Thursday Sept 26, 2013

One hundred thousand Gaelic welcomes awaited us yesterday in the port-town of Sydney on the beautiful island of Cape Breton – a delightful corner of Nova Scotia (Latin for ‘New Scotland’) that (surprise, surprise) is riddled with French, English and Scottish history.

Our choice for today’s shore excursion was the Fortress of Louisbourg – where every barn, barracks and pipe-&-drum corps appears just as it did when King Louis’ troops occupied the site in 1744. Dodging the showery rain which had followed us from Prince Edward Island, our Mad Kiwi Midlifers explored the Fort’s nooks and crannies, engaged in animated conversation with the costumed locals (who played their parts with enthusiasm), sipped mugfuls of hot melted chocolate, and watched a musket-firing demo (a big bang and an even bigger cloud of smoke). It was great fun!

Then, for something a little different, we met at the World’s Largest Fiddle (Sydney’s 8-tonne steel landmark) and followed the piper to an intimate musical performance of lively Scottish fiddle-playing, drumming and singing. In the process, Bill C and Yours-Truly got to kick up their heels in an energetic ceiliedh-style square-dance … and we all got to sample the famous Cape Breton Oat Cakes. Yum!

Which was followed by the usual four-course gourmet evening meal in the Rotterdam Dining Room.

Which was followed by a Chocolate Extravaganza supper up on the Lido Deck.

Which was followed by some much-needed pillow-time in our cabins … zzzzzz.

The travel books had warned us: for ocean scenery at its best, nothing rivals Nova Scotia’s south shore. And we had proof of that this morning as the Maasdam crept along the craggy coastline and docked in Halifax. This busy Canadian port was founded in 1749 as a British stronghold – so the eager Redcoats could keep a watchful eye on the French fort at Louisbourg. Today Halifax handles 16 million tons of cargo – and remains open year-round (unlike other ports on Canada’s east coast, most of which ice over in winter).

For all its beauty, this region also has its share of sobering sites. And, before our day was over, we would (i) spot a monument to the Swissair plane crash in 1998 that killed all on board … (ii) motor past several cemeteries filled with the graves of the Titanic casualties from 1912 … and (iii) hear the tragic story of a devastating 1917 explosion, when two ships (one of them packed with munitions) collided in Halifax Harbour, claiming more than 2000 lives.

Our shore visit today began with a coach-tour through the city’s graceful older districts, then an enjoyable longish drive along the coast to Peggy’s Cove – a rustic, charming fishing village and one of Canada’s most photographed sites.

Peggy’s Cove, I kid you not, is simply magic. Ancient granite bedrock, smoothed and sculpted by the last ice age, stretching along the coastline and out to an iconic lighthouse. The cove itself, with its gaudily-painted boats and ropes and buoys and lobster-traps. The cottages, the settings, the colours, the reflections. Our cameras were soon threatening to overheat.

As a delightful finishing touch, we then tied-on plastic aprons and sat down to a delectable lobster lunch. Oh, what fun we had … and oh, what a mess we made, cracking those hard orange shells and digging the sweet white flesh out of those powerful claws!

TOMORROW: We drop in on one of the most beautiful places in North America, Bar Harbour, home of the famous Down-East Lobster-Bake and Acadia National Park. This cruise is almost over, folks, so don’t missing the thunderous climax over the next couple of days …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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