Hello from France, where Bruno and I are just coming off an 8-day family reunion, and I am preparing to head off tomorrow on a mini girls’ trip through Spain and France!
Being with Bruno’s family this past week brought me back to another recent family trip that I haven’t yet had a chance to blog about: our three-RV road trip to Nova Scotia, Canada!
After hitting it off in France and Morocco, Bruno’s brother, sister-in-law, and niece decided to make the trip to Canada this past July to visit my parents. Once we caught word of their plans, we decided to get in on it (how could we not?!?). In fact, joining our families was the reason we embarked on our cross-Canadian road trip!
By the time we arrived, Bruno’s family had already seen Niagara Falls, a bit of New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. We’d made it in time for their 9-day RV adventure through Nova Scotia. Back in Morocco, Bruno and I had done an RV road trip with my parents, but this was our first time traveling as three vehicles. Without a doubt, it was an unforgettable (if logistically challenging) experience!
Our primary destination was Nova Scotia’s famed Cape Breton Island, so for that reason we spent our first night just before the bridge to Cape Breton, in Havre Boucher. There was something special about that first stop which had nothing to do with the campground itself, but more to do with the coming together of our three vehicles and the kick-off of this much-anticipated trip. Everything was new to us all – the way we’d set our vehicles up in a campground to maximize common space, the excitement of sitting out on camping chairs and enjoying the afternoon, the rhythm of our rituals.
Bruno and I had arrived several hours before our families, so we prepared a huge welcome dinner. Cooking for seven was quite the endeavour – and one that we never could have managed in Totoyaya – but in Big Blue we had ample space (indeed, later in our trip, we would be up to four people in Big Blue’s kitchen chopping and sautéing and baking away!).
The following morning we made for Cape Breton and the little town of Baddeck. Some of mom’s ancestors were from here, so she has memories of spending summers at the local beach. Boy, had the town changed since she’d last been! It’s now a hopping tourist town with ice cream and knick-knack shops, boat rides off the pier, and nightly ceilidhs.
A ceilidh is a traditional Scottish social gathering, a kitchen party of sorts, with Scottish music and dancing (and, traditionally, drinking!). I love fiddle music and was dying to take part in one, so jumped at the first opportunity. I’m so glad we did – the ceilidh ended up being one of my favourite parts of our entire road trip! The two musicians, red-headed sisters from the other side of the island, were fantastic, and they duelled and talked and danced their way through a captivating fiddle and piano performance. My dad and I even got up and learned a little Scottish square dance! Cape Breton is most famous for its Gaelic roots, and here in Baddeck we first witnessed its cultural richness.
The following morning, on our way out of Baddeck, my parents opted to stop at the local cemetery to find my great-grandmother’s grave. The afternoon before, mom had gone to the town’s historical society to enquire as to where she might have been buried and learned much more – the lady remembered Frieda and talked about how wonderful a music teacher she (and her son) had been. She even gave mom an old black and white photo of Frieda, all dressed up in her Sunday best. A very special encounter, and a sign that Baddeck was still the tight-knit community it had once been.
Most people come to Cape Breton to drive the Cabot Trail, a 300km scenic loop along the northern tip of the island. We didn’t want to miss it, either – nor did we want to miss Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which encompasses a good section of the Cabot Trail. And so we stopped, on Day 3, at the Broad Cove Campground on the eastern side of the park. And it was just the type of campground Bruno and I like – spread out and surrounded by nature.
We decided to do exactly what people do when they camp in parks. First we followed a nearby hiking trail to a spectacular viewpoint of the park (the views of boreal forest, rugged and mountainous coastline, and deep blue water are quintessential Cabot Trail views and we would spend the following day stopping and admiring as many of them as possible). Then, we came back to the campground fora barbecue and bonfire.
Eating proved to be something we would do much of and probably my favourite ritual of our road trip (this is probably not surprising to those who know me). In the evening, we always cooked up a feast that we would share on picnic tables between our RVs. During the day, we would find scenic spots to pull over and picnic. This is not an easy feat when you’re three large vehicles, but, thanks to Bruno’s experienced eye, we almost always managed a very lovely spot. One of my favourite was on Day 4, near the NE side of the national park, at a picnic table right along a lovely pebble beach.
There were a few small disappointments on Day 4, however. Bruno’s family had opted to try whale watching that morning in Ingonish; they joined us at our lunchtime picnic having seen nothing more than seals. I knew that whale watching in Cape Breton wasn’t nearly as sure of a bet as in Quebec’s St. Lawrence River (where Bruno and I had successfully whale-watched a few weeks earlier), but I still felt badly for our guests.
The other disappointment was the Cabot Trail’s infrastructure. There was so much construction throughout the national park section of the trail that it was not fun to drive. Much charm was lost because of the dust, noise and trucks, and the notoriously-dangerous road became treacherous. It took us so long to drive through the park that we didn’t have time to hike the infamous Skyline Trail, and we only reached our campground in Cheticamp near nightfall. At least the boys did have time for a dip in the ocean before another wonderful campground picnic!
Day 5 was slightly disappointing as well, but in a funny and ironic sort of way. On this day we drove from Cheticamp to the other side of the island, to Mira River Provincial Park near Louisbourg. After another fantastic lunchtime picnic spot, we arrived at the provincial park late afternoon. It was, yet again, the type of campground Bruno and I totally get down with, and I could have seen us spend a couple days there enjoying the nearby river and the nature peace of the place. Instead, we chose to quickly park our vehicles and drive 40 minutes on into Louisbourg, after having heard that there was both the Tall Ships Festival and the kick-off of their annual crab fest.
