My trip started with three nights without sleep, many thanks to my friend Joe, who met me in Dublin when I arrived after an 18 hour journey. Of course, the first thing on our list was to hit up a pub, which we did at exactly 11 am, after I dropped my bag off at the hostel where I was staying
If the South End wasn’t such a venture from our humble nook of the north, this café might be a tough contender for the number one spot my cold north end heart. The coffee is great, but add books and we’re hooked- for hours. This café is sacred; the atmosphere is one we don’t find very often in this bumbling world of ours. Treat it like the temple it is, and it will treat you back just as kindly.
*** none of these photos are relevant to this blog post, but it's beautiful here, so enjoy!
Since the beginning of Alternative Routes, I’ve debated how personal I want to be in my social media presence. In the age of the selfie, a big part of me is terrified I might get sucked into the narcissistic vortex of the social media circus, but another part of me knows that what makes travelling with Alternative Routes unique, is my ability to be open and share with the people around me. I want to keep that part of this venture real and visible, because really it’s the reason I’m doing all this, travelling and starting AR, to keep sharing unique experiences with interested people.
I wondered if I should share with you my trip to Mexico, and how I could make it relevant to AR’s fans and passengers. Can you believe I almost forgot who you were? I understand now that of course me taking a trip to Mexico is relevant. Because, for the first time in a long time, I remember what it feels like to be a traveller! For too long I’ve been hosting people in the vulnerable position of getting to know a new place without getting away and being in that position myself. This time it’s me that get’s to be blown away by the unfamiliar landscapes, smells and food, and the new palettes of colour, the most beautiful colours! I’ve been reminded of the value of authentic travel experiences and feel more in touch with what it is I set out to do in the beginning.
Wow! Are we lucky people, the one’s who chose to travel. I’m sitting in a blissful daze in my Airbnb in San Cristobal de las Casas, freezing my ass off under a blanket, so happy to be getting some weird sort of vacation from my vacation. Everyone does this right? Takes “me time” in their travels? Time to veg, in whatever form that takes for them, time to process all the new experiences they've had, the people they've met, and the drinks! But only enough time to remember how nice it was to be on the Pacific Ocean playing in the waves drinking Mezcal Margarita’s with the boys back at Puerto Dreams. Making decisions is hard when you travel. There are always so many places to go, so many people talking about beautiful things you need to see, it’s amazing anyone ever gets out the door in the first place.
The good people from Dalhousie’s school of Planning invited me this week to present at their PechaKucha fundraiser, and although I have no idea how I did with my slides and scattered brained chatter (prerecorded from this very same room), I hope that somehow I touched the people there with my desperate rant about how important public transportation to rural places in Nova Scotia is to enhance the cultural experience of this place for everyone. Because of Mexico’s extensive transportation system my trip has been fuller than I ever could have imagined. I’ve travelled to four cities in two weeks with six different modes of transportation, not including the plane that got me here. The options here are so vast, I even met a couple that chartered a plane for a much too reasonable price, and yes, they arrived with all their limbs!
So it seems this working holiday, that was starting to look just like a regular holiday, got me back to my roots. Reminded me of how Alternative Routes came about in the first place. My imagination is running wild, and I’m picturing being in your shoes again, I (almost) can’t wait to get home to plan all the ways how this second summer can be better than the last. And now since I’ve found my roots and vulnerability, I think I will be able to share it with you more sincerely than I would have before, because to me, AR is more than just a shuttle, and it's more than a way to travel, it’s a way of living.
You can’t go wrong with this meatball sandwich, unless of course you are a vegetarian. Go for the sandwich and go back a second and third time for the pizza. As much as these sandwiches are good, it’s the pizza that really gets them on the list, but you can’t get one for yourself for under that $10 mark, but you can always share.
I’m sure the people from these towns would hoot and holler that I am grouping them all in one blog, but until I learn more about each (dear residents: feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments at the end), I just don’t have enough to say to give each place a category of it’s own. So, I’m going to go in route order, as to not step on any more toes.
