When Cathryn and I travel it’s not all about the journey or the destination, or even the food and drink. Granted, those are all good reasons as to why we travel, but we also love to meet new people and share in their culture. People are one of the reasons you’ll see us perched on stools at the bar instead of sitting at a table by ourselves.
It’s not that we don’t enjoy each other’s company, we do, and we travel well together. Spending days or weeks together 24/7 can be trying for any couple or even close friends. Consider yourself lucky if you can get along with your travel partner.
For us, bellying up to the bar is not just for a closer look at what’s on tap. It’s where we get the scoop on what’s going on in the town we’re in or where else we can get a good meal or find a particular watering hole. Bartenders, and sometimes the locals who occupy the seat next to us can be full of valuable dining and travel tips. All we do is turn heads and introduce ourselves.
On some occasions Cathryn and I have carried on separate conversations with the people on both sides of us. Then we compare notes and see who we want to continue with.
This summer’s adventure is a car trip from Windsor to the east coast, with Halifax being our final destination. Our journey took us across the border at Niagara Falls, then east through New York with our first stop in Geneva, at the top of the first of the Finger Lake. Rain followed us from home so we didn’t stay outdoors much. We used umbrellas to check out the historic Belhurst Castle and then caught the new Jurassic World movie in a local theater.
The rain stayed with us all the way to Provincetown, Cape Cod. We had to use our umbrellas again to walk the narrow streets of a very cool town. The bartender at a quiet Irish pub was an exception to the rule, compared to the nice people we usually meet. She stared more than she spoke and she couldn’t believe my prior research didn’t alert us to the high concentration of gays that frequent the town. The woman was more miserable than the weather outside the bar.
We fell in love with Boston the minute we pulled up in front of our hotel, the Omni Parker, where we were treated like royalty. Valets and Bellhops were older men, one of whom gave us the history of the hotel and half the city before he left our room. We wasted no time unpacking and hitting the street, taking Eddie the Bellhop’s advice in hoisting a cold Sam Adams in the Beantown Pub around the corner, which just happened to overlook the graveyard where the city’s forefather is buried.
Theo, the bartender at Beantown, continued our history lesson of the neighborhood and came through on his promise of good beer and my first bowl of chowda. We met another friendly bartender at Cheers, who explained how the film location was split up into different rooms, or sets, in the building. Different sections, especially the front stairs, are easily recognizable. We didn’t see Norm or Cliff.
On the way into a beer garden the next day, Catherine spotted a young couple with a lobster roll on the table in front of them. Off she went, down the street to John Hook’s to get us brunch. In the mean time I grabbed a craft beer and chatted with the couple who’d pointed us in the direction of our first east coast treat. We never introduced ourselves, but the young New Yorkers filled us in on where to get the best seafood in Boston and up the east coast where we were travelling.
Portland in Maine took us by surprise, as it was only meant to be an overnight pit stop and we didn’t plan on seeing or doing much. We don’t usually hang around our hotels, and in this case the lonely bartender eagerly admitted that the place I’d found on the internet was his favorite watering hole in town. In search of a good burger and samples of 80 different craft beer taps, we went to the The Great Lost Bear.
The young man sitting beside me at the bar offered his two cents on the local and out-of-town craft beers on tap. His girlfriend sat on the other side of him, but she joined in on the discussion about food and beer. They were the perfect couple to offer advice, Keegan worked at a local brewery and Sarah guided a brewery tour in the area. The cool kids, who were young enough to be our children, enjoyed our company enough to invite us back to their place to try some of their home brew.
It was an odd invitation to say the least, but one that paid off with more laughs and conversation about beer and travel. Sarah is well traveled for her age, and Keegan knows enough about hops and yeast and beer to be a Brew Master. I think he could be a Somelier for beer, he knew exactly what types to serve C and I. We even got to take some of his samples home. Keegan and Sarah will be the reason we remember Portland.
We arrived in St. John, New Brunswick late, having driven all day, and didn’t feel like getting back in the car to find dinner. The owner of the historic B & B we were staying at recommended a place called Lock, Stock and Barrel, that we could walk to. The leg stretch felt good and the plaza pub had a surprisingly good selection of beer taps. The food was descent and the bartender gave C tips for other eateries and pubs that were downtown.
St. John was a surprise – two century old buildings were blended in with new ones and the waterfront was a happening place, thanks to the two huge cruise ships docked there. One was the Queen Mary II of the Cunard line. We strolled downtown and sought out a seafood place called Billy’s in the City Market. It didn’t even come close to living up to the recommendation, the $22 seafood chowder was thin and tasteless, and the mussels were nothing special.
The weather was beautiful the next morning, except for the fog that cloaked the harbor and two cruise ships. A little further upriver we took in the sights at the reversing falls. The rapids change directions with the incoming and outgoing tides. We met Gary the groundhog, Wiarton Willie’s eastern cousin, while on the path overlooking the gorge. He cared more about the Nike’s and Adidas shoes worn by the tourists than he did his own shadow.
