The tourism ads dazzle. They show things we often take for granted: icebergs, whales, majestic mountain gorges. And who can resist kids playing in windswept fields under a sky blanketed in blue, or families having special moments near scenic homes and multi-coloured clotheslines.
It portrays a different way of life, especially for those from crowded cities.
A few weeks ago, someone dared write a letter suggesting that perhaps all this stuff about Newfoundland and Labrador as the place to be, the place to see, was all guff.
I have to admit my initial thought was they may be right.
I’ve had some poor experiences on the tourist circuit during staycations. I’ve slept on beds in hotel rooms that might as well have been rock; one was so bad, we opted for the floor. At a popular restaurant, a summer lunch almost turned into supper; only one clerk was handling a cash register for what seemed like a busload of tourists; it was actually a local organization doing its monthly luncheon and paying individually. I’ve been overcharged and misled about promised services.
I’ve had some great experiences, too. Kilmory Resort gave such personal attention I felt like family. A visit to the Lamaline area resulted in this stranger receiving supper invitations at three different houses.
Still, the real test is when experienced travellers come here, and share their stories. This summer, several friends from away made stops in this place. One was a group of four. I asked them to let me have it, bluntly. How was the vacation?
Their reply was quick.
“We are missing ‘the Rock.’ Every one of us had a wonderful time. The weather wasn’t perfect but it was pretty darn good. The day we had at Cape St. Mary was absolutely perfect. Seeing the gannet colony was sensational. And the friendly people, all of the waitresses, the B&B hostesses, the whale sighting boat captains — just everyone — were just great.”
“After the people, there is a whole list of highlights:
“The wildlife. The puffins off Witless Bay were impressive in numbers and at Elliston we were able to come within about two metres of them.
“The scenery. The Skerwink trail near Port Rexton was fantastic, with its soaring cliffs and views over to Trinity. Trinity itself is a gem. We even bought a small etching of some of the houses in Trinity.
“St. John’s. Not only is the architecture striking, with the jelly bean houses and the nice old stone buildings, but the city is full of interesting places to see. We loved The Rooms! And places to eat, ranging from the funky Rocket restaurant to the extremely good food at Get Stuffed (highly recommended, and ask for Megan from Paradise to be your waitress — she’s terrific). The city is a wonderful blend of sophistication and downhome charm.
“The art. Of special mention has to be the arts and crafts scene in Newfoundland. We bought about $1,000 worth of art and craft objects because we just couldn’t resist. At the arts and crafts centre on Duckworth, at the Battery, at art galleries in St. John’s, Burin, Grand Bank, Port Rexton and Quidi Vidi, we loaded up! We had to carry the precious objects onto the plane but one of the paintings was too big for that so it had to go in the hold, marked ‘very fragile.’ Fortunately, the gallery in Port Rexton had wrapped it extremely well so it arrived home safely.
“We travelled about 1,850 kilometres in our rented car, and even then only covered a fraction of the island. Next time, and there certainly will be a next time soon, we will stay longer and come with our own car so that we can cover the whole island. That way, we’ll really let Newfoundland’s charm soak in.”
I’ll end with the final and most lasting tribute.
“On behalf of the four of us, thanks so much for contributing to our enjoyment of your wonderful homeland. Every Canadian owes it to themselves to see how great our easternmost province is.”
Thanks Neil! ’Nuff said.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached