Pot and Pot of Tea in BC

The first time I visited British Columbia, I was a teenager. I had vivid memories of how lush and green it was there. On a recent visit back, I saw just how much more “green” it has become now that Vancouver has regulated its medical marijuana dispensaries. I think at last count, there were about 100 in that city and Victoria has about 20. 

Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver, British Columbia

What a foreign sight inside some of these clinics. It seemed more like Amsterdam than a Canadian province. There are bowls and jars of pot everywhere you look. I strolled into one to take some photos. The only time I had seen that much marijuana in one place was at a police news conference after a drug seizure.

Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver, British Columbia

One of the best laughs I had on my trip came after I asked the guy at the counter for some help. I explained I was a tourist and I wanted permission to take some pictures in the store. “Are you the manager?” I asked. “No," he said. “I’m a volunteer.” I roared. Volunteerism must be at an all time “high” in BC these days. 

Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver, British Columbia

I only made it as far as Vancouver on my last jaunt west across the country. So, I was eager to visit Vancouver Island and see how this west coast island compared to my east coast home. Of course, I expected it to be less rugged with a lot less wind. The Pacific is known as the calmer ocean compared to The Atlantic. As an adjective pacific means serene, tranquil, untroubled. Victoria’s colourful downtown struck me as being all of those things. And clean? I would have eaten off the sidewalks. 

Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria, British Columbia

The harbour was alive with activity. I love to observe the constantly changing seascape of coastal communities. 'Boaty' scenery is a big attraction in my book and Victoria’s port has the added feature of being 'airplaney' too! Small float planes constantly dive down for a landing while vessels navigate around them. I think my favourite harbour activity was among the little yellow water taxis. These miniature tugboats look just like New York cabs. What a great way to get around. We strolled down the seaside trail and chuckled at the pleasure crafts with clever nautical names like 'Easea Does It'. We arrived at Victoria’s floating home village at Fisherman’s Wharf and jumped on board a H2O taxi to get back to the centre of downtown. Here’s a look:

https://youtu.be/W_Agd2jCkpA

It was late morning by the time we disembarked from the taxi and our timing was perfect for a 11:30am reservation. I know it’s one of the most touristy things you can do in Victoria, but I wanted to have Afternoon Tea at The Empress Hotel. I mean what tea drinker could resist this invitation on the hotel’s website: “Surrounded by rich chintz fabrics, antiqued tapestries and rugs, elegant wing back chairs, vintage furnishing and hand-carved tables, the picturesque backdrop of the Inner Harbour provides the quintessential Victoria experience to all who grace Afternoon Tea." I had asked for a window table and the view was perfect. 

Tea Room at The Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia

Tea Room at The Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia

I don’t know what it is about drinking tea from proper china cups but the daintiness of it all makes my posture improve and I’m prone to take on a British accent. Like a tea bag, I soaked in the luxurious atmosphere as a pianist played classical music on a black baby grand piano. It was lovely. Hey, if Afternoon Tea was classy enough for Queen Elizabeth II, Rudyard Kipling, Rita Hayworth, Bob Hope, John Travolta and Barbara Streisand, it was certainly going to be a highlight for me. Apparently 100,000 guests are served annually. That’s an estimated 500,000 cups of tea!

So how did this tea tottling tradition all come about? Story goes that a woman in Queen Victoria’s court is credited with the ritual. Anna Maria Stanhope, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, was the lady in waiting for the Queen. Anna, once too gut-foundered (Newfoundland word for hungry) to wait for dinner at 8:30, rang down for some sweet snacks, bread, butter and tea to be brought up to her boudoir in the early afternoon. The Duchess began to do this quite regularly and invited friends to join her. When the Queen learned of the afternoon indulgences, she wanted in. By the late 1840s Queen Victoria was hosting daily, fancy dress tea parties. My kind of gal! 

Tea Room at The Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia

Tea Room at The Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia

The pretty china used at The Empress was first used by the hotel in 1939 for the Royal visit of King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth. The pattern is now made exclusively for the hotel by William Edwards. And the special tea, The Empress Blend, comes from six estates, including Kenya, Tanzania, South India, Assam, Sri Lanka and China. But let’s face it, what’s a good cup of tea without a little plate of goodies. For $63 per person, you get a pretty lavish amount. There’s exotic sandwiches, strawberries and cream, scones, shortbread, tarts, mousse and chocolate. Never mind the medicinal marijuana clinics, the sugar high from The Empress will keep you buzzing all day!

Tea Room at The Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia

Tea Room at The Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia

We lingered over every last morsel and drank in the scenery out our window. It was such a civilized way to spend a day. Before leaving we took a quick spin around the hotel shops and lobby. I was dazzled by stunning pieces at Stone’s jewellery and delighted to see antler carvings by fellow Newfoundlander, Clyde Drew, at the Creations Art Gallery.

The Empress will have a different feel very soon. It’s currently undergoing a 30 million dollar renovation. Owner Nat Bosa is promising more modern rooms and improvements to the spa and swimming pool as well as the tea room. I do hope they maintain the old world elegance and charm of that space. Contemporary touches are nice but so is tradition. And doing away with tradition, well, as Queen Victoria might have put it, that’s not really my cup of tea. 

