St. John's of Newfoundland

22 May 2013

By Farzana Contractor, Upper Crust
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You step off the airplane on to the tarmac at St. John’s airport and you know you are in quaint-land. Historical and old-fashioned and far, far away from a world of frenzy. Newfoundland is the most northeasterly part of Canada and Dublin in Ireland across the Atlantic is closer to St. John’s than is Vancouver, sitting safe and snug in all its postcard beauty, while the wild sea this end recklessly thrashes the coast, creating its own awe-inspiring moments, singing its own unique ballad.

It’s easy to fall in love with this city, where they discuss the weather a bit more frequently than Londoners do in their city. Here the weather changers hourly. Truly, there is so much romance all around. In its harbour, with cruise ships parked there, in its streets with names such as Duckworth and Water and villages called Quidi Vidi where they brew the most amazing beers. With outposts, like Cape Spear, historical sites like Signal Hill and Battery, with its colourful Jelly Bean houses all made of wood. An unusual looking museum and culture house perched atop the hill, simply called The Rooms, looking like a cluster of charming barn houses.

Once across the harbour, which you cross over via a bridge, you enjoy what can only be described as among the best drives in the world. An unendingly long and winding road which takes you to Cape Spear, a national historic site which had troops stationed here during World War II. The land and seascapes, with the two light house thrown in for good measure, all lend to a perfect artistic frame. You know about wild forests but a wild sea makes your heart skip many beats. And when you hear of whales that come frolicking by, you are in a trance. It’s so far removed from your normal existence you don’t believe it’s pretty commonplace for locals to dismiss these sights with a wave of a lazy hand.

Murray Premises where I spent a couple of nights used to be an old warehouse, now converted into a boutique hotel, carefully restored. It is so wonderfully located with its front door opening on the harbour and back door just to George Street where all the fantastic pubs, bars and bistros are located.

It’s easy to get a hang of the streets. The important ones runs parallel to the harbour embankment. George Street is where all the entertainment is, including bars, restaurants and clubs. Some pubs on this street are so Irish you could be forgiven to believe you are in Dublin. You get the significance of how eons ago, the Irish immigrants braved the wrath of the ocean to sail westward in search of a better life.

The Jelly Bean houses which look like colourful doll houses are in the old part of town as well as at the mouth of the harbour up a craggy hillside. It’s just a few minutes walk away from Duckworth Street, in the heart of downtown, leading to Battery Road. It would be a good idea to pick up some chocolate bars from the Newfoundland Chocolate Company situated on this street and go matching the house onthe wrapper with the real one in the street. No tourist ever leaves St John’s without visiting these and of course shooting pictures of themselves standing in the foreground. Gift shops are full of fridge magnets and they do make a good memento. There is no space left on mine, but of course I had to get one, too!

The Rooms is a fine place to learn about the history of this magic — and sometimes tragic — place. It has had it’s share of big fires when the entire town was burnt down and had to be re-built. Over three floors in this ultra modern structure, which looks like a barn from outside, you have enough history to learn about the city. There’s also modern art, displays on the cod fishery and Basque whalers from Spain, plus exhibits on native Beothuk and Inuit from Labrador.