To Halifax by Minivan

A long-weekend trip with extended family demanded that we temporarily upgrade our vehicle to a minivan, so I rented a Dodge Grand Caravan on Thursday to take me, Oliver, Catherine and her parents to Halifax and back.

Pulling out of the Avis lot on University Avenue I was surprised to realize that this was the first time I’d been behind the wheel of a minivan, ever.

Indeed it was the first time I’d driven a Dodge of any sort since the days of learning to drive on a Dodge Dart in the 1970s. It only took a few minutes, fortunately, to recapture the muscle memory (wipers on the left, lights on the dash, and so on). It was like putting on an old pair of shoes. Albeit an old pair of shoes upgraded with myriad cup holders, “stow and go” seats, and Bluetooth audio. Even though the Grand Caravan felt impossibly big (2-1/2 feet longer than my Jetta), it turns out that it’s about the same length as the 1974 Dart. So I figured that out too.

The room certainly came in handy: we comfortably accommodated 5 people and had a seat to spare and room for lots of luggage. I moved a double-sized futon before we headed out and I could have easily carried 9 more with the seats stowed. It’s easy to see why the minivan format is preferred by families who need to move around a lot of bodies and stuff.

We pulled into Halifax on Thursday night in a driving rainstorm and found our way to the Atlantica Hotel (née Holiday Inn Select; $73/night on Hotwire). The hotel was perfectly fine: clean, central, comfortable, flawless wifi, and a servicable restaurant. The only weaknesses were the parking (and that only because the basement parking garage, while perfectly fine for a Fiat 500, was hard to navigate in the behemoth) and a gaggle of hyperactive kids that joined us on the 8th floor on Saturday night and decided not to sleep. But we worked around that, and everything worked out just fine.

Otherwise in Halifax:

  • BOOMburger and the Orange Lunchbox have nothing to fear from Relish (opening in Charlottetown soon): I had dinner there by myself on Thursday night (after addressing a server issue while the rest of the clan ate elsewhere) and found the burger tasteless, over-priced and the concept pompous (staff were super-helpful and friendly, but that couldn’t save the meal).
  • I’ve decided that my favourite place for coffee in Halifax is Just Us!: I had an excellent macchiato two days in a row, once at their Barrington shop and the next day at their massive Sankt Oberholz-like Spring Garden Road outlet. The coffee was great, as were the staff and the vibe.
  • Catherine and I saw Midnight’s Children at The Oxford on Friday night, a wonderful old full-sized theatre (the last of its kind in the Maritimes?). The movie wasn’t life-changing, but it was a nice night out. We tried to have a quick bite to eat across the street at Wasabi House but they were slammed to the point where no eye contact was made after standing at the front door for 10 minutes, so we recoiled to King of Donair across the street for a (horrible) slice of pizza. We ended up the night at Jane’s on the Common where we had “I’ve got better things to do with my time” service, Catherine had excellent duck and I had bland and disappointing puttanesca.
  • The museum at Pier 21 was as interesting as ever (we’d been there when Oliver was younger, but this was our first visit back in a decade).
  • The new Halifax Farmer’s Market continues to strike me as soulless, unimaginative eco-architecture. But we did have some fine alcohol-free ginger wine samples, and a nice lunch at Selwood Green.
  • Meanwhile, the rival Historic Farmer’s Market has all the soul, but, alas, a shrinking collection of vendors. Fortunately two of those vendors are Costas Halavrezos’s “The Spiceman,” selling a dizzying array of spices from around the world with wit and wisdom, and Big Life Whole Foods, which made me a stand-up spelt pancake covered in blueberries for breakfast. 
  • The library at NSCAD has an impressive collection of books on typography, design and letterpress printing; I spent a pleasant hour there while Catherine and Oliver were at the Discovery Centre. Around the corner I picked up a packet of ink knives for $2, and some disposable fountain pens, from the NSCAD Art Supply Store, which is a pleasant place to shop for arty things.
  • We had supper on Saturday night at Athens Restaurant on Quinpool Road. Generally good service, and a passable though not particularly inspiring menu of Greek food.
  • There’s an Apple Store at Halifax Shopping Centre. Nothing to write home about, design-wise; otherwise like any Apple Store in any upscale mall anywhere. Still, handy.

We headed back to the Island on Sunday morning, making the trip in a quick 4 hours.