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North America

Road To Avalon

Jonathan van Bilsen



December 6, 2009

Road To Avalon

We are extremely fortunate to live in a country, which offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. No matter where in Canada you travel, beautiful landscapes, quaint villages and friendly people are always nearby.

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting the Avalon Peninsula, the area around St. John’s Newfoundland and re confirmed my belief that Canada is the most impressive country on the planet.

My first visit to ‘The Rock' was more than 25 years ago and I was happy to see that St. John’s charm has not changed. The area has gone through some difficult economic times but at last has flourished, as a result of recent off shore oil projects. 

The attitude of the people in Canada’s most eastern city is carefree, happy and fun-loving and I have never met friendlier people in all of my travels. I found St. John’s to be quite cosmopolitan. Quaint boutiques have sprung up everywhere and restaurants are found on each corner. Over the past few years the city seems to have been transformed into a haven for tourists.

I was fortunate the weather was with me. Temperatures were in the high teens and blue, cloudless skies made for an enjoyable trip. Even though I was only there for four days I packed as much as possible into my visit. 

My first excursion was to Signal Hill. Located on the outskirts of the city, Signal Hill is where Marconi received his first wireless transmission (a Morse code letter ‘s’) from Cornwall, England back in 1901, on December 12th at noon (12th month, 12th day, 12 o’clock). It is also the piece of land where John Cabot first set foot on the shores of North America in 1497. 

For the sake of time I chose to drive rather than walk to the top and strolled around the castle-like monument, which dates back to 1897. The monument, Cabot Tower, was built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Cabot’s landing, as well as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Like everywhere in the Avalon Peninsula the wind howls fiercely, but the stunning view of the ocean waves hurling themselves against the dark brown rocks makes the vistas magnificent.

From Signal Hill I ventured forth to Cape Spear, the most eastern point of land in North America. The Newfoundland government has done an excellent job of maintaining the historical sites by erecting unobtrusive wooden rail fences allowing visitors to see the natural beauty of the landscape. The old and new lighthouses at Cape Spear are well known to travel magazines and must have been a welcoming site to sailors who had spent many days and weeks at sea.

I was disappointed by the town of Quidi Vidi, which I recall from previous visits, was made up of quaint, colourful fishing shacks built upon stilts along the rocky shore. When I arrived I was met with a modern subdivision and three or four traditional huts along the water’s edge. Progress seems to take its toll.

I continued my trek south to Portugal Coast and the west to Placentia Bay. I have always been intrigued by the names of some of Newfoundland’s towns and villages and was amused when I drove through Heart’s Content, Heart’s Desire and Heart’s Delight, located near, where else, but Conception Bay. I also stopped for lunch in the town of Dildo, where I captured some of the most amazing scenic photographs. Of course a visit to Come By Chance, a town of 260 inhabitants is a must (if only to see the oil refinery). 

The cuisine of Newfoundland is scrumptious. Every establishment raves about having the finest fish and chips anywhere, but after eating more cod to last me a lifetime I can honestly say I was not disappointed anywhere. Fine cuisine and well aged wine, although available, take a back seat to down home cooking and local beer. Conversations start anywhere, with anyone, as the friendly people of the area are eager to share and learn from visitors. 

I had the pleasure of spending two days exploring the coves and villages around Trinity and Conception Bays and discovered that it would take months to truly experience all that the area has to offer. 

The price of gas may be a touch higher than Port Perry and accommodations and meals may cost a little more, but the sights and sounds of this great eastern part of our country are well worth the visit. I would recommend a summer holiday for those who are not fond of blustery winter gales and storms, but having been to Newfoundland during all four seasons, there is no bad time to visit.

I have been privileged in the past 30 plus years to have travelled to many parts of the world and have always maintained that Port Perry offers more than most places I have visited. I would like to wish each of you and your families all the best for Christmas and sincere best wishes for the New Year.

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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