If you’d like to make your own reservation for Afternoon Tea at The Empress, check their website:

http://www.fairmont.com/empress-victoria/dining/afternoontea/

And, to take a look at some of the photos from my trip to British Columbia, please see them in the gallery.

Until next time,

Rove on. 

Jane

Nice When It's Nice

There have been many times, mostly on cold, drizzly days, when I've wondered why our forefathers didn't just keep on going. Sure, there's fish everywhere! I've seen lots in warm and sunny places where the heat is enough to knock you over all year long. Now, that'd be my kind of fishin'!

Certainly this summer, the summer of 2015, I've found myself grumbling a lot. As if the weather wasn't bad enough, the runway at the main airport was shut down for awhile in July and dozens of flights in and out were cancelled. Trapped we were. Trapped here on an island, bobbing around in the middle of the North Atlantic. Forget watching the reality show on TV, we're living "Survivor"! 

Mother Nature, is sure lucky we tend not to hold a grudge. Nope, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are blessed with the shortest memories of all humankind. One sunny day and all is forgiven. Although it's going to take many, many sunny days for me to forget having to wear my long johns in July. I had the car seat warmer on just about every morning that month on my drive to work. I remember comforting a coworker of mine when she winced at the single digit temperatures in the forecast. "Don't worry," I said. "Summer will be over soon." We took to calling it Julember. It was the same way we joked about "Fogust" the year before and "Junuary" the year before that.  So you see now why our collective patience has worn a bit thin?

This past weekend, a reprieve. Now, it wasn't what *I'd* call warm (I'm comfortable when it's hovering around 33 degrees Celcius) but it was sunny. And if you tucked in by the side of the house, out of the easterly wind, it was glorious. The evening sky was clear and blue and the yellowy rays of that golden hour, just before sunset, lured me out with my camera to take a stroll around. I was in Trinity, on the Bonavista peninsula, working on some radio stories. The town was stunning. I was snapping photos all over the place and even though I'm not religious, I dropped into the local church to thank them all, the father, son and the holy ghost, for this wee bit of true summer that had arrived at long last. 

Trinity, Newfoundland.

Trinity, Newfoundland.

Trinity, Newfoundland.

Trinity, Newfoundland.

I rounded the harbour and watched jellyfish dancing close to the surface in the silvery waves. I chuckled to myself as I recalled a simple comment someone made to me years ago in Makkovik, Labrador. It was one of the truest statements I think I had ever heard about Newfoundland and Labrador. There we were on a television shoot. We were on board a speed boat, zipping out through the harbour past dozens of icebergs with the sun beating down. Our guide, Randy Edmunds, turned around and said "It's some nice, when it's nice, isn't it?" And that sums it up, I s'pose. For all the grumbling, it's pretty hard to beat a beautiful day in good ol' Newfoundland and Labrador. Yes, Randy, I'd have to agree, when it's bad it can be torture but when it's nice, it's *some* nice. 

Trinity, Newfoundland.

Trinity, Newfoundland.

Trinity, Newfoundland. 

Trinity, Newfoundland. 

Until next time,

Enjoy the sunshine and rove on.

Jane

Tormenting the Tourists

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians love a good laugh. There's no shortage of material for us to poke fun at each other but when there's a chance to have a good giggle by getting one over on a CFA (Come From Away), well, that's considered a bit of a summertime sport. My favourite example of this delightful deception happens every year in Trinity. Tourists visiting the tiny town drive by a bay filled with blue and white floating markers. Locals know it to be a mussel farm. Ropes dangle from the buoys and salt water molluscs cling on. Locals also know it to be a perfect opportunity to play a little trickery on curious visitors. "Land in the cemetery is hard to come by," they tell them. "We've got lots of water all around so years ago, we started an underwater graveyard." Now, I've seen many "Trinitarians" deliver that first line without so much as cracking a smile. It gets harder for them to keep the joke going once the tourist asks the next inevitable question: "Why are some blue and others white?" "Well," says the Trinity tormentor, "It's to mark the different religions. The white ones are the Catholics and the blue ones are the Protestants." 

And some say Newfoundlanders are stunned? Many swallow it up hook, line and sinker. 

Fishing for a Future

Most of the memorable journeys I’ve made have been on land. But one trip out into the deep blue ocean will stay with me for a long, long time.

I went shrimp fishing for 5 days on board a 70 foot longliner called the Atlantic Charger. The captain, Brad Watkins, and his four crew members were happy to have a TV crew along for an inside look at how the fishery works. We were shooting a documentary for CBC's Land & Sea.

There was talk of gravol pills and all kinds of tricks to avoid the inevitable sea sickness the men assumed would strike us landlubbers soon after we had pulled away from the wharf. No sir, not a sign of any illness. We proved to be worthy sea dogs and enjoyed the whole experience from start to finish. The voyage gave me a new appreciation for how fishermen earn their living. 

Now, these fellas aren’t exactly roughing it on board the Atlantic Charger. It’s about as comfortable a ride as you can get on the wide open waves. Brad’s vessel is valued at 2.2 million dollars and it’s tricked out with all the bells and whistles. The Charger has cutting edge technology, including a double shrimp trawl, the only one like it in Newfoundland and Labrador. Seeing it all in action, first hand, was a thrill. 

