It’s a testament to the awesomeness of the Snows that they can make time in Sydney, Nova Scotia fly by so quickly.
Much like my birthplace of Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Sydney (or, more accurately, the area around Sydney) is beautiful, and the options for hiking, driving and general outdoorsy sightseeing abound. But, as a town to live in. . .well, without mincing words too much, it’s a bit shit.
There’s just little in the way of opportunity, particularly for those around my age. I remember when last I was there I’d gone to check out the only local boxing club (MMA in Sydney? Keep dreaming, buddy), thinking I’d test the waters of the whole competitive fighting plan, and quickly found myself surrounded by 12 − 18 year olds. I’d driven to the club on my motorbike, while they were getting dropped off in mini-vans driven by their parents. When I mentioned to one of the trainers I was interested in beginning to train he commented that I was ‘a little long in the tooth, wasn’t I?’.
But, in the end, towns (or cities) are what you make of them, and a solid group of friends has meant that the ideas I connect to Sydney are not of a lack of opportunity, local issues with obesity and alcoholism or the poorly managed tar ponds. Instead Sydney, to me, is a room made warm and tranquil by a roaring fire whilst I lounge with close friends on comfy couches, enjoying engaging conversation over a glass of good scotch. Sydney is homemade bread and lovingly prepared meals and homes run by cats (clearly the true masters of the households). It’s bouncing ideas back and forth off other local writers until inspiration has hit a dangerous high and it’s pushing your running buddy to get just one more k in while they push you to do the same. It’s jogging through the still tranquility of the Baille Ard trail as the sun breaks between the trees to create zebra stipe sunbeams on the aged bark of them.
It’s lounging on a back deck with the sun warming your (absentmindedly suntan-lotion-free) flesh with a cool beer in your hand. It’s painting each other’s toe nails in ridiculous color combinations, and finally learning how to sharpen a knife, bake bread and braid my hair. It’s Boston Pizza cheat nights with team pitchers and shouting ‘LIVER KICK!’ at pay-per-view UFC fights afterwards. It’s ‘Settlers of Catan’ nights. So many Settlers of Catan nights.
Above all else, Sydney is home to a group of people I love. So Sydney is them, and being able to be with them.
And shoot them.
And also startle the pants off them. There was a great moment in my first days back when I went to visit a friend who hadn’t known I was returning at her workplace. Her ensuing ear-shattering shriek of glee inspired a random shopper to come over and comment, “I don’t know who you are or where you’ve just come back from, but that just made my day.” It made mine as well. Feeling the love.
This all made Sydney a perfect place to recover from a severe gastrointestinal illness. I was weak at the start and spent a LOT of time in my first weeks back sleeping. But, under the loving care of the Snows (who racked their cooking diaries for tasty vegetarian eats. Have I mentioned how much I love these guys?) I recovered my health quickly, and was able to rebuild my gut flora until I could once again abuse my stomach with BBQ’d cheese-filled sausages en masse.
Which was useful, as Canada Day happened to fall within my time back. A day of epicness ensued as we celebrated the birth of our country with BBQ, beer, bubbles and ballistics.
There was also the PEI roadtrip I wrote about a couple posts back. As well, another friend made a road trip in from Halifax to visit. So, within a short time I got to see a LOT of very familiar faces. I’m convinced an abundance of hugs contributed to my speedy recovery.
But the time to leave came fast and, in what seemed the blink of an eye, I was packing my bags once more.
I made a couple detours on my way to Oz. First to surprise another person – my mother’s birthday was around my departure date, so I arranged a stopover in Corner Brook. Coincidentally, a fellow traveler I’d initially met in Ireland was working in the incredibly stunning Gros Mourne National Park. He needed a couple bicycle parts and some odds and ends driven out to him (Gros Mourne being big on stunning natural beauty, less abundant in shopping complexes) and so my folks and I made a day trip out to Woody Point for fresh seafood, scenic views and classic small-town NL sights.
It’s nagging at me that after the post on how I tend to take home for granted, I’m not writing more in-depth articles on my time back (But,as was related in my last post, the urge/need to catch up is just stronger at the moment).
Because Newfoundland really is a fascinating little microcosm of society. Its long, rich history has created an obscure collection of claims to fame (we received the world’s first transatlantic wireless transmission back in 1901, have the highest concentration per square foot of bars and pubs in all of North America and are the only point in North America in which ze Germans landed during WWII), and its relatively isolated location has meant that the locals are hungry for, and always hospitable to, tourists. We’ve an odd collection of traditions, a unique, if limited, culinary culture and a wide list of activities for you to knock off your bucket list (including some of the world’s best whale watching and the highest zip line in Canada). We’ve a unique, if often inexplainable, dialect, ridiculous names for our towns (Witless Bay, anyone? Heart’s Content? No? How about Dildo?) and an infamous sense of humor which extends even to our politicians (this is possibly my favourite Newfie video of all time. . .though it is SO goddamn Newfie that you’d have to actually be from the province to get the sheer multitude of in-jokes). Add into that an abundance of natural beauty untrampled by constant hoards of sightseers (Natural Geographic rated our Long Range Traverse among the world’s top 15 hiking trails). . . And you have a place that, was I not from there, I would be damn excited to find.
And so, while sitting on a crumbling wooden wharf in Woody Point, I stared out across the deep, perfect blue of an ocean I had grown up in walking distance from, breathed deep the familiar salty air and promised myself that at some point in the future I would come back and make a full season of travelling this place I had taken for granted for so long. I’d find the tastiest salted fish in the province, hike the Long Range Traverse, and learn to play the ugly stick in an outport kitchen party. I’d revisit the viking settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows, unseen since my childhood, and travel to the coves of Twillingate to watch the behemoth icebergs roll in and make their dramatic collapse back into the ocean depths. I’d dive for scallops between the rocks, and listen intently for the humpback’s song. I’d ride across the province, savoring as much as I could, until I’d reached Cape Spear, the most Easterly point in North America, and when I stared across the ocean from that place it would be with the knowledge that, should I set sail, the next piece of land I’d hit would be Ireland, where my world travels first began all those years ago.
But for now it was the opposite direction in which I was headed. And, after a brief stopover in Toronto to visit a few more friends, I was airborne, journeying towards my fifth continent.
*For those intrigued by the copious amount of Newfoundland links in this article, here’s a few more to whet your Newfie palette:
*Gros Morne truly is one of the most stunning places I’ve been in the world. Check out more info on it through Parks Canada or this uber kitsch website. Or, if you just want a visual tease of its unmatched beauty, check out this awesome promo vid which never fails to make my heart sing a little.
*One of the only other Newfies I’ve known to be severely bitten by the wander bug is also a blogger, and writes about our home province far more faithfully then I. Check her out at Candice Does the World; stories relating her newfie escapades are conveniently located by selecting the ’Newfoundland’ tab.
*The Matador Travel network is currently running an Explore Canada Like a Local series, which has included a number of highlights from Atlantic Canada. Among them is this article on saving baby puffins by the aforementioned Candice.
*This post was about travels that took place in July 2012.