For two years, I called St. John's my home...
I lived in St. John’s, Newfoundland for 18 months as a graduate student at Memorial University and had previously visited different areas of the island several times to visit friends. Renowned as one of the friendliest places in the world, there were many things I loved about Newfoundland…. but also a few that I didn't. Here's my take on this popular destination!
1.) Rich folklore – Newfoundland has a wonderful artistic community, ranging from music to literature to handicrafts to storytelling. Visiting a museum or going on a walking tour is a great thing to do in St. John’s. Every guide has a flare for the dramatic and knows that sharing oral legends is as important as sharing the facts of history.
2.) Funky food – Did you know that you can get Birch Beer and Pineapple flavored Crush in Newfoundland? Strange but true! I loved the wild blueberries, partridge berries, and bakeapples, as well as peppermint knob candy and the packages of local summer savory in every size imaginable. (I tied the tiny packages on top of Christmas gifts in lieu of bows!).
While Newfoundland is famous for its fish, it was the chips that I really loved. French fries topped with dressing (aka: the stuffing used in a traditional Thanksgiving turkey), and turkey gravy was an irresistible combination and readily available, even if it wasn't always on the menu. While trendy poutineries abound in the rest of Canada, touting their creative combinations and toppings, I've yet to see one that offers fries-dressing-gravy and our nation is the worse off for it in my opinion.
3.) The International Community – My first samples of baklava and samosa were in St. John’s – and they were darn good! There is a sizable group of international students at Memorial University and interning at the International Student Advisor’s Office was the highlight of my university career in Newfoundland.
International flare isn't contained just to St. John's. Newfoundland has a long tradition of welcoming immigrants and refugees, especially during the Cold War, when flights between Havana and Moscow stopped to refuel in Gander and political dissidents would claim asylum. While a large majority of Newfoundlanders are descendants of Irish and British settlers; French, Spanish, Portuguese, Aboriginal, and Viking legacies remain throughout the island.
4.) Winter – If you want to experience a proper winter, head to Newfoundland. Huge piles of fluffy snow, milder than average temperatures thanks to the moderating effects of the Atlantic Ocean, and hearty locals who have seen it all. Two feet of snow land overnight? In April? No problem for Newfoundlanders! They automatically know the thing to do is stay home from work and help stranded friends and strangers.
5.) The Long Pond Trail – Part of the Memorial University campus, the 2.8km trail around Long Pond is my favourite jogging trial in the world and is typical of the beautiful wilderness of Newfoundland. When the opportunity to go to Africa fell suddenly into my lap, there were a lot of emotions and other considerations to take into effect. It was a chilly December afternoon when I set out for a jog along my favourite trail. By the time I was done, I felt at peace with whatever outcome my interview may have had. When I got back to my tiny apartment in the residence building, there was a message on my machine. The internship was mine and, in two weeks, I would be landing in a country I had never heard of just 2 days ago: Malawi.
And The Three That I Didn’t….
Cost of Living: Everything was more expensive in Newfoundland. Undoubtedly the high cost of transporting goods from the mainland was the culprit behind the high food prices (and some of the most expensive yogurt I’ve ever seen!) As always, local items give you the best value.
Transportation: It was very challenging for a student such as myself to see the island. Pricey car rentals were my only option for sightseeing beyond St. John’s. While I dreamed of visiting Labrador, it was an expensive, unobtainable goal at the time. Even when I stayed close to home it was a challenge to get around, especially in winter. Remember how I just said I loved winter there? I didn’t mean being a winter pedestrian!
Boats: Take it from me: there is absolutely no charm in taking the ferry to Newfoundland. At least, not if you have my stomach!
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. Have you ever been to Newfoundland or Atlantic Canada? What did you think?
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