How are your sea legs? Watch our documentary, Fishing for a Future, and see if fishing is the life for you. 

Bon voyage!

Enjoy some photos from our trip in the gallery.

Rove on,

Jane

 

 

Visions of Vineyards

A couple from Newfoundland and Labrador is trying to do what some might say is a long shot: to grow grapes in a province known affectionately as The Rock. Carl and Donna Sparkes own Devonian Coast Wineries in Nova Scotia, but they have visions of vineyards on Canada's easternmost island and they're confident a wine industry can succeed there.

Carl and Donna Sparkes own Devonian Coast Wineries (Jane Adey)

Carl and Donna Sparkes own Devonian Coast Wineries (Jane Adey)

Jost Vineyards, Malagash, Nova Scotia. (Jane Adey)

Jost Vineyards, Malagash, Nova Scotia. (Jane Adey)

I was intoxicated by their enthusiasm and optimism when I met them. They had agreed to let me tell their story, in a documentary for CBC's Land & Sea.  

Go grab yourself a vino, sit back and enjoy Visions of Vineyards

We shot most of our story on location at Jost Vineyards in Malagash, Nova Scotia. For a quick trip to that serene, green scene, please see my blog post Under a Malagash Sun

Cheers!

Jane

Jost Vineyards, Malagash, Nova Scotia. (Jane Adey)

Jost Vineyards, Malagash, Nova Scotia. (Jane Adey)

Colourful Curaçao

A few months ago, I was cleaning out a cabinet in my dining room. I came across an old liqueur bottle of Blue Curaçao. I bought it years ago for some kind of martini recipe but never used it again. Its flavour, as I recall, is pretty lip-pursingly bitter and its colour is not far off windshield-wash blue. Even though I'm not particularly fond of the drink, the island of Curaçao has always held a certain allure for me. It's not as popular a getaway as other islands in the Caribbean and maybe that's the appeal. I haven't been there yet but I've had a preview from fellow Newfoundlander, Ruth Palmer, who has spent time there. In fact, she's been to a factory where they make Blue Curaçao. 

Ruth Palmer in  Curaçao.

Ruth Palmer in Curaçao.

Photo by Kjersti Joergensen/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Kjersti Joergensen/iStock / Getty Images

You see, I've been tracking down Newfoundlanders and Labradorians living and working in interesting places around the world. It's a chance to learn and write about a new place through the eyes of an expat. Ruth's sister, back here in St. John's, heard about what I was up to and volunteered her adventurous sibling to give me a kind of virtual tour of the island. 

Ruth Palmer was born on Topsail Road, not far away from where her father's Volkswagen dealership operated near Kmart back in the day. Ruth says her father was a gregarious salesman who "seemed to know everyone in the province."

After years in marketing on the mainland, Ruth followed in her father's footsteps. She got into sales too; selling vacation properties in the sunny south. The former townie now lives in St. Maarten but she just spent a year and a half working in Curaçao. She says of all the travel she's done, Curaçao reminds her of home more than any other place.   

"Ahh, the people are amazing. They work hard, they love to have fun. They love music, they love dancing and they're an awful lot like Newfoundlanders," said Ruth.

Imagine, if we had our very own territory in the Caribbean. A place to get away from the RDF and soak up a little Vitamin D. There's got to be some unclaimed tropical island where we could raise our flag? Sadly, we missed the chance long ago in Curaçao. 

Curaçao is Dutch - an independent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Ruth Palmer says it's the island's maritime history, that for her, gives it a Newfoundland feel. 

"It's a very colourful island like Newfoundland, there's blue houses and pink houses and green houses... because they were owned by marine merchants and they wanted to recognize their house from the boat," said Ruth. 

Fresh seafood is abundant in Curaçao and red snapper is recognized as one of the national dishes. A filet is often served with a corn-meal mush known as Funchi. 

            Curaçao (Ruth Palmer photo)

            Curaçao (Ruth Palmer photo)

Curaçao's marine life makes it a paradise for scuba divers and it's a popular destination for cruise ships but tourism isn't the driving force for the island's economy. Ruth says a lot of people are involved in international banking and many work at a Venezuelan owned oil refinery. Ruth says the population is highly educated and enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean. 

Curaçao also has a major shipping port, a port that made the island a crucial link in the 17th century slave trade. More than half a million African slaves moved through the island and it was home to a slave depot. It's a history that Ruth Palmer found both fascinating and emotional.  

"When they came all the way across the ocean and they finally landed there and they were skinny and sick from the long journey, they put them in this compound to get them fattened up and healthy so they could sell them all over South America. It was quite moving to walk through there and see that. They could have taken all of that history and maybe be very bitter about it but they're passionate about their history and they're proud of the things that they've accomplished."

Ruth thinks says it might be the painful history that makes people in Curaçao so down to earth.

She describes them as genuine with a true interest in other cultures. "They want to know more about who you are than what you have."

She believes honest curiosity is another trait Newfoundlanders and Labradorians share with Curaçaoans. As well as their love of a good party in the great outdoors. 

"A typical Friday night local people go to the beach. They bring their food, they bring their music and they have a lobster boil like you would in Newfoundland." 

