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My big day downtown: try something new

I was recently one of a group of 30 bloggers challenged by the Downtown Halifax Business Commission to try something new downtown. They gave us each $100 to spend as we liked, we just had to document our experiences. I know, tough assignment, right? I intended to make my $100 s-t-r-e-t-c-h so planned a day that would incorporate free or low-cost fun with some activities I'd have to pay for. Here's what I came up with.

1. Biking the waterfront boardwalk. I support active transportation. It's good for the body and the environment. Biking downtown also meant I'd save bus fare or parking fees. But getting onto the Halifax peninsula was a traffic-merging, horn-honking death-defying act of insanity (bike lanes, please, Halifax Regional Municipality!). Once I arrived downtown, however, I loved my ride. From the casino you can take the boardwalk south all the way to the Halifax Seaport Market, though you must walk your bike over the short stretch of private property from Cow's Ice Cream past Salty's. It was about 10 a.m. and the waterfront was still waking. Crews were emerging from the holds of various tall ships, rubbing their eyes, coffee in hand, while merchants were opening their sandwich boards advertising fishing excursions, whale watching and plain old boat tours. On my left the ferry bobbed over to Dartmouth while on my right I gazed up at the mixture of Halifax's centuries-old buildings and modern office towers toward Citadel Hill. I stopped at the far end to watch the players warming up for a day of competition at the World Junior Volleyball Championship, which runs until Sept. 4, then stopped in the Halifax Seaport Market for a $4.50 latté that, while tasty, was European-sized, i.e., tiny, and the vendor offered no discount despite the fact I'd brought a reusable mug. No biggie (pun intentional), I downed it in a matter of seconds while gazing at the lighthouse on George's Island from the market's rooftop patio.

Tally: $4.50 ($95.50 remaining)

2. Turbine. I had been in Turbine previously to talk to owner and fashion designer Lisa Drader-Murphy but never to shop. Lisa produces custom clothing and mid- to high-end women's ready-to-wear collections including some fashion forward pieces such as the Obi belt, hobo bag and upside down dress. She offers beautiful unique, environmentally sustainable, limited edition clothing and accessories from unused vintage fabrics, and also carries darling cosmetic and jewelry collections. Her flagship store, the only store in Atlantic Canada owned by a Canadian designer, is in Bishop's Landing. I left with a sweet little necklace she'd sourced in New York, cost $38+HST.

Tally: $48.20 ($51.80 remaining)

3. Province House. How is it that I'd never been inside the Nova Scotia Legislature? I hung my head in shame and pushed open the imposing Hollis St. doors. The provincial government has met here every years since 1819, making it Canada's oldest seat of government. It's architecturally interesting, too, designed in the Palladian style on the principle of symmetry in which each side of the grand entranceway was built to mirror the other. There are free, guided tours offered in July and August but I explored on my own, reading the display signage. On the second floor I met Anne from my book club who works in the gorgeous library (pictured). The library was once the Supreme Court and Anne showed me the exact spot where Joseph Howe, famed Nova Scotian journalist and public servant, stood one day in 1835, where he made a six-hour long impassioned speech. At the time, Howe was fed up with the abuse of power by the appointed town magistrates. He published a letter in his newspaper, the NovaScotian, accusing the administration of embezzlement and stupidity. They charged Howe with criminal libel, intending to ruin him and his paper. No lawyer believed the case could be successfully defended so Howe defended himself. He said in his speech: "What is right? What is just? What is for the public good?" Howe was acquitted and became known as a champion of freedom of the press, a privilege I still enjoy as a journalist today. Thank you, Joseph Howe. And thank you to my fellow Big Day Downtown blogger, AliceinParis, for suggesting I visit Province House.

Tally: free ($51.80 remaining)

4. Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Sales and Rental Office on Hollis Street. I've been wanting new, original, and preferably local art work for my Halifax home. Knowing this wouldn't come cheap, I was thrilled to learn that I could rent a piece here for a nominal monthly fee. I suspect this might be like the old trick whereby the pet store owner "loans" a child a puppy for the weekend to try it out. Oh well, I was willing to risk it and should I decide to renew my monthly rental or purchase the painting, all rental fees will be subtracted from the purchase price. After great deliberation I settled on this scene of booksellers along the Seine River in Paris, painted by James Povah, an artist from Clementsport, N.S.

Tally: $36 monthly rental fee+HST ($10.40 remaining)

5. da Maurizio. Uh-oh. Last on my list was da Maurizio, a high-end Northern Italian restaurant in the old Brewery Market. I only had $10.40 remaining so was praying for a loaves-and-fishes miracle. Guess what? It happened! (See photo of delightful breadbasket and roasted sea bass). Okay, so the remains of my $100 didn't multiply as I'd hoped, but a girl's got to eat, right? So I chipped in some of my own money with absolutely no regrets. This was my hands-down best restaurant experience ever in Halifax. The service was exceptional, from owner Tanya King's warm welcome to the recommended wine/food pairing by my server. I began with a warm radicchio salad that was scrumptious, followed by the aforementioned bass served in a delectable mushroom broth with Manila clams, fennel sausage, cherry tomatoes, lima beans and fingerling potatoes. The dark, elegant dining room set the perfect atmosphere for sipping Chianti while savouring a relaxing dinner. I finished with the brandied cherries and left feeling utterly satisfied and content. Without doubt, I will return and hope that will be very soon.

Tally: Can you put a price on excellence? If so, it's about $75+tip.

Well that was my wonderful Big Day Downtown. I hope I've given you some inspiration to try some of my favourite things or discover your own. Thanks to the Downtown Halifax Business Commission for this opportunity.

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Reader Comments (7)

What a great day!!!!!

September 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShelagh

Sounds like a great day !
Hopefully the city will wise up to the danger of cycling in this city..happy top hear you made it home safely!

September 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

DaMaurizio is definitely our favourite Halifax restaurant. We've been there several times on our own and with larger groups and the food has been excellent every time. Can I tag along on your next fun day? I'll supply my own $100 ;)

September 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichele

Sounds like a great day, i love da'maurizio's!

September 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersanj

Thank you Shelagh, Lisa, Michele and Sanj for reading about my big day and joining the conversation. It was a great adventure...only complicated by figuring out how to cycle home with my giant oil painting. Good thing I had da Maurizio's as my reward!

September 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlison DeLory

What a great day you've had. I've worked in the Provincial Building for 21 years and have yet to take the tour of the Legislature! I have been to DaMaurizio and I love it.
One of my favorite spots downtown for lunch is Ryan Duffy's. The food is always excellent and I would argue they have the best fish and chips if you're looking for a traditional NS meal. The real treat though is the daily special that is only $10!

September 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusan M

Wow, Province House is a great idea! I am pretty sure I went with a school group at some point but that was a long time ago and I likely didn't appreciate it at the time. I have never eaten at DaMaurizio but have heard great things about it. I love that you stretched your $100 SO far and did so many activities. Great job!

September 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim

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