Halifax, Nova Scotia 2006
Lobster shack, Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia

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The first thing you notice is the calm and the courtesy. You walk to the Immigration Hall at the ariport, and not only is it close by, but your escalator descends with rock walls and waterfalls on both sides. The immigration officers, smile. Four of them on duty, so we were out in a minute. You have truly left the United States. The cab driver, Phil, who immigrated from Vietnam in the 70s, is pleased, proud and chatty. He offers to pick us up when we want to return to the airport in four days. And he does. (Then again, the fare to/from the airport is a flat $53. Not cheap.) You can call Phil too: 902 488 0033.

Waverly Inn, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada Shiraz Restaurant, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Sun sets on the Waverly Inn Shiraz Persian Restaurant

Halifax is a world away from New York, but just a two hour flight. It is small, exceptionally clean and exceptionally polite. The most outrageous example (for an American): we were walking along Lower Water Street and came to an intersection at the same time as a pickup truck. He edged into intersection, so we couldn’t really walk around him while the traffic passed. There was someone behind him, so he couldn’t back up. The passenger leaned out the window and apologized to us for blocking the way. Now you know you are in Halifax.

Everyone is like that. Go in to the Comfy Corner Café and they will greet you with a smile, show you what’s for lunch, and entreat you to stay. Same at The Gingerbread Haus, where homemade pastries and breads await. The local ice cream purveyor is called Cows, and on a hot summer day (yes, they do have them) the line is out the building onto the docks. There are at least two breweries, right in town.

Theodore the Tugboat - the real one Nancy at Peggy's Cove
Theodore The Tugboat - the real one Nancy at Peggy's Cove

The city is filled with wooden churches, and wooden Victorian buildings, often spectacularly kept up, like the Waverly Inn, shown above at sunset. Our favorite restaurant was Shiraz, a Persian place, with exceptionally aromatic food prepared by Zahra, a grandmother of five, who is delighted when you are delighted. Her restaurant, a blaze of purple, seats three inside and three outside. A remarkable little building near the Westin. Truly the hole in the wall of holes in the wall. Well worth the stop (twice). 1240 Hollis, 902 404 3300.

The action, such as it is, is on Argyle, downtown. Three blocks of rehabilitated restaurants and bars, anchored by the Economy Shoe Shop, a positive maze of rooms weaving back into the block. It has an outdoor patio, and like so many in Halifax, they were able to commandeer the entire sidewalk in exchange for a building a fenced boardwalk in the street for pedestrians. People first in Halifax.

Granite shores at Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia
Rocky shores at Peggy's Cove More Peggy's Cove

One of the really, really nice things about Halifax is that you never heard of any of the stores. None of the big box retailers have stores there. no Walmarts, Costcos, Home Depots, Macys or Sears. Not even Canadian big box stores like Zellers or Eatons. It’s all local. Even the American franchises don’t rear their ugly heads – no McDonalds, Burger Kings, KFCs, and only one Starbucks, up the hill near Dalhousie University. There is one homegrown doughnut place, Tim Horton’s, which is omnipresent, but you can forgive that one exception.

So everything was new to us. Great.

We rented a car and drove down the coast to Peggy’s Cove, home of that lone lighthouse (now the Post Office), and maybe a dozen homes and stores. No massive crowds, lines, admission charges, parking fees or fences. You scramble over the rocks, look for whales, breathe in the air, and eat lobster by the inlet at Murphy’s, a suitably weatherbeaten shack on a deck over the water. Continue on around the peninsula and you hit the White Sails Bakery, where scones to die for are practically insignificant on the shelves of biscuits, cookies, and breads. We bought too much, as usual, and ate some at the picnic tables outside by the inlet. Then off to Chester where the excellent bakery Julien’s was highly recommended. And justifiably so. World class breads. Delighted again.

More Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia My best Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
The shore from the lighthouse My favorite shore pic, Peggy's Cove
Click it.

Unusually for the Maritimes, things are booming. There are help wanted signs everywhere. This is a good thing, as the paper said – a much better problem than 10% unemployment which is the norm. Halifax looks nothing like it did the last time I was there 20 years ago. All new towers, refurbished harbor, and still way to much government. The civil service is still king, but with unemployment so low, it might not be for too much longer.

Finally, back at the airport, we checked in at American, where the agent greeted us by name (!), having looked at the manifest, and the security people let us duck under the rail instead of walking all the way out and back. I even got to joke with the agent who wielded the metals wand. In the USA, I could have been arrested for interfering with a TSA officer on duty.

So Halifax turned out to be delightful, and to my surprise, well worth four days. For a city of only 70,000, that’s saying a lot. Just be aware that Nova Scotia still forces larger stores to close on Sundays, and only small shops are likely to be open at all. And the Farmer's Market is only open 7am-1pm Saturdays. It supposedly has the best baked goods of all. We arrived at 3. Merde.