Blue Curaçao liqueur

Blue Curaçao liqueur

And as for Blue Curaçao, Ruth gave me the story on that too. The Spaniards who came to Curaçao back in the 15th century brought with them the "Valencia" orange. But the desert-like climate on the island changed the sweet, juicy oranges to a bitter, almost inedible fruit. Over time, the Valencias evolved into a smaller citrus fruit called a laraha. Even though the flesh is bitter, the peels are aromatic and flavourful. When dried and soaked with alcohol, the skins produce an orange-like liqueur. 

Ruth Palmer says she's very happy living in St. Maarten but she does miss all the colour of Curaçao, including that bright blue drink.  She has considered returning to the colour of Newfoundland and Labrador to retire some day. In the meantime, when she gets homesick, she's happy to know there's a comparable Carribean replacement on an island not too far away.

Until next time,

Rove on.

Jane

Curaçao (Ruth Palmer photo)

Curaçao (Ruth Palmer photo)

Building Basques History

There’s a 16th century wooden boat under construction across the pond in the Basques town of Pasaia, Spain and it could be sailing into harbours in Newfoundland and Labrador in the coming years. One place the vessel will surely tie up is in Red Bay, Labrador. The boat being built is a replica of the Basques whaler, The San Juan, and Red Bay is where the original ship met its end way back in 1565.

San Juan replica under construction in Basques country

San Juan replica under construction in Basques country

The San Juan and its Basques crew were on the hunt for right whales and bow head whales off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. The oil rendered down from the blubber would be taken back and sold on the European market as lighting fuel and was the main ingredient in paint and soap. But The San Juan encountered a storm and sank in Red Bay’s harbour.

Canadian Selma Barkham’s tireless archival research in Spain pointed to Basques remains in Labrador on both land and in the water. Archeologist James Tuck excavated whaling bases and Basques burial sites and in 1978, the underwater exploration began. A Parks Canada team of underwater archeologists, led by Robert Grenier, located wrecks in harbours, including, what is believed to be, The San Juan. 

I was in Red Bay the summer of 2013, the year the site was granted UNESCO’s World Heritage Status. I met Robert Grenier there and heard him speak about the incredible thrill of uncovering a piece of Canadian maritime history from the 16th century. He gave a speech at the town hall and choked up as he recounted the excitement of his many days spent underwater in Red Bay’s harbour. He remembered the first moment he waved away sand from the ocean floor to reveal an old wooden barrel. He place his hand inside and felt oil that more than four hundred years earlier was destined to light the lamps of Europe. "Suddenly, I could see that I was touching – I was seeing – the 16th century.”

Underwater Archaeologist Robert Grenier and Jane Adey. Red Bay, Labrador 2013

Underwater Archaeologist Robert Grenier and Jane Adey. Red Bay, Labrador 2013

The underwater archeologists spent years taking the San Juan from the ocean piece by piece and documenting its every measurement. Xabier Agote is grateful for the detailed work. Agote is the President of Albaola Basque Maritime Heritage Society and is heading up the San Juan reconstruction project. “Because of the work of the archeologists and then the following research that happened in Ottawa, we know exactly how the San Juan was built and we know exactly the shape of that ship.”

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Albaola boat building facility and interpretation centre. I watched as local craftsmen shaped huge pieces of oak and slowly pieced together a 90 foot galleon. The workers are staying true to 16th century construction by using the same techniques and tools that would have been used by their seafaring ancestors. When I was there, Jerome Canning of Newfoundland’s wooden boat museum was working on the vessel too, on a six week, government sponsored, exchange. Canning was more than impressed by the scale of the project. "You would think it’s an exaggeration until you come in and see what they’re doing and then you think that they’re not exaggerating. In fact, they’re underplaying it."

Albaola boat building facility in Pasaia, Spain

Albaola boat building facility in Pasaia, Spain

What was also impressive to Canning was the community spirit surrounding the replica. Hundreds pour into the facility every week to watch the progression of 16th century Basques history coming to life. "They’re very proud of this project. When they talk about this boat, it’s really a big historic moment for them because it was at a golden age of Basques exploration so they’re very prideful. It represents when the Basques went out into the world exploring and seeking resources.”

Xabier Agote believes Canadians and in particular Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have reason to be proud too. “We see this as a shared heritage. We still have to promote the project not only in the Basques country but also in Canada. I would encourage the people to visit our project and also the Basques country in the same way that we encourage Basques people to go to Red Bay and Canada to visit the places where our ancestors used to go fishing, so I think it would be a very good thing to get to know each other.”

Jerome Canning said anyone visiting from our side of the pond would appreciate how prominently our province is featured in the storytelling of this significant Basques history. "When you come through the door here, the first thing you’re going to see is maps of Newfoundland and Labrador. You’re going to see charts that show the Basques whaling fleet going to Red Bay,” said Canning. And it's not just the historical connections that might make some Newfoundlanders and Labradorians feel at home in Pasaia. "The harbour here in San Juan, when you look at that you’re going to see St. John’s harbour, the narrows, it’s exactly the same,” said Canning. 

