We arrived in Sydney, Nova
Scotia to a thick fog. As the highlight
here is the scenery and I had a tour scheduled to drive a portion of the Cabot
Trail things were looking a bit dodgy. The
downpour of rain shortly before arrival didn’t make me feel any more
confident. But…as we arrived, the fog
lifted in areas and from time to time there was a slight glimmer of
We disembarked for an early 8:30
a.m. departure so that we could get ahead of the tour busses that would go a
portion of the way we were. Our guide
was Diane, of Tartan Tours. She was
great and we not only learned a good bit, we had a ton of laughs. Her minivan wasn’t posh, but it just didn’t
matter because our time with her was so enjoyable.
We headed out of Sydney proper
(which is not too difficult!) to encounter Cape Breton Road Rage: another car on the road. There are very few people here and even less
when you get out of the town. The views
were spectacular and things like taking a small cable ferry a couple of hundred
yards, cars heading the other way stopping so that you can turn in front of them, were unique.
With the fog lifting a bit more
and then pretty much disappearing, the contrasts and lighting was great for
photography. It was one of those times I
wish I had my old black and white film camera.
That said, there were some really colorful views, but with the extremely
cool summer and the amount of rain recently, we missed most of the fall colors…which
should arrive there in a few days.
As we drove we stopped here and
there, eventually stopping at the Keltic Lodge…where the tour busses stop, the
cruise ship guests have lunch, and then return to the ship. I wasn’t really hungry yet and wasn’t really
thrilled with the menu so we headed out to Neil’s Harbour before lunch. If you dream up a quaint fishing village with
the hills rolling down to the sea, the brightly colored boats bobbing in the
water and the lobster traps stacked at season’s end, you will see Neil’s
Harbour. That was our turnaround point,
because we just didn’t have enough time to drive the entire Cabot Trail. However, as we started back, we stopped at
some of the most beautiful lookouts.
During my chats with Diane I told
her I wanted to eat where the locals eat; not a touristy or posh (for Cape
Breton) spot. She said we could try the
Coastal Waters Restaurant. It is about
as local as local gets with an old, dark, rather barren, interior. “OK Goldring, you had to open your big mouth?” “Why yes…Yes I did!” And was I happy that I did. As we drank our local beer and waited and
waited, from the kitchen came a purported “cup” of seafood soup. It was huge, but it tasted even better. One of us, obviously not knowing, ordered a
bowl of seafood soup. That creamy elixir
of tastiness not only could have easily served four people, 18 freshly steamed
mussels ringed the bowl (tureen?).
|A Bowl of Seafood Chowder|
But for me it was steamed
mussels to start. It was $6.99 for a
regular portion, but they had a special:
two pounds for $9.99. They
lied. They served me a large bucket of
mussels that weighed much more than two pounds…and they were delicious. (And, yes, I did finish them.) However, that was only my starter! They were followed by the absolutely best
fishcakes I have every eaten. Simple
fresh fish held together with just enough potato and lightly spiced. The portion was, again, enormous…and coupled
with a giant cup of maple syrup/brown sugar baked beans.
What this meal did was tell me a
lot about this very rural, very secluded, coastal island and really allowed me
to appreciate not only the natural beauty, but the beauty of the people as
well. Diane fit right into this
mold. The foggy, gloomy, day turned into
one of my favorites with a comfortable minivan, with a great person as our
guide, gorgeous scenery and great seafood. (Or you could have taken the ship’s
tour in a bus driven up from Halifax.)
After returning to the ship, a
nice soak in the hot tub was interrupted by someone else entering our
space. And then I heard some of the silliest
complaints and said, “Well, if it bothers you so much, why don’t you just
cruise on another line?” The person
instantly and excitedly replied, “Oh, it doesn’t bother me that much. I would never change from Seabourn!” Huh? So
what was the point?
Folks, when you travel nothing
is perfect. I am certain I could have
sulked because the sun wasn’t shining. I
could have turned my nose up at that minivan. I could have complained that a
few mussel shells were broken in that bucket.
But if I had, I would have missed that fantastic lighting, one of the
funniest and good hearted guides I have ever had and a meal that was the
essence of what simple cooking that allows the ingredients to be the star is
about. And, of course, I was then back
on a Seabourn cruise sipping champagne in a hot tub as we set out to sea.
|An Impossible Situation or A Beautiful Example of Nature Giving It a Shot?|
|A Dead Tree or Gift for the Eyes?|
The day wasn’t perfect, but my day