an unwelcome welcome from hurricane fiona: arriving in nova scotia

Virginia to Massachusetts

Wednesday, September 21, 2022: As I got in the car for my 400 mile drive to Sturbridge, Massachusetts on my way to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Mike came out to the driveway to wish me safe travels. “Things don’t look good,” he said. “It looks like Hurricane Fiona may be headed straight for Halifax.”

This was the first I’d heard we might encounter problems. We had packed up the car and I was on the way out. All of our Airbnbs were booked and it was by no means certain that the hurricane wouldn’t veer off in another direction. It would take me 2 1/2 days to drive and I hoped the forecast would change as I drove. But there was no way to know and no way I was going to cancel our trip based on what-ifs.

I drove through Maryland, Delaware (“Endless Discoveries”), New Jersey via the New Jersey Turnpike, New York, Connecticut and, finally, Massachusetts.

The drive wasn’t horrible until I got to New York, where my GPS routed me to various four-lane parkways that were slow and crowded. In Connecticut, the worst part of the drive, I crept along on the Merritt Parkway and the Hutchinson Parkway until I rerouted myself to Norwalk, where I got on I-95N. That was surprisingly even slower.  What was supposed to be a 7 hour drive turned into 9 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Fiona was looming as a Category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. It had made landfall in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, passed near Turks & Caicos Islands and was at that time threatening Bermuda and Atlantic Canada. The 6th named storm, 3rd hurricane, and first major hurricane of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, Fiona developed from a tropical wave that emerged from West Africa, before developing into a tropical depression east of the Leeward Islands on September 14.

When I arrived in Sturbridge to Scottish Inns, Sturbridge, I was exhausted.  I went out to grab a McDonald’s cheeseburger and ate it as I hunkered down in my room.  I watched The Weather Channel, listening carefully to the news about Fiona and learning about all kinds of weather disasters on “Weather Gone Viral.”

Steps: 4,321; Miles: 1.83.  Miles driven: 410.9.

Massachusetts to Saint John, New Brunswick

Thursday, September 22: I left Sturbridge by 8:15 a.m., after meeting a family from Denmark in the breakfast room at the hotel. They had just arrived the day before in Boston and were heading to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, then to Niagara Falls, both the American and the Canadian sides.  They didn’t need to concern themselves with the hurricane because they’d be inland. I told them I was in love with Danish TV shows: especially Borgen, Rita, and The Bridge. I always mispronounce Borgen and meet puzzled looks when I mention it.

It was dark and pouring rain for the entire drive today. Visibility was almost nonexistent and I was stressed out to the max, driving in those conditions and worrying about Fiona. I arrived at the Maine State Visitor Information Center and took a break; I have always loved the feel of Maine with its pine trees, lobster culture and rugged coastal terrain. I had another 4+ hours to Canada.

I was especially stressed on Route 9 to Calais, Maine, which was about 75 miles through a mountainous, deserted, wooded area. It reminded me of the night I drove over the Sangro de Cristo mountains after visiting Adam in Crestone, Colorado. I don’t like being alone driving in dark deserted areas.

Luckily, crossing the border to Canada was easy. One strange question: “Are you carrying anything that you plan to leave in Canada?” I couldn’t think of a thing and answered “No” as to whether I was carrying cannabis or firearms.

At the Welcome Center to New Brunswick, I picked up various pamphlets. The guy working there seemed to think the hurricane coming was not all that unusual or threatening. I bought some funky socks for Mike’s Christmas stocking and was on my way.

Once I got into Canada, the road to Saint John was smooth sailing. It was a modern 4-lane divided highway that I had almost to myself. It took me an hour and half to get to Quispamsis, east of Saint John, where I checked into Quality Inn & Suites Quispamsis. I went out for a dinner of Yellow Thai Curry with Shrimp at House of Chan and enjoyed a cup of wine when I got back to the room. My fortune cookie promised “Your hard work will soon pay off.” I guessed we would see about that.

I watched the Weather Channel about what things people should get in case of power outages. They were expecting prolonged power outages especially in Cape Breton. Rather than watching about Fiona’s approach toward the Maritimes, I thought I’d cheer myself up by reading Anne of Green Gables.

Steps: 3,535; Miles: 1.48. Miles driven: 477.10.

Saint John, New Brunswick to Halifax, Nova Scotia

Friday: September 23: There was a nice breakfast with scrambled eggs and bacon at the hotel, so I was properly fueled to face the day. It was sunny, surprisingly, when I left.  I had expected the area to already be cloud-covered with Fiona’s approach.

