Sunday, August 07, 2005

St. John's, Newfoundland

Sunday 10:30 a.m.

An incredible clear blue morning. I've been up for a few hours, trying to work on the blog backlog. I'm torn; I should be out THERE, but I also have this relatively rare opportunity to use a functioning high-speed internet system - at least until our 1:00 p.m. checkout. Jeff still resting. This layover has helped us recover somewhat from the tiring ferry ride.


On the ferry crossing, looking around at all the miserable sleepers, I finally ignored regulations and stretched out my sleeping bag on the carpeted deck between rows of seats. Soon, I was snoring loudly and Jeff had to give me a shake.

An announcement over the P.A. roused (some of) us around 5:00 a.m. (much like reveille aboard ship in the Navy.) We were one hour from docking and breakfast was being served in the cafeteria. Looked out through the salt-spray-encrusted windows to a bleak sky, just starting to grow light. Choppy, wind-tossed seas, but still there was very little swell on this crossing.

Looking back through the Argentia harbor entrance, a little after 5:00 a.m. this morning.

Walking aft, I was amazed to see how many people were lined up for breakfast. Those who had cabins looked fresh and smiley (I hate them!), the rest of us, disheveled walking dead. Despite fatigue, the excitement of reaching Newfoundland brought a fresh energy. I went up on deck and gazed upon the stark landscape of Argentia's harbor. Barren rolling hills, some small industrial facilities; and a large out-of-place ferry building. Not much else. Except for a howling wind. What an odd place for a landing.

Pulling in to Argentia, Newfoundland at about 6:00 a.m. this morning, after a 14-hour crossing. The wind was ripping across this thin spit of land.

We docked almost exactly 14 hours after departure, around 6:00 a.m. (with a half-hour loss due to the time zone change.) A flurry of activity on the car deck, as all the bikers unhitched their machines and prepared to debark. A Harley in front started up with an ungodly blast. "Asshole! Was that really necessary?" The bikes were first off, and roared down the open road in small clusters, eager to get far ahead of any other traffic. (Later, we would pass many by the roadside, adjusting gear, or finishing the process of suiting up. "Just as I thought, that burst out of the starting gates was all for show!")

A wild crosswind made the ride toward St. John's "stimulating". But the highway was in excellent shape, and it was now light. We didn't have to worry as much about moose charging onto the road. From Argentia, it was a 60-mile ride into St. John's. I was getting a good chill, and counting down the miles. Billboards announced the various services ahead. Surprised at the apparent size of St. John's (as measured by the list of fast food outlets.)

Found a "Tim Horton's" and warmed up with some coffee. Then began the search for a motel. Looking for a "Comfort Inn" whose billboard advertised high speed internet, a service station attendant sent us to a "Travelers Inn" by mistake. After getting lost downtown, found the "Comfort Inn" out by the airport. ("Thinking about that GPS yet?") It looked pretty shabby. No rooms ready, but they invited us to wait for one to become available. I waited while Jeff went off to look for motorcycle shops. He needed to find some replacement gloves.

Within a few minutes, I was given room 201. Having a look, I found it unacceptable; an outside view to a big wall a few feet away, a stale smoky interior, and despite the gusty winds today, not even a gentle breeze made it to this room. I looked into a room across the hall that was being cleaned. At least that one had windows that allowed daylight and air. Asked at the desk if I could wait for this one.

"Those rooms are reserved weeks in advance," I was told.

On a hunch, I drove down to the "Holiday Inn". There I was greeted by a refreshingly friendly staff. I was shown a room which looked perfect. Bright, with a door opening onto a balcony. Opening this and cracking the front door allowed the wind to rush through. Reserved it, then returned to "Comfort Inn" to cancel my reservation there.

Waited for Jeff, pondering how I could leave, but alert him to where I had gone (I hated to ask any more of the desk clerk.) Went over to the "Holiday Inn" and checked in. Made a couple of trips back to the "Comfort Inn", but no sign of Jeff. Finally, I left a message with the staff, directing him up the road. He showed up at the "Holiday Inn" after having tried four motorcycle shops. He laid out his new gear: gloves, rain suit and rubber "booties".

I was complaining about my camera, when he had the brilliant idea to try a camera repair shop. He found one in the phone book and told me to give them a call. They could clean it for me, but could make no guarantee that it would be ready today. Hurriedly drove over, hoping to give them as much time with the camera as possible. After chatting with the owner, and telling him my situation, he expressed confidence he could finish the job today. He told me to return before 4:00. He explained how he would clean it, so that now I should be able to do it myself.

Worked on the blog all afternoon. Despite the lack of sleep, I couldn't pass up the opportunity. With the doors open, it was wonderfully windy and fresh. Everyone seemed to say the same thing: "the sun is coming."

Asked at the front desk for restaurant recommendation - "something uniquely local, not a chain." Without hesitation, both people on duty suggested "Velma's" on Water Street for authentic Newfoundland ("Newfie") cuisine. Out at 6:00. Our blundering search for a motel this morning had one side benefit: we found our way back downtown easily. Once on Water Street, I asked a cabbie where we could find "Velma's". We were only a block away.

"Velma's Place" in Downtown St. John's, Newfoundland, serving good, but expensive home-style Newfoundland dishes.

"Velma's" is a family-style cafe in an unpretentious downtown store front. The menu reminded me of Portugal, with its heavy emphasis on seafood, especially cod. We found the prices pretty expensive. Tried the mussels "special" along with a "fried cod" dinner. (Couldn't bring myself to order the cod tongues, which the couple at the next table assured me were quite good.) Good food, not great (the mussels not particularly fresh - I should have been alerted by the fact they were on "special".) The baked potato accompanying the cod may have been the largest I've ever seen!

After dinner, found our way to a "gelato" shop we had seen this morning. The shop in Quebec City had left quite an impression on Jeff. He's now a gelato-lover. This particular shop, which caters to the business lunch crowd, was not particularly impressive. Across the street, U.S. Air Force air crew members were quietly boarding a yellow bus.

Jeff commented how these men, who are probably en route to Iraq, are fighting in a war that few wanted, and most now oppose. They are fighting for an ungrateful nation, doing the bidding of a few greedy leaders. The nation is indifferent to their sacrifice.

Back at the motel, Jeff watched TV as I tried to blog. Distracting, but that's the way it goes. There has to be some compromise. When a "live" "Coldplay" concert came on, I stopped to watch. They're an outstanding English band.

Up until 3:00 a.m.

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