Saturday, July 21, 2012

Whisky and beach roses

Day 3: Merigomish to Cape Hood
Total mileage: I'd have to put on a bra and shoes to look, so forget it. Let's just say, "lots."

I snuck out of the campground around 7 a.m. One residual pic from yesterday:
This, my friends, is what Christmas in July looks like
at a campground (see sad tree to right).
From there, I wound up the coast through Malignant Cove (totally benign!) and down to Antigonish. The sweet kids at Tim Horton's couldn't tell me where rt 104 was (psst, kids, you're working on rt 104).

Biscuit sandwich in hand, I hit the open road toward the island. No traffic, beautiful scenery, lovely weather. All signs point to go. And then I crossed the wee Canso Causeway and bam! Like that, I'm on Cape Breton.

One of the guide books strongly suggested stopping at the visitor center immediately at the entry point. And that author was not kidding. I owe a huge shout out to Elly at the visitor center. I won her over by introducing myself, "Elly, I'm Kelly!" At 9 a.m., humor like that works just fine. She was a doll. She booked me a motel room on the spot, talked me through the entire Cabot Trail with a map, pointing out time and distance between towns. She loaded me up with so much paper I told her I was going to need a little red wagon to get it all out to my car. Elly laughed a hearty, almost smoker laugh and said, "Okay then, dear." I love you, Elly.

I settled onto rt 19, The Ceilidh Trail ("ka-lee"), known for, well, its ceilidh tradition (Scottish music). Think Natalie MacMaster. The first stop I made was Christie's Lookout. I was won over by the incredible smell of beach roses as I drove by and had to back up and pull in.

The beach roses are everywhere, and they're a lovely surprise. I didn't expect the smell of roses in such a remote, some might say "cold," place. Instead, I was reminded of Martha's Vineyard, where beach roses are an integral part of the rugged beauty.

A second surprise happened on arrival in Port Hood, my destination for the night. It was only 11 a.m., so I had the whole day ahead of me and started by checking out the downtown. Like most towns here, "downtown" is a section of the main road going through. It usually has a hardware store and post office. Maybe a pizza joint. These are not touristy spots. And I'm glad for that, because it would have spoiled having almost an entire sandy beach to myself.

Yonder is an island with ferry service. I love how it can
look so remote and communal at the same time.

View from my motel room. The sunset was beautiful.
Shout out to Charlie, the owner at the Hebridean Motel
After taking a much-needed shower, I headed north. And was quickly stopped for a parade. What? In the middle of nowhere? That's a long-ass march, my friends. Anywho, I turned around and took a random turn, as I tend to do. I followed it until it turned to dirt, and kept following it. And it paid off.
Um, only beauty ahead, folks. 
 Eventually, I turned when I saw a sign for West Mabou beach. Another beach, you ask? Why yes!
A beautiful sandy beach, a few families picnicking. And I am so intrigued by the random, incredibly remote houses on the other side off the cove. I know it's not everyone's idea of beauty, but I think it's great. And I keep thinking of what it must look like in winter. Wow.

After this jaunt, I headed back to the main road and drove through the post-parade excitement in Mabou. I kept going north to one of my two goals for the day: whisky, baby!
The Glenora Distillery is beautifully tucked into the countryside. I went on a tour, sampled a 10-year-old whisky (short run down on the rules--no "e" in whisky here, and because we're not in Scotland, it can't be called scotch), and ate in the pub. And of course there was a fiddler playing, accompanied by piano. It was very charming.

Kelly gets a Tall Ship Amber and a sample
of the 14-year-old whisky.

Kelly also gets bacon-wrapped scallops in a whisky maple glaze
and a "deconstructed" Caesar salad.

Bartender: How do you like the deconstructed Caesar salad?
Me: It's great. A little more work on my part, however.
Bartender: Well, we want you to share in the experience.

During the tour, I listened the the guide and thought a bit about her accent. As I get further north, the accent sounds almost . . . Australian. Like an American and Australian ran really fast into one another and out comes this "normal" speech with certain words sounding endlessly peculiar (in a good way). It's more exotic than I expected.
The whisky starts with the water in this stream behind the distillery.
After the whisky tour, I drove around a bit and checked out some shops. One thing about Nova Scotia that psyched me out the first time, and is psyching me out now, is that businesses are run out of homes. So, you'll see a sign for "Joanne's Quilts" up ahead. And when you get there, you're staring at a long driveway and a house. No hint of a business. So do you turn down the drive, thereby committing to essentially walking into someone's home, with no quick getaway? I have a hard time with this. So today, some places I passed by, and others I entered, taking a deep breath. It's got to be the New Englander in me ("Nobody make eye contact, and everything will be fine...").

I still had lots of time to kill before dinner, so I went back to the Mabou shore. I sat in the open breeze, under the warm sun, opened a book, and promptly fell asleep. Delicious!

Also delicious was a leisurely dinner at my second goal for the day: The Red Shoe.
"Nova Scotia home cooking"
My waitress, Shannon, was very sweet--all of the women here on CB so far are kind and pretty, in that soap-and-water, freshly scrubbed sort of way. I inquired about one of the desserts, and she actually took a deep breath, her eyes glistened, and she sighed, "It's good..." Sold!
"Rich chocolate sticky date pudding with housemade chocolate sauce
and whipped cream, garnished with seasonal berries." I almost licked the plate.
In my travels, what I felt today was fortunate. I am fortunate to possess the gumption to do something like drive to Cape Breton by myself. And while many people don't think that's a big deal, many other people do. A lot of people wouldn't take this on. But if I didn't--if I waited for someone to go with me--I would either never get here, or I potentially would have someone beside me in the car, grudgingly agreeing to my idea of a good time, reserving the right to resent me or sigh when things aren't perfect. And it's not perfect. I'm in a place that doesn't appear to change much over time. But I adore its imperfect perfection.

And I realized that people should consider taking two vacations a year: one with others, and one alone. Because it's important to be in some of the pictures on your trip, and it's important to push yourself and know what you're made of.


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