Giant fiddles, striped lighthouses and Disney castles are all on show on this east-coast voyage.
Château Frontenac recedes into the Canadian scenery as we pull out of Quebec City and head down the St Lawrence River, leaving the sun setting over the skyline of this picturesque city.
While many debate whether the grand Disney-like Fairmont hotel that dominates Quebec City’s old town is the country’s favourite snap-happy attraction, it is certainly an impressive sight and the unabashed emblem of this thoroughly French city. Another contender for mostsnapped landmark is the cartoonish red-and-white lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia. We visit both on Holland America Line’s seven-day Canada and New England Discovery cruise, calling at Sydney and Halifax in eastern Canada and Bar Harbor in Maine as we sail from Quebec City to Boston, Massachusetts.
Quebec City, founded in 1608, is one of the oldest in North America with the ramparts of Old Quebec the only fortified city walls remaining in the Americas north of Mexico. A steep funicular ride exposes views to the St Lawrence River as it lifts you up the cliff face to the streets surrounding the château which overflow with busy cafés selling strong, percolated coffee.
Slow cruising Unlike some cruises that spend two or more consecutive days at sea, our ship, ms Veendam, docks early each morning at a new port with the whole day to selfexplore, join onboard activities or take one of several shore excursions.
In Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, we learn how to cook mussels in chilli, white wine and garlic then take a short lesson on shucking and eating oysters. Happily quaffing mine, a first timer from Illinois was apprehensive. “I’ve never tried oysters in my life,” he said. From his facial expressions it was hard to tell, but we think he liked them.
The ms Veendam is medium-sized with a capacity of some 1350 passengers. In consistently good weather, a walk past the outdoor pool leads to the main dining venue, Lido Restaurant, where breakfast is so delectable my trusty Vegemite stays in the jar. Other restaurants are the refined Pinnacle Grill, Canaletto Restaurant with Italian fare and the gracious Rotterdam Dining Room with the option of fixed or open seating. Indeed, you’ll never go hungry; fill up on burgers, pizza, hot dogs and ice-cream almost round the clock. Each night at Mix bar, Barry from Boston, piano player and singer extraordinaire, entertains like no other with nearly 2000 songs on his request list.
Fiddles and fishermen Contrasting with its name-twin in Australia, Sydney on Cape Breton Island is a compact town with street after street of cute, colourful houses, typical in this part of Canada. Looming large on the revitalised waterfront stands the world’s largest fiddle, weighing more than nine tonnes, built to celebrate Nova Scotia’s many folk musicians and Celtic heritage. At the pub on the esplanade, locals are amused but not surprised by some Aussie passengers asking ridiculous questions, all in good fun, about the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
But the crème de la crème is the tour in Halifax, Nova Scotia. With its inextricable linkage to the British monarchy, Halifax is one of the most urbane and sophisticated cities in Eastern Canada, mixing modern skyscrapers with colonial buildings. At Peggy’s Cove, a particularly quaint
01 Nova Scotian icons: Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse and Celtic piper 02 Waterfront of Lunenburg 03 Château Frontenac dominates the Quebec City skyline
fishing village, some 40 kilometres from the city, lobster traps using old, smelly mackerel as bait, are still set near the shoreline of St Margarets Bay. The distinctive red-and-white lighthouse sits on the edge of glacial rock deposits and gives Château Frontenac a photographic run for its money.
As we return to the ship, the UNESCO town of Lunenburg spoils tourists with lobster chowder, a harbour full of expensive yachts and flamboyant façades. Just as flashy was our witty tour guide Bob, a monarchist through and through, who regales us with more royal stories than I think actually exist.
In pursuit of (lobster) perfection
Cruising means meeting new people and my newfound trivia team raves about the local Maine lobster so, at Bar Harbor, the full-on expedition for our lobster hit begins in earnest through what used to be a summer playground for America’s rich and famous. Interspersing our search with a decent dose of shopping, we find an outdoor café where two young guys preparing lobster pots have just what we want. Fresh, whole, boiled lobster with melted butter – for 20 bucks. Messy and difficult to crack the claws but so, so delicious. Follow that with a cycle through Acadia National Park and it’s a recipe for a perfect day.
Finally we arrive in Boston, a city full of historic architecture, a lively downtown area and endless music venues. As one of the oldest cities in the United States, dating back to 1630, visitors immerse themselves in this city’s story walking the Freedom Trail, taking in Faneuil Hall, the Boston Massacre site and Paul Revere House, with maybe a Boston Red Sox baseball game thrown in.
In the wee small hours, my man Barry from Boston performs a final request as this memorable cruise, with scene after scenic scene for nature lovers and history buffs, nears the end in his beloved home town.
Accommodation www.hollandamerica.com.au Getting there
The ms Veendam seven-day Canada and New England Discovery cruise departs from Quebec City. Air Canada flies from Sydney to Quebec City via Toronto. www.aircanada.com.au
04 ms Veendam cruises the coast 05 The Maine specialty of Bar Harbor 06 Quebec’s French style in Canada