Posts filed under ‘Ferry Crossing’

Ferry Tales, Part Deux

All three of us were varying degrees of sad to leave St. John’s, partially because we’d had such a good time there, and also because we were dreading the return trip on the hospital ship ferry. This time, though, we were going to be a little better prepared. I had Lee map out a stop on the way out of St. John’s, because we needed a couple of meals, and we needed SHEETS. I think I paid $7 for an ugly, sandpaper-rough brown & creme plaid sheet, but at least I knew I’d have a new, clean layer to protect me from a suspicious mattress.

My mom drove us to the ferry terminal in Argentia and instead of boarding at almost midnight, as we did on the way there, our return trip left in the early evening. This turned out to be so much more agreeable. It was a lot better to have the sleepy time in the middle of the long crossing to break up the trip.

First thing when we got on the ship was to check out our accommodations. We were in a different steerage compartment this time. Instead of freezing on a lower deck in our own little nook, we were in a room on an upper deck that held about 40 bunks. It was a little disconcerting, at first, to think about sleeping in the same room as 37 strangers, but at least it wasn’t as cold. And at least we had sheets! A girl with pretty pink shoes (that you can see in the photo below) and a matching shiny Lululemon bag stumbled into the bunkroom with the same dazed look that we’d had on our first crossing. I felt bad for her, but I knew that she, like us, would emerge from the crossing much wiser and with a resolve to bring a sheet next time.

Cheers for NL

By this point, we were all exhausted and a little (or a lot) silly. I was just looking forward to getting back to the mainland and I approached the return trip with a great deal of acceptance. Que sera sera! We made up our beds and since we knew that the prime seating on the main decks gets taken fast, I wanted to stake out a spot in the back room of the movie room, near one of the power outlets I’d found so I could work on some photos and keep my phone and iPod charged.

Since we’d gone straight to bed on the way there, we’d missed a delightful (and really long) safety video (made longer by repeating the whole thing in French), but we were happy to catch that feature film the second time around! Pretty soon, it was time for dinner, and we’d all bought containers of fresh fruit for some healthy snacks, however, none of us had thought to buy utensils. I’m not sure why none of us thought to get some from the cafeteria on the ship, but maybe no one was up for braving the hospital food smell.

Eating fruit

So we made it work.

Bugs & Debbie were entertaining, of course, and for a while, I kind of wanted to head down to the lounge and enjoy some fine accordion playing over a beer, but exhaustion won out. Two of the previous three mornings, I’d been up before the sun, so it was awesome to fall into a bed (with a sheet on it) completely exhausted and sleep as long as I could. Then once we got up in the morning, we didn’t even have two hours to kill before we docked in North Sydney!

On the boat

I was thrilled to see a) land and b) a beautiful day for more sightseeing and driving! I had hoped that we would see the Cabot Trail winding down the mountains, like on the magnet that I’d bought, but I think that you only get that view from the Port-aux-Basques crossing.

The least fun thing about being a walk-on passenger for this ferry is that you’re not permitted to walk on or off; you have to ride a shuttle bus from the ferry terminal to the boat and vice versa. Boarding the ferry, this is pretty sweet, because you get to board first, so they can drive the shuttle off the ferry before all the cars get on. But when it’s time to leave, you’re trapped until everyone with a car drives away. It felt like it took forever to get off the boat that morning, especially since we wanted to hurry to Halifax to hit the Maritime Museum before it closed, per Jules’ request.

So we finally get to the terminal and head across the street, where I was thrilled to see that my rental car was still just where we’d left it. We started tearing apart the back of the car, changing clothes, repacking suitcases, etc. It’s a flurry of activity.

Remember the guys who stared at us while we parked the car before we boarded the ferry a few days earlier? Yeah, it turns out that maybe they were parking attendants, or maybe just locals who found it amusing to stand in the lot and stare at tourists, we’re really not sure, but either way, we think they knew something about parking fees. We’d driven into the lot and hadn’t seen a sign that indicated it wasn’t free, or a booth collecting money, or a machine where you pre-pay for parking for a certain amount of time (that’s how we roll in Chicago), or anything. But it turns out that there were parking fees, because a guy sitting in his pickup truck with his dog got out of his pickup truck and swaggered over to us, holding a clipboard.

“You ladies didn’t pay for parking before you left.”
“Ummm…I didn’t know there was a fee,” I said.
“Yeah, there’s a fee.”
“There wasn’t a sign or anything.”
“Yeah, a lot of people don’t know,” he said, leaving me wondering how people are supposed to know, given the lack of signage, and who you’re supposed to pay when you drive in. The clump of guys, smoking and staring? How do you know if they’re the right people?

