7.25.10 Exploring St. John's

Saint John's Travel Blog

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St. John's is a terrific small city of just 100,000 exuberant people!  (500,000 people live in Newfoundland).

Although we were told by multiple people that we should taxi into old town St. John's rather than drive the RV, we didn't listen.  And we were just fine in Ciao until a road was closed for a 10k race. 

Then the GPS routed us... that's right!  Straight onto the tiny main street!  Jazy was encouraging, saying things like, "Hey, this is better than Central Zone of London!" and "Look, we don't even have to pull in our mirrors yet!" 

So Ciao trudged up to Signal Hill just fine.  We kept waiting for the huge hill that we'd been told about, but made it to the Visitor's Center before we knew it.  I guess if we'd driven up to the tower, it would be steep (with little parking), but the foot hike up was fun and the parking at the Visitor's Center was plentiful.

A very good movie and interesting exhibit of Signal Hill National Historic Site ($10 family) told of the English-French battles over the fishing-rich "Narrows" of St. John's, the personal stories of the occupants throughout the years, and the Marconi Company's wireless and telegraph signals across the Atlantic Ocean!  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signal_Hill,_Newfoundland_and_Labrador  Today was a special day celebrating 125 years and at 8:45 pm tonight they will to have 125 musket firings in a row!

We did get to see the Tattoo (military) performance at 3pm, thru binoculars.  http://rnchs.ca/tattoo/  We were at the Provincial Museum, called The Rooms.  The gorgeous, light-filled building also houses the Art Gallery, archives, artifacts, etc.  http://www.therooms.ca/

The Rooms was/were very well done- the selective displays had good short descriptions (some written on white boards with arrows pointing) and were comprehensive.  So much easier to get through than some museums that try to include everything.  I'm sure being selective is more difficult for the curator, but much more rewarding for the visitor.

One artistic display was pictures of the effects of oil across the globe - the endless piles of tires, ugly oil processing plants, the ship-wrecking in Bangledesh, and urban sprawl, etc were shocking, depressing, and I had to laugh before I cried.  At least they didn't get into the politics and the war aspects of oil.  It definitely made us think!  "Edward Burtynsky: Oil"  http://vimeo.com/6823943

The hill in St. John slopes steeply down to the water, as it does in every port town in the world.  The trick is to start high and walk down.  Not us!  Oops!  We hiked all over that old city, down famous George Street with it's restaurants and bars, along Water Street, past the Government House with its lovely grounds, and through delightful colorful Victorian neighborhoods. 

The weather was sunny and perfect!  We almost got hot today!

St. John's is a very nice city and we really liked it.  It seems to have all the trappings of a good city:  medical, colleges, restaurants and vitality.  And it is a small, managable size.  I thought it felt like Fairbanks, Alaska and Jazy thought it more like Victoria on Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada.

Parking notes for other RV'ers:  We got lucky and parked at a church lot at the corner of Empire and Forest Rd, and although it said 24-hour permit only parking, there were only 4 cars in the entire lot and we managed to not get a parking ticket.  We did see double parking meters where we could have parked. 

Also, there was a huge, red building, formerly insurance but now undergoing construction, with a huge empty parking lot.  I would park there too, at least on a weekend, if needed.  Certainly for the cost of a taxi and short 4 mile trip from the campground, it was convenient to have the RV.  And you can always park at the lots at the bottom of Signal Hill (all free) and walk the half mile into old town St. John's (or bike).

After returning to the campground, we decided to find Mile 0 marker of the CA-1, the Trans-Canada Highway.  Since we drove it in Western Canada, and thru much of Eastern Canada, including all the way thru Newfoundland, we thought that would be cool!  So we went from Exit 46, which is the Pippy Park (Allendale) Exit, east past the last exit, which was Exit 50.  No sign, no marker.  The road now continues, although not as the CA-1, and connects to a pre-existing road that loops around.

We circled back to Exit 49, which had Boston Pizza, so we stopped there to ask- yeah, right.  After ordering our pizza and consulting everyone around us in line, the verdict was that the Mile 0 marker is in downtown St. John's.  Bummer!  Mile One Center is a shopping area nearby, so all makes sense, EXCEPT the fact that downtown St. John's is not REALLY at the end of the CA-1.  Well, at least we really did go to the end of the Trans-Canada, even if we missed the marker in town earlier today.  And we got pizza out of the deal!  http://transcanadahighway.com/Newfoundland/StJohns.htm

Before you travel like this, do your research thoroughly.  It is difficult enough to find your way around and see all the sights without having to remember all the questions about what you still need to learn.

Tomorrow is our last full day on beloved Newfoundland.  Our two weeks here have been at high speed and really pushing the schedule.  The island is very big and full of interesting towns to see.  Double the time would have been nice, but we're thrilled we got to see all the highlights.  Newfoundland (all of us) and Labrador (for me) have been trip favorites so far, along with Toronto and Quebec City.

You also have to allow time for the weather to improve.  We've found the weather is either fabulous or awful, which greatly affects the experience.  Also, holidays can affect the flavor of a place and it is nice to experience a site on regular days too.  So pack in extra time if you can.  Shoot, just come for the whole summer and enjoy yourself!

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Saint John's
photo by: jenlai