Hubbards is exactly the kind of place that made me want to start Alternative Routes, because unless someone tells you directly to stop there, you probably won’t. What brought me in at first were the antique shops, one in particular really, right off the lighthouse route, beside another place worth stopping— The Trellis Café. I don’t know much about the owner, although he always seems to be there, and available, and charming. The place is sort of spectacular, an eclectic mix of mid century side boards at $8000 and classic nova scotia rag rugs, mine I negotiated, bought and loved for $60. There is easily something for everyone here, and lots of little local treasures, including handmade items.
Hubbards also boasts having Nova Scotia’s smallest provincial park and 10 beaches all within close driving distance to one another. They are a community with a lot of earned pride, and work hard to promote their local economy. One mainstay is the Shore Club, a place that claims to be the host of the “Original Nova Scotia Lobster Supper” and the “Last of the Great Dance Halls.”
Next on the line is Chester, one of my favourite little hubs in Nova Scotia. And I know I’m not the only one. Known world wide for Chester Race week that takes place August 13 to 16th and has been around for more than 150 years. But, Chester is about more than sail boats. Until the Nova Scotia liberal government squashed out all their resources, there was a once booming film industry in Chester. Yes, really. Don’t believe me— Dolores Clairbourne, Two if by Sea, and the television series Haven were all shot in Chester.
When people ask me for my Nova Scotia chowder recommendation, I have to tell them about The Kiwi Café. I’m not sure what a classic Nova Scotia chowder is supposed to be, but I imagine anyone who eats this one full of lobster and haddock, won’t care. It’s delicious. Barely a potato in sight, and I’m pretty sure a full lobster in each bowl, the only rival it has is my own and maybe my grandmothers. If seafood is what you are after, you can’t go wrong with this chowder. They have other fair as well, all day breakfast, sandwiches; they use Java Blend Coffee (locally roasted in Halifax since 1938), bread from La Have Bakery and sell four-dollar farm fresh eggs. They even carry specialty items that you probably can’t find anywhere else in Chester, like Thai curry pastes and Comptoire du Sud sugar cubes. I’ve never actually tried their take home meals, but I imagine they are as seriously delicious as everything else I’ve tried.
Mahone Bay must be as famous for it’s harbour view as it was for wooden boat building back in the day. If you’re on our route, you’ll get the best view as we drive in to the town. Everyone oh and ahs over the three churches that tower over the water, each one a different denomination and each differently beautiful in it’s own way. I’m not sure why exactly this has become such a spectacular thing to see, but when you see it, there is something a little quirky and strange about the whole deal, but mostly it’s just beautiful. The harbour itself is full of small islands—some are even populated. If you missed Amos Pewter when we were at Peggy’s Cove you can always make up for it here. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, this is the location where everything gets made, so if you’re luck and stop in at the right time, you might be able to see how it’s all done. If you happen to miss something being made, the staff is super knowledgeable and happy to tell you everything there is to know about pewter in Nova Scotia. If you’re into learning on your trip, you should check out the wooden boat-building museum. Shipbuilding is how Mahone Bay got its start.
It’s no secret that Peggy’s Cove is the most photographed lighthouse in the world. There’s a good reason for that. Duh. Look at it. But really, even after my hundredth visit, I’m still astonished by what this small little village has to offer. That’s right, village. Peggy’s Cove is more than it’s lighthouse.
Personally, I start to get excited when we reach West Dover; the landscape starts to change, and you start to see the water lined with fishing shacks and docks in perfect pastels. If you’re keen, you’ll notice the giant boulders scattered around that look like they’ve been perfectly placed as if part of some giant’s Zen garden. For a lot of people, Peggy’s Cove is what comes to mind when they think of Nova Scotia, so it’s natural to get excited when you first see the sign. You take a deep left hand turn off the highway and it feels like you’ve gone back in time. The village is small, housing only 640 people year round; however, the population on any given sunny day has got to be in the multiple thousands. It’s always fun to see how many people from so many cultures know this place exists. The first time someone sees the lighthouse, their eyes expand to about the size of their face. Magic is what I call this sort of thing, and Peggy’s Cove is full of it.
We suggest to anyone going to Peggy’s Cove to start at the top. Drive all the way up to the parking lot. From there you can cover the whole village by foot in about 15 minutes. Take some time, explore the rocks (remember to stay off the black rocks: we’re very serious about this. The danger is real.), try to capture your perfect lighthouse picture, take a seat and watch the waves crash, you might even be lucky enough to catch a porpoise playing in the water.
