Webgeek's Big Day Out.Thu Sep 8, 2005 The Webgeek
Well, we're back from our trip to the Rock, and I must say St. John's was an impressive town. Lots to see; lots to do. Walking trails everywhere you looked -- which is good, because driving in that town is a veritable death sentence to the uninitiated (Hey. Six streets converging into one intersection; wouldn't a traffic circle make sense here? Nah. Lets all just make 'em shoot through the middle and hope it all comes out fine) Since Miss Vicky was there on business, I was left to my own devices for two days. Day one was mostly tied up with wandering up and down the side streets of St. John's; looking into various curio and sundry shops and buying souvenirs for friends back home. I had also promised not to get too drunk while Miss Vicky worked, so my usual solo touring style of pub hopping was out -- but I was still intent on partaking in the local liquid fare. On day two, being souvenired out, I decided to start the day (at noon) by wandering off to the Quidi Vidi Brewing Company for a tour.
Here's what I learned on that tour:
Well, actually; here's what I learned sitting on a pic-nic table outside the brewery while sharing a taster 6-pack with Quidi Vidi Brewery's marketing guy:
Quidi Vidi village (pronounced as either "Kitty Vitty", "Kiddie Viddie" or "Kweye-die Veye-die", depending on who you talk to) is the oldest fishing settlement in Newfoundland. Being a small, strategically placed harbour just north-east of the larger St. John's harbour, it was a hotly contested piece of property that exchanged hands between the French and English several times in its history. Once cod stocks began depleting in the Atlantic, the fish processing plant closed down and was bought in the early nineties. The new owners turned it into a micro-brewery. Their initial beer, 1892, was named after the year of the second great fire of St. John's (12,000 people left homeless and $30 million in damages -- $30 mil in 1892 dollars). It's a nice dark, hopsy brew. It's one of their biggest sellers, but does appeal to a more refined palate (i.e. its popular with the tourists). Their second and most popular offering is QV Light (originally Northern Light, recently renamed because a copyright issue). It was brewed to compete with Blue Light, Canadian Light, Coors light, and the like. Interesting Beer Fact #1: While Newfoundland has the 2nd highest per-capita beer consumption in Canada (behind Quebec), something like 80% of the market is comprised of light beers. It's baffling, but true. Newfoundlanders like watery beer. Interesting Beer Fact #2: Light beer really is watery. To be correct, light beer is "de-brewed" (industry talk for watered down) to 4% alcohol from a stronger beer. In QV light's case, it's de-brewed from 5% beer. In macro-breweries cases, it's de-brewed from a stronger concentrate, made at 6%-8% alcohol (their "regular" beers, BTW are also de-brewed from that same concentrate). Now, since they were already producing a 5% brew to "de-brew", they decided pretty quickly to bottle that too, so QV (originally Northern - renamed for the same reason) became their 3rd beer. Their fourth beer, originally a specialty brew produced for the 1000th anniversary of Lief Ericson's landing on the rock, is Eric's Red Cream ale. A nice, smooth cream ale reminiscent of Creemore Springs -- who provide Quidi Vidi with their yeast strains. Topping off their line, they also recently decided to get on the Honey-brown bandwagon and now produce Quidi Vidi Honey Brown and (given the market) Quidi Vidi Honey Brown Light.
So, with about 3 beers worth of "tasters" in my belly (don't worry; the brewery is walking distance from downtown St. John's), I decided it was time for lunch. A stone's throw away was two pubs. One was a large two story pub & inn type deal that was all done up for the tourist trade -- complete with tour bus parked in front -- and the other was not. I went for the one that was not -- "The Old Time Pub". Walking in, I couldn't help but notice that the place was built almost entirely out of plywood and hockey sticks. There was a huge shrine to the Maple Leafs (the St. John's Maple leafs, mind you) and stuffed into various nooks and crannies were hats and antlers and the odd plastic lobster -- all put there for structural stability I'm assuming -- and what wall space wasn't taken up by hockey memorabilia or pre-fab crustasions was covered in tiny souvenir spoons. I'm talking thousands. Now, The owner -- who might well have been Mary Walsh's Gran -- was talking up a new delivery guy ("Wot's a lumberin' hunk o' Luv like you doin' hallin' baxes?") so I sat and soaked in the ambiance. Once the business transaction was complete, she turned her attention to me.
