I thoroughly enjoyed spending last week in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It was my first visit to “Da Rock”, but I knew enough to be prepared for some idiosyncrasies. Here are a few things the travel brochures don’t tell you.
Everyone who’s ever visited Newfoundland raves about how friendly everyone is, and it’s true. Within a day, I’d been repeatedly called Honey, Sweetie, Darlin’, and Doll, all in delightful accents that ranged from lilting Irish to twangy down-home Newfie. And that was just the women.
The men were even friendlier. I got honks and waves, offers of rides, and one guy even offered me his hat (it was a windy day and my hair was flying). Oddly, my husband didn’t get the same warm treatment from the guys. Sheer coincidence, I’m sure.
Here’s the best piece of navigational advice I can offer: Turn off your GPS while in St. John’s. There are so many intersections where streets converge in a haphazard conglomeration, the GPS can’t keep up. “Turn right” could mean any one of three possible options – and you will invariably choose the wrong one.
When your GPS’s voice starts to sound first miffed, then frantic (“turn right…” “recalculating…” “turn left, then turn right…”, “recalculating…” “turn right, then keep left, moron…” “recalculating…” “RECALCULATING…”) you know you’re doomed.
Paper maps are a better option, but we discovered the best solution is to follow a trucker through town. You might not end up exactly where you wanted to be, but at least you’ll be on a main road and you can turn around and try again.
And now for a critical health warning: Through careful research and experimentation, I’ve determined that Jiggs Dinner is highly volatile when combined with beer. Do not, I repeat, do not consume this unless you plan to spend your evening in solitude. This meal’s after-effects pose extreme danger to anyone within a thirty-foot radius. On the upside, you won’t need to use your nose-hair trimmer any time soon.
For the uninitiated, Jiggs Dinner is a traditional Newfie meal composed of salt beef boiled with dried peas, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, and sometimes turnips. The result is delicious… but mixed with beer? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
By my unofficial count, St. John’s has one church and one Irish pub per ten residents. You’ve gotta like people whose priorities are that clearly defined. And I’m not talking little churches – I’m talking huge stone cathedrals. I was lucky to discover that the Anglican cathedral on Duckworth offers a free ½ hour classical concert on their pipe organ every Wednesday afternoon. I crept into the chill, shadowy building to gape up at the lofty Gothic arches and soaring stained glass while the sonorous tones of the organ filled the enormous space.
One word: Wow.
But since St. John’s has a total population of about 200,000, I can’t imagine why they need all those giant churches. I’m pretty sure every person in the entire town could go to church simultaneously and still have room to spare. That’d never happen, though, because they’re all in the pubs drinking beer and eating Jiggs Dinner.
Which actually makes sense when I think about it. Those stone cathedrals get damn nippy. They could use a bit of hot air.
Yep, those Newfies have it all figured out.
P.S. Seriously, if you ever get a chance to go to Newfoundland, go. Stay in downtown St. John’s, and you can walk to virtually all the attractions (if you like uphill walks). It’s the oldest city in Canada, with wonderful food, beer, people, and history… and we got to see an iceberg up close in Quidi Vidi Harbour. Doesn’t get much better than that.