ABOARD the MS VEERDAM — Here we are on Wednesday evening, looking back on two shore excursions in as many days — one exciting and one a little less so.
Yesterday, Tuesday, first found us at the dock in Charlottetown, the gateway to Prince Edward Island, also known apparently as “Potatoland.”
This we decided to explore on a guided tour and learned, among other things, that there are dozens of kinds of potatoes and that the best of them are mined? harvested? captured? Or dug up? right here on PEI.
“Also we are the Kentucky of Canada,” said jovial Kim Murray, a life-long resident of the island, and who has descended from several generations of life-long residents. The Kentucky reference refers more to the island’s love of harness racing rather than anything to do with – uh – making bourbon out of potatoes.
To me, the attractive island stood out because everything everywhere was neat and trim – well-kept, freshly painted houses and closely cropped grass – absolutely nary a slum to be found, a point of local pride.
Would that the tour had been confined to that aspect of things. Instead, at least half of the all-day program was devoted to the lore of Anne of Green Gables, despite the fact that few in our group seemed much interested in that 100-year-old novel and other works by the same island author.
Today, however, the Veendam docked at Cape Breton island, so our Wednesday shore excursion with guide Ann Marie Spencer, was one of the best we’ve had anywhere. The now underpopulated island was an important center of Scottish culture in Canada.
The small city of Sydney is also flavored with a reserve of indigenous peoples. A portion of the population speaks a native language that threatens overpower the Gaelic still heard in some parts of the island. We were reminded of the French stop signs in Quebec when we saw one here determinedly labeled “NAQA’S!,” apparently with an included exclamation mark to drive the point home.
Several attractive towns are scattered among the many hills, lakes, and dense forests that reminded early settlers of Scotland. The land is still-loved by their descendents, although Ann Marie said that many of the younger population are being lost to the economically attractive oil fields of Alberta.
“Our biggest export today are our children,” she said. Although she added that at least some sentimentally maintain a second residence on the island.
The biggest surprise to us was the island’s connection to inventor Alexander Graham Bell, a Scot in heritage and at heart, who was a summer resident of the island throughout his life. In the attractive village of Baddeck, near his home, the modern museum dedicated to the inventor is one of the most well-designed we’ve seen anywhere, even in large cities.
The island contained several other attractions, including Ur Beatha An Clachan, a sort of pioneer village complete with costumed re-enactors. By the time we returned to the Veendam we felt we had learned a lot about a place that previously we barely knew existed – often one of the great benefits of cruise travel, of course.
That evening we dressed up and dined with friends in the Pinnacle, the specialty dining room aboard, and told them about one the best days of our trip.
Photos by Robert W. Bone