If you read last week’s column, you might remember that I just made my first visit to Newfoundland and Labrador.
Well, to be more accurate, I made my first two visits to Newfoundland and Labrador. They just happened to occur back-to-back, on the same trip.
You see, I was largely in one spot – the Holiday Inn on Portugal Cove Road in St. John’s – for the bulk of our late-May pilgrimage to The Rock, as Cathy and I participated in the annual conference for Rotary District 7820. We enjoyed it, but you can’t be a proper tourist anywhere in the world if you spend your entire trip in a hotel. As a result, we were extremely grateful for the few off-site experiences we enjoyed during our five-day journey.
We began the last Sunday morning in May by heading to the early Mass service at the Basilica of St. John The Baptist. Patterned after similar buildings in Rome in the mid-19th century, it’s the second-largest house of worship in Canada. And yet, as we joined a few dozen regular parishioners, we experienced the same basic Mass – and many of the same Catholic hymns – that we’d find back here in the Diocese of Antigonish.
The fellow in the pew in front of us found out that we were from out of town. He and another parishioner happily took us to our next destination, the Coffee Matters shop on Military Road, without us even having to ask. (I should point out that he was at the basilica on his own because his wife was under the weather.)
I had been to another Coffee Matters location at the Manuels River Hibernia Interpretation Centre in nearby Conception Bay South – or “CBS” as the locals call it – during a Rotary professional development day earlier in the trip. This time around I ordered a Good Karma Latte, made with caramel, vanilla and macadamia nuts. Easily the best coffee I had on the entire trip; arguably one of the best I’ve had all year long.
Good Karma Lattes aren’t the only unique-to-Newfoundland beverages. Before we left, a friend of ours who originally hails from St. John’s asked us to bring him back some Pineapple Crush. I’d had it before, but I had never tried the drink I also found at a St. John’s convenience store, Birch Beer Crush, which lists spruce gum within its ingredients and tastes like a combination of root beer and cream soda.
Paying for the drinks, I told our bearded 20-something cashier that I had never heard of Birch Beer Crush. He put the can down in front of me and declared with a smile: “Merry Christmas. That one’s on me.”
That random act of kindness took place within a whirlwind tour of St. John’s and the neighbouring communities of Torbay and Flatrock that we got from our friend Tracey Carroll, a L’Ardoise native who now lives with her husband Kevin and their two kids in CBS. In our nearly four decades of friendship, I never knew that Tracey was such a terrific tour guide, but she took us to Cape Spear, Signal Hill, Quidi Vidi, and Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Flatrock with great ease and wonderful enthusiasm.
Did the “grotto” comment catch you off guard? Me too. See, it’s not the body of water you’d associate with a “grotto.” It’s a hillside full of statues representing the Stations of the Cross, which trace the journey Jesus walked towards his crucifixion. The late Pope John Paul II stopped here for prayer during his 1984 visit to Canada. Cathy and I were simply floored that we had never heard of this spot.
From there we headed to CBS, where Kevin and Tracey served up a delicious supper including a huge feed of ribs before taking us out to another hidden Newfoundland treasure, Berg’s Famous Ice Cream. I lost count of the number of flavours – including sorbet, sherbet and gelato – at this place. We may need to make another trip back just to try them all.
Heading to St. John’s International Airport the following morning, we figured we had run out of surprises. And that’s when we wound the brightly-coloured piano, placed in the airport – and several other public spaces around the province – by Business and Arts Newfoundland and Labrador four years ago, as part of their “Come Play With Me” NL campaign. Of course, I couldn’t resist playing it; “Dark Island” and “Cliffs of Baccalieu” never felt so special.
Thank you, Newfoundland and Labrador. It was over too fast and we saw far too little of you. But we’ll be back – after all, it’s amazing what we can discover just across the Cabot Strait.