Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The Rockies Rock!

When we got to Jasper, we decided to rent a car. It such a beautiful little town, it reminds Alan of Aviemore in Scotland, and I can sort of see it, but Jasper is MUCH cooler. The weather was nice and sunny and the mountains were unreal. Our hostel was odd-going up the long road at night, surrounded by trees, tended to make us think of "the Shining", and Alan managed to quite spook us with his "redrum" one evening... The hostel had several resident dogs, all very cute, who we periodically threw sticks for. Some of the hostel's other creatures were stranger--the staff all had a lot of facial hair, and as we were stuck in a large coed dorm, it tended to smell of farts all the time. We had some tame games of chess, and a highly adversarial game of scrabble. I won, of course ;)

Our first big adventure was the drive to Lake Louise. We had to leave early, so if the weather turned bad, we'd have time to get back before they closed the highway. It was an amazing trip. Alan and Jenni making mating calls (sounded more like burps to me!), my nostril doing a Darth Vader impersonation, Alan eating some spiritual bagels (okay, this is odd I know, but essentially Alan got all "the mountains and scenery move me" after spending the whole trip mocking Jenni and I for overly emotional sentiments about polar bears and many other things. He blamed it on something funny in the bagels).

Within five minutes on the road we saw some elk. It was sunrise, so the mountains were all framed by pink sky. Very beautiful. Alan jokes that the animals are all animitronics that the park rangers activate whenever tourists drive by... There were such amazing views I guess we all felt it was too good to be true. We're calling the photos from this part of the trip the "back to nature" photos, since there are many of animal arses!

We went to Athabasca Falls, saw some bighorn sheep licking salt off the road, saw the Sumwampta Falls. Alan and Jenni did an impersonation of fat people, inspired by the incredibly inaccurate signs on the time it takes to walk the trails - we finished in at least half the time on each trail. We drove past the Columbia Icefields, but it's the wrong time of year to get to go on them. Then we hit Lake Louise... And found it frozen. Okay, so we were incredibly stupid to not have thought of this, but we were expecting that amazing turquoise water. Anyway, then we meet this very, very odd woman, who is there celebrating her wedding anniversary, since she had been there for her honeymoon. The odd thing is, her husband was too busy at work to go with her!!! It was weird.

On the way back, we saw a weeping wall (ice on rock really), some white tailed deer, coyotes (or it's arse, to be more precise), and some spooky ravens who wouldn't fly away when we came very close to them. Saw Runaway Jury at the cinema in town that night.

The next day we drove out to Jasper Park Lodge and saw more deer, elk, coyotes. We may even have some decent, non-arse photos from that day! We heard woodpeckers and saw a chipmunk. My bird obsession from the summer in Scotland is gone, but the animal spotting continues!!! Medicine Lake was pretty, but when we stopped there and used the mini tripod to take timed photos, Jenni's camera ended up in the snow! It's ok though.

So, there we were, driving up towards Maligne Lake and we see some bighorn rams. We stop the car, staying inside like good little tourists, and take a photo out the window, while the rams start licking salt off the side of our rental car. When we attempt to move on, one ram gets ready to, well, ram us. Jenni hit the gas, and the car was safe. I, however, got a nice bump on the head (bumped it off the back window).

We went tourist shopping. After about 10 shops with all the same stuff in it we were all getting a bit tired, when I decided to try on a t-shirt in the shop and nearly broke this eagle thingy. Let me tell you, smashing was all that ugly thing was good for. Sadly it is still in one piece, waiting for an American tourist with a dodgy sense of style to come along...

On our drive back to the hostel, we noticed a girl walking along the side of the road and offered her a ride the rest of the way-it would be one long walk to that hostel from town. Turns out she had hitched up from Lake Louise by herself. We earlier in the trip had met another girl who hitched around Alaska by herself. This is all made concerning by the fact that there was a reward for info poster in the Jasper train station for a girl who had gone missing, last seen hitching from Port Rupert. Spent that evening sending Emily a puzzle postcard, which I am sure she will greatly appreciate ;)

Finally we went to a lake that wasn't frozen-Patricia Lake, so we have those cool photos were the mountains reflect in the water (can you tell I love our photos?!?)

Pyramid Lake had a walk on an island that was supposed to last 20 minutes... They must think all the tourists are stupidly out of shape because it maybe took us 10. It wasn't frozen though! Yay water! Then we went to the Jasper Museum, very interesting, and did a Maligne Canyon tour.

So, here is where we wasted money, cause we did not need a tour guide for that trail. Granted, we didn't have the rental car anymore, but our tour companions were a hoot. They were all British, and ranged in age from 30-60. And damn, were they slow and unstable. One woman, I kid you not, said she wouldn't have done a walk like that when she was 20, let alone 60, and this was not a difficult trail IN THE LEAST!

