Monday, September 1, 2014

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia--Day 1

Thursday we left Lunenburg and headed to Cape Breton Island, a place we've been looking forward to seeing for a very long time.  Cape Breton has so much Scottish Highlander heritage--in 1715 and 1745 the Jacobite Risings happened in Scotland, when the Highlanders wanted to reestablish the reign of King James VII in Scotland and the House of Stuart in England.  When these clans were defeated, many were essentially expelled from Scotland through the "Highland Clearances," where lands were seized, Highlanders were forced to leave and their traditional way of life forever altered.  While some settled on the sea coast of Scotland, many came to Nova Scotia.  Though I've never been to Scotland, Trisha has and says the countryside here is very similar, so I guess it made these folks feel at home.  At any rate, the Celtic traditions remain strong here, along with Gaelic language and music.  Combined with the Acadian tradition, it gives this place a truly unique and rich atmosphere.  We found a lovely RV park right on the shore of Bras d'Or Lake, near Baddeck.  It was late by the time we got settled, so Friday we drove into Baddeck to the visitor center, to get some info and plan our time here.  We were glad we did that because the lady there told us there was a ceilidh (pronounced KAY-lee) that evening, the last one for a week.  A ceilidh is a Gaelic traditional term for a social gathering, where there's always music and dancing, usually a fiddler and a pianist, and it's a rollicking good time.  So we made our reservations, and then just chilled out in Baddeck for a while--found a little cafe where we enjoyed a lovely scone and coffee sitting outside by the street.  Then back to the RV to just take it easy for the rest of the afternoon before the ceilidh.  Trisha found a wonderful recipe for vegan broccoli soup and made that for supper--you just whiz up some raw cashews with some vegetable broth to mix with the broccoli and other veggies, and you would think it was a cream-based soup--it was fantastic!!

The ceilidh was just a fabulous time that evening and we were so fortunate that we got reservations before they sold out.  The show was two women, one who played the fiddle and the other who played guitar, accordion, piano, something she called bones, which are the Gaelic/Acadian equivalent of castenadas, and sang as well.  She did one song in Gaelic and another in Acadian, and she had a beautiful voice, and such a smiling, engaging stage presence.  They did a wide variety of music indigenous to the area, including airs, jigs, reels and waltzes.  The fiddler would introduce a set, saying she was going to play something in the key of A, but she wasn't sure exactly which songs she would include in the medley, just sort of moving from one to another as the spirit moved her through the set.  This meant that the guitar or piano player would just have to improvise as she went along, and it was amazing to see how she could pick up on what the fiddler was playing and provide the right accompaniment.  They also explained the origins of the different types of songs and had demonstrations of square dances and the multi-instrument playing woman did some step dancing as well.  Step dancing is somewhat similar to the Irish dancing made popular by the Riverdance troupe, but Scottish-based step dancing doesn't have all the high leg kicks of the Irish variety.  It was just the most enjoyable evening and we were so glad we got to see it.  They also had an intermission and had traditional tea and oatcakes for sale--the oatcake is a thin, lightly sugared cookie, not overly sweet but  quite tasty!

This little town is quite proud of the fact that it is located exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole
 Shots along the drive--one thing that was interesting to us was how the pavement was different colors on one side of the highway--and from time to time the red pavement would be on the opposite side--don't know why this is, but just struck us as interesting

 Coming up to the Canso Causeway, that leads to Cape Breton Island--the causeway runs along the top of the rock support you see in front of this tanker
 Approaching Cape Breton Island

 Friday morning, going into a yarn shop on the outskirts of Baddeck--you see all these brightly colored Adirondack chairs everywhere!
 The flowers are so vibrant everywhere we go--here walking down the street from the visitor center in Baddeck toward the cafe
 Sitting on the sidewalk patio of the little cafe, enjoying our coffee and scones, and the beautiful flowers all around

 This is the courthouse, very beautifully landscaped

 Monument in front of the courthouse, marking the first manned flight of the British Empire, which happened in Baddeck in 1909.  What we didn't know before we got here was how involved Alexander Graham Bell was in this effort--but if you enlarge the pic you can read the monument plaque and see his role--more about him in a subsequent post.
 Lovely hanging baskets throughout downtown Baddeck
 Beautiful stone building, which was the old post office
 The Baddeck Lighthouse
 Looking across the lake

 St. Michael's Parish Hall, the site of the Ceilidh

 Paintings adorning the walls of the parish hall

 Love this saying!
 Looking out the door of the hall toward the lake, waiting for the music to start
 Mary Beth, the multi-instrument half of the duo--she teaches at the Gaelic College in nearby St. Ann's, and Donna Marie, the fiddler

 Here's Mary Beth on the accordion
 Mary Beth step dancing

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