Friday, March 23, 2012

Bittersweet Newfoundland

Today's blog consist of an column I wrote for my English portfolio, which I am still finishing up. I would like to devote todays blog to a journey I took awhile back. And here it is:

Seven years ago, I left the Netherlands on an exchange program to study in Canada. I ended up in a little town called King’s Point, with less than a thousand citizens. Seven hundred and fifty to be exact. King’s Point is located on the northern shore of Newfoundland, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It is an island  located on  the eastern shore of Canada.

The time difference with the Netherlands is only four and a half hours. So, if you are flying to Alberta or British Colombia (time difference of  8 and 9 hours respectively), Newfoundland is the first part of Canada you will see. This also means you are only half way on your journey to the other side of the country, and have yet another four hours of staring, sleeping and being bored to go.

When you type in King’s Point on Wikipedia, you will get about three lines on where it is located on the island, this will raise a lot of question marks for someone who will be spending twelve months in that desolated place. But hey, I survived! And as odd as it might sound, this year is the year that I went back.

The goal of this journey, was to finally see the island and it’s beautiful places. When I was living there, my host family never took me anywhere. I was stuck in that town for a very long year. When I got back in the Netherlands, I swore that I never want to go back to Newfoundland ever again. Now, thinking back, I do want to see the things that I missed out on back then and finish that chapter of my life.

I booked a flight to St. John’s, which took me about half a day, because there are no direct flights from the Netherlands to Newfoundland, and I wanted to fly cheap (honestly, next time I will pay the extra 200 Euros because this wasn't funny). I ended up flying via Warsaw and Toronto, to finally land in St. John’s in the middle of the night. My best friend picked me up from the airport, where I would be staying for the first three days of my journey.

The next day I woke up “early” (still exhausted from travelling 24 hours) and went around the house in search of coffee, of course I did not find any, they are Canadian, they do not have coffee at home, they go get it.

The first days I spend in St. Johns, were great. St. Johns has a long history, which dates back to the first settlers, the Vikings. I spend a lot of time walking the streets of St. Johns, sightseeing. There are the brightly coloured house, the fishing huts, murals on the walls of the glorious fishing days, the souvenirs shops on Water street, and the endless view over the North Atlantic Ocean.

St. John’s is a beautiful city, the largest on the island. It has everything, an university, airport, shopping malls etc. No wonder that all the youth moves to St. John’s when they graduate high school, there is nothing in the towns they came from. It is the most “alive” place on the entire island.
From St. John’s, I continued my journey north, to King’s Point. Every minute I came closer to that place, the place where I had been stuck for a year, my stomach knotted further.

Newfoundland, is not the size, we would have in mind for an island. It is three times the size of the Netherlands. And the drive from St. John’s to King’s Point is approximately six hours. Six hours of rocks, trees, hills, valleys, bays, wobbly pavement and kilometres without civilization. As a Dutch person, living in a country a third of the size of this island with 34 times the amount of citizens, you cannot imagine this still exist in the world.

King’s Point never seems to change, still the same people but then seven years older minus most of the youth. Many of my old class mates moved a way, some to St. John’s, Cornerbrook or Grandfalls ( the only three cities on the island) the rest lives on the mainland (Manitoba, Ontario or Alberta).

From King’s Point I continued further north to Corner Brook and Gross Morne National Park. I hiked some of the trails at Gross Morne National Park, but most of them where covered in snow. I did also see some wild life, moose, seals and loads of squirrels. It is a beautiful park, and the people of Newfoundland are very kind, and always in for a good conversation.

After Gross Morne National Park I made my way back down to St. John’s again. I visited the Rooms
a museum with all the historical facts about Newfoundland, it also facilitates the Provincial archives.

Other historical sites I visited were Signal Hill and Cape Spear. Signal Hill overlooks St. John’s, the entry to the harbour and the ocean. It was used as a lookout during times of war. The Cabot tower, was placed on the hill during the 17 century, you can go up in the tower and overlook all of St. John’s.

Cape Spear, was really fascinating, it is located just outsight St. John’s and it is the most eastern point of Canada. Cape Spear has the oldest working lighthouse of Canada. But the most fascinating thing where the barracks and underground passages under Cape Spear. They were build to defend the harbour of St. John’s in world war II. I went inside the barracks under Cape Spear, and could not imagine how soldiers could sit there by minus 40 Celsius defending Newfoundland. That must have been horrible. Outside there was this very large gun about 3 metres long.

The experiences from seven years ago have vanished and have been replaced by the beautiful things I have seen and learned on this trip. It was worth it, and I would love to back some time in the summer, when the hiking trail are free of snow.

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