Sunday, June 13, 2010

Vancouver to Halifax: The Final Day

I'm not sure why, but since I've started flying around the world, I can make it to my destination without much trouble, but on the way back I always have a terrible time making it home without some series of issues making the trip difficult, no matter how well I try to prepare in advance.

The night before I left, this time, I had set my alarm and packed my bag so that I would be able to easily walk to the Skytrain station and get to the airport on time. I don't typically pack my things the night before a flight, but it was a good thing I did, because it turned out that once again I had forgot to turn on the actual alarm, and so I woke up an hour later than planned.

I quickly showered and grabbed my bags. I hadn't wanted to call a cab, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and so I was forced to part with $30 to make my flight. It was all for naught though, as my flight was delayed by half an hour, meaning I would likely have been able to reach the airport by Skytrain anyway. At least I was able to buy some breakfast.

I had booked this flight three months in advance, which turned out to be a fortuitous move since the Boeing 767 booked for the flight was sold out and filled to capacity. The plane - the widest I've ever seen - had three seats even on the side aisles, so I still had to sit in the middle of two people.

Fortunately though, my neighbours were quite interesting. The man on my left worked with Universities and Colleges around the country to help develop accounting textbooks for CASB. The man on my right was a Sea King helicopter pilot for Canada's Navy, who told me that every Sea King helicopter flies with a crew of 17 (6 to operate the helicopter, and 11 mechanics to fix it when it breaks down).

When I arrived in Toronto's Pearson Airport, I thought I had a two hour break before my next flight. I sat down to have some supper and read some of my book, but I had misread the time of my next flight on my ticket on the plane, and by the time I noticed I was already late.

To compound matters, Pearson Airport is one of the worst organized airports in Canada, and I could not find an arrivals/departure board until I had accidentally walked out of the main terminal. When I realised that my flight was actually in fifteen minutes I tried to rush to gate 148, but found that in order to go back in through the sliding doors I had just left, I would have to go through security again.

I ran around frantically trying to find gate 148, and was directed in the "right" direction by an airport agent. I ran to the end of the hallway, but couldn't find any number higher than 145. At this point I found the following sign (below), and resigned myself to rescheduling my flight.

At this point I really needed to call my "ride" in Halifax, because he would be waiting at the airport without knowing what had happened to me. I tried 6 different Bell-Aliant pay phones, but none of them would let me connect to Halifax (they'd take my credit card though). I then tried a Bell High Speed Internet station, but that was so slow it cost me $4.05 and was only able to load three pages in ten minutes. The Bell Internet kiosk was so slow it could not even let me reach the e-mail composition page, and so after all of that I remained thwarted in my attempt to reach my friend by Bell Canada's simply awful service.

Considering I had heard a story from someone in Ottawa, who had his mobile phone broken by a sms message sent to him from Bell, who would later refuse to fix his phone, and that I would later come across a Bell payphone in Halifax that would not accept any coins of any size or denomination, I am forced to conclude that Bell Canada is the worst phone/Internet provider in the world. But I digress...

Somewhere over New Brunswick, on my new flight, I was approached by my plane's operations manager who told me that there had been a problem, and that someone in luggage at Pearson Airport thought that I was on my original flight, and so my bag had been placed on that plane. When it was realized that I was not on the plane, my bag was taken off, but had not made it on my new flight. This meant that my bag was actually four hours behind me, somewhere back in Toronto.

When I reached the Halifax airport, Air Canada gave me a blue canvas bag with a new toothbrush, tube of toothpaste, clean shirt, and many other toiletry items to make up for my luggage mix-up. The only bright point in all of this was Air Canada's continued above-average customer service. Remember, Air Canada good, Bell-Aliant/Pearson Airport baaaaad.

Eventually, after another cab ride, this one $60, I made it to my hostel and was finally able to rest... for one night at least.

While this marks the end 0f my incredible cross-Canada adventure, it is also the beginning of my search for a job, and an apartment. When I satisfy both requirements for Halifax living, I will embark on my next project: a two to three year exploration of Nova Scotia, in which I attempt to visit every point of interest possible.

Thank you for joining me on this most excellent adventure, and please visit me often at my new blog, Ea-pea Dave's Terra Nova, whenever you'd like to feel that you too are in New Scotland.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Vancouver Day 4

When I woke up today (my last in Vancouver), I was elated to see that the sky was blue and the sun was shining. It turns out though, that the sky was just teasing me, for after I came back from my shower the grey clouds had returned.

After another excellent free breakfast in the kitchen (kudos to whoever has to prepare all the fruit, bread, bagels, oatmeal, milk, and juice), I set off to see Vancouver's famous four-season outdoor playground, Grouse Mountain.

First hiked back in 1894, Grouse Mountain got its name from the plentiful Blue Grouse the intrepid hikers would hunt on their 3 day journey to the summit. Back in those days there was no bridge across the Burrard Inlet, or road up to the base of the mountain, so it was quite a trek.

