Charlottetown, Days 1 and 2: A Rough Start to the Fun Part

My week in Charlottetown was packed with so much fun and excitement that it’s hard to remember it all, but I guess I’ll just start at the beginning of the adventure and see how far I get.

Thursday afternoon: arrive, exhausted, in Moncton, New Brunswick. I pick up my bags and head to the Maritime Bus counter, only to find out that the lady in front of me got the last Moncton-Charlottetown bus ticket package of the day.

Damn.

So, at this point, my options are a) take a $300 taxi to Charlottetown, b) call the hostel, cancel tonight, find a place to stay in Moncton, and catch the next bus at 9:20 AM the next morning or c) take a $100 taxi ride to Amherst, Nova Scotia, in hopes of beating the bus there and hopping on the Amherst-Charlottetown bus, for which there are still tickets, understanding that if I miss the bus, I’ve gone from being stuck in a small town in New Brunswick to being stuck in an even smaller town in Nova Scotia for the night.

I opt for C. Challenge accepted.

The lady at the bus counter gets a cab for me. I have a little over an hour to catch this bus, and it’s 45 minutes between Moncton and Amherst. The cab driver turns out to be this little old man called Joe who moves. And. Talks. Very. Slowly.

I’m. Screwed.

I put on my best Shirley Feeney and keep up high hopes that this guy doesn’t croak before we leave the parking lot.

But, am I wrong.

After we get past the second red light, he murmurs something like “that’s the one we had to worry about.” Then, it’s on to the highway, and we are flying. The fields of New Brunswick quickly become the windmills of Nova Scotia, and the first two things I see in the province are signs forbidding police scanners and importation of honey bees. Both are good to know.

Joe gets off the highway one exit too early and needs to ask for directions, and I panic a little, but then I see signs for the Anne Murray Centre and start singing “You Needed Me” to myself, and soon enough we are at the Amherst bus station which is actually just a gas station. And we are early. I give Joe a generous tip for his troubles and go to wait in the gas station with a banana and a Coffee Crisp at which point my dad calls me, asking where I am, at which point I answer “So here’s something funny, I’m in Nova Scotia…”

I end up spending a little longer than planned in Nova Scotia as the PEI bus driver arrives early as well, and the Moncton bus driver is a half hour late. I don’t remember too much about the two-hour ride back through New Brunswick, only that I woke up in time to watch us go over the Confederation Bridge, which is gorgeous in mid-afternoon, and soon enough we have arrived in Charlottetown, which is a little further away than I thought.

Once in Charlottetown, the bus doesn’t even stop at a gas station; we get out in a big, empty parking lot at dusk. Fortunately, two good things happen: one, I meet Matt, another traveler, who has come from Ontario and is staying with me at the Charlottetown Backpackers Inn (CBI), and two, that our bus driver has an incredibly loud whistle that can summon a cab out of nowhere. As soon as Matt and I have gotten in and introduced ourselves to the driver and each other, we are there. Matt covers the cab fare, and I should have probably covered my fingers better because I scrape some skin off of one while reaching for the clasp to shut the back after getting our bags.

CBI is a much different hostel than the one in Montreal. It’s much more hippie and friendly, with a comfy living room and communal eat-in kitchen. There are only seven bedrooms: a tiny, unmarked one on the first floor along with others marked 1 and 2, and on the second floor, 3, 4, 5, and a private room, along with three bathrooms washrooms. I snag a bottom bunk on one of the three bunk beds in Room 3 which will be home for the coming week, and Matt is in the bed above mine. Room 3 has a revolving-door situation of roomies, but on that first night, it’s us, Brian from British Columbia, Yuning from Taiwan, and Gil and Arnao from Spain. I don’t remember every single person who shared that room, but after Matt got a job at the hostel and moved over to the staff house, Kaj from Germany moved into the bed above mine, and then after he left, Illeana from Manitoba, who stayed there with her sister Jane. Room 3 is also where I met my dear Heloise and Jade, before they shifted to the girls’ room. There was a couple from Alberta who was there for most of the same time I was, as well as a Japanese guy called Leo.

That first day, I did not do too much. I rented a towel, and since I was just about out of anything clean to wear, I went down to a corner store to do laundry. I had about a load and a half’s worth of stuff, and was kind of reluctant to split it into two loads, when all of a sudden Yuning appears with about a half-load of her own clothing (she had gotten the idea from me) so I happily tossed a few of my items in with hers. By the time we were done, it was dark, so we went back to the hostel to hang out and meet more people. Around the kitchen table, I got to know Karen and Natalie, both from Halifax, who seemed to know more about Charlottetown and PEI than anybody in their right mind should know, but it just turned out they’d been there for a while, and by the time I left, I knew the same things. Karen brushed me up on my Anne of Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery knowledge, and Natalie filled me in on which shows to see. Karen said that I’d have to rent or find transportation to get to all the Anne sites, which were mostly in Cavendish, about 45 minutes north of Charlottetown. (Sidenote: Charlottetown, if you had a bus to Cavendish, it would sell out every day from the amount of people who want to go there. Then again, I guess that’s why you have the expensive tours). I go to bed, do some more research, and drift off to sleep wondering if I made the right choice with this whole six-night-seven-day stay in Charlottetown.

Friday morning: Wake up at 10:30 AM, having missed breakfast completely, despite my alarm going off and waking up everyone else (whoops).

At noon, I head out to explore what Charlottetown has to offer. I sit through a wonderful free show at the Confederation Center called “We Are Canadian” which is basically a 45-minute-long showcase of cultural dances from the many nations who live in Canada. It is fun except for this pink whale of a woman who keeps walking in front of me to get her wandering child. Afterwards, there is a short historical reenactment outside the Confederation House, depicting the circumstances surrounding the meeting that took place there which made Prince Edward Island effectively the “birthplace of Confederation,” where the premiers came together to create the idea of Canada as a nation. After that fun bit of history, I headed inside to purchase 91 dollars’ worth of theatre tickets: Bittergirl on Saturday and Anne of Green Gables, Canada’s longest-running and most iconic musical, on Monday. I keep telling myself, it’s for the island. Then, I wander upstairs to see a replica of the room where the Confederation meeting was held, and then to the art gallery for a fantastic exhibition on the mapping of Canada and the plotting of Prince Edward Island and some weird modern stuff which doesn’t really belong. After stopping for a Tim Hortons and a few Anne of Green Gables and Island-themed shops, I realize that I’m exhausted, and that in four hours, I have walked all of…one block. I head back to CBI, sit down on my bed…and wake up three hours later. Whoops, again. This day is just a giant fail.

Just when I go downstairs to the kitchen and lament to Natalie how much of a fail today was and that I probably won’t be able to get to Cavendish to see the Anne of Green Gables sites, along comes Avery. A theatre student from Georgia with whom I have a scary amount of common interests, she has the one thing that I don’t – a car – and Cavendish is on her list of things to do on her one day in PEI, so I hop on, promising that we can get an early start so we can find the graves of her ancestors first in a nearby cemetery. We are both hungry, so we head out to Merchantman for dinner and beer, where we see a fantastic performance thanks to the Island Fringe Festival: a one-woman show called “Busted” which is a hilarious piece about breasts and aging. Some delicious Cows ice cream makes a perfect coda to a night and I go to bed with newfound hope.

The bulk of this post was typed in Boston, but I have a whole lot more Charlottetown to go before I’m caught up to today (which, incidentally, is exactly a week from when this entry happened). Next time, stay tuned for my adventures on Saturday and Sunday, which include Cavendish and Anne of Green Gables/Lucy Maud Montgomery House, as well as the Farmers’ Market and the fringe caravan!

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