Sunday, 8 March 2009


I recently spent a month in St. John's (February, of all months!). I had a great time. St. John's, Newfoundland, not to be confused with St. John, New Brunswick (for which I was actually given tickets in mistake, and only a last minute double-check avoided landing 1000Km away...).
Newfoundland is actually an island off the coast of Eastern Canada, on the Atlantic coast, and seriously exposed to extreme weather - in the month I spent there, the temperatures went from -15 to 13 degrees.

I didn't have as much time for visiting as I'd hoped, as I was there for work. Still, shortly after arriving, Wolfgang (our contact there) showed me and Marc around. We went up to Signal Hill, from where Marconi made the first radio communication between the American and European continents. The view from up there was breathtaking (and seriously frozen):
The first weekend there we also rented a car with Simon and Taras, two postdocs working at MUN, who were really kind to take us around to visit some spots around the island. First we went to Quidi Vidi, one of the earliest (western) fishermen villages in North America. Then we went to Middle Cove, a really nice rocky beach. Given that it was really cold (around -10, not counting the chill factor), we were the only ones there. But the scenery was fantastic - take a look!:

There was just snow and ice everywhere, meeting at the shore with the ocean. We were frozen, but amazed by the scenery. Lunch was a hearty fish'n'chips at Portugal Cove, complete with dressing and gravy for me. In the afternoon, we went to Cape Spear, the Easternmost point in North America. It was really wind and frozen (and cold!), but well worth it:

Saint John's is a nice "old" city (by North American standards). Most of the houses are built mostly of wood, and it gives them a nice cozy look. It also makes them quite shaky: some of the most windy nights I could feel the whole house swinging from side to side with the wind, while sleeping on the second floor of my Inn - a new way of rocking myself to sleep.

The cold weather meant there was ice everywhere. Most of the sidewalks were dangerous ice rinks, with really deep ice layers - I quickly learned to avoid them. As a result, most people shared the road with the cars. The ice did provide many photo opportunities, especially for someone more used to warmer climates; there were ice pinnacles everywhere, frozen electricity counters...:

Speaking of the roads, they're in pretty bad shape. The constant passing of snow plows makes for some huge craters, often hidden under the snow. Sometimes there's a marker, but often it's more of a random hit or miss.
And then there's the snow storms. While I was there, there were 3 of them! The first one in particular was quite intense - no-one would brave the streets, apart from snow plows and taxi drivers (they're either brave or just plain mad - probably a mix of both). The whole city comes to a stand-still, and you're better off spending the day home or at a cafe:

The aftermath of snowstorms usually provided excellent weather, and great photo opportunities. Shortly after a snowstorm, I went with Simon chasing photos around the Narrows, the entrance to St. John's harbour - a place of quite a few fights over the last centuries, first against the French, and then against the Germans (during WWII, most of the shipping to Europe would leave from St. John's):

On a mild weather weekend towards the end of my stay, I went for a hike with Simon and Leah around Quidi Vidi lake. As the temperature was rising, the snow and ice started melting, and as a result one had to be careful about where to stand: there were plenty of opportunities for wet socks everywhere! The scenery was fabulous: we crossed a couple of young bald eagles, and actually ventured up a small hill, before finally heading to a pub for a well deserved pint.

The weather did change dramatically towards the end. In the last week, the temperature reached 13 degrees (that'd be positive Celsius) - a record for that specific day. In my last day there, I went for lunch with Wolfgang and Simon around St. Philips, close to Wolfgang's house:

We went for a fish'n'chips by the beach. It was cold but sunny. After a really nice meal, we went for a walk by the beach. The snow was covering the big boulders, but the ones closer to the sea had been washed a few times with ice cold sea water, and as a result were completely frozen all around. It was a stunning view:

These ice-covered rocks followed the snow-covered ones, before the sea-washed rocks, and finally the sea. It truly was spectacular:

As it was my last day, I took the afternoon off and went for a walk downtown. The war monument, dedicated to Canadian troops lost in battle (WWI and II, Korea, Afghanistan...), and which I had seen on my first days in the city, looked much different when not buried under a thick layer of snow!

But the real treat was the harbour. With the beautiful winter sunlight, it was brittle and sharp. I took pleasure in sitting there and just stare at the leaving boats for a few hours.

And that's it. I was lucky enough to get my return flight (to Toronto), as the weather wasn't particularly co-operative (many flights are often grounded in winter, due to bad weather conditions). The de-icing of the plane's wings was something I had never seen before! Of course, I made it to my connection flight in Toronto, my luggage didn't... But all is well that ends well.