Monday, May 10, 2010

Grande Prairie, Alberta to Regina, Saskatchewan; 1230 km, 16.5 hours

On Sunday, May 9, 2010, the same day on which I finally arrived home after a 30 hour journey from Edinburgh Scotland, I said good-bye to my family and set out on Leg 1 of an eleven day journey to reach Halifax by bus and train.

Greyhound's advertising claims that its drivers are the friendliest in the world, but our driver was anything but. It seemed he only knew one answer for any question. Would you like to know what time the bus leaves? Or if there is time to go to the toilet? Or if you can get something from your bag quickly? Well, you won't find out the answer from the driver, because he only knows how to bark "do you want on the bus or not?" Nevertheless, we made it to Edmonton in a super fast (for the Greyhound) five hours, fifteen minutes.

From Edmonton I boarded a bus to Saskatoon that I will dub the Granny Express, since the front half of the bus was filled entirely with elderly women going to Saskatchewan (and me). I felt a bit uncomfortable since I was easily the youngest person on the bus by 40 years, but I heard many interesting stories about what various grand children were doing, and also one of the funniest comments ever, from one of the travellers after leaving the terminal which had been hitherto playing soft rock: "I'm glad to get out of there and all that raucous music."

From Edmonton my new bus headed East to Saskatoon on a route I knew well, since I used to have many relatives in Saskatoon, and would make the journey regularly as a child while on family vacations. However, I must have been too young to appreciate that the route passed Elk Island National Park, and I was thrilled to see a number of elk and a couple of bison grazing along the fence near the highway.

From here I slept all the way until Lloydminster, which I thought was Vermillion until I saw "David's Place", and remembered instantly the diner/souvenir shop, a visit to which was a Murray Family tradition growing up.

What I didn't remember was that downtown Lloydminster looks exactly like downtown Grande Prairie. The old buildings look the same, and the new buildings have the same ugly colour scheme all the new buildings in Grande Prairie have too (see The Grande Prairie Inn for an example). Even the side walks are void of people, like those in Grande Prairie, because nobody wants to be in the depressing environment.

Shortly after leaving Lloydminster, we stopped in Lashburn, Saskatchewan to let off one of the grandmas at a service station. Another granny got off to take a picture of a grain elevator across the highway. She said they were all being torn out and soon there wouldn't be any grain elevators left, so she takes a pictures of every grain elevator she meets on her travels, and has a collection of over 35 000 pictures on her computer at home. After hearing this, I thought I should get to work on my own collection and so took a photograph for myself.

In North Battleford I was disappointed to see that the outdoor water park I had always told myself I would one day visit was gone. I did have the unique opportunity to sit in front of a man who snored while he was awake, though.

On a new segment of the blog I will call "gas price update", let it be known that on this date, Saskatchies (my new name for people from Saskatchewan) are paying $1.07/Litre; it doesn't seem to matter if you are in a rural area or Saskatoon either, since it's all the same price... socialists.

The bus rolled into the station in Saskatoon at 12:55 PM. At 1:00 PM I was told I couldn't get on the bus with my Discovery Pass, because the trip from Saskatoon to Regina was on the STC bus line, and Greyhound does not reimburse them for the cost of carrying me. This is a problem I had encountered before, and it makes it literally impossible to travel the entire length of the country with a Discovery Pass, which in my opinion is the whole point of the Discover Pass in the first place. However, Phileas Murray knows that money solves all problems, and so I just "threw" $42.42 at the man behind the ticket window and defied Greyhound's lack of inter-line cooperation by getting on the bus anyway.

It was also at this time that I happened to catch a glimpse of a bus moving at slow speed into its parking stall. If one watches closely, it can be observed that bus drivers are in-part so skilled at manoeuvring their gargantuan vehicles around the city, because coach buses have four-wheel steering (the wheels on the extreme outer corners all turn to help the bus negotiate tight corners).

Between Saskatoon and Regina the highway is unbelievably straight; I did not notice even one turn on the three hour trip. It was also a boring section of the journey, because I finished Around The World In 80 Days just after leaving Saskatoon, and so had nothing to read to pass the time. Eventually I arrived at 4:15 PM (local time) though, and set about to find my hostel.

(While there were a couple of small "folds" in the land around Regina, basically take this picture and multiply it by six hours to get an idea of what the trip from Lloyminster to Regina is like.)

The directions I received with my booking confirmation seemed simple enough, but were one block off, and so I walked to within twenty metres of my hostel before thinking I had gone west instead of east. I turned around and walked twelve blocks the other direction before realizing that I was going in the right direction the first time, and then turned around to walk all the way back again. All this time I was dragging around two suitcases, packed with all of the possessions I would need to live for an indefinite period of time in Halifax at the conclusion of my excursions across the country.

Unlike most of my visits to hostels in the past, I actually arrived and checked in early enough this time to walk around and explore the area in which I would be staying this night. Within a twenty minute walking distance of my hostel I came across two Thai restaurants, a Chinese restaurant, a Korean restaurant, an Ethiopian restaurant, and I heard there was even an Afghan restaurant in the area. I would have never expected to find such a diverse neighbourhood in the middle of the prairies. It makes my home town's relative lack of diversity shameful. Bikes also seem very popular in Regina (at least in the area I was staying), and I must have passed at least one cyclist every two blocks that I walked; it was quite refreshing.

(It's not Starbucks, I know. Don't worry, I'll write a letter to this neighbourhood's MLA about this sort of filth.)

The people in Regina are exceptionally friendly for what I would call a relatively large city. I had no problems striking up a cordial conversation with each person I met along the way, and everyone seemed more than willing to help me get "unlost" during my walkabout to find the hostel.

At one point I came across this charming little car (see picture below), and the owner gave me a complete history of the car including where it was made and how it came to be that she was in possession of it.

It's called a Nissan Figaro. It was part of a 1991, 20 000 car only production run, and was designed to look like a 1960s Datsun Fairlady. The safety regulations in Japan are so stringent, that cars older than 15 years are no longer economical to run. Thus, the owners sell them and many old Japanese imports are available. The woman who owned this one purchased it through a company in Richmond, BC that brings in old cars to Canada and ensures they are safe enough to be driven on Canadian roads.

The owner even opened up the door so that I could take pictures of the interior.

Notice the Japanese writing by the gear shift. Yup, it's a real import.

In conclusion, while I definitely noticed that many of the side walks were in need of repair, and that a lot of the buildings along Broad Street looked like they were built in the 1970s and are now falling apart, Regina actually has a sense of charm that I find is lacking in Grande Prairie. Even though the buildings may be a little older, the owners appear to try and paint them in bright colours to give them a more personal touch. Even the names of the streets are warm, and friendly, and during one part of my search to find the hostel I found a neighbourhood in which all of the streets were named after Canadian Capital Cities.

(The angle of the picture is not great, but I still think it looks cosy. Halifax Street, Regina.)

(Yet more interesting architecture in Regina. The city has made a great effort to restore historic buildings like this one to enhance the sense of "culture". I applaud its efforts.)

I never thought I would say this, but I'm actually going to miss Regina when I leave.

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