St. John’s: Top 6 Winter Study Breaks

Although we had been to St. John’s before moving here a full year ago in January, we certainly became more familiar with what the city had to offer during the winter, and even discovered new favourite activities. We don’t have a vehicle, but we do have bus passes, and take full advantage of the transit system. Here are just six of our top cold-weather St. John’s activities!

St. John's Study Breaks

 

1. Cross-country skiing

We had no idea that just on the other side of town was a super cheap cross country ski rental spot, with all-level groomed trails, and snow shoeing paths! For $5 an hour each (that’s an incredible bargain for skiing) we could rent skis or snowshoes, poles, and boots, and make use of all of the groomed trails around Pippy Park. Read more about it here

2. Brunch at Yellow Belly

There is nothing better on those bitterly cold St. John’s winter days than splurging a little on brunch. Although there are dozens of places in the city to get a great brunch, Yellow Belly is our favourite. Not only is the full lunch menu available, with plenty of veg options, fresh pizzas, and beer made onsite, the brunch selections include the classics, with a Newfoundland twist.

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I almost always have the French toast, stuffed with cream cheese and local blueberries (or sometimes partridgeberries if we’re lucky), while Rachel loves the eggs Benedict – without the bacon- or the crab cake benny for fish eaters.

3. Skating at Bannerman Park and coffee

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Bannerman Park recently got a makeover, and the best part (along with the outdoor pool, cobblestoned pathways and Beaver Tail vendor) might just be the Loop, the skating rink that is open so long as the weather is cold enough to keep it frozen. Because it’s a) free and b) perfectly located on Military Road, it’s a popular spot on most winter days. All you need to bring is your skates! I

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It’s also conveniently located between Georgestown Cafe and Bookshelf, and Coffee Matters, our two favourite cafes in the city. After an hour of skating, warm up with an americano and a freshly baked bagel at Georgestown, or a fancy latte and a muffin at Coffee Matters. Both cafes also serve a great lunch. After a sugar hit, we’re always ready to go back to the books.

4. Arts and Culture Centre Library

If the wind isn’t blowing too cold, we will often take an hour off and walk up to the A. C. Hunter Public Library, located in the Arts and Culture Centre. The two storey library is the perfect place to kill a few hours. Always toasty warm, the featured books are forever changing, and the huge magazine collection upstairs could occupy anyone. Head downstairs for the cutest children’s library, filled with low bookshelves and books in both English and French.

5. Signal Hill at night

Our favourite place in the city to see the lights of downtown and the Narrows is from the top of Signal Hill. If you’re feeling ambitious, take a walk up the road, and don’t forget a sweater (or five, in Rachel’s case).

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6. See the lights at Bowering Park

Just as the Christmas exam period is looming, pop down to Bowering Park to see the Christmas lights. Early December brings the Festival of Music and Lights to the park, with choirs from the city performing, and free hot chocolate. The City accepts donations to the food bank, and the lights are officially lit for the Christmas season.

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berry picking on the rock

With five days of rain in the forecast, we got out of the apartment today for a couple of hours of berry picking.

Newfoundland is an inhospitable place to live, work, and try to grow (as a plant, I mean, though I’m not sure how children do it either). But, the rocky terrain and generally wet climate make wild blueberries very happy. Within a fifteen minute walk from our house, are five picking spots (that we know of), so we headed out to the rocks, hills and bush to find some. IMG_2459-001

Wild, low-bush blueberries are harder to pick than the high-bush kind we know at home in Nova Scotia, but they were plentiful, and we collected a couple of yogurt containers-full this afternoon. We were in competition with six or seven other pickers. Next time, we’ll try another spot in the hopes of finding more berries, and fewer people to battle for them!

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do everything while there’s sun! (day 2)

Sunny day number two (in a row! Novel…) brought a trip up Signal Hill. There are two ways to get to the top:

1) Take the road, either by car, foot, or bike, past the Geocentre.

2) Take the Battery walk, a trail that weaves through colourful houses built into the rock face, boardwalks with nothing but a wooden railing between you and the crashing surf, stone stairs, and occassional high winds that may make you feel like you shouldn’t be walking in this weather. But really, there is no other weather, so you just keep walking.

