Logo: Lobster cartoon

JOURNAL : April/May 2005

Image: CANADA Flag

5 April 2005 :

I’m extremely happy to make a return visit to Canada. I was here in 1999 with three of my friends (Mark, Pete & Rich) and had a thoroughly good time. On that occasion we only stayed in the western part of the country. This time I plan to visit the Rocky Mountains again, but I also want to head further east towards Calgary, Toronto, Montréal and Québec… as well as heading west to Vancouver Island. I’m really looking forward to it.

As we progressed away from the border, it was difficult to miss the huge line of trucks queued up, all waiting their turn to cross into the USA. It went on for well over a mile. I was just glad the coach I was in was going in the opposite direction, otherwise I'm sure we would have been stuck there for hours.


You’re welcomed into British Columbia with a sign proclaiming “The best place on earth” – quite a claim. Not sure how you can actually prove or disprove it, but based on my previous visit I’m certainly not going to argue.

6 April 2005 :

According to the current publicity, “Vancouver fuses modern sophistication with unspoiled natural beauty to create an urban oasis brimming with world-class attractions and recreational possibilities the envy of cities the world over. It is a place where glimmering skyscrapers reflect towering mountains and placid ocean waters.”

I would normally have no hesitation in agreeing with this, but unfortunately today I couldn’t as it was dull and overcast all day, and the rain didn’t stop – so I had a somewhat grey and wet impression of the city. Skyscrapers certainly weren’t glimmering, and the mist was so low that I couldn’t see the mountains on the other side of the harbour.

I managed to get my bearings (and wet) during a long walk round the city, although it was strange because I only recognised a couple of the landmarks. I think that Vancouver has definitely changed a lot over the past six years. I also guess it will change further in time for its hosting of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Everywhere I look, there are signs up on the street lamps with Olympic logos, and the word “Imagine” (or “Imaginez” for the French speakers) – hopefully the relevant city authorities are spending their time planning and implementing rather than just imagining.

7 April 2005 :

Yet again, lots more rain.

After sorting out my travel arrangements for tomorrow, I spent some time writing the latest batch of postcards and reading/writing the latest batch of e-mails.

I then walked down to the harbour front, and the Canada Place complex – the impressive sails on the building weren’t looking impressive today.

Image: Canada Place, Vancouver

The rest of the day was spent exploring more of the Downtown area, and the shops and shopping malls of Howe Street, Hornby Street, Nelson Street, Smithe Street, Robson Street, Georgia Street and Dunsmuir Street. Fortunately, Vancouver is primarily built on a grid system, so it was very easy not to get lost and therefore find my way back to the hotel without too much trouble.

8 April 2005 :

After a quick breakfast and a quick check-out from my hotel, I had only a short walk to the coach pick-up spot. Thank goodness, as my travel bag seems to have gained a lot of weight over the past few weeks.

Once we had picked up some more passengers at various hotels, it was a short trip down to the Central Station, where the main coach departed at 9.45am for the 45-minute journey to the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen.

Not a pretty place, but functional !

Image: Ferry Terminal at Tsawwassen

The ferry crossing (on the “Spirit of British Columbia”) lasted 1.5 hours, and was very smooth. It was dry enough to spend quite a lot of the journey outside, and I was really pleased to spot a couple of small whales swimming close to the edge of the water. Too quick though for me to get out the camera.

Back on dry land, it was a further 45-minute trip by coach to get from Swartz Bay to Victoria. I checked-in to the Youth Hostel for a three-night stay, and am pleased to report that it was very clean and comfortable. I found out that it has one of the best reputations across North America.

9 April 2005 :

After a fairly lazy start to the day, it was time for a good walk round the city and I liked what I saw.

Victoria is very clean and green, with lots of small parks and lots of trees and flowers. The sun was out, and there were a few buskers performing down by the waterfront. Every so often a seaplane would either land or take off, and various boats (including those of the ‘Prince of Whales’ whale-watching company) would sail in and out of the harbour. A great atmosphere.

There is some impressive architecture in Victoria, including the Empress Hotel (picture in Gallery #6) and the Government Buildings (picture follows).

Image: Parliament Buildings, Victoria BC

I had a quick look in the Royal BC Museum, situated just across from the Government buildings, but I would save a full visit for either tomorrow or the day after. What was impossible to miss today in the entrance hall was the Rolls Royce that has had a colourful paint job – it used to belong to John Lennon.

Image: John Lennon's Rolls Royce

Imagine. It’s all very British.