Then make your way down to the village. Amos Pewter has been in Nova Scotia since 1974 and has cool little affordable gifts and keepsakes for anyone’s taste. If you take the AR shuttle to Peggy’s Cove, it might be a little early to grab an ice cream, but if your morals allow for an ice cream breakfast, I highly HIGHLY suggest going to Dee Dee’s (you can always check out their other location in Halifax). They have local flavours like haskap berry, or fancy fun mixes like my personal favourite Banana Cardamon (yup, really, and it’s delicious), or try one of their classics like chocolate, or if you want to spice it up a bit, you can try the Mexican chocolate. I’ll stop there; I could do a whole other blog post on the magic that is Dee Dee’s ice cream, and just might!
Don’t miss Roger's Buoys Shop. This place is ever changing mix of all sorts of coastal delights and treasures. Even though most things are for sale, it’s like a little underwater coastal museum, with giant whale bones, buoys, and glass bottles from a lifetime ago.
Something I look forward to every time I go up this way is the rock. A giant granite wall carved by William E. deGarthe in the 1980’s that depicts his vision of Peggy arriving in the cove. There is something mythical about this rock, and the story of Peggy’s arrival, that a lot of people miss if they only go to see the lighthouse. Every time I look at it, I see something new. There are 32 figures carved into the rock, and you’d almost never believe it unless you count them out individually.
Now, the bus won’t actually stop at the next location I’m going to talk about, but if you are on your own and have the time, check out the Swiss Air Flight 111 memorial that has been put up right down the road. If you don’t know the story, there was a plane crash in 1998 of a flight coming from New York City going to Geneva. Fishermen from the area and families rushed to the aid in the recovery process but unfortunately, there were no survivors. It's a tragic story, definitely, but how people in the community came together to recuperate whatever they could from the freezing ocean waters is a remarkable one.
I don't want to end on such a dark note, so I'm going to tell you briefly about Clam Pond. It's a little over a kilometre walk from the village, but it's totally worth it. The pond is more like a small lake or large tidal pool that's full of fish and other underwater life. Great place to cool off (Peggy's Cove is not for swimming) and get an idea of what's lying on the bottom of our ocean.
We hope to see you there soon!
“Why aren’t you guys coming here?”
“It’s so big!”
“It’s too expensive!”
“There’s no way to see everything I want!”
Ah! Ha! It was my moment, and everything clicked into place. They were right. From what I saw, unless you rent a car, the options for travellers were pretty slim in Canada, especially outside the Toronto-Montreal corridor. And Canada is so much more than that bottleneck. We have some of the most expensive flights around the globe. Our expanse is enormous; Most of the backpackers don’t want to travel in a personal bubble. They are the people who want real experiences of the places they visit, and they want to meet local people, impossible things to do while handling the wheels of a car.
So, I’ll be honest, I never imagined myself starting a business, but after hosting travellers in my home for the last three years and seeing that no one else is catering to the market of tourists I love so much, I felt it absolutely necessary to do something. So, I’m doing something, and I’m excited to have all of you be a part of it. I can’t wait for our first ride on July 1st, my perfectionist side says that’s too soon, but my good side: the fun side says: “let’s do it!”
I’m that other freckled redheaded kid from across the strait (the Northumberland Strait that is), who upon moving to Nova Scotia, immediately fell in love and starting calling it home. Ten years later and better travelled, I decided I want to make this place more accessible so that others would get the same opportunity I did to fall in love.
When I first had the idea for Alternative Routes, I was traveling across Canada, from Edmonton to Halifax. It was the third time I’d made this journey, but the first time I noticed how many hotels, motels, and campgrounds were almost empty, or already shut down— and it was the middle of summer. This piqued my longing and my curiosity. I had just returned from a lengthy journey backpacking through Europe and Africa, and what I saw just wasn’t matching up with what I was hearing from my peers:
“Oh Canada, you guys have the best nature.”
“Canada is amazing, so wild and so much to see.”
“ I can’t wait to visit Canada.”
These were the phrases echoed by everyone I came across during my hostel stays. So, I couldn’t help but wonder: why aren’t they coming? If they were coming, these beautiful little towns, which had evidence of a once booming tourism industry, wouldn’t be coughing up so many ghosts. So, I got on the social media and started asking these friends: