Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week, I’m welcoming back another familiar face – Julie Cao, who runs Always On The Way, has taken part four times before, and written a guest post for me on the Ten Most Surreal Places on Earth. Currently living in Stratford Ontario, Julie Cao is a social service worker during the day and writes her travel stories and itinerary guides at night. She prefers slow and solo travel, and in the sense to truly live in a new location rather than visit it.
Hi again, Julie! Where have you been this time?
I went on a road trip in Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, one of the Atlantic Provinces in Canada. It was a lengthy drive from Halifax to Cape Breton but, upon arriving, I was rewarded with a million-dollar view around every twist and turn. It is also a distinct island where Scottish, Irish, and Acadian cultures found their way in the early 19th century and are still well-preserved to this day.
Oh, Canada in Autumn sounds lovely. How was the weather?
It was perfect. I traveled there at the end of September and the temperature was sometimes still above 20 degrees Celsius. Every day I took advantage of the good climate and ventured outdoors.
Where did you stay?
I stayed at the Bear on the Lake Guesthouse in Aberdeen. The hostel was very clean and I was introduced to other travellers and volunteers upon arrival. Every night, we all got together on the front deck to eat our meals and share our travels and stories. My room overlooks the Bras d’Or Lakes and my bed was next to a large window. To this day, I still remember the pleasant sensation of viewing the mountains and lakes from my bed every morning.
That sounds really nice – I love hostels that encourage people to make friends and spend time together. So, what did you get up to in Cape Breton?
I did a road trip around part of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and a day trip to Baddeck, the former Canadian residence of Alexander Graham Bell. I spent few hours in the Alexander Bell museum and got to know the career path and many inventions of Alexander. The landscape in Cape Breton, especially in Cabot Trail, took my breath away, with winding roads that entered the highlands that towered over the ocean. It was a beautiful drive with rugged mountains on one side and the ocean underneath for hundreds of miles. A journey through the Cabot Trail further proved to me how beautiful Cape Breton is, and how lucky I was to experience this protected area firsthand.
What was your highlight?
I feel my entire trip to Cape Breton was a highlight as a whole, with breathtaking landscapes at nearly every corner and friendly locals to chat with. There is no wonder National Geographic magazine considering Cape Breton as one of the world’s greatest destinations. The best part is that the island still remains under the international tourist radar. There are absolutely no crowds even during the summer time. I was able to embrace the island’s rich Gaelic culture and spectacular scenery in a relative quiet ambiance.
Did you manage to try much of the local cuisine?
Nova Scotia is famous for its Atlantic lobster meal but it is slightly pricey, so I just shopped at the supermarket and made my own food most of the time. I am a huge seafood fan, so I was craving for lobster all the time while debating whether I should pay approximately $30 for a lobster feast. On the second day, when I found a small package of lobster meat at the grocery store, I could not help but immediately bring it back to the hostel for dinner.
Lobster is great – but $30 for a meal seems a bit much. Maybe just once for a treat I suppose! So, were there any unusual experiences on your trip?
On my return trip to Halifax, I somehow spotted ten dolphins leaping over the ocean as I drove through Canso Causeway. It was delightful to watch the dolphins and it was definitely one of the unusual sights to experience, especially I had not been looking for them myself.
Wow, that’s amazing. Knowing me, I’d probably be so busy looking at something else that I’d miss the dolphins! Final question, then, can you share any advice for travellers headed to Cape Breton?
I would suggest not driving through Cabot Trail in just one day. Cabot Trail is the most beautiful part of the island and it is an approximately 300-kilometer loop. With such length, one could certainly manage to travel through Cabot Trail in five hours. In fact, Cabot Trail runs through eight communities, and it features countless hiking trails (one could spend several hours on the Skyline Trail), several national parks and museums, and extraordinary views. Be flexible and give at least four days to take in the sights, experience the local culture and rich history, and meet local people.
Additionally, it is highly recommended to have your own vehicle in Cape Breton as public transportation is not available there. There are shuttles traveling among Cape Breton, Halifax, and Sydney. However, once you are on the island, you definitely need your own vehicle to get around.
Finally, one would possibly suffer from great physical exhaustion in Cape Breton due to the lengthy driving and constant pullovers (you want to stop everywhere), but the incredible scenery will make your trip worthwhile. If you are in Nova Scotia, simply do not skip this ultimate road trip!
NB – all images are owned by Julia Cao