Interpretation centre at Albaola boat building facility

Interpretation centre at Albaola boat building facility

The Newfoundland boat builder and I sampled San Juan’s famous cider and had a chat over local tapas known as pintxos. When it comes to the culture and the people, Canning told me, it was hard to deny the similarities between the Basques and our lot back home. "They’re very engaged with you and very physical so you better get used to being slapped on the back and hugged and just welcomed in a very, very friendly way. They’re boisterous and talkative. They still have, let’s say, outport ways. They’re curious about where you’re from and curious without suspicion. They love fun.” 

Canning hopes to make another trip to Pasaia during the construction phase of the vessel. For now, there's no specific target date for its completion and no timeline set for its voyage to Red Bay and other harbours in Newfoundland and Labrador. In the meantime, if you're on the move in the coming months in our own province , I'd recommend a visit to Red Bay, Labrador to discover the incredible story of the Basques. And, if you find yourself in the Basques country, be sure and let them know you're from Newfoundland and Labrador. It'll win you a smile, maybe even a hug and most certainly a glass of cider.

Basques whalers traditionally drank cider on long voyages

Basques whalers traditionally drank cider on long voyages

Interesting facts about Basques country:

  • The Basque language is Euskara and it is the oldest European language. It’s unrelated to any other language in the world–and is traced back to a language spoken 20,000 years ago in Europe.
  • The Basque population is genetically and culturally distinct.They are believed to be prehistoric inhabitants of Europe and quite possibly the direct descendants of Cro-Magnon man, who appeared in Europe and the Middle East some 36,000 years ago.
  • The Basques country includes 7 provinces, three in France and four in Spain. 
  • Basques have their own version of Santa Claus, called Olentzero. He wears a giant Basque beret on his head. Families leave him wine instead of milk and cookies.
  • Basque cuisine is regarded by many to be one of the best in the world because of techniques used to draw out flavour rather than using spices. 

To see my photos from my trip to the Albaola, San Pedro and San Juan, please go to the photo gallery

To watch a video of the building of the San Juan replica, click on this link: https://youtu.be/haJnO3IaUJs

Until next time,

Rove on.

Jane

Newfoundlander in The Netherlands

For a gal with a green thumb, Robyn Devine couldn’t be living in a better place. On her way home from work, she is constantly captivated by the colourful displays of flowers at her neighbourhood shop. The vivid scene draws her in for a vibrant take-home bouquet. “You can buy fifty tulips for 7.50 euros,” she said.  

Robyn Devine in The Netherlands. (Blair Gowan photo)

Robyn Devine in The Netherlands. (Blair Gowan photo)

Robyn is from St. John’s, Newfoundland, so she’s accustomed to a very late spring. Sometimes crocuses don’t fully bloom until June in Canada’s easternmost province. But in The Netherlands, fields of crocuses, tulips and hyacinths start to pop up in March. Robyn says it’s a powerful treat for the senses.

"The beautiful and intense smell of the hyacinth fields is an experience like no other, especially when there is a nice breeze that sweeps the smell your way.”

Hyacinths in The Netherlands. (Blair Gowan photo)

Hyacinths in The Netherlands. (Blair Gowan photo)

Now, Robyn isn’t just spending her time admiring blossoms in The Hague. This 41-year-old is helping cultivate growth of Canadian businesses in The Netherlands. She's a trade commissioner at the Canadian Embassy.  

The seeds for Robyn’s interesting career in international affairs were planted in Newfoundland with a political science degree at Memorial University. When she graduated in 1995, the chilling effect of the 1992 cod moratorium was still hanging heavy on Newfoundland and Labrador's economy. "There just weren’t any jobs at the time,” she recalls. “You needed experience to get experience and I thought, what am I going to do?” What Robyn decided to do, changed the course of her life and gave her a taste for international commerce.  Robyn took advantage of the SWAP - Student Work Abroad Program at the university’s student office and went to work in London, England for 4 months. She enjoyed it so much, she returned to work there the next summer as well. “If there had been summer jobs in Newfoundland, I probably would have stayed,” she said. But the move was a welcome adventure.  “It was so exciting.”

Robyn’s curiosity for international travel and business might stem from her family roots. Her grandfather, Maurice Devine, worked as a General Manager for a UK-based shipping company called Furness Withy. He was also the Honourary Consul to Sweden and Denmark in Newfoundland. Mr. Devine and his family made many trips to Europe and the United States over the years. “I grew up hearing fantastic stories about international adventures that they undertook over the decades, which was a great inspiration to me.”

When Robyn returned from her stint in London, she went back to university with an eye on a career in foreign affairs. She did a masters degree in public administration in the international stream at Carleton University in Ottawa. Before she graduated, Robyn scored a 6-month contract at the then Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. It was her foot in the door.  

She began working on foreign direct investment attraction to Canada, later market research and eventually commercial relations in the European bureau. By 2012, all of Robyn’s hard work had paid off. She received a diplomatic posting abroad and would go to live in The Hague in the Netherlands for four years. She began work in the Canadian Embassy as the First Secretary and Commercial Trade Commissioner for Science and Technology. The commercial section of the embassy helps Canadian companies export products and expand their businesses to the Netherlands.  

“It feels fantastic to be able to help them. You’re able to come together and come up with good information for companies and it can make a difference in terms of making or breaking their international endeavour.”