Sometimes there are those moments in travel when your timing is just off. We arrived into town just as the Tall Ships had finished their open-house visits for the day, and the Crab Fest wasn’t due to start for a couple hours. Louisbourg, itself, was so dead that it was almost like a ghost town! We couldn’t even find a restaurant to sit down in for a drink or a bite to eat. Suddenly, Crab Fest didn’t look too enticing, and we opted to head back to the campground. It was 9pm and dark as blazes by the time we’d cooked up our campground dinner that night.
The following day reversed our mini slump, though. We visited the Fortress of Louisbourg, and it was just as interesting as the Acadian Historical Village Bruno and I had fallen in love with a few weeks earlier. The seven of us were there the entire day, and hadn’t even visited the entire fortress by the time the place closed. We’d witnessed the firing of muskets and canons in the re-enactment of military pageantry, heard fife music, watched the children’s dance, listened to First Nations stories, seen a public punishment, dined on traditional 18th century food at the restaurant, and learned oh-so-much about life in the fortress from the costumed staff stationed in each building. Oh, how I love these living museums!
Several months earlier, mom had reserved spots for our three RVs in campgrounds around Nova Scotia. She opted to do this because Nova Scotia in summer is very, very popular! Even then, campgrounds (especially in parks) were full for our August dates, and mom wasn’t able to plan our itinerary exactly as she’d have liked. For Bruno and me, it was simply a very strange experience to have an itinerary, to have to arrive at a particular destination on a particular date, and to be staying in jam-packed campgrounds every night. But we understood mom’s decision, as every campground we stayed in was fully-booked and never could have accepted our convoy without prior reservation.
We learned that the hard way after visiting the Fortress of Louisbourg. This was the only night mom hadn’t reserved a campground. There was no space anywhere within an hour of Louisbourg so she’d opted to give us a bit of flexibility. In reality, this meant a two-hour drive after a day of sightseeing to get back to Havre Boucher, on the other side of the Cape Breton bridge, because it was the only campground that had space. This was not Bruno’s idea of a good time, but when you travel with others (and when you’re not in charge of your plans), you have to compromise. We arrived at the campground well after dark and all fell into bed that night, but at least we were closer to our destination for the following day – the Peggy’s Cove/Lunenberg area, well past Halifax.
This allowed us several hours of sightseeing in Halifax, a must-see spot when visiting Nova Scotia. It just so happened that the infamous Busker Festival was on! I have memories of going to this festival as a child, so it was really cool to return with Bruno and his family. The buskers were talented and entertaining – and, to top it off, their performances took place right along the wharf downtown, so we were able to simultaneously see the best and most beautiful of Halifax! That was definitely another highlight of our road trip.
Earlier in the day, we’d had our first bout of rain, and it had been so heavy I wasn’t sure we’d be able to take advantage of Halifax at all. As such, I booked us in for lunch at one of my favourite restaurants – Envie, a tiny vegan restaurant in Halifax. Since we were showing our Canadian culture to Bruno’s family, I figured a vegan restaurant fit the bill – French people definitely don’t have vegan food! Everyone was mightily impressed that you can eat so deliciously without animal products!
Thankfully the weather cleared up, and, after checking out the buskers, we had a lovely, very quaint drive to Indian Harbour. We got lucky at our campground and were given three side-by-side spots (the only time this happened) with a stupendous view of the ocean and the sunset. Nova Scotia is almost entirely surrounded by water, so it was nice to be able to spend some time contemplating its beauty.
The next morning, we all wandered over to nearby Peggy’s Cove, a picturesque fishing village that was so adorable I wanted to eat it up. The weather was gorgeously warm and sunny and we were headed for a two-night stay at Graves Island Provincial Park (hallelujah, two nights in a campground!), so after another charming coastal drive, we parked our vehicles and headed straight for an afternoon at the beach.
I’m glad we got to take advantage of the campground itself, as that was one thing we hadn’t really had time to do. A nine-day road trip to Nova Scotia isn’t nearly enough, and we’d packed our itinerary so fully that what was missing was downtime at the campground to enjoy camping. At least that night we got to have another barbecue and bonfire.
I’m also glad we got to take advantage of the weather, because the following day (our last) it poured like nobody’s business. We tried to visit Lunenberg, another picturesque (and historically important) port town, but it was so rainy that we were mostly only able to take cover in shops and a restaurant. That night, still rainy at the campground, we packed ourselves into my parents’ RV for dinner and cards. Their RV is pretty big, but it can’t exactly accommodate seven! Thank goodness the weather had cooperated with us until that point, because picnics outside are a whole lot more comfortable!
The following day, we dropped off the rental RV in Halifax and headed home to New Brunswick for a final few days together before Bruno’s family returned to France. I am so happy they decided to visit us in Canada, and grateful Bruno and I were able to join them on their Nova Scotia RV trip. Bruno and I love traveling solo – the pace is definitely more to our liking! – but it’s absolutely wonderful to share the road with friends and family. It shakes things up and creates a store of lifelong memories. Between our RV trip in Morocco with my parents, our niece Lucile’s visit to Kenya, meet-ups with overlanding friends in Turkey, Sudan, and Spain, and my friend Sahnah’s visit to Morocco, the store of overland adventures with loved ones is getting mighty big… but there’s always room for more!
Feel free to take that as a hint.