Down East, Up North: what we did on our summer vacation

Hazy, hot and humid end of August days in New York suggested a road trip north to cooler climates and to make our first international trip (since the beginning of the pandemic) to Canada. We made a few stops on the way to the border visiting with family and friends in picturesque New Hampshire and gorgeous lake towns in Maine.

The new requirement to enter Canada includes a negative PCR test (the nose swab) within 72 hours along with proof of vaccination and of course a current passport. We awaited our results in the charming fishing village and easternmost town in the United States of America, Lubec, Maine. It boasts beautiful views of Canada from the 93 miles of craggy shoreline. Of course, our first stop was the light house; it did not disappoint!

There are hiking paths along the coast and local breweries and ice cream shops to cover everyone’s interests. A bridge leads to a small Canadian island, Campobello, where a restored summer home of the Roosevelt family sits. It is even possible to enjoy ‘tea with Eleanor’ there. We waited one more day and made our way to Calais, Maine, another quaint border town. Armed with our negative test results and the ArriveCAN app completed, we crossed easily into New Brunswick province. Yay! We drove along the Bay of Fundy as the tide went out. We stopped to walk out many dozens of yards along the rocky, shell-filled bottom of the bay.

We continued without stopping at Oxford, the blueberry capital of Canada (that’s what the billboard said), but instead at St John. This harbor community has a great waterfront boardwalk with restaurants, shops and live, local music. They have salmon sculptures around town and a fun indoor market too. We grabbed a table and had some local cocktails and snacks while listening to local artists. A wonderful welcome from our neighbor from the north.

We traveled along the coastal route edging the Bay of Fundy through eerie fog. We stopped at Cape Enrage, partly because of the name and partly because of the lunchtime fog. The lighthouse was heard (140 decibels, D natural in pitch) but not seen, and the fish chowder was outstanding.

A little further along the coast is the National Park Hopewell Rocks. The tides at this oceanfront are extreme and offer different types of experiences. We arrived at low tide. After about a mile walk through groomed paths of birch and coastal forest a huge staircase leads down to the ocean floor. Revealed are hundreds of yards of shells, stones and seaweed. There are also amazing rock formations reminiscent of canyons in the western United States. The growth on top of the stones make them appear as giant flowerpots. There were plenty of tourists, yet the vastness of the disappearing ocean exuded a dystopian empty space. The options of kayaking and watching the tide roll in and refill the cove might happen on another visit, we continued our journey to Halifax.

Halifax is a bustling city with much to offer. We chose to stay by the waterfront. A beautiful boardwalk edges the harbor. There are shops, museums, restaurants and a ferry that crosses to Dartmouth and Woodside. We explored and enjoyed. We ate croissants and scones the size of forearms in Dartmouth at Two if by Sea. We enjoyed exhibits of the well regarded Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis along with other local contemporary artists at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. We ate delicious and memorable meals at several different waterside restaurants including Salty’s and The Bicycle Thief.

The eastern-most part of Nova Scotia is Cape Breton Island. Crossing a small rotating-turntable-bridge from the mainland leads to a landscape of evergreen covered mountains and sparkling lakes. It is more rural and even more rustic than on the mainland. There are several small towns that dot the island and lots of undeveloped beauty. Several amazing scenic trails offer breathtaking views and some great local crafts. We spent a full day driving on the Cabot Trail which rings the edge of the island and crosses through a National Park filled with hiking trails and interpretive signs about rock formations and local fauna and flora. We chatted with locals and tourists all so enchanted with the bucolic island. All conversations led to weather. The winters are harsh and difficult, summers are very much cherished. Our weather was perfect for sleeping with the windows open and warm breezy sunshine filled days.

Our return to the US was smooth, we were first on line at the border crossing and welcomed home with a wave from the border agents. We made a quick stop in Bangor so I could take a photo of Paul Bunyan at his birth place.

Then we headed to Boothbay. The coastal town has a big summer yachting community, but we were interested in the botanical gardens. The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens are remarkable. There are flower gardens, caterpillar labs and native natural wooded areas. A special bonus is the Giant Trolls exhibit by Danish artist Thomas Dambo. The five trolls are made of recycled material; mostly wooden pallets. They are hidden (not really) throughout the garden. The project inspires people to see the natural world through a different lens. Dambo’s work reinforces the value of using what we have to create something new. The whimsical trolls took about three months to install and should last about five years. The wood is not treated and should weather well. The docents at each location keep guests from climbing and pulling on the trolls while also sharing interesting fun facts. It will be fun to see these trolls change with the seasons. Thanks for the garden tip Jackie and Mick!

A short stop for more hugs and family fun in Boston. What a fun summer vacation.

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