So then he consults his clipboard and tells us that we owe a whopping $35 for five days of parking fees. No late charge, no fine. Just $35. I am totally unflapped because at home, you can’t even park overnight in the Loop for $35. So the girls shove money at me and I give the guy $35, and then he bends over and proceeds to begin UNLOCKING A BOOT FROM MY WHEEL. None of us had noticed…I’m sure we would have gotten in the car and tried to drive away if he hadn’t been sitting in his pickup truck when we arrived. Now I was flapped. I couldn’t believe that I’d driven in both Chicago and Miami without ever getting my car even ticketed (although Jules’ car did get towed while visiting me in Chicago and we had to get it out of the auto pound in the underbelly of Wacker Drive…that’s a good story), but I managed to get a rental car booted in North Sydney, Nova Scotia, in a parking lot that wasn’t even paved.

Fortunately, we were soon on our way post-boot, and our first stop absolutely had to be Tim Horton’s for iced coffees. The cashier greeted me with a super cheery “Whatchoo GITTIN’?” Then she proceeded to tell us that they were out of iced coffee. Yet they had coffee. And I presume that their ice machine wasn’t out of ice. And I definitely saw cups. So I’m not sure what the problem was, but the woman could not sell me an iced coffee. I had to settle for Pepsi, which just isn’t the same. But after the ferry and the boot, I wasn’t really fazed, and at least we did get yet another trip catchphrase out of the stop.

Sans iced coffees, we were finally on our way out of the Sydney/North Sydney area. We stopped first at the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts, which has an awesome Scottish store that was closed when we drove past earlier. It’s near the east end of the Cabot Trail and worth a stop if you are in the area and like Scottish things! Jules wanted to get something for her Scottish brother-in-law, and I wanted something in my family tartan. My maternal grandma’s maiden name was McCaghren, and from research done by relatives, I knew that McCaghren is related to the MacDonald clan. I have a really pretty red & green tartan scarf that my aunt & uncle brought back from Scotland for me a few years ago, so I thought it would be fun to get a magnet or a bookmark or a souvenir spoon.

All MacDonald items were sold out. Seriously, someone must have come through just before me and bought up the place. No bookmarks, no magnets, no historical pamphlets, no snowglobes, no Christmas ornaments, no bow ties. But Jules got some things and a scrawny boy was practicing the bag pipes in front of our car when we left, so the stop wasn’t a loss.

From there, we were on to Halifax, which is definitely a topic for another post. Lots of photos to come!


April 21, 2011 at 10:49 am Leave a comment

Ferry Tales

First of all, thanks to all of the new visitors to my blog who found my Cabot Trail post via links left by the lovely folks at Nova Scotia Tourism and Cape Breton Living! Thank you! I hope you’re enjoying reading about my travels. Feel free to leave more travel tips—I may have already finished this trip, but Canada is a place that I’ll always continue to explore, and the tips could always help other people, too.

So my last post left off with a lovely sunset at the end of the Cabot Trail. So we ended up driving to Sydney in the dark, across a terrifying bridge. We were supposed to be at the ferry terminal before midnight to board our boat to Argentia, Newfoundland. The crossing was scheduled to take about 15 hours. The usual ferry crossing from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland is more direct and only takes 7 hours or so, but it dumps you out in Port-aux-Basques, on the SW tip of the island. Since we wanted to hit St. John’s, the capital and largest city, and Cape Spear, the easternmost point in North America, we would have had to make a 12-hour drive across the island to get there. So instead, I spent days shuffling around the itinerary so we could catch one of the ferries to Argentia. The Argentia ferry only crosses in the summer and only crosses 3 times each week. And instead of crossing a channel, it basically ventures out into the ocean. For Jules, this made it extra terrifying, but it was the only way to make all the pieces of the trip fit into the last two weeks. Upon arrival in Argentia, my mom was going to meet us. She wanted to be a part of my trip and see a corner of the world she’d probably never see otherwise, so she was flying in and out of St. John’s and would spend a few days with us there.

After picking up snacks at Shoppers for the trip, we drove up to the ferry terminal and I ran inside and asked where to park, since we weren’t taking the rental car on the crossing. The guy inside told us that there was a lot across the street, and looked at me like I was crazy when I asked for further directions. “It’s right across the street! You just cross the street and park!” So we did. We crossed the street and parked on a random field, among a bunch of other cars. While we were sorting through the crap in the back of my car, because we were each only taking enough stuff for the few days we’d spend in Newfoundland, a circle of guys were standing in the parking lot and staring at us. Just standing there, smoking and staring. They stared at us while we walked past them, dragging our bags, and kept staring as we crossed the street and headed back to the ferry terminal. It was so uncomfortable that I started thinking that the empty lot with all the cars wasn’t the parking lot for the ferry, but I was scared to ask the guy in the terminal about parking again, so I just forgot about it. (I’ll get back to this in a few days.)