TRAVEL IN THE NETHERLANDS

Robyn gets great satisfaction from her job and then there is the obvious other perk - location, location, location! Robyn and her husband, Blair Gowan, have been able to jump in their car, or on a plane, and be in a neighbouring European country in a matter of hours. Robyn has had a chance to research the Devine family roots in Ireland and popped over to Paris for a weekend cooking course at the Cordon Bleu.  

But, when Robyn first arrived in the Netherlands, she was given some valuable advice from an outgoing trade commissioner. “He said you’re going to want to be traveling abroad, outside the Netherlands, but make sure you get to know this country too.” Robyn took the advice and knows the country well. “I can get in my car and I can drive from the north of the country to the south in about 3 hours and from west to the east in about 2 and a half. Despite the short distances, there are so many interesting sites, and small quaint Dutch towns to visit.”  

Canadian travellers will find a special welcome in this country, according to Robyn. Canada liberated The Netherlands in WWII and that has not been forgotten. “You might think that loyalty might wear off over time, but I tell you, it hasn’t.” Robyn says she experienced this allegiance most sincerely in a place called Breda. The city is about an hour and fifteen minute drive south of The Hague. On Liberation Day, May 5th 2014, Robyn was invited to lay a wreath at the war memorial in Breda. “That was the greatest honour of my career here so far.”

Breda, The Netherlands. (Blair Gowan photo)

Breda, The Netherlands. (Blair Gowan photo)

The City of Holten’s Canadian war cemetery in the eastern Netherlands is the final resting place for more than 1300 Canadians. Every year on Christmas Eve there is a special ceremony in the cemetery to mark the Canadian contribution to freedom. “Just before dusk, school children bring white candles and they light one on every single Canadian grave to honour fallen soldiers. It was incredibly moving to view this site as a Canadian. The Dutch are forever grateful,” says Robyn.
 

Holten, The Netherlands. (Blair Gowan photo)

Holten, The Netherlands. (Blair Gowan photo)

DUTCH PEOPLE

The Canadian-Netherlands historical relationship is a big factor in successful business relationships between the two nations. Robyn says there is a high level of trust between Canadian and Dutch companies. “Whenever we’re trying to get into a door, it’s not that difficult for us.”  

The sense of trust made it easier for Robyn to adjust to a new country but she was warned there might some significant cultural differences. The Dutch, she was told, can be very blunt.  “Everyone was saying you're going to be caught off guard sometimes. Canadians are so diplomatic and that's going to be a huge culture shock for you.” Robyn says she kept waiting and bracing for the impact but it never happened and she thinks she knows why. "I understand the mentality well because Newfoundlanders are blunt too so I felt like it wasn’t so much of a shock for me. Newfoundlanders say what they think and there’s no beating around the bush.”  

Robyn says the bluntness is a little bit of home away from home and so is the Dutch spirit of cooperation.  

“It’s a consensus building society and it’s really interesting in that regard. They do not like hierarchy. You respect everyone’s opinion. I think that historically Newfoundland has had a cooperative culture too. I’m always told that I’m very good at consensus building and a team player. I strongly believe that comes from the Newfoundland way, that in order to progress, everybody has to work together.”

As for what else Robyn admires about the Dutch culture, it’s that everyone rides bikes and everybody loves soccer. Thankfully, those are two of her husband’s greatest passions. “He has fit right in here not to mention the fact that he is really tall like the Dutch, they are the tallest people on the planet.”

Central Station, The Hague. 

Central Station, The Hague. 

Robyn says she and her husband have also grown to admire an overall approach to life in the Netherlands that many in the western world have forgotten. “The work-life balance is completely ingrained in their social system. Generally, people work hard but must be home from work on time for the family. The Dutch have been measured to be the happiest people in the world and I understand why.”

Robyn appreciates that there is time to smell the roses in The Netherlands. But as you’ll recall, it’s The Hague's hyacinths that have charmed this Newfoundlander. Lucky for her, spring is here and floral fragrances fill the air once again.

To see more photos of Robyn Devine's adventures in The Netherlands, please go to the gallery

(The opinions expressed by Robyn Devine are her own and do not represent those of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.)


INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE NETHERLANDS:

  • The Netherlands is the most densely populated country in the European Union.  There are 16.5 million people living in a geographic area the size of New Brunswick.

  • The Netherlands is the world's second largest exporter of agricultural products, after the USA.

  • The Dutch are some of the tallest people in the world.  The average American man stands 5 foot 9 inches tall.  The average Dutch man stands well over 6 feet.

  • 75% of the world’s flower bulb production comes from Netherlands.

  • On average a Dutch person cycles 2.5 kilometres a day, 900 a year. It is the bicycle capital of the world with more than 18 million.

  • Netherlands has more than 4000 kilometres of navigable canals, rivers and lakes.

  • Herring chopped with raw onions and pickles is the national dish

  • The Dutch are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers at 3.2 cups a day

  • 86% of the population speak English as a second language

Are you a Newfoundlander or Labradorian living life in an interesting part of the world? Email me and let me know about your story. 

Until next time, rove on.

Jane

Townie in Tokyo

Gorgeous pink flowers are blanketing parts of Japan this time of year.  It's cherry blossom season, one of the world’s most celebrated natural events. And in Tokyo, you’ll find Newfoundlander, Jason Clarke, taking in the scene. “You go to a park and every spot of ground is covered. People put down a tarp and then just sit there and drink and eat. It’s just a big party,” said Clarke.

