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Destination Halifax


To look at a map of Canada is to be overwhelmed by its dimensions.  Understandable, when you consider that it takes roughly the same amount of time to fly from England to Canada as it does to fly from one coast of Canada to the other.  That is to say, roughly seven hours in total. 
That alone is enough to explain the wry glances that Canada Customs officials share when an unwitting tourist informs them that they intend to have breakfast in Montreal, lunch in Calgary, and perhaps visit a bar in Vancouver later that evening.

But, if said tourist is at all savvy, they will also want to have dinner in Halifax.

Halifax is the capital of Nova Scotia, one of the first and foremost among the Canadian Maritime2 provinces.  Without going into a very long, boring lesson in Canadian history, the Maritime provinces are where it all began.  If you want to get to know Canada, Halifax is a good place to start.  The fact that they have some of the world’s finest lobster is merely a nice bonus.

To get to Halifax, you’ll need to arrange some form of transportation.  For most travelers, that will mean taking an airplane.  The airport is located a short distance from the city, and shuttles run to and from downtown Halifax on a regular basis.  Given the cost of the shuttle bus (at approximately $15 Cdn. or 7 GBP per person) and the cost of taking a limo ($45 Cdn. or 21 GBP for up to four people) it may make sense for small groups to take a limousine, or for lone travelers to socialize and try and find others willing to split a car into the city.  An ordinary taxicab is only marginally less expensive.  You can find cars waiting by the airport, or you can try and book one in advance.  Crystal Limousine is one such company, and can be reached at 1-877-497-2101.

For those traveling within Canada, ViaRail (http://www.viarail.ca) runs regular trips to and from most major Canadian cities.  Given the dimensions of Canada (see Para 1) this may not be the most convenient of options, but it may do well to note that Canada does a North American Rail pass, which is similar to the EuroRail pass.  This may allow for Halifax to be but a single destination on a very lengthy trip.  For those less budget-conscious among us, the first-class Via One cars offer luxurious surroundings, sumptuous dining, and includes the cost of alcoholic libations.  Economy Via offers small tins of Pringles at very reasonable rates.  The choice is yours.

As for accommodations, you can find some well-appointed rooms at very reasonable rates through Bed & Breakfast Canada (http://www.bbcanada.com).  For more luxurious options, a quick browse on Expedia Canada (http://www.expedia.ca) will likely turn up some excellent deals.  To make the most of your trip, you’ll want to stay close to downtown.  Once there, virtually everything is within walking distance.

You’ll find the residents of Halifax to be friendly, helpful, and willing to go out of their way for travelers visiting their fair city.  In this regard, respect is the word of the day.  Provided that you don’t fit the mould of a brash tourist, most of the people you come across will be more than willing to help point you towards a local event or favoured haunt.  To this end, travelling with a map and a pen can certainly do no harm.

The heart and soul of the city of Halifax can be found in its varied and lively pubs, many of whom do a very, very respectable plate of fish and chips for reasonable rates.  Stayner’s Wharf offers some excellent food for reasonable prices, and specializes in fine Belgian beers.  You’ll be able to do a large plate of fish and chips and a pint of premium beer for about $20 Cdn (10 GBP).  Should this particular pub become tiresome to you, there are plenty more along the boardwalk in either direction.

There are also a number of local haunts that are well worth a visit.  Tom’s Little Havana Café, for instance, has an excellent selection of drinks, a respectable selection of Cuban cigars, and a very comfortable patio for the enjoyment of both vices.  If you’ve never tried them before, a glass of vintage Cuban rum and a small Romeo Y Julieta cigar make an excellent way to pass an afternoon, provided you don’t try to stand up too quickly afterwards.

If you are in the mood to do some sight-seeing, there are a few different options.  A tour of the Halifax Citadel is a must for history fiends, while a trip on a sailing ship from the Halifax harbour may be the ticket for the more outdoorsy types.  Information on the Citadel can be found here, and more on the sailing tours can be found by taking a quick walk down by the boardwalk to chat up the tour operators.

And, of course, no trip to Halifax would be complete without a visit to the venerable birthplace of Alexander Keith’s Fine India Pale Ale.  Keith’s, the shortened moniker of the libation in question, is one of Canada’s finest beers and their brewery tour offers some unique yet and entertaining insight into the history of Halifax, Canada, and, of course, the making of Keith’s.  The tour is roughly $6 Cdn. (3 GBP) and includes as much beer as you can drink in the roughly ten minutes that you spend in the sampling room.  I’ve set the bar at three glasses, and expect at least one of you to do better.

Come evening, there’s no better way to celebrate your visit to Halifax than a fine lobster dinner.  If you’re looking for both excellent lobster and a fantastic view of the harbour, the upstairs of Salty’s is the restaurant to visit.  For a classic ambience and even finer (albeit slightly smaller) lobster, The Press Gang is the restaurant of choice.  A large lobster with fixings, appetizer, and dessert can be expected to run around $70 – 85 Cdn. or 33 – 40 GBP.  Most of the nicer restaurants will even do the basic “cracking” of the lobster for you, so that you don’t look like a complete idiot when trying to extract the edible parts from your thick-shelled friend.

It’s worth noting that Halifax is a very casual city.  This means that, should you decide to dress nicely for dinner, people will invariable ask you whether or not you just came from a wedding.  Just so you know.

After dinner, you’ll have no trouble finding a nice, cozy pub with outstanding live music.  Many cities are lucky if they have one or two such bars, whereas in Halifax they spring up like mushrooms in a damp closet.  It’s not uncommon for office workers to return from the weekend, only to find that their building has been transformed into eleven separate pubs with names like The Owl and Barrel, each with a live band belting out a spirited rendition of Barrett’s Privateers.  I exaggerate, but you get the idea.

If you’re not content to waddle that lobster-bloated body of yours around without a fixed destination, you can find some of the most popular bars in Halifax along Argyle Street.  Of these, Economy Shoe Shop contains three distinct bars that offer excellent ambience and a fine selection of alcohol.  They’re not really up for classification, but ‘Martini lounge’ is probably as close as it’s going to get.

Assuming that you are not lured to a life at sea in the brief time you are in Halifax, you will invariably take a  precious souvenir home with you.  No, I’m not referring to the three pounds of seafood-induced flab, or the slightly tender feeling in your liver brought on by one too many pint of Keith’s.  I’m referring, of course, to the live lobsters that they sell at the airport and which store neatly in your carry-on bin.  After all, if there’s anything better than a lobster dinner, it’s two lobster dinners.

1 If this tourist is American, they will also ask how they get all the flags to fly in the same direction and how much the city of Toronto weighs.

2 The term “Maritime” is derive from the Gaelic “Mara”, which means “Treasured occasion”, and “Tyme”, which means “That will likely involve dancing on the deck of a schooner with a cod down your trousers.”

3 Please note that while the metal cracker, the little fork, and even your bare hands are acceptable lobster-breaking tools, using the wine bottle, your shoe, and the Gideon bible from your hotel room are all frowned upon.

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