Our last day we went and got dressed up in RCMP uniforms (for free!) and took photos. Then we just hung around, waiting for yet another late train. Alan and Jenni got their knickers in a knot over a display in the train station that said England, when it should have said Britain, which passed the time nicely.

We got on that train, and that was pretty much the end of our trip. My friend Jenny and her mum picked us up at the station and managed to get our mountain of luggage to the hostel in one trip. Then she fed us bagels and showed us around.

On our first day in Vancouver, we all managed to secure apartments! Yay, us. The job search has taken longer, but Alan and I are now employed, though I don't start till Friday.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Deadmonton-what's up with that?

Arriving on the train, the skyline of Edmonton seems to jump out of nowhere. Why it's called Deadmonton, I don't know, cause we all loved the city, especially Strathcona.

It was in Edmonton that Alan and Jenni were served pints with bits of lemon... What's up with that too??? We loved the Provincial Museum of Alberta-lots of dioramas about wildlife and native Canadians. The women that charged us to go in turned out to be studying to play the bagpipes, bit random, but that is the kind of stuff you find out when travelling with Scots apparently. We attempted to go and have our tea leaves read at a Russian tea house, but it was closed for Remembrance Day. Even the buses were flashing "lest we forget" instead of route names. They take Remembrance Day much more seriously in Alberta than in Ontario, which is rather nice.

The Edmonton MEC has outdoors gear and a coffee shop-Jenni was ready to stay and to heck with Vancouver ;) Alan came up with an interesting question for Canadians to ponder-if you had to nuke one province, which would it be? He seems to think my answer would be Manitoba, but I refuse to play that game!

We had dinner with Margaret (formerly of Edinburgh, but Canadian), with a very loud Oilers game in the background. The next day we headed to the mall-not just any mall, but the West Edmonton Mall, biggest in the world. And frankly, folks, we weren't impressed. it's got no more shops than the Eaton's Centre, really, it's only big cause it has a water park, a roller coaster, a dolphin tank (very evil, a single social creature in a tiny tank, made Canadians look very not cool). Went to Roots once again-that store is addictive.

What else to say about Edmonton? Alan and Jenni taught me what gurning was (when old men take out their teeth and suck their lips into their mouths, apparently this is a competitive sport in England...). They gave us free donuts because the train was late... And just generally, we like Edmonton very much. I have since found out it's my dad's favourite city in the west, and I totally see why.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Continuation of the cross Canada saga - Wininpeg and the Prairies

Arriving at the hostel in Winnipeg was amazing, as for the first time in 5 days we all got to shower... Yes, I know, that isn't exactly a pleasant thought, but there you are. Seeing polar bears was worth 5 days of bad hair.

Winterpeg is one of those nicknames that you immediately understand upon arrival. Apparently, the weather was unseasonably cold for November... However, the worst was the wind. If you can believe it, we actually found the cold worse than in Churchill. Met some interesting folk in the hostel-two potheads from Revelstoke. They gave BC a good name though, since they offered to share with just about everyone in the hostel, including all the staff ;)

Tourist-wise, Winnipeg appears to have a lot to offer, however this doesn't apply if you visit in November (or any winter month apparently). We went to the Forks, nothing to do but see a few shops since they don't exactly do outdoor theatre at -20. The Royal Canadian Mint was quite a laugh. The displays were all set up in the 70s, and some of the staff still think they are in that particular decade, judging by the hairstyles. However, I am told that mullets are coming back-on women!!! ahhhhhh.

We went to see the Museum of Man and Nature, where I fell asleep during the Planetarium show (blame the Revelstoke crew for that one), and learned only two facts. One, Churchill was set up to be a grain port for westerners who didn't want to ship through the east (wow, westerners have always hated us easties). Two, moose means eater of twigs in the Algonquin language. I saw the replica traders ship, the Nonsuch, or maybe it was a real ship-ran out of time and the ability to read by that point in the museum.

We spent a lot of time in a diner near the hostel. Jenni had her first poutine, and Alan his first perogies.

We saw the Tom Thomson exhibit (it was bigger and better when I saw it in Toronto) at the WAG, along with some fantastic Inuit sculptures. The only other thing in the gallery was a very odd exhibit entitled "German angst". Dropped by the Ukrainian exhibit-it was classic Canadian immigrant story-come over, face hardship and adversity, eventually make good. Nice museum, cool eggs.