Tokyo, Japan.  

Tokyo, Japan.  

Cherry blossoms in Tokyo, Japan. (Jason Clarke)

Cherry blossoms in Tokyo, Japan. (Jason Clarke)

But this isn’t Jason Clarke’s first time surrounded by the sweetly scented perennials. Clarke left St. John’s for Japan in 1999 after he saw an ad in a newspaper to teach English overseas. “I thought it would just be for one year and it’s up to sixteen years now.” Clarke recalls a little culture shock upon arriving. Not surprising, considering the greater Tokyo area is the world’s most populous metropolis with more than 35 million residents. “Just so many people, so crowded.  It was a big change from St. John’s.”  

The St. John’s townie now lives right downtown Tokyo. He says a subway trip to the University, where he teaches, is always a congested commute. ‘'They actually have the people there who push you on. The staff have gloves on and they just squeeze as many people on as they can,” Clarke explained. It’s crowded but quiet.  Clarke said everyone has a cellphone but no one talks while they’re on board.  “Even if they’re with their friend a lot of times, you know they don’t really talk to each other on the train.” Clarke said there’s a deep respect among Japanese people when sharing space with others. "They wear the white kind of surgical masks on the train.  Some people, it’s so they don’t catch a cold, other people it’s because they have a cold so they’ll wear it so they don’t spread it to other people.  The train is so crowded that you can’t cover your mouth if you’re coughing or sneezing so you just wear that mask instead.” It’s one aspect of Japanese culture that Clarke admires. “People are very polite.  You know, manners are important.  People always say sorry or excuse me constantly.”

Stealing or committing any type of crime is an affront to the deeply rooted civility in Japan. "Tokyo is very safe.  If you lose your wallet here with all the money in it, you’ll get it back.  There’s no crime really. I don’t know, it’s just bad manners, maybe.  A couple of times I’ve left a bag on the train and I always get it back," he said.

Clarke teaches English to 18 and 19-year-olds in their first and second years at Meikai University. Two, fifteen week semesters in a year leaves plenty of time for Clarke to enjoy extra curricular activities and travel. “Japan is mostly mountains and so mountain hiking is a big activity here,” said Clarke.  “They have this thing called '100 Famous Japanese Mountains’”. So far, Clarke has been up and down 20 of those, including Japan’s highest peak, Mt. Fuji, at 3776 metres.  

Mt. Fuji, Japan. (Jason Clarke)

Mt. Fuji, Japan. (Jason Clarke)

It’s fairly cheap to travel to other parts of Asia for Japan so Clarke has taken advantage of that over the years. “I’ve been to Thailand four or five times, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore. I’ve been to China a couple of times too.” Clarke did a history degree at Memorial University and a masters degree in Newfoundland History. His appreciation for antiquity has led him on some interesting journeys in parts of Asia. In Vietnam, he visited Dien Bien Phu, the battlefield where the Vietnamese defeated the French and ended colonial rule. He toured Hanoi prison where American pilots, including John McCain were held, after they were shot down in 1972.   

On his most recent trip to China, Clarke visited Xinjiang province in the west of the country.  There he visited ruins in the ancient city of Jihae, destroyed by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Clarke followed parts of the old silk road travelled by Marco Polo in places like Yarkand and Kashgar.   

But it was in Japan where Clarke said he visited one of the most interesting historical sites to date, the Hiroshima Peace Park Museum. "There’s a river running through Hiroshima. On one side you have the museum, then there’s a bridge.  The bridge is what the Americans used as a target. On the other side of the river is this old building, some kind of city office building or something. That building was directly under where the bomb exploded. It exploded in the air above this building and they’ve kept the ruins there as a memorial. It’s a world heritage site, I think. Around it there’s a park. They call it Peace Park,” said Clarke. The atmosphere in the museum is understandably sombre, according to Clarke. “There are lots of displays of photos, photos of people burned alive. I think a lot of the people killed were kids. So, you know, it was upsetting to look at those pictures.”

Hiroshima, Japan. (Jason Clarke)

Hiroshima, Japan. (Jason Clarke)

Jason says the museum also attempts to educate people about the continued threat of nuclear weapons. "Every time there’s an atomic test somewhere in the world, the mayor of Hiroshima writes a protest letter to the country that did the test. They have all the letters on a wall of the museum. I think out of the last 10 letters written, one was to Kim Jong-Un and nine were to the US,” explained Clarke. In spite of the devastation during WWII, Clarke says Hiroshima has been completely rebuilt. He describes it as a nice city with about a million people and a slew of streetcars. “There are streetcars everywhere,” said Clarke.

He recalls eating one of his favourite Japanese meals in Hiroshima. “They have this dish called Okonomiyaki which is kind of like a big pancake full of noodles and pork that’s really good,” said Clarke. Even though he lives in the land of succulent sushi and sashimi, Clarke says he eats very little Japanese food when he’s at home in Tokyo. “It’s a big city so you can get any kind of food, Thai, Indian or whatever you want.  No good fish and chips is the only problem,” he said. Clarke says he does miss that famous Newfoundland dish, but it’ll probably take more than a feed of Ches’s to get Jason Clarke to leave Japan.  “I don’t know if I’ll be moving back,” he said.  Clarke visits with family still living in Newfoundland every couple of years but he isn’t keen on returning for good.  "It’s really expensive, even compared to Tokyo,” said Clarke.  He says he was also struck by an unfriendly element that seems to be growing in the city. "I remember watching the news, every night there’d be a different robbery or something like that, convenience stores getting robbed or gas stations. I was really surprised.”

