Northern journey, leg 4: Charlottetown

I’ve noted previously in this series of posts how I’d longed to see the Maritimes and, especially, Prince Edward Island. I’m still not sure why—perhaps it’s the romantic name—but PEI has always called to me, even though I hadn’t read the Anne of Green Gables books.

About a dozen years ago, we met a charming young couple from PEI while on a day trip form St. Martin to St. Barth. We had a wonderful conversation as we waited for the boat, and dinner later that week. All the while they chattered proudly about PEI and repeatedly urged us to visit. The experience fed my fever. Finally, many years later, we found ourselves leaving Halifax and heading for the Confederation Bridge.

First glimpse of the “red earth” from the Confederation Bridge, the world’s longest over icy waters.

The drive across the bridge was so lovely. I was as excited as a five-year-old when we reached the island. We have never been to Ireland, but I have often heard travelers say that it is truly well named the “Emerald Isle,” that they’d never seen so many shades of green. That is exactly what I thought as we drove toward Charlottetown, through luxuriant rolling hills, pastures, and planted fields, in so many different greens that I could not have counted or compared them. This is a bit ironic since PEI is known for its “red earth.” More on that in the next post.

Verdant fields en route to Charlottetown.
The welcoming lobby of the Hotel on Pownal in Charlottetown, a restored “vintage” motel that we very much enjoyed.

Our lodging in Charlottetown was the Hotel on Pownal, a redesigned vintage motel whose downtown location allowed us to walk to shops, landmarks, and restaurants.

Victoria Square, where I found Northern Watters Knitwear. If we are fortunate enough to return, the PEI Fibre Trail will be on my list.

Dinner the first night was a luscious Neapolitan style pizza from the wood-fired oven at Piatto. The atmosphere at this Eastern Canada chain (also in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) was upbeat and casual, with lots of wood and brick.

Over the course of our visit, we sampled Charlottetown’s shops and bookstores, walked the waterfront, and visited St. Dunstan’s Basilica. Our lunch on day two at Sim’s Corner Steakhouse and Oyster Bar was a huge hit. Let me just say that everything you have heard about PEI mussels and scallops, is true.

One thing I must note about this entire trip, but particularly Charlottetown, is the extraordinary warmth and kindness of everyone we encountered. Internet memes about the legendary Canadian “niceness” abound on the Internet. Surely, in that vast country one can find a grump or two; but let’s just say we haven’t found any. I joked, in fact, that the people are so warm and forthcoming that it’s almost shocking. That in itself is worth a visit.

Small boats at a downtown dock. There’s a huge convention center nearby that brings traffic and business to the island, but it’s austere newness sticks out a bit.
St. Dunstan’s Basilica.
I love the colorful houses you find in northern climes.

The more you travel, the more links you find to your own life. I had read several years ago, in Monica Wood’s heartrending memoir, When We Were the Kennedys, that the Irish in my father’s hometown in Western Maine had actually come from PEI. Much later on this trip, as we were lunching with my cousins Buddy and Liz in Rangeley Lakes, Maine, an older gentleman approached and gestured to the PEI shirt Hubby was wearing. “Beautiful place,” he said. “My folks came from there, you know!” Small world, isn’t it?

Next time: Anne of Green Gables

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