We tasted and sampled our way around downtown that night, spending quality time at Britt’s Pub. The spinach and artichoke dip was the best we’ve ever had. I spent time chatting and doodling on a sheet of paper with the bartender, Steve, who sought my landscape design expertise for his back yard do over. Breakfast in St. John was a no-brainer since the B & B cooked for us.
Another day’s drive found us in Pictou, Nova Scotia, where our room in a huge old house had a kitchenette. Tired of restaurant food, Cathryn was in heaven. We drank Bogle wine purchased in the U.S. and ate shrimp and steaks that we barbecued on the deck outside our room.
From Pictou we headed north to Cape Breton and continued up the Cabot Trail along the west coast. The scenery was better than the last time I visited on my motorcycle, when it rained the whole time I was there. The Chowder House, at the top end of the trail served up the best bowl of seafood chowder so far. The restaurant hasn’t changed since the last time I was there, and probably not since the shack was built. Hurry if you want to try it, the owner is retiring next year.
After making the loop we settled into Sydney for a couple days. There we hooked up with an old friend of Cathryn’s, Leisja, and her husband, Jamie. They just so happened to be fellow craft beer lovers, they eagerly showed us where to quaff some local brew. While Cathryn and Leisja caught up on life Jamie and I discovered we had arson investigation in common.
As is turned out we had already sampled the local brew prior to meeting our friends, and I found another bowl of awesome seafood chowder right in the hotel restaurant where we were staying. I also lucked out with the best seafood linguine I’ve ever had at an Irish Pub called the Old Triangle. There was a store called Ed’s Books right next door!
I think anyone who’s been to Halifax will agree it’s a great Canadian city. Although not as historically scenic at St. John, it’s pride shines through in the harbor and along the waterfront – the most people friendly one I’ve ever seen. They’ve gone the extra mile in keeping residents and tourists at the water’s edge by offering several places to eat and play.
There are restaurants, hot dog and ice cream stands, playgrounds and boardwalks with Adirondack chairs and hammocks to relax in or to people watch or to just stare out into the bay at the passing ships and sailboats. My niece, Kendra, currently works as a nurse in one of the downtown hospitals. After meeting up with her for dinner on the night of our arrival, we got some first hand tips on what else to see and where else to eat and drink in the city.
One reason I picked Halifax as a base for three days was so we could easily visit Peggy’s Cove, Mahone Bay, and Lunnenburg. The first and latter are beautiful and unique in their own way. Actually, the drive from Halifax along the coast to any of these places is contains some of the best scenery in the province.
Working our way back home, and southeast through Maine, we stumbled across a pristine little B & B. It was an old house full of antiques in the the town of Machius, on a Bay of Fundy tidal river of the same name. An American Bald Eagle was our closest neighbor who spied Cathryn as much as she did him.
The manager of the B & B, Chris, was a fellow author. I offered him advise on self-publishing and he steered us to the best restaurant the town had to offer. My last attempt in looking for the best east coast chowder there failed miserably, but the food was good.
It was in the little town of Essex, New York, across the river from the state of Vermont that we found one our best surprises of the trip. It was like we traveled back a hundred years in time when we drove off the ferry. There was no doubt we had to park the car and explore the unknown place on foot. One hundred and fifty year old houses and shops called to us.
One of the residents who was reading on her porch, and another who was gardening took the time to welcome us and share some of the history of their historic village. A place called the Boathouse Restaurant was the perfect place for lunch. The view from it’s waterfront patio included the river and ferry, and a pontoon plane that was moored nearby. Another last attempt by me for the perfect chowder paid off big time there.
Leaving the Boathouse we had a nice chat with Al and Bonnie who shared our love of beer and food and motorcycles. Then there was a couple in Lake Placid at the lodge where we stayed. We swapped travel stories for an hour or two but never exchanged names. He had the classic New York accent.
Our last stop was in Utica, New York, kind of the half way point along the remaining route to home. Their downtown, like so many other big city cores, has suffered over the years. Luckily, our hotel was within walking distance of an active area with a few bars, restaurants, and one of the best refurbished turn-of-the-century theaters we’ve ever seen.
We considered grabbing a beer and maybe dinner at a place called Swifty’s, but after meeting Laurie and Pete at the bar, and taking their recommendation, we moved a few door down to an Italian restaurant who boasted the best chicken riggi anywhere. They were right, although we had no idea what the dish was. It was chicken rigatoni done in a thick and creamy blush sauce.
Laurie and Pete were just like us, they liked beer and food and travel. Unlike us they both have two years until retirement and we left them drooling when I told them of our plans for Egypt and Africa this coming winter.