Friday, July 14, 2006

The Island

Where to start? With a messed-up work schedule keeping us close to home this vacation, Husband and I were kind of at a loss to figure out any getaway plans at all. Then he said, "You know, I've never been to PEI except on business. I've never seen the beaches..."

Well, neither had I. While I'd flown in and out of Charlottetown for meetings, I knew as little about the tiny island-province of Prince Edward Island as - well, as anywhere. And it's only a couple of hours' drive away.

The Confederation Bridge, one of the wonders of the modern world, was completed in 1997 and connects PEI with New Brunswick. Driving over it can be a daunting prospect. I'd never driven it, having only flown onto or off of the Island. Husband had driven it a couple of times and I was genuinely excited about experiencing the 12.9-km long wonder. It is actually a freakier feeling than I expected. The realization of where you are can be quite acute. (Actually, looking at the photo of it on the linked website just gave me another "Ulp - I drove over that??" moment.)

Our first night was spent in Souris (pronounced "SurEE") on a very French part of the Island. I had spent some time investigating the Island's "Romantic Getaways" packages looking for something unique and fun, and we found this lighthouse accommodation right on the beach. The whole lighthouse was ours - housekeeping unit downstairs, bedroom and whirlpool bath upstairs, and the whole thing surrounded by a huge balcony that overlooked a very beautiful and private beach.

(Private in the sense of "no-one around"... as the young lady told Husband on the phone when he asked her if the nearby beach was public, "Sir, ALL the beaches in PEI are public beaches!" Apparently the idea of private ownership of a beach quite horrified her.)

We also got to check out the surrounding villages, which included some interesting architecture. This was a Roman Catholic Church. I have no idea what that architectural style is called... "Seventeenth-century Roman Catholic Mosque" perhaps?

The second day we spent some time in Charlottetown (the first thing you realize when you drive PEI is that the whole province is so tiny you can pretty much go anywhere within it in under 2 hours - it's only 280K from tip to tip of the crescent island). Husband got to visit Great Hobbies - the largest hobby centre in Atlantic Canada and, according to its website, "Canada's leading supplier of radio controlled models and related hobby supplies" - where he bought a whole crapload of cool stuff.

Then we headed to our second nights' accommodations in Brackley Beach. The Brackley Beach North Winds exceeded our expectations with a huge luxury suite (and of course another whirlpool bath! yum!), and the package also included a pass to the PEI National Park at Brackley Beach.

These dunes, environmentally fragile and vulnerable to the erosion of the water and wind, are protected national treasures.

The beach was absolutely gorgeous and we had a wonderful fish dinner right on the wharf. The fish we ate both days was unbelievably fresh - I haven't had fish that fresh or delicious since I was last in Newfoundland.

On Thursday evening and again on Friday morning we stopped in at The Dunes at Brackley Beach, an absolutely jaw-dropping complex of galleries, water and flower gardens, unique furniture, jewelry, fashion and art and an haute-cuisine cafe and restaurant. If you go - and if you go to PEI, by all means, go - give yourself two hours to just roam around. It is an experience unto itself, thousands of beautiful things, very reasonably priced. I bought my "treat souvenir" there - a beautiful beaded necklace - and Husband bought an outstanding bottle opener souvenir to add to his impressive collection of girlie art and kitsch. (That's a penny next to her, for scale. Isn't she magnificent????)

While we spent some time in the part of the Island known as "Anne's Land", where Avonlea and the famous green-gabled house are located, we didn't visit the site on this trip. A bit too kitschy for us, I'm afraid - and besides, we'll be back again. Husband, who didn't know much about this classic of adolescent girls' literature, got quite an education in Anne while we were there. One of the things I enjoyed most was sharing with him why certain things were named as they were ("Matthew's Carriage Rides", "Lake of Shining Waters Water Park", "Red Pigtails This and That") and the significance of some of the memorabilia for sale (like straw hats with green ribbons).

Something that isn't awfully well known outside Atlantic Canada is that Green Gables has become a huge destination for Japanese tourists, particularly young Japanese girls, attracting tens of thousands on organized tours and individual visits every year. Some tourist literature contains Japanese translations along with English and French, and a number of ads and tourist photos I saw there feature Japanese models. (The tourism department even has a Japanese website.) Many Japanese girls even plan and have their dream wedding in PEI. Why the appeal?

Anne is a self-described "free spirit"; an orphan girl who was a disappointment to her adoptive parents (who were expecting a valuable boy to work on their farm and got a red-headed, scatterbrained female chatterbox instead); she was born into a world of strict social conventions and tightly-constrained roles, which she constantly blundered through and tripped over. Irrepressible, fanciful and imaginative, she succeeds in changing the people and town around her, rather than succumbing to the pressure to conform that they try to impose on her. The attraction of the character to young Japanese ladies is hardly difficult to understand.

It was a wonderful, wonderful, much-deserved holiday. We had so much fun.



Anonymous Robin said...

Ronnie! I always wanted to stay at the lighthouse while I was on PEI! I'm so happy to see that you had such a nice time on the Island!


10:42 a.m.  
Blogger Brent McKee said...

Well there's another place to put on the list of places I want to go to if I eve win the World Series of Poker. The furthest east I've ever been is five minutes in Hull. That church vaguely reminds me of something but I can't put my finger on it except to say that while the initial impression might be mosque-like (spanish influenced) it somehow reminds me of pictures I've seen of some northern European churches - around the North Sea or Baltic.

2:22 p.m.  
Blogger Carl said...

Have you ever driven over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel? Or the Overseas Highway?

11:15 p.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

Hi Carl -

No, I haven't - but having now experienced the hypnotic effect of the 12 km Confederation Bridge, I wonder how they keep people alert for 37 kms!!! I understand it's bridges and tunnels? Wow - that's something to file away under "gotta do someday"!


10:42 p.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

Hey Robin - I forgot how familiar you are with PEI! I should've asked you for tips before we went. Next time!!


10:44 p.m.  

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