To my even greater surprise, the associated costs of driving (and leaving my car in Bar Harbor) were minimal. Parking at the Bar Harbor ferry terminal is free for up to 10 days. (Tip: You have to beat the rush to ensure a spot—while the ferry recommends arriving an hour prior to travel, make it two.) Gas cost $66 total, while tolls totaled a whopping $6.50.
With only two full days to sightsee, we focused our excursion on a small stretch of the South Shore called the Lighthouse Route. Not only is this area a shutterbug's paradise, but it is also peppered with nominally priced or free sights. We spent most of our time stopping on the roadside to snap pictures, waltz along the sand, pick native lupin flowers, and sometimes just contemplate and talk by the water's edge. Some museums, such as the Seal Island Light Museum, charge a minimal admission fee. I also toured the Barrington Woolen Mill, which houses a famous woolen mural that depicts Nova Scotia sheep raising and the origin of the province's tartan, for about $2. Here are some other must-sees:
- Lunenberg: The entire town of Lunenberg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with colorful colonial and Victorian architecture and nautical treasures; it still remains an industrious fishing center. It also has numerous museums, boat tour charters and the famous Bluenose II schooner, shops, and casual restaurants. Jessica and I uncovered a great kitchen store called Wild Elements Home Exp and bought a few unique culinary accoutrements to impress our fellows and friends back home. Plus, we sampled the catch of the day at two restaurants, the Old Fish Factory right on the water, and the Victorian-era dining room at the historic Boscawen Inn.
- Mahone Bay: The area of Mahone Bay is pristine and has some of the best gift shopping I have seen on a trip. The main street is filled with shops like Amos Pewter, Have a Yarn, and Birdsall-Worthington Pottery Ltd., all selling high-quality local merchandise.
- Swiss Air Flight 111 Memorial: Set upon an impeccably maintained preserve, while blending seamlessly into the land and adjoining seascape, the memorial to the lost passengers of Swiss Air Flight 111 serves as a subdued reminder of the 1998 tragedy. Reminiscent of the coast of Ireland, the surrounding terrain is visually stunning, tumbling its way eastward toward the picturesque town of Peggy's Cove.
- Peggy's Cove: This working fishing village is a sight to behold, making every penny spent and every moment of lost sea legs worth it. The tiny harbor and town functions with locally made fishing dories, shanties, and a lighthouse that serves as a post office. There are also art galleries, gift shops, and a few eateries, with enough dramatic scenery to captivate inhabitants and visitors alike.
No matter where you wind up, save your receipts for purchases over $50 and your hotel bill. Often, you can get the federal portion of your tax (about seven percent) back if you fill out the rebate forms available online or at Canadian airports or ferry terminals.
At $310 (for me) and $427 (for Jessica), our Nova Scotia escape was nothing flashy, but the scenery and quiet time spent catching up as friends was priceless. My final words of advice: When visiting the Canadian Maritimes for a short getaway, be realistic with your ambitions. Pick one destination and don't try to see too much. Skip the highway and traverse the slow coastal road for a truly rewarding and relaxing experience.