Naturally, I ordered an 1892.
"Ah!" she replied, "we don' carry dat 'ere!".
"You don't?" I said, looking out the door to the brewery across the street.
"Lard no. I tried doin' business wit' dem a few times. They's all thick over der'. Anyways. Tha' beer's jus' fer alca-halics or those that's jus' started drinkin'. You din't jus' start drinkin' did'ja? Here. I'll get ya a real beer." and she returned with a Blue Star.
"Can I have a menu?" I asked.
"We've got beef stew." was the answer.
"Sounds Perfect." I grinned.
And it was. Oh dear me, was it perfect. Simple. Hardy. Fantastic. A clear broth with beef, potatoes, carrots, onions and cabbage. Spiced with what I'm assuming was salt, pepper & maybe some oregano, rosemary and/or thyme. All of it must have been simmering since last week. It came with a buttered hamburger bun for dipping. It was what comfort food wants to come back as in the next life. I was in heaven. As I ate, she sat at a piano and chatted with me and the one regular sitting there. She opened up her music book, which was sheets of fullscap with the notes written as letters (CGEEFAC...) in rows. She proceeded to plunk out a few tunes, while explaining that an Australian girl had made the sheet music for her while being screeched in. The Aussie had started playing the piano, and the bar owner confessed to never learning how to play. So a magic marker an some paper was found and all her favourite songs were transcribed over shots of screech. Some masking tape was placed on the keys so she'd know what notes were what. Unfortunately, the poor Aussie girl had had five or six shots of screech by the end of this, so some of the songs weren't exactly right. As she played, another regular came in and complimented her on her improved playing. The two started talking about the owner's daughter ("She said she'd never date an Army guy; She'd never date a trucker; and she'd never date a guy with a mustache. Well doesn't she just t'row dat all away and fall for this big lug now.") as I paid my bill -- $10 for two beers and the best beef stew in the world! -- and I went on my way.
The beef stew and the 45 minute hike back to the B&B sobered me up, so I decided to drive off to my next adventure. The Fluvarium. I had no idea what a Fluvarium was, but how can you *NOT* go to something called a Fluvarium? Seriously? I assumed it was most likely built in the 70's and would be pretty cheesy in a "grade five field trip" kind of way. Besides, "feeding time" was 4pm. Well, turns out that the Fluvarium is an octagonal (70's. Check) building sunk into the ground next to a river and adjacent pond. It has glass walls on the one side so you can see the fish swim by ("grade five field-trippy" Check). It also had some circa-94 interactive computer exhibits thrown in for good measure (Cheesy. Check). "Feeding time" was a guy named Bob going outside and tossing worms in the river so we could watch trout go nuts for a few seconds. Bob said they were Brown trout that were introduced to Newfoundland from Scotland. Bob then took us to indoor tanks with all the different indigenous and introduced species of fish in Newfoundland and fed them too. Bob explained how the tanks were all filled with piped in river water that flowed from one tank into the other. Bob's favourite fish was the Brook trout, which was a native species to Newfoundland, and much prettier than the Brown trout. There were frogs there too, but Bob said they only got fed on alternating days from the fish, so come back tomorrow to see the frogs eat. Bob was a pretty low key kind of guy. Miss Vicky called just as I went outside to check out the fish ladder, so I went to pick her up. Maybe next time I'll find out how a fish ladder works.
And that was the end of my second day alone. Well, not really. Miss Vicky and I got invited for beers at "the Ship" by some professors too, but most of that is kind of foggy, so we'll just leave it be.