But this is 2010, and there is a bridge across the Burrard Inlet, and there is a road to the base of the mountain. There is even a gondola to the resort at the top, so I was able to make the journey in less than an hour.

I had originally planned to walk up to the top on "Mother Nature's Stairmaster," the Grouse Grind, but alas it was closed for renovations during my visit, and so I was forced to take an eight minute ride up to the summit in the 45 person Skyride cable car.

(Taking the Skytrain allows for absolutely stunning views of the valley below.)

Once at the top of the mountain, there are seemingly endless activities to experience. I knew where I wanted to go first though, and made a dash to the Orphaned Grizzly Refuge.

When a grizzly cub is orphaned, rangers will typically try to shoot it to save it from being mauled to death by an adult male grizzly. However, when Grinder and Coola's mothers were hit by vehicles in 2001, they became part of an experiment to create the first ever Endangered Grizzly Refuge.

The original plan was to incage the two cubs inside a 5-acre electric fence so that they could be monitored and secretly slipped food so they would think they had foraged it themselves. However, because of a delay in gaining permission to build the refuge, Grinder and Coola had been handled too frequently by humans and would consequently never be allowed to return to the wild (they would approach humans looking for food).

Subsequently, Grinder and Coola became part of the show at Grouse Mountain, and help attract more than one million visitors each year.

(I call this photo, "Bear In Thoughtful Repose By Lake On Mountain Top".)

(I hate this fence. It serves no practical purpose whatsoever, since the Grizzly Bears could easily tear it apart. The fence you see obstructing the view only exists to make scared tourists feel more comfortable. The bears are actually contained by only three thin, electrically charged wires on the other side of the fence.)

Another big draw at Grouse Mountain is the Endangered Birds Show. Unlike Grinder and Coola, who were close to starvation when they were found, the birds in this show are healthy birds, and were bread for educational purposes to raise awareness for endangered birds in general.

(A red hawk. Any time you hear an eagle call in a movie, it's more likely to be a clip of this bird calling instead.)

(The Bald Eagle, AKA, the bird everyone came to see.)

My favourite show of the day had to be the "World Famous Lumberjack Show" - part athletic contest, part comedy show, and cast with World Champion Canadian Lumberjacks. I had so much fun watching the antics of "Johnnie" and "Willie", that I actually skipped taking a ride to the top of the wind power generator to watch the show twice.

(Willie tosses an axe at the target.)

(Johnnie prepares for his throw.)

(Willie makes mischief; Johnnie threatens to chop Willie with an axe.)

(Johnnie hurts his back.)

(Johnnie and Willie have a sawing contest.)

(Johnnie "cheats".)

(Johnnie and Willie risk hypothermia.)

(Johnnie smiling after his log spin victory, while a soaking wet Willie shivers in the cold mountain air and curses MC, Allie, for talking too much.)

(The $47 Eye in the Sky ride - the only wind-power generator that you can actually ride to the centre of, in an elevator pod.)

(Riding this zipline costs about $105 a person.)

At 4:00 PM I had to rush back down the mountain and get to the Capilano Suspension Bridge again to catch the last free shuttle back to downtown Vancouver. When I got back to Vancouver, I set up a reservation at a nice looking Greek restaurant, and then rushed back to the beach at English Bay to get some better pictures now that I was experiencing the first truly sunny hour since arriving in Vancouver.

At 6:00 PM I went to wait for my friend Hyo-young, whom I had met in Grande Prairie, and her friend Olivia, with whom Hyo-young was now studying English in Vancouver, at the Yaletown Skytrain station.

The evening before Hyo-young, Olivia, and I had also met and eaten sundubu (spicy tofu soup) at a Korean restaurant downtown. Olivia had said she could "eat Korean food any time in Korea" and that she wanted to try Greek food, but had always been met with long lineups when she attempted before (hence my reservation).

After stuffing myself to the lower esophageal sphincter, and paying for the meal, I walked my two friends back to the Granville Skytrain station, and went back home to prepare for my flight the next day.

(I've been in Vancouver four days. Do I look Korean yet?)

Vancouver Day 3

When I woke up today, the clouds were greyer than usual and had decided to drop their water harder and more copiously than usual. My two major attractions left that I had planned to see were Grouse Mountain and the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Since Grouse Mountain is, well, on top of a mountain, and the Capilano Suspension Bridge is in a rain forest with massive Douglas Firs creating a literal umbrella to block the rain, I chose the latter to visit today.

As a giant cheap-o, I of course walked six blocks out of my way to catch the free shuttle bus to the entrance of the bridge. This was a great improvement over what the Capilano "Tramps" had to face back in the 1890s, when it was the first tourist attraction in the Vancouver area.

(The inside of the shuttle bus was outfitted to look like a 1920s street car.)

