Thursday, March 12, 2009

My Weekend In Prince Edward Island

I may not be in primary school anymore, but that doesn't mean I can't write about What I Did On My Summer Vacation. It may be an odd time of year for it, but keep in mind I only started this blog in December.

We were only there for a weekend and had time only to see a tiny fraction of PEI, so don't take this as a comprehensive review, but my favorite spot was the national park in Cavendish. Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, was also fond of it, and is quoted on some of its placards. From a boardwalk leading through a marsh, you can see a tremendous array of life. When I saw that parts of the water were bright green, I was at first concerned it was an algae bloom. On closer inspection, the green carpet turned out to be made up of thousands of tiny plants that floated on the water. I'd never seen anything like it before. I still don't know what it was, since they had no placard for it.

Close by the marsh is a beautiful beach where the famous red sand and sandstone cliffs are on full display. Though it was July, you could only wade into the seawater for half a minute before the ache of cold in your bones would send you running screaming back out again.

Don't expect me to continue in this cheerful vein; not as long as there's something to complain about. I don't call this blog Kvetch of the Day for nothing.

I think PEI must be located in some sort of Canadian version of the Bermuda Triangle. What I mean, if you will excuse a brief slide into vulgar colloquialism, is that there is some weird shit going down over there.

Foremost of which is the tendency of shopkeepers to peel the "Made in China" stickers off their merchandise. When I first saw this, it was in a restaurant in Cornwall that had a few touristy items for sale at the counter: little wooden boats, doodads with shells glued on, that kind of thing. I picked one up and turned it over to discover paper and glue remnants in a partial oval. This surprising discovery led me to turn over all the knick-knacks. One or two still had their "Made in China" stickers; all the rest had been peeled.

I thought it must have been an oddity of that particular restaurant until we went to another restaurant, a huge slop-dishing affair in Cavendish with a gift shop attached. I don't know what possessed me; maybe it's just what I do in stores because I like to know where things come from; in any case, I turned their souvenirs over and found the same thing.

Excuse me, but isn't this illegal? Those stickers are there for a reason. People are entitled to know where their purchases came from. What possesses shopkeepers to do this?

I decided that the shopkeepers must be embarrassed that their souvenirs of P.E.I., seashells and all, were manufactured at the other end of the planet. I wouldn't blame them--for the embarrassment that is--but a better reaction would be stock locally-made souvenirs. Then they wouldn't need to engage in shameful, furtive sticker-picking.

This theory took a bit of a beating when I purchased a metal water bottle at Moonsnail Soapworks & Nature Store in Charlottetown. A very untouristy item, yet when I turned it over... I think you can guess what I found. In fact, you can see it in the picture. PEI has several symbols, including a provincial bird (blue jay) and a provincial flower (lady's slipper), but if they want something that will capture the essence of the tourist experience in PEI, they should consider adding the vaguely oval glue-and-paper smear to the list. I hereby offer this photo to the PEI government for consideration.

The effect of Canada's Bermuda Triangle on the human brain is indeed mysterious, as was brought home to me yet again when I forgot my bathrobe in the room we'd rented at Obanbrae Farm Bed & Breakfast. I called the hostess a couple of days later, only to be told she'd already thrown it out. She didn't even give it to a charity shop. At least then I would have the satisfaction of knowing that somebody somewhere was getting use of a bathrobe that was still in perfectly good condition. But no, I suppose that would have taken up to much of her valuable time, and nothing that did not belong in her neurotically neat domain could be permitted to stay there for more than a couple of days. So into the garbage it went.

Another big surprise was the driving in the Charlottetown area. The sheer number of times you get cut off in a single journey is astounding. It was like driving in Montreal--also an island. Is there something about islands that makes people drive badly? You would think they'd be afraid that their fellow islanders would get fed up and pitch them into the surrounding sea or St. Laurence River. Come to think of it, that's not such a bad idea.

The bad behaviour does not necessarily come to a halt when the vehicle does. James and I stopped at a roadside stand to get junk food. An elderly couple arrived in a truck. The old man parked and left his wife in the idling truck while he bought two ice creams. I expected that he would drive away and eat the ice creams on the road. Instead, he and his wife sat in the truck licking their ice creams, while the truck continued to idle, rumbling pollution into the parking lot so that everyone else lined up at the stand could enjoy the fumes.