Clarke’s 16 years in Japan have made him appreciate his courteous and calm country.  "Even though there are millions and millions of people, it’s a pretty relaxed, very easy going kind of place.” And at this time of year, Tokyo couldn’t be more charming. For now, he’s sure this cherry blossom season won’t be his last.

If you'd like to see more photos of Japan and more of Jason's trip to the Hiroshima Peace Park, you can see them in the gallery

INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT JAPAN:

  • Japan consists of more than 6,800 islands

  • Around 24 billion sets of chopsticks are used in Japan each year.

  • More than 70 percent of Japan consists of mountains, including 200 active volcanoes

  • Japan has almost 100 percent literacy

  • Sumo is the national sport

  • The term karaoke means empty orchestra in Japanese

  • It is considered inappropriate to blow your nose in public

  • There is almost no immigration in Japan.  The population is 98 percent ethnic Japanese

Know of a Newfoundlander or Labradorian living life in an interesting part of the world? Email me and let me know about their story. 

Until next time, rove on!

Jane

Where Our Whales Winter

There are probably thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who spend at least part of the month of March, ten toes up on beaches in places like Jamaica, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. And they're not the only east coast mammals taking advantage of the heat down south.  

The humpback whales that delight locals and tourists during the summer months, in this province, are in the Dominican Republic right now too. They gather off the coast of Samaná, in the north eastern region of the country, in an area of the Atlantic Ocean known as the Silver Bank.

Samana Bay, Dominican Republic

Samana Bay, Dominican Republic

Kim Beddall is a Canadian woman who founded commercial whale watching in Samaná. Beddall says the Dominican Republic is quite unique because it is home to the first national marine mammal sanctuary in the caribbean. "Since 1986, the world has been aware that humpback whales do come here to Dominican waters to reproduce."

Beddall says the warm water is as appealing to whales as warm beaches are to humans.

"We receive, every winter, from about mid January until the end of March, almost the entire North American humpback whale population. So, we're receiving whales from Newfoundland that travel all the way to the Dominican Republic to, if they're male, look for a female to mate with or a female looking for interesting males or mother humpback whales come here to give birth to their young," she said.

Now, the Newfoundland and Labrador humpbacks don't greet others with a "What are you at?" or that distinctive wink and nod. According to Kim Beddall, identifying the east coast crowd is all in the tail.   

"Scientists in the gulf of Maine realized around 1975 that every humpback whale has a pattern on the bottom of its tail and this pattern, we can use just like a fingerprint in a human being and if we can take a photo of that tail, we can have a natural, non-invasive method of being able to identify that individual anywhere that it's seen in the North Atlantic," said Beddall.

On a recent tour I took with Kim, I was lucky enough to spot a local.  Beddall and her whale tour team have nicknamed one particular humpback "IV" because of distinct letter-like markings on her flukes.  

"IV has been a regular here in Samaná Bay and we didn't really ever know where she fed or where she migrated to.  She was first seen here in 2005 and she was identified again in 2011 with a calf and now this year with a calf."

Beddall says a whale watcher in St. Pierre and Miquelon was able to confirm for her that "IV" feeds off the coast of Battle Harbour in Labrador.   

And she has received a lot more information about others from up north.   

"We exchange photos and there's a lot of interest online in terms of passing information and exchanging information so there are wonderful people all over the North Atlantic collecting data on humpback whales," explained Beddall.

Beddall says the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue allows whale watchers to follow animals they've spotted.  

"Anybody can send their photos there and receive back data on where the animal had been seen previously and whether or not it is a whale that had been seen previously in the catalogue," Beddall said.

Humpback whales in Samana Bay, Dominican Republic

Humpback whales in Samana Bay, Dominican Republic

This kind of citizen science going on in the north and the south can help researchers learn a lot more about the habits of whales and in particular, migration patterns.

Beddall says the problem for whales is that unlike the humans who visit the Dominican Republic, theirs is not an all-inclusive package. "There is nothing for them to eat here and that's why they have to migrate north," she explained.

And so, by late March or early April, the humpbacks will begin a 3000-7000 kilometre swim in search of the all-they-can-eat capelin buffet. It's a journey that impresses first time whale watcher Liza Rujahn of Ontario. "Astounding," she said. Rajahn said she now wants to see the humpbacks in their summer home.  "I'd love to see the whales in Newfoundland!"

Meanwhile, Kim Beddall, originally form Pickering, Ontario, said she hopes to see more whale tail photos from the east coast and more Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in the Dominican Republic. "I would love to have more Canadians on my vessel, so if you're from Newfoundland and you want to see your whales in the winter, come on down, you're more than welcome."

Interested in a little whale watching in Samaná? Click the video link below to view my trip out on Samaná Bay in search of Newfoundland and Labrador humpbacks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onoI62lPsGg

Until next time,

Rove on.

Jane