After we left Greenland we sailed almost due south for two days, but it felt more like we were in the Bermuda Triangle. Often sea birds were soaring nearby, but we saw few other ships. We lost all contact with satellite TV and the internet was intermittent. Ken did manage to download a copy of the USA Today on the Ipad or we would have absolutely no idea of what is going on in the world. Every time we tuned on the TV we saw Samantha Brown from the Travel Channel extolling the virtues of Princess cruises. We know, we know!
In light of our previous missed ports and a conversation with fellow passengers who never made it to St. John's and had to go to Halifax instead, we were glad to see Newfoundland right outside our balcony when we awoke. An afternoon trip to the top of Signal Hill showed us how tricky and narrow the entrance to this harbor is and we felt grateful to be here all over again. The ship berthed right down town so it was easy to get off and explore. The streets rose sharply from the sea and our legs felt like they were getting a work out after all that relaxing on board. We spent the morning walking Water Street peering in shop windows and enjoying a coffee in an establishment with free Wifi. St. John's is the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, which have united into one province, and has about 150,000 people. They used to make their living cod fishing until they fished them all up, but the area is still prosperous due to oil discoveries. There is no recession here. There are some modern glass and chrome style buildings, but the colorful wooden homes that have always typified this place are still everywhere.
There is considerable evidence that Vikings were here, hundreds of years before Columbus and there is a reconstructed historic park, which shows what life was like for them. More recently found Basque pottery shards have got archeologists thinking that folks from this area of Spain did some whaling here as well, long before 1492. Our guide was careful to say that St. John's is the oldest English settlement in North America.
We toured the major highlights within ten miles of St. John's. Avid walkers can make a six mile coastal loop hike from town up to Signal Hill on trails recreated for just that purpose, but we just rode to the top on a bus. Lookouts would sit up on the hill watching for returning fishermen and merchant ships. They would fly flags representing the kinds of goods the ships were carrying so the towns people could get out their purses and be ready to shop by the time the ship pulled in. St. John's Basilica was an impressive stop. It was hard to imagine such a small community building and supporting such a massive and beautifully decorated church.
Cape Spear was our main destination. It is the easternmost point in North America and sports a historic lighthouse as well as a more modern one. It is surrounded by craggy coast and hiking trails and it would have been nice to spend more time at this special spot. On the way back we stopped at Petty Harbor, a cute fishing village. The original French settlers had named it Petit Havre, and the English kept the sound, but changed the spelling. By the time we got there the fishermen had come in and disposed of their catch and were sitting around socializing over their brewskies. The roofs of the shoreline buildings were covered with sea gulls, waiting for their next free handout. Because Newfoundland is an island, it has limited wildlife except for the kind that can fly in. Moose were imported and found their Garden of Eden here. They are big animals which eat a lot and their favorite vegetation has almost been obliterated. There is a limited hunting season and the 900 car/moose collisions that happened here last year must have also put a dent in the population.
This stop in Newfoundland felt a bit like home, no surprise since it is in Canada, our good neighbor, but when you get out the map, we still have a long way to go, two more days of sailing, before we are back in New York. We are contemplating coming back this way again with our motor home, but what we saw today did not convince us one way or the other that it is worth the drive. More research to follow.