We Bought a Farmhouse

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Summer Vacation 2018 Part 2: Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

When I last left you, we were leaving PEI after a glorious four days, and headed for Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. From PEI, it was a 7-hour drive, and we planned to camp for two nights at Hideaway Campground. 

One thing I will admit is that the months leading up to our trip, I was anxious about our destination of choice, which was way at the northern top of Cape Breton. There's so much to see and do in Nova Scotia, and I wondered if doing Cape Breton for a night, and other popular destinations like Luenburg or Peggy's Cove was worth the drive for another night. But we decided to just park ourselves in Cape Breton for both nights, and I'm so glad we did.












Both days we were on Cape Breton we had amazing weather - we just got so lucky without having experienced any rain at all for 8 straight days. The locals continued to call it a heatwave, but low to mid-80s is pretty standard for us in the summer. Our tent site was overlooking the bay, and the entire grounds area had a beautiful view of the mountains.

The sign down the road from our campground.

Not a bad view, amiright?


Campgrounds overlooked the beautiful mountains.

The first day, we had originally planned to go on a whale watch, but had to reschedule due to high winds. So, we decided to go for a hike at White Point, which was only 15 minutes from our campground. I can't even begin to explain how amazing this hike was. It's not even a part of the National Park, so it's free to do, and it offered absolutely incredible views of the coastline - some of which you could pretty much walk on. I've never been to Scotland or Ireland, but the scenery reminded me of something you would likely see in the countryside of those parts of the world. I half-expected sheep to come roaming down the hills (sadly, that never happened). That's all I'll say, and I'll let the photos do the rest of the talking.
















We took our time here before, and the only way Josh got me to leave after exploring was the promise of ice cream. We headed to Neil's Harbor to visit a place I had read about for ice cream, which was in an actual lighthouse. Sure enough, we pulled up, and there was a tiny little ice cream shack in a real lighthouse! So we enjoyed our treats overlooking the water, with a beautiful lighthouse in the background.




The next morning, we stopped for breakfast nearby, and then headed out to our whale watch. We decided to go with Oshan Whale Watch based on reviews online, as well as the vibe from their website. They told us when we got there that they weren't sure if we would be able to leave the coastline too much because the winds were still pretty rough, so we were fully prepared for a nice boat ride around the St. Lawrence Gulf and nothing more. But, the winds died down long enough for us to venture out into the waters, and we got to see some seals and whales. The whales in this area are pilot whales, so they're not super big - they kind of look like dolphins, actually. And they were the cutest little things. I tried to get photos, but they come up so quickly it was hard, and I was also trying to just enjoy the moment. We saw a few families with babies (so cute, I can't even), and they came really close to the boat. At one point, our little fishing boat was surrounded by these little guys just swimming around, and flipping over on their backs, showing off for us. Josh said this was a highlight of our trip, and I had to agree.














The main reason Cape Breton was at the top of my to-visit list was the Skyline Trail, which we tackled the following day. I saw pictures of it online and felt like I could probably die happy after having walked this beautifully scenic trail along the coast. And, I was right. It was so windy that day that it was hard to even hold up a camera, but it was just amazing. I couldn't believe what I was looking at most of the time.









After hiking, we drove back up the Cabot Trail to stop at some of the overlooks along the way. This entire trail is the most scenic thing I've ever experienced. No matter where you are, you just see things like this:



Since it was pretty hot that day, we decided to end our afternoon with a swim at the beach near our campground. We had to walk a very long path in the woods to get there, and were unsure at one point if we were even heading the right direction, but once we got there, it was beautiful. And, no one was there. We had the entire beach to ourselves. The water was cold, but felt so good, and once we were in, we felt so at peace, surrounded by the mountains. It was amazing.



Our last night there, the winds picked up so much that our tent was blowing over at night. It was so rough that it was even hard to walk outside. Our cheap little Target tent was holding its own (better than some of our neighbor's tents!), but we couldn't sleep because it kept blowing around so much. So at midnight, we packed up our air mattress and tent and got into the car to sleep for the rest of the night. I barely slept, and Josh only clocked in four hours or so - it was a little rough the next day.

