The serenity of Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia; funky shops and great food
ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, NOVA SCOTIA - This is one of the oldest and most historic areas in Canada. But also home to plenty of fun characters.
At Lucky Lou’s on lower St. George St., you can buy inflatable Bozo the clown punching bags, wallets made to look like they're covered in bacon, Beatles lunch boxes and retro candy, not to mention purses, guitar-shaped cheese graters and Hawaiian shirts for $15. My favourite was an Asian-themed butter-dish cover that said "I can't believe it's not Buddha."
Operator Brian Wambolt is a former Torontonian (there are a few out here) who runs the store and also can dish out all kinds of hints for the best beaches and scenic views in and around town.
He recommended the German bakery down the road for a mid-morning snack, and they make great pastries and decent coffee, as long as you don't mind German pop music playing on the radio...
Just a few doors down is Bistro East, which looks like a fairly basic pizza place from the outside but served me the best tomato soup I've ever had; spicy and fresh with melted mozzarella, parsley and other bits.
Almost next door is Charade, which sells jewelry, colourful pottery, wooden cutouts of fish in bright shades of yellow, orange and green, and more. "You won't fall asleep in this store," said shop owner Jeannie Allen.
Also a few feet away is the Dawn Oman gallery, with wild designs that strike me as East Coast meets Inuit. It's perhaps no surprise that Oman moved here from Yellowknife a couple years ago. Her business is doing so well she has five producers in China and will soon be selling her colourful wares in the USA, Australia and the UK.
Hillsdale House is a great place to stay and just a few short blocks from the action. It's a big, yellow place on a lovely piece of quiet property with Muskoka chairs on the lawn out back. They make a killer breakfast, especially if you're lucky enough to get the blackberry-lemon muffins.
You can get a lobster dinner at the nearby Garrison House for $30. It's not a huge lobster, and the service on my visit was quite slow as a new waitress was being trained, but it comes with a salad for $30 and you're served in a lovely, old home with plenty of character.
Just a few doors down from Hillsdale House is the Historic Gardens, which goes over not only some local history but also displays a fabulous array of shrubs and flowers. The azaleas were out last week, and there were still plenty of tulips in bloom.
The area is quite remarkable in general, as the French settled here in 1605 (technically across the river at Port Royal). Fort Anne, on the point just a few steps from the stops of St. George St., is said to be the most-attacked fort in Canada and has changed hands some seven times; bouncing back and forth between the French and the English.
All in all, a quiet, serene and surprisingly funky part of Canada. I'll have a bit more later this week on the Annapolis Valley and Wolfville, home of Acadia University.