I'd never been to Nova Scotia, so after we dropped my brother off at the airport in Moncton, New Brunswick, we headed east for a couple of days. My mom had suggested one of two itineraries - either south to Halifax and Lunenburg, or east to Cape Breton - I chose the latter. As we crossed the narrow strip of land that attaches the province to the rest of Canada, the landscape was not what I'd imagined Nova Scotia would look like - low, flat, and marshy, with plenty of windmills alongside the road.
We arrived at the visitor's center - excuse me, centre - which was pretty grand. I took a moment to pose by the impeccably-tended rows of flowers with my coffee from Tim Horton's, because what could be more Canadian? Inside, I got a few souvenirs, including a postcard for my class, a moose hoodie for a friend's child, and lobster gummy candy (apple-flavored, natch). A lady at one of the desks recommended we take tiny Rt 6 rather than Highway 104. We'd make about the same time and avoid the toll that way.
Another plus was that this route also allowed us to make a slight detour to visit Jost winery near Malagash. Mom recognized the name as a wine offered at restaurants on the island, so we decided to stop for a tasting. Jost let you sample three wines, but between the three of us, I ended up getting a sip of - or at least a smell of - more like eight. Jost sells a variety of wines with local or cheeky names (Mercator, Selkie, 4 Skins). I ended up with a bottle of Mercator 45-N (a nice white wine) and a bottle of the Ceilidh.
This may be a good time to note - I was concerned about buying two bottles, as customs permits you only one duty-free bottle of alcohol. But after doing a little research online, I discovered that the 'duty' on a bottle of wine from Canada to the US is something like $0.15. Most times, once you declare you extra bottle or two, you get waved on through because it's not worth the paperwork. Which is precisely what happened to me. It's a good thing to know for future reference!
Often times, when you get a wine away from the tasting room, it's not as great as you remembered. I was in for a treat when I cracked open my second bottle at home - Jost's Ceilidh is the most ridiculously drinkable red wine I've ever tasted. It's made with local grapes (Marechal Foch and Baco Noir), is reasonably priced ($15 CAD), and sadly, doesn't seem to be available outside Canada. I begged my parents to bring me a second bottle and, in a weak moment, I cracked it open the other day. Only one glass left for another eight months! D:
We continued our drive, crossing the Canso Causeway into Cape Breton. Cape Breton technically is an island and is practically treated like a separate entity from the rest of the province. Headed against the last few hours of summer daylight, we made our way around Bras d'Or Lake and up to Baddeck, favorite home of Alexander Graham Bell. We stopped by the Bell Buoy Restaurant for dinner, a place my parents had eaten at on their last trip here, well over a decade ago. I'll be honest - at this point, we were all pretty hungry, so cardboard would have tasted good. While we were a bit disappointed not to get a seat near the windows, our server was lovely and the food was so very good. I had the Shoreline Casserole - shrimp, haddock, scallops, and salmon in a cheese and wine sauce. Um, yes please. It came with a great rice pilaf and turnip-carrot mash with a hint of maple syrup. I need to remember the latter if I ever have to fix something for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
After spending the night in Baddeck, we drove the Cabot Trail in a day (which is well-deserving of its own post) and ended up in Sydney the following night. At first, Mom wasn't too thrilled. My parents had stayed in North Sydney before catching the ferry to Newfoundland, and Mom remembered the place as being vaguely grim and industrial. We were all happy to find Sydney proper anything but. we ended up at the recently refurbished Holiday Inn. It was quite nice, with a restaurant overlooking the waterfront and an indoor pool with a multi-story slide for the kids (I was a little bummed I hadn't packed a bathing suit).
We walked along the boardwalk that lines the Sydney River, on down to Cruise Welcome Center. The world's largest fiddle stands there, greeting passengers and reminding them of the area's musical heritage. It even plays a tune by a local musician, Kinnon Beaton.
There was also a large yacht docked nearby, which led to me googling who it belonged to, which led to me discovering there are entire communities and message boards dedicated to discussing the snazziest yachts of the world and the people who own them. (This one belonged to some tech guy, supposedly.)
We had dinner at the Governor's Pub and Eatery, historic home to the first mayor of Sydney. I think I had fish and chips, but the standout to me was the Caesar I ordered. It came in a large mason jar and was garnished with a pickled pepper - perfection.
After another full day of exploring Nova Scotia, we raced back to the Causeway (where we waited in a long line of cars as the Canso Canal Swing Bridge opened to let a few sailboats through), and over to Pictou, where we caught the Wood Island Ferry back to PEI. We ended up making it in plenty of time and chatted with a couple from Vermont who were headed to the island for the first time as we waited to load. In one of those weird, "it's a small world" twists, we ended up seeing them again just down the road from our cottage - they'd been to the nearby beach.