Monday 3 and Tuesday 4 October 2022 – Jane and I had quite different journeys from Halifax to St. John’s, Newfoundland. (For the uninitiated and those who didn’t watch that particular episode of QI, Newfoundland is pronounced “NewfndLAND” – emphasis on the last syllable. Just so you know.) My journey was entirely unremarkable. Jane, sitting three rows behind me on a full flight, got the writhing, screaming toddler. However, she also got some useful intelligence from its mother about things to look out for in St. John’s.
The next oddity about the journey is that one travels half a time zone. Where Halifax is 4 hours behind the UK, St. John’s is 3½. The final oddity was our transport from airport to hotel.
Yes – another stretch limo. Once again, somewhat overkill for two people with standard amounts of luggage – but pleasant enough. Our driver was a chap with the unlikely name of Basil and what seemed at first an unlikely amount of Irish in his accent; it turns out that the ancestry of many people in Newfoundland is Irish from the original immigration, and significant bits of the accent have stuck.
Basil was very helpful, possibly because of his good nature and possibly because he didn’t have anywhere else to be. He gave us the run around, but in a good way, taking us to the top of Signal Hill so we could get a view over the town
(note the cruise liner in the harbour; it’ll become relevant later) and then driving us around some of the main downtown streets pointing out interesting bits. Sadly, his limo was too big for the hotel forecourt, so he had to drop us off round the corner and we had to lug our bags up a small hill to the hotel reception, but that didn’t matter – he was charming, helpful and somewhat Irish and the limo journey was a pleasure.
We got a hotel room on the 10th floor, giving us a very pleasant outlook over bits of St. John’s.
This picture should give those of you who don’t know the place some idea of what was to come as we explored. Because, it being time for a late lunch/early dinner, we went for a walk. Obviously. Jane had had a recommendation for a restaurant called the Fish Exchange, and so we headed there and had a very nice meal indeed. After it, well fed up and agreeably drunk, we wandered the streets of St. John’s.
It is spellbindingly photogenic.
We wandered round, gawping in astonishment at pretty street after pretty street.
I’ll share more building photos later, as time was getting on as we wandered around and the light was fading. But as well as the houses, there was artwork,
(Jane asserted that this last is artwork; it looks more like a failed paint job to me.)
strange business names,
and cultural appropriation gone wrong.
There were interesting and imposing buildings
the last three above being the Anglican cathedral, the Law Courts and their antidote, the Appeal Courts.
It was a fascinating first sight of the place and we knew we had to come back in better light to explore further. Which we did, the following afternoon. However, before that, in the morning, we set out on another walk. Obviously. Jane had seen a couple of views of St. John’s online and was interested to try to capture our own version of them. One was a view over the town and the other was a particular view of an area called The Battery. Many of the houses in The Battery are obscured from view from the town itself by a rocky outcrop and we decided that we had to get across the harbour to the other side to get the right viewpoint.
To do this is not as straightforward as it might have been. You can’t, unfortunately, simply walk around the water to get to the other side; there’s rather a lot of shipyard, railway and river obstacles in the way. So the route you have to take looks like this.
The route we walked, we discovered, included a few steps of the 28,000 km Trans-Canada Trail, which I wrote briefly about in a previous post – the zero mile/kilometer point is just outside the Railway Coastal Museum
with its attendant train display.
From there we followed one Trans Canadian Trail option for a short distance along a riverside track – it’s thus called “T’Railway”, which is insufferably cute.
Leaving the trail to follow the road along the far side of the harbour, we passed some interesting sights as we went.
We passed a historic house being restored,
and a different view of one of those ships we saw earlier.
It’s called the Earl Grey, by the way. As we walked along, it became clear that the view was not, erm, clear. The south side of the harbour is basically occupied with shipping-related stuff – shipyards, customs areas, coastguard, fishing boat ports. Many of them are surrounded by chain fencing too high to get a decent view over. There are occasional gaps where one can see the town
and we gradually saw that we were on the right track for the view over The Battery, at least.
We pressed on, always trying to get to the waterside to catch a photo. On one occasion it meant going behind a film crew as they were trying to do a film shoot
and you can just see the director as he is about to point out to us that we’re about to be in his shot. We hastily moved on and – there it was!
The view of The Battery that we’d been after.
I love it when a plan comes together.
There’s actually a whole panorama across that view, which is a thing of beauty. I have a photo of it, stitched together from 10 images, and here is a video of what it looks like.
Having gone this far, we were nearly at an area called Fort Amherst, so we thought we might as well go and take a look at that. The original 1770s fort no longer exists, but it’s a pretty enough place and it has its own lighthouse.
As we were retracing our steps (there being no other way to get back to the hotel), we saw
the big cruise ship (Fred Olsen, Borealis, 706 cabins, 1300 guests, 660 staff) coming out. Since this bit of the harbour is called “The Narrows”, we thought it might be fun to watch it exit the harbour
in case it crashed to see how it was done properly.
Nice work – you can just see the pilot boat heading in to collect the pilot after this smooth exit.
We headed back to the town, noting, in passing, the nearest we could get to the other view that Jane had seen
(that isn’t it, but we might get a go at it tomorrow);
That was the end of Part 1 of the day. Part 2, after a refreshing cup of tea at the hotel, involved us going for a walk. Obviously. We wanted to explore further the incredibly photogenic houses and other buildings in St. John’s, during daylight (and we had a wonderful sunny day in which to do so). So we did. And we took lots of photos. Here are a few.
The place is quite extraordinarily pretty, with each house being individually painted. There’s no planning regulation that we could discover, but an evident pride on the part of each householder in having a house that is (a) beautifully maintained and (b) a different colour from its neighbours.
The painted boards really are of wood
and very carefully painted by hand.
These houses are not altogether surprisingly known collectively as “Jelly Bean Row” although that does not refer to a single street – they are around every corner in the downtown area. As well as being attractively coloured, many of them have nice little styling details,
and if you look over the above photos of the houses, you can see that there’s a variety of styles – some plain, some with dormers, some new, some older. The whole area is just stunning and gets my current vote as the most photogenic area <Clarkson Mode ON> in the world <Clarkson Mode OFF>.
There are other nice things to see, too. There’s a Basilica
(sadly closed on a Tuesday), a Methodist Church,
a building that looks like a cross between a Flat Iron building and a windmill,
another religious-looking building whose purpose we couldn’t identify,
some fine detailing on the Appeal Court building
some statuary whose message is not quite obvious, but appears to involve ladies transporting fish
a handsome shopping street called Water Street
and a demonstration of how to use the visual character of a place to prettify an otherwise undistinguished object – the houses have become a symbol of the city itself.
I should say here that St. John’s is not all sweetness and light. Attractive as it is, as friendly as the natives are, there are some beggars on the streets, most frequently in the evenings; there is some graffiti (but not anything like as ubiquitous as in Montreal); and so there’s a bit of a rough air to the place around the downtown bars as the light fades.
All in all it was a superb day – lovely sunshine, successful execution of a photo plan, wonderful scenery and delightful surroundings. What more can one ask for?
Well, let’s see what tomorrow will bring. Possibly even more striking and attractive scenery, if our luck holds. Check in later and find out!