Let’s Go Exploring! Atlantic Provinces Part 1: Halifax

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Our original plan was to follow the results of our reader poll, leave the country and go to Madeira, Portugal.

But then this happened:

Passengers left on planes, sometimes for hours, due to Pearson COVID capacity limits

~~Toronto Sun

That’s when I realized that even though we are both fully vaccinated, travel is STILL on hard mode, and staffing shortages means that travelling internationally is a nightmare. So, we did the next best thing. We decided to travel domestically and visit the Atlantic provinces instead (after all, as one reader pointed out, if we don’t go during the warm months, when will we ever go?).

So, did it meet our expectations? Did we miss out by not going to Portugal?

Well, here’s what we discovered when we explored the eastern parts of Canada.

Canadians have a reputation for being polite and nice, but when it comes to those who live in the Atlantic provinces, they’re the nicest of an already nice bunch. This was a well-known fact amongst Canadians, but I had no idea how true this was until we got there.

When I first announced on the blog that we were thinking of going to the Atlantic provinces, this email popped up in my inbox:

“We are long time readers of your blog, and we just saw your latest post. This is exciting! If you decide to drive East to visit one of the Atlantic provinces, we live in Fredericton and we’d be super happy to offer you a bedroom in our home…Please feel free to stay with us as long or as little as you want, we’d be happy to have you over whether it’s for a meal or for a week. –Val”

Wow, talk about Atlantic hospitality! How could I possibly say no to that?

Well, as it turns out, it wasn’t my choice. Annoyingly, a medical appointment got scheduled smack dab in the middle of our trip schedule. As a result, I had to shorten my time in the Atlantic provinces from a whole month to only 10 days. Sadly, that didn’t end up giving me enough days to visit Fredericton.

But then as luck with have it, our reader Val decided to drive 3 hours to come visit Halifax with her family and bring us freshly shucked oysters!

Not only that, another reader, Janna, also came to join the (fully vaccinated) party and brought these amazing chocolates made by a Syrian family, who named it “Wantaqo’ti”, the Mikmaq word for “peace” as part of the truth and reconciliation with Native Canadians.  Janna also taught me that in her culture, the Mikmaq word for Halifax is “K’jipuktuk”, so this wasn’t just a social gathering, but also a learning experience!

Oysters fresh from the fish monger in Frederiction!
Friendship chocolate in the Mi’kmaw language!

So, we started our Atlantic trip with glorious sunshine, fresh oysters, delicious chocolates, and the friendliest people you will ever meet.

It was a perfect day. (If you’re reading this, Val & family and Janna, thanks for making our day so special! You guys are the highlight of our entire trip!)

We decided to follow it up more Haligonian highlights: (PROTIP: People from Halifax are called “Haligonians.” Learned something new every day!)

Donair Kebab

Did you know that Halifax has their own kebab called the “donair”? Not to be confused with the classic “donar”, what makes this wrap unique isn’t the meat—it’s the sauce.

I never thought I would enjoy a kebab covered in condensed milk, but somehow it works! And the chunks of tomato and onion swimming in it somehow magically balances out the sweetness.

Tastes better than it looks

We like it so much, we had it for multiple lunches, once at Ragova’s Pizza and then again at Johnny K’s Authentic Donairs.

Johnny K’s even had a wall detailing the exact history of how this unique fusion food came about.

Apparently, the traditional kebab was invited in 1870s by the Ottoman empire. Back then, it only considered of meat being roasted vertically to maintain juiciness. Then in the 1950s, the Turks improved it by adding grilled bread to turn it into a “donar Kebab”. Then 10 years later, the Greeks made their version by using a thick pita and adding fries. And in 1970s, Haligonians Peter and John Kamoulakos modified the classic, which originally consisted of yogurt/Tzatziki sauce and lamb, replacing it with condensed milk and beef to appeal to Canadian taste buds.

And that is why we have this strange concoction of sweet and savory, which works surprisingly well.

As someone who can’t eat lamb and isn’t the biggest fan of yogurt, I gotta say: I like this Haligonian version better.

Lobster rolls and seafood towers

I was a little weary of seafood towers, given our wonderful food poisoning experience in Madrid, Spain, but since no trip to the Atlantic provinces would be completely without their famous seafood, I decided to risk it.

We picked a restaurant within walking distance to our Airbnb just in case, but it turned out to be just fine.

Shuck Seafood + Raw Bar had a beautifully presented 2 tier seafood platter:

The tuna sashimi had perfect texture and melted in your mouth. The oysters were juicy and briny and the scallops were plump and delicious. Plus, I also enjoyed their taste in beer mugs…

But the most memorable part of the meal was the “deconstructed” cheesecake:

My initial thought was “did they get my order wrong?” I honestly thought it was pudding at first, but one bite and I knew it was the best cheese cake I’d ever had. The texture of the cheese cake was moist but not too soft, with just a hint sweet and savoury creaminess, and the delicately sprinkled pie crust on the bottom added the perfect minimalist crunch. Mmmm…I’m still drooling just thinking about it. And this is coming from someone who isn’t big on dessert!

Since we didn’t get food poisoning, we decided to celebrate by following up that incredible meal the next day with lunch at the Bicycle Thief restaurant, a local favourite by the waterfront.

Even though there was enough construction noise to break a dozen eardrums within a 10-mile radius, the food and quality of service made up it.