The ferry terminal in Sydney, NS, is nothing like the BC ferry terminals in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island. There was a ramshackle souvenir and convenience store, but no Starbucks, no couches, no shops. Just cramped chairs, like the ones in airports, and people coughing. Seriously, everyone in the ferry terminal was coughing and most fantastic cough was snarfled at regular intervals by the woman sitting next to me. I started to wonder if she had tuberculosis, and how close I had to be to her to be in danger of contracting the disease myself. When we got on the little shuttle bus that took us aboard the ferry, Miss Bubonia, as Christina started calling her, was right next to me again. I was certain, at that point, that her bunk was going to be right above mine.

But when we got on the ferry, she went in a different direction. We showed our tickets to one of the staff, and they told us to head down one more deck. I’d purchased the ferry tickets for all three of us, and we’d decided to spend a little extra to get beds, but we didn’t spring for a private cabin, which were sold out, anyway. I have a lot to say about the accommodations on the ship, but to save space, I’ll just show you the picture that Christina took, once the shock started to wear off:


Note the lack of SHEETS. When I bought the tickets for bunks, I wasn’t expecting a lot of privacy, and I wasn’t expecting a Sleep Number mattress. I was not prepared, however, for sheetless mattresses with suspicious stains or for the temperature in the sleeping quarters to be below freezing. But what was there to do then? We were stuck in steerage. So we changed into pajamas and kept our sweatshirts on and cocooned ourselves in the thin fleece blankets and tried to sleep.

We’d been up for 17 or 18 hours at that point and I was exhausted. I also have a knack for falling asleep just about anywhere. There’s a legendary story about me falling asleep standing up in the Montréal Metro. However, that night, I discovered one of the notable exceptions to the circumstances under which I can fall asleep. I cannot sleep on a boat crossing the ocean when the mattress has a weird stain and I am grossed out and shivering. Neither could Jules or Christina. We dozed, off and on, until around 8 or 9, and then got up and decided to explore the ship. We still had most of the day before we would see land.

Things on the ship:
A cafeteria that smelled nauseating
A souvenir shop
Robin’s Coffee & Donuts, which we later learned was a Newfoundland chain
A lounge with moderately comfortable seats that played action movies
An outdoor seating area with a lovely view of the impossibly thick fog, complemented by people smoking everywhere
A “lounge” in the “bar” sense of the word that appeared to be serving beer at 9.30am
Bugs & Debbie Green on the accordion and the spoons, playing pretty much all day:

Things not on the ship:
A seating area that was smoke-free & inside, quiet, free from weird smells, and well-lit. That was ALL I WANTED.

So I didn’t get as much done as I intended, but I did finally manage to find a power outlet behind the back row of seats in the movie lounge. I did my best to tune out the movie and worked on photos and wrote a post for this blog. Christina wanted fresh air, so she braved the chilly temperature and sat outside for a while to read, but found that most of the “fresh air” to be had was laced with cigarette smoke. Overall, the whole experience was long and uncomfortable.

As the trip finally reached the final hour, the three of us went outside together to see if land was in sight. No luck. Even if land was close, the fog was almost close enough to touch. But we stayed outside for a while and then, suddenly…


…land ho! Newfoundland looked lovely, with more hills than I expected and, well, more greenery, too! The water was just as blue as it had been off the coast of Cape Breton, and it looked like it was a beautiful day.


Here’s a shot of what it looked like behind the boat, so you can really see how abruptly the thick fog began. I’m not zoomed in here! I’d never seen anything like this before, but I’m told this is quite normal in NL!

O Canada

Nothing cheers me up like a flag waving against a bright blue sky, so the transgressions of the ferry crossing were quickly forgotten and I couldn’t wait to dock in Argentia and then arrive in St. John’s.

Unfortunately, the fog quickly slithered back in. Soon, we were sailing in complete dingy greyness again. But we were almost done with the trip, and when we finally docked in Argentia, I can’t even tell you how thrilled I was to see my mom waiting for us! We piled into the car she’d rented and started heading for St. John’s, only a bit over an hour away. After about 20 minutes, the fog was gone again, and we had a chance to see how gorgeous the Newfoundland landscape is! If I had been driving, we would have stopped at least eight times for photos, but my mom was behind the wheel and we were on a mission, anyway. We didn’t want to miss seeing St. John’s that evening, in case our second day in the city wasn’t as lovely, and more importantly: we were starving. None of us were brave enough for the smelly cafeteria on the boat, so we’d been surviving the whole day on snacks.

Up next: an evening in St. John’s.

February 19, 2011 at 5:22 pm 2 comments


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