We did both during our week in St. John’s, the road on a foggy day, the Battery on a sunny day (or, at least sunny when we started out). Almost at the top there is a lovely viewing area, and even on the somwhat foggy day, we got shots like this:

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I had never done the Battery walk though, so we took the next opportunity and set off. IMG_0530

Iceberg season is in the spring, so although we didn’t see any in September, Rachel has spotted them on the way up Signal Hill, along with birds, boats, and awesome views of the harbour and the city (if one remembers to turn around and look!). We took a leisurely pace, and probably spent almost two hours on the trail and the rocks leading up the hill, taking in all the scenery, and chatting with the other walkers. On a sunny day, photographers and outdoors-people alike will delight in the views and fresh ocean air. And if, like Rachel, you aren’t big on boats or their tours, walking the Battery is almost as good for spotting the sights – icebergs, birds, and if you’re lucky, a whale.

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do everything, while there’s sun! (day 1)

Rennie’s River Trail walk?

Quidi Vidi Village (on foot)?

Walk the Battery to Signal Hill?

All in the same weekend…?

Sure!  The sun was out, and since it’s Newfoundland and that doesn’t happen all that often, we were off and running (walking. quickly).

Rennie’s River Trail started for us just down Prince Phillip Drive from the University. The trail follows Rennie’s River (somewhat logically), through the woods, on a clearly marked trail, complete with bridges and benches for resting and picnics. If you start where we did, off Prince Phillip, it lets you out by Quidi Vidi Lake, where one can not only spot various bird life, but is also the home of the annual St. John’s Regatta in August. We did the loop of the lake, popped up by the Dominion grocery store (which used to be an ice rink), and made our way back into town.                  IMG_0485

Our favourite cafe in St. John’s is Coffee Matters, on the corner of Military Road, Kings Bridge Road, and Gower Street. Expansive, with perfect window seating, fresh coffee, and stellar baked treats, you can’t go wrong. Having stopped for a hot cocoa, we decided to make the trek out to Quidi Vidi Village. It sounds really daunting, and when you don’t have a car, it isn’t something you do naturally. But in reality, the village is just steps away from St. John’s center, and a perfect escape from the traffic and noise of downtown. From Kings Bridge Road, take Forest Road until it becomes Quidi Vidi Village Road (you’ll know), and suddenly, you’re in the village.

IMG_0560Although the road passes behind the Queen’s Penitentiary (known simply as ‘the pen’ in St. John’s), it very quickly becomes a picturesque look back in time, houses that haven’t changed in decades surrounded by the harbour, a small brewery, and the recently opened Village Plantation- a collection of studios available for artists, a gallery, and meeting rooms for workshops. Kind of tourist information centre meets a peek into an artist’s life, and a perfect viewing area, all in one. We checked out the art, walked down to the pier, and explored the village. A small park (tiny, miniscule… one bench and a bush) had been establishedwith a perfect view out of the harbour to the ocean, and we snacked while watching the waves crash harder and harder against the rock face, before feeling the first drops of rain and rushing back into the city to dry off.

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graffitti, lighthouses, cruise ships and fences

In September, Rachel and I were finally heading off on our big European adventure. Flights to Dublin were super cheap this year, but only from St. John’s, Newfoundland. Fortunately for me, Rachel’s family is from Newfoundland, and a trip to St. John’s was a perfect addition. We would spend a week staying with friends, check out the capital city, see the sights, all with Rachel as my guide.

On our final day in the city, we got a lift out to Fort Amherst, a National Historic Site. Although near to Signal Hill (another historic site), the lesser known Fort Amherst is easier to access by foot, and features spectacular views and a historic lighthouse. The road leading up to the Fort can be reached via a trail behind the Railway Museum, less than an hour’s walk from city centre to the lighthouse.

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From the site, one could see back into St. John’s harbour, through the Narrows, and on the opposite side, the Atlantic is stretched out all the way to the horizon.

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Rachel, her friend Shannon and I jumped the fence and wandered among the remnants of the fort, high conrete walls now covered in graffiti, and strategically placed cannons, ready to protect the city at the time of its construction, around the mid-1770’s.

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After wandering in and out of the walls, enjoying the rare moments of sunshine, we found a spot to sit and broke into the snack bag, just as a pilot boat was heading out the harbour. Because of the rocky, narrow entrance to the harbour (hence the name, ‘The Narrows’!), pilot boats are used to guide bigger ships into port. As the pilot boat came back into view, a massive cruise ship was following behind.

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We had a perfect view of Signal Hill, and the jellybean colours of the city jumped out from the rock face. And as the cruise ship cruised by, the excited passengers waved at us. Rachel and Shannon were the latest tourist attraction to join St. John’s.

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