It seemed that Hurricane Fiona was now predicted to make landfall in the Maritimes around 2-3 a.m. Saturday morning. We had our Airbnb reserved in Halifax and if Mike was able to fly in, he was due to fly to Stanfield International in Halifax at 5:18 p.m. Friday.  It got windier and rainier the closer I got to Halifax.

I was nervous because I didn’t know if I should continue on to Halifax since the predictions were that Halifax would be hit by the outer southwest fringes of the storm. I wondered if I should scrap my plans to stay at the Airbnb and stay further inland at a big hotel in Truro.  But if Mike’s flight in fact came in, there would be no one to pick him up.  We had no idea if the flight would even come in at 5:18.

It was touch and go and I didn’t like having to make these decisions without being able to communicate with Mike.

I decided I’d go ahead to the Airbnb and see what it was like.  I first stopped at Sobey’s in Truro and stocked up on groceries, trying not to buy too many perishables or refrigerated goods, knowing it was likely we’d be without power for some time. I picked up a prepared meal for Mike of chicken, stuffing, and mashed potatoes since I figured he wouldn’t get a meal on his flight. I would eat my leftover Yellow Thai Curry with Shrimp from Thursday night.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

The Airbnb, an entire three-story house (including basement with laundry room) was nice enough and certainly too large for the two of us, but the neighborhood was rather slovenly. The steps up the backdoor were broken and rather precarious. Luckily the house sat on high ground and there weren’t many big trees around.  I moved all our stuff into the house and got the food situated. After getting settled, I drove a half hour back to the airport, which I’d passed on the way in, hoping Mike’s flight would arrive. It did arrive, probably the last flight of the day, but it took him forever to find me despite the airport’s small size.

It turned out that the pilot had told the passengers on Mike’s flight that if it was too windy in Halifax, they’d have to turn around and return to Toronto, where Mike had connected from Washington.

We drove to the house and got comfortable for the night. Mike ended up eating my leftover Thai food, and he made us his famous whiskey and ginger ale.  We watched the Weather Channel, trying to determine when and where Fiona would land. We also watched an episode of Bitter Daisies (O sabor das margaridas) and did our Duolingo.  We rarely watch TV when we’re traveling, but this would be one trip where we watched something nearly every night.

We went to sleep in one room but the wind was howling on that side of the house so we moved to the other side of the house.

We didn’t know how much damage the storm would cause, how long we might be without power, how long it would rain or how long we might be trapped by downed trees. Everything was unknown.

I couldn’t help but think of people all over the world affected by crazy climate events that don’t have any choice but to fight for their survival in the face of devastating storms, fires, flooding, earthquakes, or devastating winds.

Steps: 4,132; Miles 1.75. Miles driven: 316.

Saturday, September 24: The wind and rain of Hurricane Fiona battered the house all night long, but for the most part we slept through it. Of course we woke up to no power.  Luckily there was still hot water in the tank, so I was able to take a hot bath and Mike a shower. Of course we couldn’t brew coffee in the multiple coffee / espresso makers that came with the house, and sadly the stove was electric, so there was no way to cook or heat up anything. We luckily had some yogurt to eat for breakfast. The house, however, was getting cold quickly without heat.

One of the places we planned to go during our stay in Nova Scotia was the cute town of Lunenburg, and since it was further southwest and away from the storm’s center, we hoped the town would have power.  Mike called a hotel listed in the guidebook and they told us they were on a different power grid than Halifax, so they had power. We drove 55 miles to get a cup of coffee and to visit that area. As we drove out, it seemed all of Halifax was without power. Not even gas stations or McDonalds were open. There were no lights on anywhere for miles around.

Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia

In Mahone Bay, we found a cozy coffee shop, The Barn Coffee and Social House. It was warm and bustling with people trying to dry out from the storm. We sat inhaling the coffee beans and the beeswax candles and chatting with other customers who had come in out of the cold on this Saturday morning. Mahone Bay was further removed from the center of the hurricane which was at that moment moving over Cape Breton and Newfoundland, further north. One woman chatted on and on about her property and the horses she used to have.

Mahone Bay is a pastoral town with three vintage churches strung out along a grass-fringed curved shoreline. The town was once a thriving shipbuilding center. Back in the day, pirates and privateers thrived here. The town was named for the type of low-lying ship they used: a corruption of the French word “mahonne,” a low-lying barge-like boat.  Galleries and studios lined Main Street but sadly none were open on this post-storm day.  Its population of 1,100 includes many craftspeople.

