Big things in Small Packages: A week-long adventure in Prince Edward Island, CanadaCanada — By Alex B on June 8, 2012 at 12:00 pm
By Patricia Page
Lost Girls Contributor
As I child, I dreamed of the far away lands I would one day visit. I wrote lists, read guide books, and before I knew what ‘paying the bills’ meant, I thought I’d be visiting all those places before I turned 25. Now, with every dollar saved after the ‘paying the bills’ part, I still write my lists, I still read my travel guides and I still dream about my next adventure.
Last year, I ended up on an adventure in my own Canadian backyard: Prince Edward Island, or as Canadians know it, “PEI”. PEI measures approximately 2,100 square miles with a population of about 138,000. Actually, you can drive its entire width in about six hours – total. It has two major ‘cities’ – Charlottetown and Summerside and is home to Anne of Green Gables and red sand. Yes, red sand. This phenomenon occurs because of the iron oxide in the sand’s composition, which rusts on exposure to air. PEI is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches Canada has to offer – Basin Head and Panmure Island. Sound magical? It is and if you’re looking for adventure in a place where many might not look, PEI should be your next stop.
For a small island, PEI packs a large punch. Its difficult to narrow down the list of things to do/places to see in PEI, but here are my top picks:
- Eat lots and lots of seafood.
If you’re not from a place where fresh seafood is brought in by boat each morning and on your plate by lunch, then I suggest you eat as much seafood as you can get your hands on. Your palate will beg you for more. Mussels, clams, shrimp – and don’t forget the traditional Lobster Roll. Lobster rolled with homemade mayo, a bit of green onion and some other secret ingredient that truthfully, I can’t pinpoint but makes it so delightfully savoury, all sitting on a toasty bun.
Though PEI’s seafood menu is traditional, the island hosts many cultural flavours and is surprisingly diverse. Visit a little cafe called Poffertjes on Victoria Row, in Charlottetown, where they’ll serve you up just what the name claims – ‘mini Dutch pancakes’ smothered in salted butter and icing sugar. It’s a sugar coma on a plate, but at least you’ll die happy.
- Rent a car and drive along the coastline, especially the East Coast.
Car rentals are affordable in PEI, which means you can rent a car for a week for less than $300 CDN. If you have the time, I suggest driving along the coastline, from Charlottetown over to Georgetown on the East Coast. The three days I spent driving the perimeter of the East Coast of PEI was, hands down, the most relaxing trip I’ve ever experienced. The sound of the waves, the beautiful blue sky, the winding hills, the old farmhouses, horses out in the meadow – and the children wave to you from their front yard. Oh, and there’s no traffic. Sweet mother, I’m in heaven.
While on your drive, stop at the East Point Lighthouse. If possible, be there in the early evening in the middle of the week, and sit atop the hill. You can stare out at the ocean for miles and – wait, did you hear something? – whales calling. After that, still along the bottom of the beach, but try not to wander too far after dusk… you could end up face-to-face with a coyote and nothing but a pair of keys to defend yourself. (This may or may not have happened to me).
Before saying goodbye, pick up your blue ribbon at the East Point Lighthouse. This is the first half of your certificate, which you can obtain when you reach the other side of the island, at North Point Lighthouse – happily congratulating you on completing the full driving tour of PEI – from ‘Tip-to-Tip’.
- Visit the beach and stay a while…
Before leaving the East Coast entirely, visit Basin Head beach or Panmure Island – two idyllic beaches you won’t find elsewhere. Dig your feet through the ‘singing sands’, which, truth be told, are more like ‘squeaky sands’, but they make noise nonetheless, which is more than other beaches can say.
- Drink some potato vodka. Yes, I said potato vodka.
Hate crowds? How about line-ups and high admission prices? I know, me too. Visiting the Prince Edward Distillery was one of the most relaxing – and fun! – places we visited on the Island. We had a private tour of the 2,000 square foot facility, learned all about how potato vodka is made – in beautiful German-imported copper stills – and finished off with samples a-plenty. I could’ve stayed all afternoon.
- Make friends with the locals.
Canadians already pride themselves on being known as ‘the nice people’. I mean, really nice. We give obscene amounts of money to charity, we recycle obsessively, and we apologize for everything – even when it isn’t our fault. In PEI, this is no exception. You won’t find yourself lost for long, since a local is bound to point you in the right direction; you won’t find yourself hungry for too long, as a local is bound to welcome you for dinner at their B&B and you definitely won’t find yourself bored, because Islanders love to share their stories. I loved hearing the stories of those who didn’t grow up in PEI, but wanted the Islander life – so they picked up their belongings and moved out to PEI. For instance, Leonard’s, a small cafe in Charlottetown that serves Bavarian coffee, is run by a German couple who ventured to PEI six years earlier to take an English course – then wound up living on the Island a year later. Or, the couple from Oshawa, Ontario, who said the fast-paced life in suburban Ontario wasn’t what they envisioned for their children, so they sold their house, packed up the kids in the car, and drove to Georgetown, Prince Edward Island, where they opened a sweets shop by the beach. Or, my personal favourite, Dawn and Joel, a theatre director and chef from Sherwood Park, Alberta, who bought an old Inn on the East Coast of PEI and relocated, where the Inn marks a beautiful, cozy place to stay and a smart restaurant for some delicious dinners.
Their stories made me long for an adventure of my own, just like that. But, I know there are parts of their stories that I don’t know about – the ‘why’ or ‘how’ a person could leave everything behind for a permanent move to somewhere they know very little about. I guess we’re all lost girls and boys at one point in life.
You might think you need months to experience PEI to its fullest, but the truth is, you feel at home the minute you step off the tarmac. So go — go now – the Islanders are waiting for you.
Patricia Page is an arts and culture fundraiser by day and a writer by night. She started travelling regularly to Boston, Massachusetts and the Azores Islands, Portugal at a young age with her family and since then, has tried to visit as many places as possible. Her list of favourites include: Galway, Ireland; Madrid, Spain; Chicago, USA and Prince Edward Island, Canada. She lives in Toronto with her husband and a Westie named Oliver. You can follow her on Twitter @_pdpage
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