Trip Coach: March 18, 2008
Gayle Forman, who wrote our March feature story on Nova Scotia and who is the author of "You Can't Get There From Here: A Year on the Fringes of a Shrinking World," answered your questions on Nova Scotia.
Gayle Forman: Hi everyone:
Thanks so much for coming to this chat. I'm Gayle Forman. And I wish I were in Cape Breton right now. Well, not actually now because it's still winter but I wish it were July and I were in Cape Breton. Which is to say, I fell in love with the place and am happy to answer your questions about it now.
So, fire away.
Ithaca, N.Y.: Hello, Are there any misconceptions about Nova Scotia that you would dissuade Americans about?
Gayle Forman: I think that one of the huge misconceptions with visiting the area known as Maritime Canada—one that I just bolstered in my intro—is that it's cold. I expected it to be on par with Alaska or something. But we visited in late July-early August and had 90 degree weather for a few days and high 70s for the rest. And I was shocked at how warm the swimming beaches were. You get frostbite swimming in the Atlantic in Maine in the summer, but the water was 75 degrees in parts of Cape Breton, meaning you can have a beach holiday, too.
In general, I think Americans (and for the sake of this chat, I mean those of use from the USA) don't know much about Nova Scotia and Cape Breton and I found the mix of stunning natural scenery, quirky culture, strong musical tradition and delicious food to be enchanting. I have yet to meet anyone who visited Cape Breton and didn't come away with stars in their eyes.
Boston, Mass.: I'd like a quick getaway...are there minimum stays for many of the properties you mentioned in your stories? If so, do you have suggestions for where to find places with two-night stays?
Gayle Forman: Some rental houses, including where we stayed, do have minimum stays—5 days to a week, generally. I find that with house rentals, owners don't want to deal with a rapid turnover. That said, there is plenty of accommodation on Cape Breton, including cottages with kitchens available for rent by the night. For instance, Sail Loft Cottage, an adorable one-bedroom loft right on the Bras D'Or in Baddeck rents nightly. The problem is that jewels like this go quickly. If you log onto the capebretonisland.com or baddeck.com, you'll get an idea of the range of accommodation available for nightly rentals.
New York City, N.Y.: Is a rental car absolutely essential, or is public transportation to any of these hotels and sights feasible?
Gayle Forman: See below.
New York, N.Y.: I'd love to visit Nova Scotia but am a non-driving New Yorker—can one feasibly see the sites and get to the beautfiul spots without a car?
Gayle Forman: As anathema as a car is to a New Yorker, I'd have to say, yes. Unless you have a motorcycle. Or a bicycle and are in Tour-De-France worthy shape. The distances between places on the Cape are significant, and while there is municipal bus service, if you plan to explore the Cape by bus, I fear you'd wind up spending most of your time exploring the busses. I suppose you could hitch around, though we didn't try it. If you're really determined to see the area, you could do it without wheels, of course. And there are certainly plenty of organized tours that leave out of Sydney, but all in all, if driving was not an option, I'd probably look for somewhere else to go. There are enough places in the world that you can easily visit without depending on a car. And a caveat about car rentals—they're expensive. We paid almost as much in taxes and fees as we did for the car, totaling nearly $600 for five days! I'd say that gas was really expensive, except it's really expensive here now, too.
Washington, D.C.: The dollar is at about parity with Canadian currency. Any advice on how to save on currency fees for either getting local cash or for purchasing hotels with U.S. credit cards? Many thanks.
Gayle Forman: During our visit, the USD's value was just about even with the Canadian buck for the first time in 30 years, and it definitely stung. As I mentioned in the article, some homeowners seem to be lowering their rental prices to lure folks from the USA back up north, so feel free to bargain. As for fees, I generally use my ATM to withdraw money in the local currency and I don't get charged by my bank. Similarly, at least where the house rentals are concerned, I was able to pay in $USD, part on a credit card, part in cash. So set the price in USD and ask if you can pay with greenbacks.
Atlanta, Ga.: I don't like seafood. Is that the only real option in Nova Scotia restaurants? And what's the standard for tipping in restaurants? Is it automatically included in the bill? 10% of the bill?