After our leisurely time in the coffee shop, we drove around, encountering crews working to remove downed trees from porches, driftwood sculptures resembling dinosaurs, a Humpty Dumpty on a red clapboard house porch, Saltbox Brewing, a marina and sailboats bobbing in the bay. Houses and businesses in orchid and turquoise colors lined the street. Bluestone Magik boasted of fresh fudge and a yellow raincoated sailor steered through a storm. On the window of a cute restaurant was “Oh My Cod!”

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

We drove to Lunenburg, a town whose colorful buildings and colorful past earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 1995. It has many rainbow hued houses, many with the “Lunenburg Bump,” a detailed dormer over the front door.

The British founded the town in 1753, attempting to settle Protestants in Nova Scotia. The Germans, Swiss and French Protestants recruited to settle here also put their stamp on the town.

UNESCO considers the site the best example of planned British colonial settlement in North America, as it retains its original layout and appearance of the 1800s, including wooden vernacular architecture.

By the 1850s, the town was a world-class fishing and shipbuilding center. The town flourished in the late 1800s and much of the historic architecture dates from that period.

By this time, we were hungry for lunch, but the town was still mostly shuttered. We stopped in the only place open in town, J’s Pizza, and enjoyed pizza with spinach and mushrooms, accompanied by a glass of wine for me and a beer for Mike. We had to celebrate our survival through our first hurricane.

We strolled around the colorful town after lunch, popping into one of the town’s only open shops, Seek Gifts and Home Decor, where “troubles melt like lemon drops.” I bought a Chai Candle that we could use upstairs in our room at the Airbnb if the power remained out. The ladies there were super friendly and said they heard that parts of Halifax had power as did some neighborhoods. We felt temporarily hopeful that we’d return home to find our lights on. They told us the Salt Shaker Deli & Inn was planning to open at 4:00, so we could come back to town for dinner at that time.

We stopped into another shop, Down Home Living Furnishings, where I bought a bar of pear soap and some stickers for my journal. That woman was quite chatty and told us we should take a short drive to Blue Rocks, which is “no Peggy’s Cove but is a cute village on the water that is scenic and charming.” She showed us paintings people did of Blue Rocks. We determined we’d go there and see it and then return to Lunenburg for dinner around 4:00.

We walked up and down the steep hills of the charming and colorful town. We also saw the Lunenburg Academy, a rare survivor from Nova Scotia’s 19th-century academy system of education. It was designed in 1894 by Henry H. Mott in the Second Empire style.  It was built of wood, the most popular building material of the Maritimes. Academies were regarded as the most prestigious publicly funded secondary institutions in the each county.  We also admired the stately churches, Zion Lutheran Church and St. John’s Anglican Church.

Blue Rocks

We drove to Blue Rocks, a community that stands seaward of Lunenburg. It is still a working fishing village with blue slate rocks that have made it a muse for painters and photographers since the 1940s. Today the village boasts many artist and there are numerous guest houses to be found among the fishermen’s dwellings. It is advertised as “Lunenburg’s answer to Peggy’s Cove.” The fish shack sitting in the water is the most photographed building in the county.

We wandered all around the rocks covered in kelp and enjoyed the fishing pier and colorful weathered fishing shacks. A funky lighthouse had a sign: Virginia Beach, VA Home Base: 1300 miles. The owners apparently were Canadians who lived in Virginia Beach, VA, our home state.

Back to Lunenberg, and “home” to Halifax

We drove back to Lunenburg, where we had a lovely early dinner at Salt Shaker Deli & Inn. We sat at a table overlooking the water. Mike enjoyed a seafood chowder with scallops, mussels, shrimp and smoked haddock.  I had Fish Cakes: salt cold, salt pork and potato fish cakes with tomato chow and Caesar salad.

After dinner, we drove back to Halifax hoping against all odds that the power would be back on, but we were sorely disappointed to find it wasn’t. However, a number of places in the vicinity had lights on, so we were hopeful that ours would come back during the night.  It was dark in the house, so we lit the candles and bundled up under layers of blankets. There was nothing to do because even our phones were running out of power and there was no way to charge them. We went to bed quite early out of sheer boredom. I told Mike if we didn’t get power back by the following day, I’d insist we check into one of the large hotels we’d seen that had power. I basically leeched off of Mike’s body heat all night.

Steps: 8,675; Miles: 3.68. Miles driven: 146.

Here’s a short video of our journey to Nova Scotia and our day in Mahone Bay and Lunenburg.