Friday, May 21, 2010

Ottawa to Halifax

The problem with moving to a new city, is that you have to take most of your belongings with you. The trouble with taking most of your belongings with you, is that you need to take many suitcases. The problem with taking many suitcases, is that when you're kicked out of your hostel at 11:00 AM, and your bus to Montreal doesn't leave until 2:00 PM, you have to find something to do with all of those bags and yourself for three hours. Finding myself in this exact situation this morning, I decided go to the bank, and then walk 45 minutes to the bus depot to eat up some time.

Before I left though, I took a minute to take stock of my hostel dorm. Some time ago, or possibly in my Scotland blog, you might have remembered me saying that every hostel will have a Canadian and an Australian (and also a German). In my room alone, there were four Australians and myself (I'm sure the German was in the hostel too somewhere).

Along the way I met a homeless hitchhiker named Dave, who was originally from Nova Scotia. He was excited to hear I was heading to Nova Scotia myself, and started telling me all about shark fining and trying to sell me on the importance of ocean conservation. I had already seen Sharkwater though. In fact, I owned Sharkwater, so he was preaching to the choir.

At the bus depot I noticed there were many people buying tickets for a 1:00 trip to Montreal. Since I had a 15 day open ticket, and I figured it would be more comfortable to wait at the train station in Montreal than the bus depot in...well, anywhere, I jumped in line and boarded the earlier bus instead.

My seatmate for the 1:00 "Express", Lisanne, was from just outside Gatineau, Quebec, the city attached to Ottawa. She was on her way to Montreal to visit her boyfriend, or more accurately to use his place to study while he was away. With Lisanne being a bilingual Quebecois, I thought it prudent to take advantage of the opportunity to brush up on my grade three French which was better than I thought, but still quite pathetic, by getting her to teach me how to count to 100. As Lisanne told me later though, "it's nice that you're making an effort, but you won't get very far just walking around pointing at your head and saying 'chapeau'." It's alright though, because I can now also say "fish" and "fat".

When we got to Montreal, Lisanne stayed with me and helped me buy a ticket for the metro and also find the right platform. I'm very thankful for her help, because all of the signs in the Montreal metro are only in French. There is also more than one train station, so I would have had to know that VIA Rail leaves from Gare Central in order to board my train without her help.

* * * * *

When I bought my train ticket online originally, I remember it being the most complicated process in the world. First I gave all of my credit card data and entered my dates and destinations. Then I was sent an e-mail that said my order would only be reserved for two days, and that I needed to phone the office to order my tickets officially. When I phoned the office, I gave my reservation number, and the employee spent ten minutes going back into the the website to find my order. When she found it, she had me resubmit all of my personal/credit information.

That brings us to now, where it appears as though in the three months since I purchased the tickets, the prices/policy had changed and it took a half-hour to straighten out the problem. Thankfully it was decided that I could have my tickets at the original price. In hindsight, it was a good thing I took that 1:00 bus.

* * * * *

The train station in Montreal provides wireless Internet, at a fee. However, the volcano ash from Iceland apparently produced a slight "service disruption", and so to make up for it Gare Central made the Wi-Fi within the station free until everything cleared up. I hardly call it "making up" for the inconvenience that volcano caused me on my Scotland trip, but it's nice to finally be benefiting from it instead of suffering.

It's also pleasant to vacation in Ottawa, because as a city of government workers, there is a sophistication and base level of intelligence and class generally lacking in the northern Alberta communities around my home, or in which I have lived. The Montreal train station is where all the "other" Canadians come to soil that class and sophistication.

Case in point: the twelve year old girl behind me in the boarding line who thought it a good time to sing out loud and dance to the music on her iPod. While annoying in its own right, this disturbing breach of good "line etiquette" was exacerbated by the fact that she couldn't sing or dance, and only knew some of the words.

It's time now then, for more Words of Wisdom from David. One: If you're a pre-teen/middle school girl who thinks she can sing/dance, but really can't (all of you), and you get the urge to sing or dance to pop songs on your iPod in public, don't. Two: If you just can't help it, and you absolutely must be annoying, don't do it in public. Rather, find an abandoned, condemned mineshaft; gather as many of your annoying friends as possible; and hold your dance party there, at the bottom. That's not unreasonable, is it?

