Everyone we told about our upcoming trip to Nova Scotia immediately mentioned the breathtaking vistas of Cape Breton, an island and the eastern most part of the province. There are five different routes; the best known is the famed Cabot Trail, which takes you up steep mountains, around tortuous curves with forest on one side and dramatic cliffs with ocean views on the other.
At the advice of Anne Marie from the St. Peter Visitor Center, we opted to drive around the Cape counter-clockwise. Her reasoning was that the interpretive centers, observation areas for photo ops and boardwalks to venture out on to the huge rock formations are located on the outside. Driving clockwise would mean having to cross the highway to take advantage of them.
I don’t think you really appreciate how much the weather affects your life as when you are on vacation. At home or at work, weather is something happening outside. When you are traveling, weather dictates where you go and what you do. It affects how you feel about the experience and the memories you take home —never more than when the main event is beautiful scenery. Unfortunately for us, it either rained or was cloudy the entire time we were in Cape Breton. In fact, we calculated that it was rainy about 60% of the time we were in Nova Scotia. When I commented on this to several locals, they shrugged and smiled. “That’s Nova Scotia for you.” We wanted to leave the Philadelphia summer heat and humidity and at least, we were able to do that in Nova Scotia. So we decided not to let the rainy weather in Cape Breton get us down, and instead took some interesting pictures.
We also took advantage of inclement days to explore some of the indoor activities Cape Breton has to offer. Artists abound here. There are potters, wood workers, glass makers and hookers (of the rug designer variety only). Tim Butler and Yvette Mathis, fellow Leisure Travel Van owners, suggested that we stop at a studio in Wreck Cove specializing in unusual hats. You’ll find everything from funky to furry to frivolous at Sew Inclined. Come shop with me as I try on some of Barbara Longva’s one of a kind designs.
Centre Mi-Carême was another place we might not have experienced on sunnier days. Even in the Middle Ages, forty days of Lent was apparently too much for the French to endure, so a week of partying was created. Mi-Carême literally means middle of Lent. Villagers went from house to house to visit, dance, and dine with their friends. Afraid of being recognized by the local priests, the custom of wearing costumes began. The French Settlers to Canada brought this tradition with them. In the Cheticamp area of Cape Breton, there is a large population of French Canadians and the week-long practice is still alive today. The museum was filled with creative masks and unusual outfits that we were encouraged to try on. So, on that rainy day, Manny and I played dress-up.
We continued south on to the Ceilidh trail, named for the many places to hear traditional Celtic music called Ceilidhs (pronounced Kay-lees). We pulled into the Glenora Inn & Distillery, touted as North America’s only single malt distillery.
Since they also are known for their award-winning restaurant and we were ravenous, we decided to have lunch there too. We entered the cozy dining room with its rich dark wood decor and felt like we were in an English pub —aptly named the Post-and-Beam. Our timing was perfect: we arrived just as a free Ceilidh was starting, a duo in high Celtic spirit, switching from piano to fiddle to guitar in toe-tapping fashion.
We are more wine lovers than whiskey aficionados, so we were surprised by the smooth finish of a 17-year old blend that Manny sampled at lunch; a measly half ounce costing $10 dollars.
On the tour we learned that Glenora’s whiskey is aged in Kentucky Bourbon barrels. Although it is distilled in exactly the same way as Scotch, that appellation is forbidden anywhere but in Scotland.
Much like Tequila in Mexico and Champagne and Cognac in France, those names can only be used by products made in those regions. Manny helpfully suggested the appellation “Nova Scotch”, but our guide was not amused.
The best experience we had in Cape Breton came last. The National Parks of Canada has created a fascinating museum in the charming town of Baddeck, honoring the esteemed Alexander Graham Bell. Alec hated the stifling heat of Washington D.C. and fell in love with Cape Breton, whose climate was much like his native Scotland.
Of course we all know that Bell invented the telephone, but hello! that is just one of his many accomplishments. In fact, although the success of the telephone meant financial independence, Alec thought of it as a distraction from his real work and wouldn’t have one in his study.
The invention of the telephone was a by-product of Alec’s intense interest in elocution and speech for the deaf, having grown up with a mother who could not hear. He became great friends with Helen Keller and his future wife and love of his life, Mabel, was one of his deaf students. It was his search for a hearing device to help the deaf that led to the patent for the telephone.
Alec’s scientific curiosity prompted him to develop the photophone, which sent sound over a beam of light, an innovation that led to the laser beam and fiber optics. Bell’s inventions were often a result of filling an immediate need. When President Garfield was shot by an assassin, Bell quickly put together an electromagnetic device to find the bullet. When his infant son died of a respiratory disease, he devised a metal vacuum jacket to facilitate breathing, a precursor of the iron lung developed in the 1950s to help polio victims breathe more easily.
His thirst for knowledge knew no boundaries. He was interested in heredity and did countless experiments with multi-titted sheep, hoping to find a way to increase the number of calves born. But he found that sheep farming was not his cup of tea. He worked on energy recycling and alternative fuels. He tried to develop a method of removing salt from seawater.
He was fascinated by flight and started the Aerial Experiment Association whose purpose was to create airborne vehicles and settled on the tetrahedron, a light-weight, strong structure ideal for his manned kite designs. He spent the last decade of his life working on improving hydrofoil designs.
Bell was also a founding member of the National Geographic Society. Alec was one busy guy!
I think a museum has done its job when I leave feeling enriched and excited to learn more. This museum did both in a dazzling combination of ways. World chronologies told the story of Bell’s life in the context of international events. There were countless displays containing his inventions, innovations and meticulous note keeping methods. Scattered throughout were a variety of media areas: a theatre where you could see a film about Bell’s work with the deaf, a small viewing room that showed his fascination with kites, and an entire floor dedicated to his hydrofoil with a comfortable sofa to watch a documentary of its success. My favorite was a sitting area where we watched interviews with family members, friends and others who related personal stories about the genius. He was portrayed as generous and full of life, a man who could fill a room with his presence. His intense curiosity made him interested in everything and everyone around him. Alexander Graham Bell was a man I wish I had known.
This tribute to the late genius would be memorable whatever the weather outside. Given more time, maybe Alexander Graham Bell could have found a way to control that too!