Their scallops simply melted on your tongue and their lobster rolls weren’t half bad either:

Now I don’t normally eat dessert (too sweet and too many calories), but given the mind-blowing deconstructed cheesecake from Shuck, I just had to indulge in their layered Butterscotch Caramel cake:

Sadly, it was too sweet. I preferred the food at Shuck, but maybe that’s just a personal preference, considering how crowded the Bicycle Thief was, others seemed to disagree.

We followed up all the gluttony with a stroll on the waterfront to try to work off the calories. Instead, I found this hammock and fell asleep.

My new yoga pose: “Aggressive Relaxation”

HMCS Sackville, Canada’s Oldest Naval Warship

When I woke up, we walked around the waterfront and discovered a retired naval warship that was once used in the 2nd world war. This was a completely free attraction that they had open for a limited time.

Wanderer got a huge kick out of checking out the torpedoes and standing at the crowsnest, pretending to fire at unseen enemies.

Maritimes Museum of the Atlantic (aka “the Titanic Museum”)

Ever since James Cameron’s blockbuster, I’ve been obsessed with Titanic. So, knowing that there was a Titanic exhibit in the Maritimes Museum in Halifax, I bounded my way there, clapping my hands together like a happy seal.

Even better was that when we got there, entry was free!

I was expecting to see a lot of artifacts, dishes, mementos, and pieces of the ship, but what I didn’t expect was how much the stories about the Titanic was about privilege. Even though James Cameron touched on this with Jack and Rose’s fictional relationship, the injustice was even worse in real life.

In fact, we discovered that not only was there not enough lifeboats, the 2nd and 3rd class passengers were deliberately kept from going up to the higher decks and accessing the lifeboats. As a result, most of the deaths came from passengers in the lower decks and steerage section.

This injustice continued even after death, as the bodies of the victims were sorted based on class and only give a coffin if the passenger had a first-class ticket. 2nd and 3rd class ticket holders were taken away in canvas bags and members of staff were taken away in stretchers.

Seriously, White Star Line? WTF?!

Titanic Graveyard

Wanderer thought I was weird and creepy for wanting to visit a graveyard, but he was out-voted by myself and the other members of our group. HA! Who’s the weirdo now, biatch?

Anyway, when we arrived at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, the final resting place of 121 victims of the Titanic disaster, I held my breath as I saw the 3 rows of tombstones that all have the same date of death: April 15, 1912.

I stood there and let a poignant moment of silence pass for those who died on that unfortunate night.

Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

Being an immigrant who came to Canada when I was 8, I wanted to know the history of immigration and what it was like for others who, like me, picked Canada as their adopted home.

And as it turns out there’s a lot of racism in Canadian history that we were never taught in schools. Despite being taught all about the Underground Railroad being used to escape slavery to freedom in Canada, black immigrants were still very much discriminated against after their arrival.

Ditto with the Chinese Canadians, many of whom gave up their lives to build the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Despite their sacrifice, as a part of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a head tax was levied on anyone of Chinese origin between 1885 and 1923 to exclude immigration based on ethnicity.

It made me realized how much was left out of our history books. As a tolerant, diverse country, there’s a lot to be proud of in terms of being a Canadian, but we still have a lot of work to do. Well, at least since then, we’ve been moving in the right direction:

If you ever visit this museum, bring your card if you’re a CAA member because you’ll get a 15% discount.

Even though we managed to fit in a lot of attractions, sadly we weren’t able to secure a spot on the Alexander Keith (Wanderer’s favourite Canadian beer)’s brewery tour. Janna also told us about a great pizza place called “Acropole Pizza” in Pictou Nova Scotia that has this unique brown pizza sauce you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Hopefully we can go back for a longer trip and make up for what we missed next time.

Being the biggest city in the Atlantic provinces, Halifax was surprisingly lively. In fact, there was so much construction near the waterfront I honestly forgot that we ever left Toronto.

But what about cost? Does it cost much less to live in Halifax than in Toronto? Well, obviously, having stayed only 4 nights, I was only able to get a glimpse of a traveller’s cost.

Here’s how much we spent in Halifax:

Category Cost in USD/couple per day Cost in CAD/couple per day Notes
Accommodations $89 $114 Normally, we would rent a place for a month, which would bring the cost down to $50-60/day, but since we only had 4 days, the cost ended up being similar to touristy hotel prices, especially given that it was high season.
Food $52 $66 ($57 for eating out, $9 for groceries) We ate out a lot, since we wanted to try the local restaurants and sea food. Once again, daily food costs would’ve been averaged down if we’d split out time cooking and eating out 50/50 over a month but since we only had 4 days, we ate out almost every day. The mini seafood tower alone was $49 but so worth it!
Transportation $18 $23 We used points and spent around $84 on taxes getting there, but after that, most of the attractions were walkable and we only spend $4 each taking the bus from the airport to our Airbnb.
Entertainment $5 $6 Most of the entertainment was free, with the exception of the Immigration museum, which had an entry cost of $12.33/person including tax. This is because we were able to use our CAA membership to get 15% off. Normally it’s $14.50/person.
Total: $164 $209 Our daily cost for Halifax was surprisingly high, considering we weren’t going to expensive places like England or Norway, but given that we only had 4 short day to explore, we ate out a lot and got short term accommodations during high season. You’d be able to cut that cost in half by living like a local long-term or going during off season (but then again you’d be freezing your butt off so not sure the cost savings is worth it).

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we drive the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton island and do a little breaking and entering…

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