- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2006

WOLFVILLE, Nova Scotia — Ten minutes into our ferry ride, we are enshrouded in fog. Not some light summer mist, but a soup so thick we can barely see in front of us.

My wife and I are on the high-speed car ferry from Bar Harbor, Maine, the first leg of a one-week trip to Nova Scotia thrown together at the last minute. The plan is simple: Leave the country, leave airports behind, and leave urban living in the dust.

The 21/2-hour crossing is on the Cat, a clean, spacious, well-run line that, if the wonders of the North Atlantic are insufficient, offers movies, hot food, a duty-free shop and banks of slot machines. I prefer to sit still and be left alone. Let others feed the slots and throw down beers. If I can make it from launch to docking while keeping queasiness at bay, I consider it a successful journey.

Back home, the weather is scorching, with temperatures across the country in triple digits. Aboard the ferry, we’re bundled in sweaters and sweatshirts and can’t wait to turn on the heat when we get to our car.

Maybe this is a hint of fall, which is not far off. Summer visitors may pack up when the air starts to chill come September and October, but others come here in autumn just to see the blazing foliage.

We begin our visit in Yarmouth, a once-great seafaring hub that depends these days on tourist dollars as well as its herring and haddock industry. After clearing customs, we want nothing more than dinner and a hotel before heading the next day to Wolfville, where we have booked a vacation home online. I make a few wrong turns in our rented Impala, and a hotel emerges from the fog. We check in and grab a meal, the first of countless bowls of chowder.

The three-hour drive from Yarmouth to Wolfville hugs the Bay of Fundy and is a feast for the eyes — sharp, sparkling water and green, rolling farmland. We stretch our legs at Mavillette Beach, where the tide happens to be low and the hard-packed sand goes on and on. Six hours later, this landscape will be altogether different. The tides, we soon learn, rule much of this part of Nova Scotia.

Up the road is Digby, one of the world’s scallop capitals. It’s also a prime spot for whale watching, but lunch takes priority. We find a place overlooking the harbor, and the scallops arrive sizzling, succulent and reasonably priced — even though the Canadian dollar has almost pulled even with the U.S. dollar. (Buyer beware: Sales taxes in Nova Scotia total 14 percent, but save your receipts; some expenses, such as for accommodations, are eligible for a partial tax refund from the Canadian government.)

The nearby town of Annapolis Royal, its streets lined with handsome Victorian homes, is as good a place as any to understand the tug of war between the French and British that took place in Nova Scotia in the 17th and 18th centuries. Stroll by Fort Anne National Historic Site for a panoramic view and plot military strategy over what is billed as the most fought-over piece of land in Canada. Or head to the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens and wander through trails of roses and open fields of tall elephant grass, which the Acadians used to thatch cottage roofs.

Wolfville is a gem of about 3,500 people. We stayed in an impeccably kept home that looked out on the Bay of Fundy and was a short walk from town. Our house was run by Carol Carpenter, an obliging and gracious hostess who made sure that no charm in the Annapolis Valley was lost on her guests.

First, though, we had to get with the program: recycling. We thought we were old hands at this, but in Nova Scotia, where some of the toughest recycling laws exist, you’re playing in the big leagues. It’s not just newspapers and glass and plastics. It’s everything.

Even on the street, garbage cans are divided into four slots. In some homes — and the one where we stayed was one — corn husks, for example, are tossed into the yard to return to Mother Earth. Food that ordinarily would be disposed of (carrot peelings, fish skin, etc.) is stored in a bin in the freezer and used eventually for compost. At first, this seemed odd, if not disgusting. By the end of the week, it made sense.

Wolfville’s main strip is a few blocks long and dominated by Acadia University, a lush, green campus mostly empty during summer. The town has top-flight restaurants (Acton’s, Tempest), a video store (Light & Shadow) that would put every big-city video outlet to shame, a farmers market on weekends and a university pool that is open to visitors and just might meet the needs of an Olympic swimmer. There also is the Atlantic Theatre Festival, which is making a comeback in a renovated theater after a two-year hiatus.

Wherever we turned, there was countryside to behold. Drive past the strawberry farms and bales of hay toward Blomidon Provincial Park and hike up a mountain trail. Walk in the red flats when the tide is out and let the Fundy mud get under your nails. Watch the shorebirds gather, rest and bulk up for their flight to South America — it’s said they double their weight before the three-day nonstop haul.

For those who remember their junior high school English classes, Nova Scotia is the setting for the start of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem “Evangeline,” which tells of a young woman who spends most of her life searching for her lover after the British deported the Acadians from these shores in the 18th century. So brush up on the “forest primeval” and the “murmuring pines and hemlocks” at the Grand-Pre National Historic Site, where French most certainly is spoken.

An hour away is Halifax. The capital of about 130,000 offers enough in the way of restaurants, clubs, museums and music to satisfy any need for cosmopolitan energy.

This is a city with a revered nautical tradition, and the harbor and Maritime Museum of the Atlantic demand a look. Halifax holds a strong connection to the Titanic, as 150 victims are buried there. Five years after the sinking, the city was rocked by the Halifax Explosion, a cataclysmic harbor collision that at the time was the largest man-made explosion in history.

Another day took us to the South Shore. Lunenburg has its own ocean heritage and is also packed with art and photo galleries. Close by are the stately homes of Chester and graceful churches of Mahone Bay.

It’s a 45-minute drive to Peggy’s Cove, where fierce waters smash into boulders. This is one of the most photographed places in Canada. Just down the road, above the churning surf, is a granite memorial to the victims and rescue workers of Swiss Air Flight 111. The 1998 crash off Nova Scotia left 229 dead.

In Lunenburg, we stepped into an old Anglican church to escape the sun and walked in on a chamber music rehearsal. When we left, it was raining hard.

“Welcome to Nova Scotia,” a church worker said. “Wait 10 minutes and the weather will change again.”

• • •

For Nova Scotia tourism, visit www.novascotia.com or call 800/565-0000.

The Cat, the high-speed ferry between Maine and Nova Scotia (www.catferry.com or 877/359-3760) has departures Monday through Thursday from Bar Harbor and Friday through Sunday from Portland; return from Yarmouth daily. Boat runs operate from late May through Oct. 16. One-way adult tickets, $63 from Bar Harbor, $89 from Portland, plus $10 security fee; cars, $105 from Bar Harbor, $149 from Portland, plus $25 fuel surcharge. Discounts after Sept. 24 and for round-trip car fare. Reservations recommended.

United, American, Air Canada, Continental, Delta and Northwest provide frequent service to Halifax from various U.S. cities.

For house rentals in Wolfville, call 902/542-2494. About $1,245 a week.

The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax (902/424-7490) is open year-round, but hours and admission vary in the off-season. Through September, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily and until 8 p.m. Tuesdays. Adults $7, children 6-17 $3.50.

Visitors to Canada spending more than a total of $200 on accommodations, souvenirs and certain other goods can receive rebates on a portion of the sales tax. Car rentals and food are not eligible. A check (in Canadian dollars) will be mailed within four to six weeks of receipt of rebate applications, which must include original cash-register receipts. (Credit card receipts not accepted). Visit www. ccra-adrc.gc.ca or call 800/959-2221.

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