The hope for better weather in St. John’s, Newfoundland is a hope against hope, I gathered soon after i woke up in the morning. The strong Atlantic winds keep the city cold and windy, particularly for one from Chennai who find 30 degrees Celsius cold! Todd, caretaker of the guest house, told me that for the locals this was merely a light breeze, when I was almost getting swept off my feet. Mercifully, it wasn’t raining, except for the odd drops that threatened every now and then. It was cloudy and windy, though. Braving what was, I set off on foot for a short walk after breakfast. Cereal with cold milk, delectable banana strawberry muffin and a couple of cups of coffee put me in the right frame of mind to explore the immediate neighbourhood.
Five minutes’ walk from the guest house took me to the Basilica of St. John the Baptist, the mother church of Roman Catholics in Newfoundland. The huge church is on the highest ridge of the city and faces the harbour. The Basilica was completed in 1855 from grey limestone and granite brought from Ireland. The many stained glass windows and the colourful, ornate ceiling adds substance to the architectural masterpiece. It is the second largest church in Canada after St. Joseph's Oratory. The massive 2500 seating capacity church has a statue of Our Lady of Fatima that was ceremonially brought to St John's by a devout group of 4000 Portuguese fishermen on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the church's consecration. It was indeed a new experience to read the Mission Statement of the Basilica that was displayed prominently within it.
Just above the ridge on which the Basilica is situated is The Rooms which has a large collection of art, artifacts and archival records. It is the proud repository of the colourful cultural history of St. John's. The museum was not yet open and I had to be content with going around its grounds. The St. Andrews Church, called The Kirk, is Newfoundland’s first Presbyterian Church. The building was consecrated in 1896 and has a magnificent pipe organ. The stained glass windows are also some of the best of the times. I walked past the impressive building of the United Church, which I suspect has a woman parish priest purely going by the name Peggy Fitzgerald that was seen on the wall of the building. The St. John's Anglican Church is the oldest one in Canada and was consecrated in 1850.
The UN NATO peacekeepers memorial depicting a soldier about to release a dove is a tribute to the contribution of Canadians to over 60 UN peacekeeping operations abroad. There is another granite column, a memorial to the brave hearts from Newfoundland who lost their lives in the First World War. There is another life size statue on Gower Street of a police officer with a lantern in one hand leading a girl, supposedly a tribute to modern policing and the efforts of the constabulary to keep the city safe.
The Gower Street is full of brightly painted house made famous by the Jellybean Row houses. The bright colours of the facades can lift ones spirits on the dullest of days. The colours are startling and, at times, whimsical but it reflects the soul of St John's and is now its symbol too.
The Courthouse houses the Supreme Court of St. John's and overlooks the harbour. The modern building was completed in 1904 while the site has seen its predecessors since 1730, when it was a combined court and jail. The St. John's harbour is a good place to walk, if the weather is good. The historically significant sheltered harbour is an essential ingredient to the development of the city. It is promoted as the first getaway port of North America to Europe. One thing I observed on the walking tour of the city is that the cars did not carry the registration number on the front bumper of the vehicle.
The weather sort of cleared a bit short of noon and I drove to the Quidi Vidi Village, a historic fishing village in the outskirts of St. John’s. It has a tiny sheltered inlet, known locally as the gut, with closely spaced houses, quaint buildings, traditional fishing structures and wharves, known as stages and stores, perched at the edge of the cliff and balanced over water. Famous now in the village is the rather striking green building that houses the Quidi Vidi Brewing Company. The company brews its own nine brands of beer, some of them made with pure iceberg water. They have a brand by that name too, Iceberg. This building was a former seafood plant and now has a restaurant and beer bar on the upper floor from where one can experience the brewing process and see the plant in action. I bought four cans of different IPA brands to serve me on a later part of the trip. The Quidi Vidi Lake hosts the Royal St. John’s Regatta annually every August, which is the longest continuing sporting event in North America. Across the lake are eye-catching colourful buildings in an open space. That used to be a military housing facility of the Americans during WWII. Now they serve as residential units and government warehouses.
An hour in the afternoon was spent with the engaging crew of CBC, Anthony and Mark. While Mark was in charge of the visuals and sound, Anthony was the interviewer. The interview, done mostly while driving from the CBC centre to Torbay and back, was fun. Anthony took me to Middle Cove from where I had brilliant views of icebergs and the Atlantic Ocean lapping the shores of the Cove.
Late evening was reserved for a sprightly interaction and fellowship with Jerry Joy, a classmate of my cousin. Jerry has been in Newfoundland for nearly a decade now. The excellent conversationalist is a very successful entrepreneur managing his B&B, restaurant and a food truck vending Indian foods. The food truck seems to be breaking new grounds in the industry. He has plans to expand his business in the near future even buying up the property which is with him on rental now. The B&B and restaurant overlook the Portugal Cove ferry that serves Bell Island for commuters who work on the mainland and tourists. The island is just 34 square km in area and it once had large iron ore mines. Jerry told me that the erstwhile mines are a tourist’s delight. Delightful conversation, a few pegs of Puerto Rican Bacardi dark rum and authentic Kerala food such as beef fry, cabbage thoran and the ubiquitous Indian ‘Butter Chicken’ with rice and naan, in the background of some heavenly views was the right way to wind up the visit to the historical city.