After ten minutes, my brain was sufficiently addled by exhaust that it seemed like a good idea to ask him why he was doing this. The influence of the Canadian Bermuda Triangle might also have been a factor. I walked up to the truck and tapped on the driver's side window. He rolled it down.

"Hi," I said. "I'm just wondering why you're idling your motor."

"I don't know," he said. "Why?"

So I enumerated the drawbacks as I perceived them: pollution, noise, waste of gas and money. I finished by saying I couldn't understand why he was doing it.

"No," he said, "I don't expect that someone like you would."

I was still chuckling over this clever witticism when he informed me indignantly that he had to idle the motor or it wouldn't start again.

"Oh," I said.

"And it's none of your business anyway!" said his wife, glaring at me as her husband rolled up the window.

"I just asked a question," I protested through the ever-narrowing gap in the window, but the woman continued to glare at me. So I gave her the finger.

Later, having had some time to think it over, I decided the old goat was probably lying through his teeth. There was a garage a short distance from the food stand. Any sensible person with a non-starting truck would take it to the garage before going for ice cream. If he'd had such a hankering for soft-serve, he could have walked over and bought some while they worked on his truck. Besides, his first response was that he didn't know why he was idling. I suppose he had time to cook something up while I talked.

Why even bother to come up with a story? Why not just say, "I feel like idling my truck. I don't give a damn about pollution. Go away,"? It could be he lied because I'd caught him out and he was feeling embarrassment, much like the merchant peeling "Made in China" stickers.

We spent most of our time in Charlottetown, which in retrospect was a shame. It hasn't got a lot going for it, other than Province House, which is OK. The downtown core consists of restaurants, mostly mediocre, and boutiques which seem chi-chi until you go inside and discover that they're full of merchandise from China with the stickers peeled off. The Chocolate Factory has a lot of mediocre chocolate that is mostly sugar. It is attached to The Anne of Green Gables Store, the ultimate destination for Anne fanatics. (Maybe they should be called Anneatics?) At a nearby theatre, you can see Anne of Green Gables: The Musical, which costs as much as an opera and doesn't have any good songs. You can save a lot of money by hanging out in the Anne of Green Gables Store, where they play the soundtrack. Stay there long enough and you'll hear the whole thing.

It may be PEI's capital city and it may be comparatively near the Confederation Bridge, but Charlottetown is not where you should spend a lot of time in PEI, especially if you're there for a short time as we were.

Speaking of the Confederation Bridge, I'm sure it is a marvel of modern engineering and blah blah blah, but I wish they hadn't built it. They used to have a ferry that went that way. For the same price ($40) we could have been on the water, enjoying the salty spray that they sing about in Anne of Green Gables: The Musical. Instead, we spent ten minutes--and felt every individual minute--staring at a strip of grey cement running off into the empty sky. There is no more boring drive in the world. So what if it's quicker? People need to get over the idea that quicker is better. And they need to make a similar mental shift with regards to "bigger," as exemplified by the hideously inflated tourist "village" that awaits you at the other end of the bridge. That's another wonder of modern engineering that should never have been built.

But to return to my point--don't waste your trip by spending any length of it in the Charlottetown area. Spend your time at the beaches and parks. Our trip improved noticeably when we headed north to Cavendish, and I wish we had sooner. We did not have time to see all the sights in the area, such as Montgomery's house. Next time I think we will immediately head north after crossing the Confederation Bridge, and stay there.


Manda said...

We usually go to PEI every summer during Canada Day weekend to take in the bands at the Festival Of Lights. We also pore through the provincial tourist information book and pick "touristy" things we want to see and do. There is a marvellous little toy factory that sells your run of the mill, everyday toys, but also has a magical collection of clever, handmade (presumably on site as they have a woodshop in the back) wooden toys and puzzles. I couldn't for the life of me tell you where it is, exactly, though, as we travel the backroads and cross the province a dozen times in the course of our long weekend.

Vivian said...

Sounds neat. No stickers have been peeled off these toys, right? I hope?

Anonymous said...

"So I gave her the finger."

HAHAHA. You're awesome.

I agree about the bridge. When it was first built (I lived in PEI at the time), one advantage was that we thought people would save money. But if it's the same price... well, the ferry created jobs, it was a unique tourist experience, etc. I miss it.

- Y

Vivian said...

Thanks Y! :D

Maybe they could tear the bridge down and reinstate the ferry... ha ha, not going to happen.

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