A Few Notes from Halifax

My cousin Sergey was arriving at the airport in Halifax after a few weeks away, and I volunteered to drive over and pick him up.

As an adherent of the religion of “why make a simple trip when you can make a complicated one,” I decided to drive to Halifax via Cape Breton, stopping for lunch on Isle Madame with my old friend George.

I headed off at the crack of dawn on Friday morning toward the Wood Islands Ferry, reservation in hand and convinced that there would be hundreds of cars in line. There were a dozen cars in line. And so I spent 45 minutes in the cool early morning sunshine at the ferry terminal before boarding the ferry and after boarding almost had the cafeteria to myself.

The drive from Caribou to Isle Madame, which seemed like it should take forever, did not take forever, and I was there for 11:30 a.m. and enjoying a tasty lunch by noon. After a pleasant afternoon rambling about the isle, I set off for Halifax at 7:00 p.m., stopping for a moribund supper at “Sense of Japan” in Antigonish (I had such high hopes). I arrived at the Halifax Marriott around 11:30 p.m. and checked into my wasn’t-that-a-deal $75 Priceline room and fell immediately to sleep.

Sergey wasn’t due to arrive at the Halifax airport until 6:00 p.m. so I had the day to myself in the city; here are the highlights:

  • The Marriott was rather nice. I was asleep most of the time, but the bed was comfortable, the room was clean and the shower was powerful. There was also a copy of the Globe at my door. Usually when I blindly book a “4-star hotel with pool” in Halifax I end up at the Westin, that tired old beast of a hotel at the other end of downtown; this was a much nicer alternative (though it suffers from the “add $20 to your bill per day because you’ve got to park somewhere” problem that all downtown Halifax hotels suffer from, the Westin included).
  • There’s a new branch of Two if By Sea in the Historic Properties (new to me: perhaps it’s been there for years and I haven’t noticed). I suspect this is the branch where employees from the home office in Dartmouth are sent for punishment, as it had nowhere near the aesthetics of the original, and it would appear, from the brief time I was there, that staff spend their days explaining what an espresso is to confused and hot tourists. Nonetheless, they made me a nice cup of coffee and served me a nice blueberry muffin. And given that it’s right beside the Marriott, the location can’t be beat.
  • Strange Adventures has moved into a new space at 5110 Prince Street, a space occupied, several occupancies ago, by Charlottetown’s own “Cool as a Moose.” The move has been transformative: whatever the attractions of the old subterranean hovel up the hill, I was always wary of bumping my head and couldn’t shake the persistent claustrophobia. The new space is bright and roomy and the staff seem 200% happier and 300% more helpful. I bought a copy of the new Lucy Knisley book, a copy of The Cartoon Introduction to Statistics and a nice little tract on coffee brewing.
  • I’m a recent convert to the “sling” style backpack: I received a simple one as a gift for judging the Heritage Fair this year and have loved it but decided I needed something with more nooks and crannies so I dropped in at MEC and bought a Pod Sling Pack which I’ve been trying out in the field ever since. It’s lightweight but well-padded, has two spacious pockets (enough to carry all three Strange Adventures purchases plus two bike lights I purchased at the same time) and it was only $24. Watch for it slung around me as I make my way around town.
  • One doesn’t want to look a gift bánh mì in the mouth, but the oomph seems to have been drained from the bánh mì at Indochine in the Lord Nelson Hotel annex. It wasn’t that it was bad, it’s jus that it wasn’t as life-affirming as the one I had last year. I don’t unrecommend the place, but I rescind my wholehearted blessing.
  • Cantina Mexicana, across the hall from Indochine, looked so promising with its “no freezers, no microwaves, no deep frying” advertising on the sandwich board, but it turned out to be no more than a Subway with tortillas, and supper there was uninspiring. Perhaps if I spent some time getting to know and understand their ingredient mix I could end up with a better result, but why wouldn’t I just make tacos at home then?
  • The Just Us Café on Barrington has moved across the street and, like Strange Adventures, has discovered the joys of whitespace; I grabbed an iced tea there midday to keep out of the punishing heat and it was well-made and the space was nice to hang out in.
  • Later in the afternoon I had a very pleasant coffee with Gordie at Steve-o-renos and an absolutely horrible, horrible, horrible coffee at the Second Cup later in the day (when all the places serving coffee fit for humans were closed).
  • Sergey’s plane was delayed by 3 hours, which opened a window for me to see Before Midnight, the third installment of the every-9-years Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy series. It was playing at the Oxford, Halifax’s only bona fide cinema, a cinema that, being bona fide and all, lacks air conditioning. And thus clientele for a 4:00 p.m. showing on a day when it was 35ºC in the shade. So I saw the movie with a crowd of about 5 other people and it’s a testament to how absolutely fabulous the movie is that I thoroughly enjoyed all two hours of the experience. I will leave it to others more eloquent than me to review the movie; suffice to say that if you enjoyed No. 1 and No. 2 you will enjoy No. 3.

At 7:30 p.m. I drove out to the airport, waited an hour while customs dealt with two planeloads of arriving Europeans, and by 9:00 p.m. we were speeding home, wary of the moose, to the Island. We pulled into our driveway at midnight. A nice short action-packed summer vacation.


Oliver B's picture
Oliver B on July 11, 2013 - 19:54

I’m totally with you on sling packing. I have a Victorinox-branded one-off I found in a clearance bin almost a decade ago, which my mother long ago said she admired, and I have been searching over the years to find another like it for her. Maybe yours qualifies. Mine has a zipper on the bottom that let’s it expand a bit, which is handy. No earphone cable guide or iPod holder though. I suppose Bluetooth have made those somewhat outmoded.

Oliver B's picture
Oliver B on July 11, 2013 - 19:57

I think I know what you mean by “hot tourists”, but your coffee story was particularly intriguing for a moment.

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