At around 4:30 the next morning, we started our journey back to the States. Our final destination was Kennebunkport, ME, which, in total, was an almost 13-hour drive from where we were staying in Cape Breton. So obviously, we had to break that up a little. We looked into ferries to get us over to the U.S. faster, but they were pretty expensive, so we decided to make the most of our drive, and go through Fundy National Park and make a few stops along the way for lunch and site seeing. We didn't really do much hiking or intense exploring since we just wanted to get across the border and into a bed, but there were quite a few overlooks that were just off the road in the park, and it was a nice way to take in the Bay of Fundy area without feeling overly exerted.









We also got a cheap motel in Northern Maine for the night so our drive that day was closer to 11-hours. Our goal was to wake up super refreshed the next morning to get an early start in Maine, and not have to endure much driving so it was more of a relaxing day. And oh my god, after our crazy night sleeping in the car the night prior, we crashed so hard in our air-conditioned motel room that night. I don't think I've slept that well in years.

We woke up feeling grateful our drive was only two hours to Kennebunkport, and felt ready to begin our last leg of our trip. Stay tuned.


Favorite Restaurants
To be honest, I wasn't crazy about any of our meals in Cape Breton, but we also knew going into it that food was not going to be a focal point for us at this destination. We were there for the views, and everything else would be icing on the cake. When we were doing research before leaving for this trip, I was actually worried we wouldn't be able to find any places to eat near our campground because half the restaurants were showing as closed and half had inconsistent hours, and no phone number to call and ask about opening and closing times. So we were prepared to wing it. We stopped at The Hut, a tiny little take out shack that was well-rated in TripAdvisor, and right down the road from our whale watch. Sadly, I wasn't impressed. I got the fish and chips, and the fish was tasty, but really, really oily, and the fries were the crinkle cut kind that tasted like cafeteria fries and had no flavor. I feel bad saying that because everyone seems to love it. But maybe they were having an off day when we were there. Some of the other places we ended up at were also not the greatest, but it was all good. 

One restaurant we stopped at in Pleasant Bay near the Skyline Trail was the Rusty Anchor, and we really enjoyed it. The food was good, and they offered amazing views of the coastline from their back deck. And everyone who worked there was insanely friendly and happy.

Favorite Moments
White Point, Skyline Trail and the whale watch were all equally as amazing to us. We only had two days there, so we just went right for the best-rated attractions, and we were not disappointed. Also, not gonna lie, us just laughing in our tent at midnight while the wind was about ready to blow it down was pretty great. I'll never forget us feeling so helpless and tired that all we could do was laugh hysterically.

While at The Hut takeout, we ran into a local who was a rather colorful character. He saw our license plates from the States and asked where our Trump hats were. We laughed and tried to brush him off, since the last thing we wanted to do was get into a political debate on our relaxing vacation. But he kept asking us about the political state of our country. We finally broke down and explained we were democrats, and this guy had some opinions. I sat there while I waited for our food and let him talk about a lot, and most of it I didn't agree with (there was a lot of smiling and nodding on my part), but then he said one thing that stuck with me. He said, "You guys have got to figure out a way to work together and get your country back on track, regardless of your differences. Everyone up here can't believe how divided you are. I have my opinions, but that's the most important thing." That was one thing I completely agreed with him on, and I keep thinking about it.

Tips/Suggestions
This was the only part of our Canadian trip where we really needed cash. We had refrained from getting Canadian cash out because we had read online that most places take cards, but up here, most businesses were cash only. Get some cash on your way in when you see an ATM. There's a Scotia Bank by the visitor's center where you get your park pass, and that's where we were directed to go when asked.

You'll have to wing your restaurant choices. We tried to rely on Google Maps before we left to give ourselves some options so we weren't completely lost when we got up there (our cell phone service was limited), but online hours were so different from their actual hours for almost all restaurants. We often found ourselves getting there before they opened and after they closed. One night we didn't even get dinner and just had snacks in our tent. We called one restaurant before we left on our trip to ask about hours and we were hung up on, which made us laugh. I will say there are places to eat, and little markets around to get snacks, but even I, the itinerary master of the universe, couldn't plan it all out.

Buy your National Park pass as you enter Cape Breton/Cabot Trail. There are only two ways to get into Cape Breton (Ingonish or Cheticamp) and both routes pass a little visitor's center where you can buy a park pass. The last thing you want to do is get all the way up there, and then you have to drive all the way back down because you forgot your park pass. And for some reason, you can't buy them at the actual hiking trail heads. 

