Sixteen years ago this August, I stepped out of my childhood spent in this place of palm trees, blanketing humidity, and wandering alligators into the relative adulthood of college. I was sick of Florida, having grown up here, and at the ripe old age of 18 I’d decided I never wanted to see another palm tree as long as I lived. Naturally, this led to choosing a university in a place of mountains and forests and chilly autumn winds; in my case, the location was Lee University in tiny, sleepy Cleveland, Tennessee. Within the first few months of my time at Lee U., I’d already met a group of friends who kept me from losing my sanity through college, and with whom I’m still in contact now. It took a couple of years for those friendships to gel and become strong, but once they’d developed they never ended. I’m fortunate to still be in contact with almost all of the people I spent the majority of my time with in college! And some of these people – the ones who lived with me in our apartment and daily walked with me through the ups and downs of life – are still my best friends to this day. I don’t know what would’ve happened to me had I not found these friends; or, rather, had God not placed them in my life. They have been a blessing to me that is inexpressible and profound, and I’m so grateful that we’re still able to enjoy life together. (Oh, and after the first two years in Tennessee, I began to understand why people would voluntarily choose to live in Florida – palm trees and heat seem far more attractive when you’re wearing 10 layers of clothing to ward off the winter chill!)
Two of these friends – Leah and Mariesha – have somehow become even closer friends of mine over the years than when we were in college, and I think I know why. One of the first and most strategic choices we’ve made as friends that has allowed us to remain close through the years has been our decision to attempt to reunite for at least one trip each year. Perhaps it’s because we all come from coastlines (Florida, Long Island and Hawaii) that always kept us looking out toward the rest of the world, but we have a shared love of travel and of adventure that has continued to grow as we’ve matured and found our own place in the world. We can’t seem to get enough of traveling, and we enjoy traveling together – a thing which, if you’ve ever attempted to travel with a group, you know is priceless. Over the years we’ve traveled back to Tennessee, Colorado, New York, Texas, and even to Europe, and have spent more than one Thanksgiving celebrating together in single-girl solidarity. We’ve only missed out on this a few times – once, because Mariesha was serving a year in Afghanistan, and once or twice because of conflicting schedules or financial challenges – but for the most part we’ve managed to keep the tradition going. And when bigger life changes have come, we’ve just used those as our excuse to get together, as with the two weddings over the last two years (yes, now I’m the single-girl extra, but it hasn’t made a difference!). It was such a joy last year to celebrate our 15th anniversary of friendship on the weekend that Leah got married. I’m not sure how rare it is for women to maintain friendships this way, but I would definitely suggest it to anyone attempting to preserve a good thing – traveling together provides time to reconnect deeply, time to recreate the shared experience of being together that fades over the years, and inevitably produces new inside jokes and funny stories of adventure which sustain you through the coming years.
This year was one of the exceptions to our tradition. Mariesha and her husband were moving into a new house, and right at the only time when Leah and I could both travel, they were in the most insane part of that process. So Leah and I were left to choose a destination on our own, and while we’d originally looked at going to the UK (far too expensive this year) we ended up choosing Prince Edward Island instead. You might wonder why we chose such a tiny, remote island as our destination; although, if you’re a woman between the age of 20 and 100 who enjoys reading, you can probably guess why! PEI was the home of L. M. Montgomery, author of the wonderful Anne of Green Gables series, which is also set on the island. I read the full series of 8 books for the first time when I was 8 years old, and have re-read it nearly every year since. Leah had read the first book, and we’d both grown up watching the incredible film version of the story which came out in the mid-80s. Anne’s life was as familiar to us as our own life, and her love/hate/love relationship with Gilbert was one of the first romances that really drew us in. In fact, Gilbert became the prototype “perfect guy” for our generation in much the same way that Jake Ryan from the movie Sixteen Candles was for those just a few years older than we were! Needless to say, then, that the thought of roaming the same beaches and woodlands that Anne roamed was more than a little intoxicating for us both.
Prince Edward Island is known as the “Gentle Island” by Canadians, and it’s a well-deserved name. We were fortunate enough to be able to spend 10 days there, and explored the coastal drives in the central and eastern portions of the island very thoroughly. PEI is a place of wide, sandy beaches and brilliantly red clay cliffs, of jagged jutting coastlines and sandbars that reach far into the sea. Look at an overhead view of PEI, and you will see lighthouses dotting the edges of the island like Christmas lights on a wreath. The history of PEI is a combination of agriculture, fishing and shipping; at one point there were shipyards all over the island’s coastline, where the giant seagoing ships were constructed. Now that ships are made of metal rather than wood, those dockyards are gone and have left behind dozens of tiny coastal communities whose people still make their living farming blue PEI mussels or going out to deeper waters seeking lobsters and fish. Inland, farms overwhelmingly dominate the landscape, and if you go before the crops have all come up (as we did), the whole interior of the island looks like a quilt done up in brightly vibrant patches of red and green, with an occasional happy black-and-white cow wandering across the landscape in lieu of decoration.
When we were planning our trip to PEI, Leah and I kept mentioning to each other how idyllic everything seemed to be on the island, and wondering if it could possibly live up to that appearance upon closer examination. To our amazement, the island only seemed even more lovely and picturesque once we arrived! We began our journey by flying into Halifax, Nova Scotia, and driving on to Prince Edward Island, connecting to the island via the Confederation Bridge and then traveling up to the far coastline of the island to Rusticoville. Our cottage was very close to North Rustico Harbour, just about a five minute drive away, and it was a delightful location with a panoramic view that allowed us to see both the sunset and the ocean at all times. Just beautiful.