While the government of Alberta seems to think passenger train travel is a Bolshevik plot, down East, attitudes are a bit more civilized, and so my #14 Ocean train was sold out and full. It was no concern to me though, for unlike the Greyhound, Economy class VIA Rail seats are large and comfy. I even found a seat on the right side of the car, which was a single seat row, so I had both a window and an aisle seat all in one (complete with my own electrical socket).

Unfortunately, there is no Wi-Fi on The Ocean, or even The Canadian (only The Corridor between Montreal and Toronto). Lucky for me though, I forgot to delete a number of videos from my hard drive after transferring them to my XHD before the trip, and so I filled the long boring hours, when I wasn't reading, watching my favourite show, Sasuke.

(A Quebec grain elevator. Part of it, at least.)

At 7:00 AM, as we crossed into New Brunswick, the dining car opened up for breakfast, and I was afforded a rare opportunity to leave Loser Class and mingle with passengers from Old People Class, er... First Class. The prices of the plates even seemed downright reasonable for the diners essentially being the equivalent of sitting ducks, but after I received my order it became obvious why it was so "reasonably priced". If anyone is looking to lose weight, I can now say "ride the train". Before the end of the trip you'll either be skinny, or broke, or both since it costs so much to ride the train in the first place.

* * * * *

One of the down sides of being a passenger on a train in Canada, is that you're travelling with a company that makes virtually no money. That means you're so far down the pecking order of trains, that you have to stop or slow down every time a freight train comes towards you on another/same track; it reminds me of driving in Scotland. Although in Scotland. this only happens when you travel in remote areas, not on the major route to a metropolitan city with a train popular enough to be sold out.

(Ha ha! That's right CN train; you wait for us this time.)

(Finally getting off the train in Halifax.)

(Yes, the train was painted green. I'm not sure it that point needed to be written on the side of the engine though.)

We did eventually make it to Halifax, and despite the aforementioned delays we managed to roll into the station at precisely the scheduled time. After picking up my luggage, I set out for what I assumed would be another long walk, but was surprised to find the hostel just 200 metres from the train station's front door, right around the corner. There was even a Superstore next to the train station, meaning I'll be able to stock up on fruits and snacks for the long trip back to Montreal on Sunday.

As I've mentioned in probably every post now, there is always an Aussie and a German at every hostel, and at the excellent HI-Halifax hostel the two staff members behind the desk were from Australia and Germany; so I was able to complete my regular Aussie/German search before even paying the bill.

Speaking of bills, I had booked each of my hostels online through the popular Hostelworld website. When customers book online at Hostelworld, they pay a booking fee of 10%, and are then supposed to pay the remainder of the bill when they check in. However, I realized today that HI-Halifax was the first hostel along my trip to actually notice that I had booked online and give me my discount. This explains the current deficit in my "hostel budget", and I will need to pay closer attention to what I'm charged on the way to Vancouver next week.

When I had finished paying, I turned to head to my room, when I was met by a screaming six year old kid, who was chucking a ball around and generally annoying everyone. Honestly, who brings a six year old to a hostel? And more importantly, why was he left alone to run around and yell in the hallways? As I've said before: if you have kids, you don't also get to have fun and adventure; you pick one or the other. At the very least, you don't get to go to sleep while the staff members at the hostel baby sit your kid, because you can't be bothered to do it yourself.

After unpacking and taking a much needed shower, I headed across the street to a pub I saw on the walk from the train station (everything is close to everything else in Halifax). It was full though, because it was University graduation weekend, so I sat at the bar and talked to Adam the bartender.

While waiting for my lamb and beef meatloaf, I found an excellent independent street newspaper lying on the bar, called The Coast. On page three I read that my threat to write a letter to my MP in a few weeks must have scared Prime Minister Harper, because he was planning on turning Sable Island into a National Park. This supposedly puts an end to all this clubbing of baby seals, but I'll probably still throw paint on some lady's fur coat when I get back.

1 comment:

  1. Trains free the workers to travel at low cost to far distances! They could spread the word, and our glorious way of life could come to an end.