Hideaway Campground was awesome. They have tent sites that overlook the ocean, and wooded areas as well. The bathrooms were the best I've experienced at any campground - they were clean, and each stall had its own exterior, locking entrance with a toilet, sink and coin-operated hot shower (one Loonie for 5 minutes). The campground also offered some seafood dining options as well, which sadly, I never got a chance to try (my only regret!). They had oysters on the half shell that are harvested right there in Aspy Bay by the family that owns the campground. Whenever we stopped by the office, everyone outside was raving about the oysters and crab legs, so I would recommend stopping here if you're in the area, or staying on-site. The campground seemed more geared toward adults as well. We saw some single campers, and most were couples. I only saw 1-2 kids around, so the grounds were just very quiet and serene.



Canadian observations
It's been years since either of us has been to Canada, so we had some differences we noticed that we thought were interesting.

- Can we talk about how much I love the Loonie? The name is fun, and it's kind of nice having a dollar in coin form. Canadian money is just prettier to look at, too.

- We loved how credit card machines were brought to your tables wen we paid the bill at restaurants. We thought the first restaurant we went to was just special, but every time, they would bring out the little portable card machine to your table, and it was great! You were able to just hit the percentage you wanted to leave for the tip, and it was such a smooth and easy process. We were talking to one of our servers in North Rustico, PEI about it, and he couldn't believe that this wasn't standard in the States. He said, "You mean they just take your card from you to the back and do whatever with it?" We laughed, and were like, "Yeah, pretty much." He said that seemed inefficient.

- Cars in PEI don't have license plates on the front, just the back. I wonder why that is? I can't remember if it's the same in Nova Scotia.

- I'm a little obsessed with Canadian accents, especially Nova Scotia. It's beautiful and so full of character. I was also surprised to see that French was so prevalent. Most employees at business were fluent in both English and French, and all the signs on the roads were in both languages as well. I'm embarrassed to admit that I thought French was only prominent in Quebec. 

- Most everyone is insanely friendly. People used to tell us when we lived in Chicago that the mid-Westerners were super friendly people, and I honestly never found them more or less friendly than East Coasters. In PEI and NS, though, everyone was nice, chatty and friendly. And super low-key. People would come up to us while we were trying to take selfies and ask if they could take a picture for us. Servers at restaurants were always smiling and happy. It took me by surprise for sure!

- Wine was offered in ounces on menus. I always had to choose between different sizes in ounces, which we don't do here in the States. You just get a glass. And you don't know what the size of your pour will be.

- Bathrooms are washrooms. I asked for a bathroom in PEI, and they were like, "Ohhh, washrooms." They knew what I meant, but everywhere they were called washrooms. 

- Most people were not on their cell phones. I feel like here, especially at restaurants and in public, everyone is always starring at a screen (myself often included). But when I would look around us while on PEI and in NS, I very rarely saw people on their phones. If I did, and I listened to them, I could tell they weren't locals. Not sure how true that actually is, but just what we both noticed. 

6 comments

  1. Hi from Germany. Wonderful pics of Cape Breton. Reminds me of my vacations some years ago.
    Greetings

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  2. I always enjoy your travel tips. We are hoping to go to Maine next year. I need to get busy looking for things to do there. I agree with the Canadian...we do need to work together to see each others points instead of just shouting at each other. I no longer watch the news because I don't trust the reports and I hate all the talking over one another that is done there. I am 63 years old and I wish we could bring back Walter Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley. I know I am an old fart.lol I am going to get busy looking at Trip Advisor for Maine. It is on my bucket list of places to visit.

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  3. P S...I meant to add that you and Josh should come visit the southern part of the US...it is lovely here.

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  4. These pictures are BEAUTIFUL!!!!!! I've never been to Ireland either but I totally see what you see in those pictures with similarities. In the states license plates are different too. In Florida you don't need one in the front. I was really annoyed by that when I moved to New England ha! Do you need a passport to go to Nova Scotia or will an enhanced Driver's License do? The picture of the whale is ADORABLE!

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  5. Just found your Instagram from the #capebreton tag (I got a little home sick and started to follow it). I left when I was just a little girl but love whenever I get to return. Lovely photos! And I love your farm house!

    I am 32 and have never been to the States (though I have been all over Canada). Hoping to go soon and see your beautiful country.

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  6. How charming are those colorful boats?!? Also, I had never heard of pilot whales and had to google them. So darn cute!

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