Ugly Germans, Ape Heads, and 2 Colored Guys in the Beautiful Home port of the Titanic

Travel in Canada is fantastic. Halifax is a good city. Not the best city I’ve ever spent time in, but definitely not a bad place.

Now. That being said, I found Halifax to be an interesting place filled with great little pubs, scenic views, and tons of nice people.  It has the same sort of funky bar vibe, the same sort of college atmosphere, and really about the same climate, plants, and people as Portland, Oregon. Oddly similar.
As I’ve said previously, my arrival in Halifax was great because I caught a ride from my new friend Justin, the door man at the pub next to the Hosteling International Hostel on Barrington Street. After eating Chili and hanging out for a while at Justin’s (chili courtesy of his landlord and his Philipina wife), I checked into the hostel.

I had high hopes for this place, but to be fair, I have pretty high hostelling standards after traveling in Asia, Europe, and Hawaii. Fact of the matter is that I managed the coolest hostel in Hawaii (The Polynesian Hostel Beach Club) for long enough to know what it takes to make a hostel great.
halifax hostel
There are a couple of things 1) The price for a dorm bed should be $25 or less 2) No matter how simple, there needs to be free coffee in the morning and a continental breakfast, even if it is just toast and jam 3) There need to be excursions and events that are reasonably priced and led by dynamic personable people 4) and it has to be in a funky location with a cool vibe that encourages people to hang out 5) Beds and bathrooms need to be clean 6) There needs to be lockers available for each guest in the dorm rooms 7) A completely extrovert staff
This hostel could be great. It’s a funky building in a great location. It is clean. It is comfortable. It has tours and excursions. And the guy who was at the desk when I checked in, Jimmy, was extroverted, nonthreatening and friendly.
Halifax duck
On the downside. Base price for a bed in a six bed dorm was $31. There were 3 lockers in the dorm, all of them taken when I arrived. I opted to go on the pub crawl and it was led by an introverted 20 year old German guy who didn’t seem capable of having a conversation and simply walked from pub to pub without enthusiasm. The pub crawl was lightly attended. Myself, the guide, a czech man who left after 10 minutes and 2 very drunk German guests.

The guide, in a moment of actually communicating, said to me “I hate these two guys”. That seemed to be all he was willing to converse. He didn’t know the city, didn’t know the history of the pubs, and had nothing to say despite my attempts at opening him up. Now I can usually converse with anyone, no matter how depressed or introverted, but not this guy.
I left the pub crawl when the Germans began approaching every woman they saw and saying “Ve are Germans”. At one point, one of them had a pink balloon tied to his lapel that a woman celebrating her birthday had given him in an attempt to make him leave her alone. He hadn’t understood when she said “Fuck off.” Pretty blunt for a Canadian.
hostel halifax

So I went back and went to sleep. Jimmy was working hard to woo a girl in the office so I left him alone and went to Bearly’s the pub next door where there was a karaoke night in full swing. I have to admit, I’ve been to karaoke in a lot of places and Canadians are by far the best singers I’ve heard. One guy did a magnificent Diana Ross and another unlikely looking fat fellow did ACDC better than ACDC. I feel like I’ve already written about this though.

In the morning. No free coffee, no breakfast. No friendly people. Just some very unhappy looking guest/cleaners and a sour looking rocker type at the desk.
Halifax Titanic

Halifax is where the maiden voyage of Titanic really ended, with the most lasting legacy from the sinking located here.

The world was stunned in 1912 by the loss of the liner Titanic on her maiden voyage. Halifax, Nova Scotia, located on the eastern coast of Canada, has one of the most moving and intimate connections with the Titanic disaster, playing a key role during the tragedy’s aftermath and becoming the final resting place of many of her unclaimed victims.

Three Halifax ships were involved in the grim task of recovering victims – many of whom were laid to rest in three of our city’s cemeteries. Rows of black granite headstones, each inscribed with the same date, April 15, 1912, are a stark reminder of the disaster.

I checked out and wandered Halifax in the rain. I found a funky little coffee shop called “Steve-o-renos” and grabbed a thick cup of mud. I sat and chatted with a guest I recognized from the hostel and she recommended a few walks to me.
halifax Public Garden
So then I meandered my way up Garden Spring Street, around the hilltop Citadel, and into the beautiful Halifax Public Gardens. I love public gardens. While this wasn’t a rose garden, still it reminded me of Portland, Oregon’s public rose garden.
Halifax public garden
At 5 pm I met my couchsurfing host Anna at the Split Crow, which is touted as being the oldest pub in Halifax. In fact though, the Split Crow was the first pub in Halifax, only it was a different place in a different location. This one was started in 1979 with the historic name and very old feel. I’ve been in some old pubs and so either way, it was a pub.

The first evening, Anna was sick as a dog though and made repeated trips to the bathroom to throw up and complained of a terrible headache. I’m not used to having this effect on people, but she insisted it wasn’t me.

I took a walk to the grocery store and bought some vittles and then returned to her place making veal, vegetables, and pasta with sourdough toast smothered in black pepper crusted goat cheese. It was magnificent, unfortunately, due to her stomach, Anna wasn’t able to enjoy it. I made a plate for her and put it in some tupperware so she could enjoy it later if she chose.
halifax apes in the window
The next day was rainy and despite the rain I took a very long walk through parts of Halifax that most visitors probably don’t see.

halifax colored guys

An odd name, don’t you think?

I ate lunch in the St. Mary’s University dining hall for a very affordable $3.25, walked through the North End, along the inlet, and then back into the Waterfront District stopping to visit the Alexander Keith’s Brewery and bypassing 1000 or so shops set up for visiting baby boomer tourists with cute maritime names and overpriced garbagy products.
halifax harbor hopper

Oops. The duck tour/harbor hopper smashed into this little car.

I opted to not take the $20 Brewery tour, having seen plenty of breweries in the past.
halifax Alexander Keiths
Instead I popped into bookstores, and searched without success for second hand shops. I’m sure the second hand shops exist, but I didn’t find them.

halifax ferry

Anna on our trip back from Value village. We met up with her friend who had just shoplifted about $100 and spent about $80 in the same place.


anna halifax

Later in the day I went back to Anna’s and then we braved the rain to take the ferry over to what she calls “the dark side’ of Halifax. Our purpose was to visit Value Village where she bought a big collection of tins and jars and I bought a much needed second pair of pants.

At this point, it’s fair to point out that my main purchases aside from food and getting from point to point are usually clothes that I need. I left Morocco with four shirts, two pairs of pants, five pairs of underwear, a fleece, and a jacket and my shoes. I return with two pairs of pants (one of them newly acquired at value village), shoes (acquired at the DI in Ogden for $5 when my others wore out), 4 shirts (from the DI and the Senior thrift store in Big Bear), a jacket from a garage sale in Maine (it’s L.L. Bean and it was $3), three pairs of socks bought in Big Bear at Kmart and one pair I brought with me, and a couple of beenies from various thrift stores.

I’ve worn out most of the clothes I brought with me and replaced them with second hand clothes along the way…I think this is the way to go rather than traveling heavy.

Anna had made French Toast for lunch and for dinner we had excellent bean burritos. Her mystery illness was totally gone. Probably food poisoning from school, she thinks. The weather started to clear up on the ferry ride back to Halifax.
Next morning I woke up, said my goodbyes to Anna, and paid a visit to the Halifax farmers market in the brewery with high hopes but found it to be about the same prices in the store, not too terribly unique, and far too crowded for my tastes.

Yes, I admit it, I’ve become a curmudgeonly traveler.

(Originally published 28 SEP 2009)


Vago Damitio

Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook

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