In those '90s, only wealthy people could visit the bridge, because it required the freedom to take an entire day off from work while you took a slow ferry across the river to North Vancouver, and then take part in a 10 km hike to the bridge. Today it requires $30 to see, so in a sense you still have to be pretty wealthy.

Often the ladies in the group would shed and stash their large hats and frilly dresses, that they had to wear to ride the ferry, in the trees once they reached the other side. Unfortunately for them, the expensive dresses were often pilfered from their hiding places when the women returned.

You might not be able to read the signs, but they say the bridge is nearly as wide as two Boeing 747 planes, and as tall as the Statue of Liberty's shoulders.

(The 747 Statue of Liberty bridge.)

Before I crossed the bridge I visited the totem pole park, and met Ben Spencer a First Nations artist working on a ceremonial paddle that would be sold and used in a dance of some kind later.

(Crossing the rapids, 200 metres up.)

Once I crossed the bridge I joined a forest floor nature walk, semi-safe from the rain by the massive Firs looming over head.

After the tour, I ascended the trees to experience one of the best parts of the Capilano Bridge adventure park, the Tree Top Adventure, the first of its kind in North America.

Swaying on wooden bridges, 30 metres up in the Douglas Firs - even above some of the other trees as you can see in the above picture - the Tree Top Adventure is almost worth the trip to Vancouver alone.

Or, you could come to Capilano Bridge for the amazing feeling of being above the mist and the trees.

When I returned to the totem park, Ben had finished his paddle. He told me it took him 2 weeks to make, but that other, more elaborate carvings like masks could take up to 6 months.

As if you needed more reasons to come to Vancouver, how about boulevards like this?

Or, maybe you have cancer? I suspect there will soon be no KFCs in Vancouver (don't worry if you didn't get the joke, it was a South Park reference).

I prefer the big buildings though. This building would probably earn about a hundred fines in Grande Prairie for being too tall; you know it has to be good.

(Korea Exchange Bank? I haven't seen one o' them in... five months?)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Vancouver Day 2

With my new sight seeing day in hand, I decided to visit The Telus World of Science building I had noticed the day before when I walked by False Creek.

(This guy either really hated his bike, or really wanted to keep it safe.)

(The classic skyline of downtown Vancouver. Notice how the sky has really improved today.)

Built inside a large geodesic dome, the Telus World of Science in Vancouver is more or less exactly like the Telus World of Science in Edmonton, with the exception that Vancouver's version has a stronger emphases on saving the environment. This is most likely because unlike Alberta, it's not illegal to care about the environment in Vancouver.

As you might have been able to read in the sign, the four globes above, are part of a larger, travelling public art display that has been around the world called Cool Globes that I found in front of the entrance. Designed by students, artists, and community groups, the one-tonne globes are meant to display solutions to/educate about Global Warming.

(With everything from giant, human running powered electric generators to air cannons, pictured above, the Telus World of Science has something for children and David's alike.)

After exploring all the exhibits, and setting the record score in a reaction time test (above), I walked up a seemingly endless spiralling ramp to get to the OMNIMAX Theatre at the top of the dome to view a movie.

OMNIMAX is like IMAX on steroids. Built by IMAX, the screen is about three times as wide as a normal IMAX screen, twice as high, and is curved in a half dome shape that extends over head. It offers 180-degrees of screen for your chiropractor's pleasure.

I watched 9-time World Surfing Champion, Kelly Slater, travel to Tahiti to surf gigantic waves that literally looked like they would crash on my head. In between big waves, the film's producers tried to justify its place in the World of Science by explaining how waves were formed, but then it was back to the action.

(The waves were so scary I aged 25 years.)

I left the World of Science in the mid-afternoon because I had to meet a friend at 5:00 PM. On the way back along False Creek the clouds parted for a brief time, and I was able to capture for posterity (or at least the ten year before the file corrupts) what makes Vancouver one of the most beautiful modern cities in the world.

(False Creek again, but with a tiny bit of colour this time.)

(Some excellent looking, modern condos across from the casino on the False Creek water front. Pay attention Grande Prairie, these are what luxury condos look like. Don't be fooled by four-storey imposters.)


(More boats, and tall buildings.)

(Hip coffee shops and restaurants among the hip condos and offices of Yaletown.)

(A much better view of the Roundhouse Community Centre. Notice the child trying to "tight rope" walk the top of the black siding.)

(I went five blocks out of my way for this picture.)

(Why is there a giant gas meter on the front of that brick building?)

I was quite excited to meet my friend, since I hadn't seen her for two years since she moved to Vancouver from Grande Prairie. It's always nice to have a local friend too, because they know the cool places to go, like the beach at English Bay, only three blocks behind my hostel but somewhere I would never have gone without her, because I didn't know it was there.

(The storm clouds started to roll back in while we were on the beach, which makes this lonely lifeguard chair look even lonelier. Hmm... that's a good title idea for a children's book, now that I think about it.)