Then we attempted to do the walking tour of St Boniface, the French Quarter. We saw the grave of Louis Reil and promptly gave in to the cold by spending the rest of the afternoon in a coffee shop. Apparently there are some very nice houses to be seen, but not at the expense of frostbite.

Off we went to see two Imax films, and boy were they disneyfied. Everything was concentrated on the US, the only things that got eaten were fish, and to my surprise I discovered that bears reproduce through bear hugs!!! And here I thought it was a bit more involved than that ;)

Our hostel was also full of some crazy women from Thunder Bay. They kidnapped a cute Kiwi and took him shopping. We never did see him again... They both run hostels, and were interesting characters.

So, we go to the zoo for the Winnie the pooh connection. The statue wasn't great, the bear was never even kept in that zoo, and the place had far too small cages. Not good. The best bit was the lemurs. there were lots of evil birds just wandering about, and an evil tropical building that made me sneeze non stop.

Our train was FOUR HOURS LATE!!! We didn't even get free coffee out of it. Then a VIA staff member managed to completely insult us by making us wait for almost 20 minutes while an old lady with a walker was boarded. Ok, priority boarding and everything, but the attitude of this woman was that seeing as we were ECONOMY passengers, we intended to rugby tackle the poor little old lady while on our way to our seats...

VIA service is shit. With the train being late, a women we met on the trip ended up stranded at the Brandon North station, without light, electricity, heat or access to washrooms or info as to why the train was late (it was behind a derailment, always comforting to hear such tales). However, the late train meant we got to see the prairies, since otherwise we would have slept through them. I really liked the scenery, lots of small towns full of pickup trucks and grain silos. The endless sky thing is nice at sunrise.

Saturday, November 08, 2003


We saw the northern lights from the train that night, it was amazing. Then we hit Churchill and headed out to see polar bears. The tour was full of Australians, naturally. We saw an arctic fox pouncing on its prey, lots of ptarmigan, and 6 polar bears. They were such beautiful and powerful animals.

One was watching a guy inside a lodge on the tundra, and standing on its hind legs to see him better. The tundra is beautiful, the setting sun turned the ice a mint green colour and the sunset was gorgeous.

And our Argentinean guide was cute too ;) The town was rather on the functional side, though we only had time to see a couple of gift shops before we headed out on the train for another 36 hours.

This time we ended up sitting near two religious people who read the bible out loud to each other!!! Very annoying.

Some of the Australians in Churchill had taken photos of the interesting ice formations on the train. At one of the refueling stops, we suddenly clued in to what they where, located as they were under the toilet cubicles...

Spot the Arctic fox!

Thursday, November 06, 2003

The train ride through Ontario and Manitoba

Alan seems to notice the strangest things-he is amazed by the fact that pint glasses in Canada are never filled as full as in Scotland (wonder what that says..), that milk comes in plastic bags, that bread packages have plastic tags to keep them closed, that bubble tea exists! He and Jenni found bubble tea quite amusing.

Leaving Toronto proved interesting, as VIA Rail has some creative baggage policies. First off, I asked if there were any restrictions before we left and was told no. Since, we have discovered that you can only have carry on size bags in the carriages, that there is a weight restriction and charges for overweight baggage, and that they have a $2.50/day charge for storage BUT don't actually have storage facilities... We did managed to get our extra bags stored everywhere we stopped but it took some sweet talking. In fact, VIA service pretty much sucks.

The scenery through Ontario was trees, trees, and more trees. Lots of faded autumn colours and small towns. It was interesting being in the north though, as they say, the north is such a part of Canadian consciousness, even though many of us never or seldom are in the north. We passed Lake Simcoe, which made me sad that I hadn't made it out to the cottage before leaving Ontario. The train stops for refueling and you can get off, though we stayed on at Sudbury (as Jenni pointed out, getting off at the acid rain capital of Canada might not result in the most interesting photos!). However, we got off at Campreol and Sioux Lookout and took some exciting photos of us and the train. There are more French speaking people in northern Ontario that I had realized.

By the time we had hit day two on the train, still in Ontario, there was snow outside. None of us expected to see snow so soon. We had a four hour stopover in Winnipeg, where it was freezing!!! And windy. We watched the football (Canadian finals) at a place called Earl's and then got on the Hudson Bay train. The train across to Vancouver is called the Canadian, and it's very touristy. No free blankets and pillows on the Hudson's Bay though, and no nice staff!!! We had our first wildlife sitting, deer running through a field. Our food choices left a lot to be desired, essentially we lived on peanut butter and jam sandwiches and breakfast bars for five days. However, our fellow passengers were entertaining on the 36 hour trip-- one guy told us all about how he believes in vampires. At The Pas, we did a dash to see a church, impressively we can be tourists even with only 20 minutes in a town.