency landing in Richmond, etc.), we aimed our MDX for Tallahassee to visit more kin—the Thorntons and the Duncans.  As always, we relished every moment with both these precious families before heading back home.

What we did not enjoy was the hot weather, and it was no different in Georgia. With temps well into the 90s already in the first week of June, we just couldn't take the oppressive heat and the matching humidity.  There was nothing to do but look north—way north.  There on the map, much closer to the top of the globe, we spotted Newfoundland, a place we had been wanting to visit for several years anyway.  As quickly as you can say Kayak and Trip Advisor, we booked flights and lodging and packed our carry-on bags.

On recent trips involving air travel, we have found using a local car service preferable to driving ourselves to the airport and leaving our car in long-term parking.  Glowing reviews on Yelp pointed us to Around Atlanta Limousines last September, and we couldn't have found a better service.  Nida, their dispatcher par excellence, is prompt, courteous, and determined to exceed the customer's expectations.  When possible, she assigns the same driver to repeat clients, making it so much easier to connect at the airport pickup.  Faisal, who has always been our driver, is just as professional and customer-focused as Nida and has arrived slightly early each time he has picked us up.  As soon as our plane touches down when we return, we have a text message letting us know where to meet him.  The vehicles we book are not stretch limos but usually a sedan or SUV, so for any trip lasting longer than eight days, the "limo" cost is actually more economical than using the airport's $9/day Park-Ride system, and it's a lot more convenient.
True to form, Faisal arrived early and courteously spirited us to the Atlanta airport for our 1 p.m. United flight to Newark. In reviewing our flight schedule after we reached the gate, we realized for the first time that we had only 34 minutes to make our transfer in Newark to our St. John's flight.  As we sat there pondering the likelihood of making the transfer in Newark, thunderstorms in the New York area forced a 25-minute (at least) postponement for our outbound flight, pretty much ensuring that we would not make the connection to St. John's. 

As soon as the delay was posted, a remarkably patient and competent pair of United gate agents began feverishly juggling rearrangements for numerous passengers whose connections were disrupted by the change of schedule.  Though they tried to convince us that the flight to St. John's would inevitably be postponed as well, we opted for their offer to re-book us on a Delta flight to Toronto, where we caught an Air Canada connection to St. John's after a 2.5 hour layover.  Thus, rather than arriving a 8:30 p.m. in St. John's, we came in after midnight.  On the positive side, we went through passport control in Toronto, avoiding that delay in St. John's, and the Air Canada flight offered an inexpensive upgrade to business class, so dinner was served on board and was delicious.

Fortunately, our 12:35 a.m. arrival was local time—Newfoundland Time—which was one and a half hours later than Eastern Daylight Time, so it was just after 11 p.m. by our internal clocks.  Nevertheless, it had been a lengthy day, and we were happy to find a taxi waiting outside at that hour to whisk us away to the local Fairfield Inn.    

Harbourside Park, looking toward National War Memorial
Refreshed by a good night's sleep and armed with information about the sights of St. John's, we picked up our rental car—a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee 4x4—and ventured out to Signal Hill, a national historic site commemorated for its military and communication history.  But alas, when we arrived, the hill and surrounding area were shrouded in fog, so we decided to return later and drove back into town to search for a letterbox at Harbourside Park.  A pocket park between the National War Memorial and the docks, Harbourside features striking sculptures of two dogs.  

Newfoundland and Labrador dog breeds both hail from the province.
As the nearby interpretive sign boasts, no other province or state in North America has produced two "world-famous, immensely popular, extremely friendly companion dogs."  Originally bred as a working dog for fishermen, Newfoundlands are known for their gigantic size (150 pounds), docile nature, intelligence, and tremendous strength.  The "Newfie" has a muscular build, double-layered waterproof coat and webbed feet, allowing it to excel at water rescues.  In earlier days, Newfoundlands were also used to pull nets and haul carts for fishermen. 

The Labrador is descended from the Newfoundland bred to English setters and pointers, producing a dog with the Newfoundland's qualities at about half the size.  A gentle and loyal companion, the Labrador has become the world's most popular breed, particularly as a family pet.   The sculptures in Harbourside Park were created 1.5 times life-size, and visitors are encouraged to touch and even climb on them.

Finding the dogs and learning about these famous locals provided consolation to our search for missing letterboxes, something which would become a pattern as the day went on and we searched for other hidden treasures in and around the city.  

Award-winning St. John's pizza palace
Based on their stellar reviews on Yelp, Pi Gourmet Eatery, located near the park, lured us in for what turned out to be a delectable lunch.  A painted lengthy decimal representation of π trailed around the perimeter of the restaurant's walls, and many menu items featured mathematically inspired names, such as Archimedes, e = mc², Pythagoras, and Fibonacci.  In addition to its locally sourced, very fresh ingredients coupled with numerous vegetarian options, we found Pi Gourmet's food to be cooked to perfection and full of flavor.  

Around St. John's, the dandelions were in full bloom, providing a pervasive bright yellow ground cover, as in the photo of Harbourside Park above.  Daffodils and tulips, which finish their blooming season by early March back in Georgia, had just reached their peak in Newfoundland's mid-June, giving us the unsettling feeling that we had fallen into a time warp.  But the temperatures were exactly what we had been hoping to find.  From a low of 37° this morning, the high climbed only ten degrees.  We are definitely out of the oven down south, and jackets are feeling just right.

Daffodils at Bowring Park, site of another missing letterbox
Since the fog had not moved out, Signal Hill was unlikely to be any more visible than this morning, so after lunch we drove south on Highway 10 to try to change our letterboxing luck.  But alas, our searches for boxes in Bay Bulls and Witless Bay were both fruitless.  Oddly, most of the letterboxes we searched for today were planted five or six years ago, and none had been found more than once, many not at all.  It was beginning to feel like a muggle (non-letterboxer) conspiracy.

Technip yard in Witless Bay
What we did find in Witless Bay—we couldn't have missed it—was a collection of massive spools in an outdoor storage yard owned by Technip Canada.  More than 30 feet in diameter, these giant reels held flexible pipe used to deliver crude oil from offshore wells to tankers, thus keeping the ship away from the platform. From a local representative on site, we learned that this is but one example of the range of engineering products and services that Technip offers to the nation's oil and gas industry.

Back in St. John's, we tracked down a local Soby's supermarket and purchased some supplies to cobble together dinner in our room, planning how we'll spend another cool day in the provincial capital city tomorrow.

Foggy St. John's harbor