The nature of Prince Edward Island is such that almost as soon as you drive onto the island you can feel your city-life-stress begin to drain away and leave behind it a sense of peace and calm. As Leah and I spent the first four days of our trip roaming around the loveliness of the North/Central PEI, we were struck by just how unspoiled it seems. Even the thousands of tourists like ourselves who travel to PEI each year in search of Anne’s Land or a golfing destination, or even a fishing trip, haven’t managed to ruin this place. It’s not that the island is untamed or untouched – with so much of the island being dedicated to farming you can’t go too far without seeing a farmhouse, and the shoreline is full of fishing villages, but the overall feeling is that somehow you’ve stepped back in time to a land where technology hasn’t quite made the impact it has on the rest of the world.
PEI is known for its red clay, and particularly for the red cliffs which create stunning visuals along its coast. PEI National Park and the surrounding area was a wonderful place to see the red cliffs, and because we were visiting during the “shoulder season” we were able to see everything nearly without seeing any other tourists! There were definitely times when we felt like we had the whole island to ourselves, which we loved! Coming from Southwest Florida, I’m used to seeing beaches filled with colorful shells, so this world of red clay and blackly-blue mussels and gnarled, weathered driftwood was a visual shift that was really striking.
Within the first four days of our trip, we had visited most of the major L. M. Montgomery-related tourism sites. With only a couple of minor exceptions, both the places and the people were beyond wonderful. The islanders who work at each site are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and they don’t mind being asked questions about either their island or their island’s most famous literary resident. I don’t know that I’ve ever visited any place where the locals seemed happier about their homeland; universally, when we asked how people liked living on PEI, they gave the island rave reviews and many claimed it was the best place in the world to live. I won’t go into much detail regarding the tourist locations, but I’ll include a few pictures below so that you can see how gorgeous it all is – and for true Anne of Green Gables fanatics, let me tell you from experience that there’s nothing quite like the thrill of seeing Green Gables for the first time. Leah and I both teared up when we first visited; there is just something about visiting a place that has played such a large part of your childhood understanding of life!
After our initial four days roaming in “Anne’s Land” and visiting the PEI National Park area there, we drove up to Point East Lighthouse. The one thing I’d warn anyone about who was considering a visit to PEI is that there is a lot of driving involved if you want to explore. Roads, both paved and unpaved, criss-cross the whole island like so many tiny veins, and in order to get from point A to point B, it’s quite frequently necessary to spend an enormous amount of time listening to the voice of your GPS ordering you around. Not that I’m complaining about the GPS; if we hadn’t had one, we would’ve been hopelessly lost for the entirety of our trip! For Leah and I, the long stretches of driving provided time to have the hours of conversation we never are able to get when we’re at home and sometimes just to enjoy the beauty of the island in silence, drinking in the views.
The second half of our visit to PEI was spent in the southeastern portion of the island. As we made the transition to our new home base, we took a small side trip to see Orwell Corner Historical Village, a site that has been preserved to showcase the island’s agricultural heritage. The buildings onsite are nearly all original and date back to 1895. Not only was this interesting in a historical sense, but in addition the site was used as a filming location for the Anne of Green Gables films!
After exploring Orwell Corner Historical Village, we traveled to our new home. I’m not exaggerating when I say we ended up in what turned out to be the remotest possible place, a tiny cottage out on Point Prim. Point Prim is a small jut of land, about 11 km long, which sticks out into the Northumberland Strait, and at the very end stands the Point Prim Lighthouse and the Point Prim Chowder House and Oyster Bar, where I had some of the best seafood I’ve ever eaten! There were some disadvantages to being out so far; for one, we didn’t have any restaurants apart from the Chowder House nearby and had to drive over 30min to find any sign of civilization. However, the benefits of being in such a remote place were found in the silence and peace of the place, the kindness of our hosts the Murchisons, and in the fact that a little family of seals was hanging out just down the beach! I’m sorry to say I wasn’t able to get any good pictures of the seals, but believe me–they were adorable! During our Point Prim stay, we spent our days roaming up the coastline to Wood Island, to Montague and Murray Harbour, to Souris and Basin Head, before heading back to our cottage in the evening and walking the shore looking for sea glass and seals.
I could say so much more about our trip; could talk about how we spent hours shopping in little stores that had been set up in homes and barns and holes in the wall, about how we watched Anne of Green Gables after we’d gone to see the house because we couldn’t resist the urge to see if it looked anything like PEI really does (the answer is…sort of?). I could say that Charlottetown is a wonderful town with one of the most gorgeous cathedrals I’ve seen outside Europe, and mention that my first experience of poutine changed my life. I could talk about the little happy surprises, like finding an odd, delightful little tea room run by a Japanese lady who was the perfect hostess only minutes after a local had told us there wasn’t a tea room anywhere in the area. There are so many good memories and pleasant moments to recall. But beyond all of that, I’m just so glad I could experience it with one of my best friends. Because while writing about this trip might give you a glimpse into what it was really like, only Leah and I will ever understand it in the same way. And that’s a beautiful thing to have, after 16 years of friendship. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.