10 April 2005 :

Another relaxing day in Victoria – mooching round the shops, enjoying the various coffee and beer emporiums, and spending time again down by the Inner Harbour area.

Image: Welcome to Victoria

Nearby, there is a small grassy area signposted as 'Thunderbird Park' - no sign of the Tracy family, but there are a few Native Canadian buildings and totem poles.

Image: Thunderbird Park, Victoria BC

These are typical of those found on the Northwest Coast, and are the sorts of structures that were in abundance before European settlement. 1843 was the pivotal year, when 'Fort Victoria' was originally settled. It became a regional outpost for the Hudson's Bay Company, and the harbour soon became home to one of the largest whaling and sealing fleets.

Various seafaring milestones are commemorated in the "parade of ships", a series of over 60 plaques displayed on the causeway wall. And a statue of Captain James Cook looks down on all the people walking by on the pavement.

11 April 2005 :

This was my last day in Victoria, so an ideal opportunity to do a bit of souvenir shopping. I’ve discovered though that it’s quite difficult to find locally-produced items, unless you can now call China and the Philippines local in this globalised economy. At least you’re greeted at some of the shops by local characters, including stuffed bears, moose, and mounted policemen. (I didn’t check their labels, but assumed that they weren’t imported).

Image: Moose outside one of Victoria's many souvenir shops

My main activity of the day was the visit to the Royal BC Museum. I was in an “educate me” mood.

Readers of this website will know that I’ve been to various museums and exhibitions over the past few months. This one wins my award for being the best laid-out and organised. It’s not the biggest museum (still, it does boast 7 million items), but there are 15 different galleries on three floors which tell the BC story from the Ice Age onwards. There are a lot of items that date before the European settlement of the 1800s – probably the earliest representation is the giant woolly mammoth – c.15000 BC.

Lots of AD items for BC as well, including mock-ups of early houses, displays on farming methods, gold mining, the growth of Victoria’s Chinatown, the changes in transport, environment and demographics, as well as the maritime history, the military history, and sections on leisure and entertainment.

Image: History Plaque at the BC Museum

Image: Horse & Chicken at the BC Museum

The main temporary exhibit was not about British Columbia or anything at all to do with Canada. It was ‘Tibetan treasures’ – with items on loan from The Newark Museum. There was a great mix of artefacts (some dating back to the 13th century, including weapons and clothing), photographs (from the early 1900s) and documentary film. I learnt a great deal today about Tibet and its people.

Image: Royal BC Musuem logo

CLICK HERE for more info on the Royal BC Musuem (www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca)

And hot on the heels of my IMAX experience in Seattle, I went to a show in the RBCM’s own IMAX cinema, with its six-storey-high screen. Today’s presentation was a film by National Geographic called the ‘Forces of Nature’ – consisting of three segments devoted to volcanoes, earthquakes and tornadoes – the causes, the events and their aftermath.

It was very moving.

And talking about moving, it was time to check-out of the hostel, and take the bus/ferry combo back to Vancouver. My time on Vancouver Island was at an end.

12 April 2005 :

It was time for a real good look around. So I headed for Vancouver’s own observation tower, known as the ‘Vancouver Lookout’.

Image: Vancouver Lookout

It’s not the tallest tower I’ve been to, and rather than being freestanding, it’s attached to the side of an office block. But I was able to see everything that I needed to, including the harbour, the mountains, and all the tiny ant-sized people below.

CLICK HERE for more information on the Vancouver Lookout (www.vancouverlookout.com)

Image: View from the Vancouver Lookout

It’s strange. So much of what I could see looks so different to the Vancouver I remember from 6 years ago. Oh well, perhaps my memory is failing. I was warned that my brain would turn to mush once I gave up work. I’m satisfied though that my grey cells haven’t deteriorated that much, as I figured that I wouldn’t have remembered the warnings that my brain would turn to mush once I gave up work, if indeed my brain had turned to mush !

Anyway, enough rambling for now. I had some walking to do.

After descending the Lookout, I headed across to the area of Vancouver known as ‘Gastown’.

I managed to get a good picture of the famous Gas Clock, but I had to wait for a small group of German tourists to move away before getting a clear shot. Vee ‘ave vays ov making you tick.

Image: Gas Clock at Gastown, Vancouver

Not the brightest of days, but at least it stayed dry long enough for me to have a good look round. And, amongst the various boutiques and restaurants, plenty of tourist (for tourist, please read ‘tat’) shops to explore.

Gastown is where Vancouver took root in the 1860s. Fortunately, the original buildings were saved from demolition in the 1960s, and the streets are lined with Victorian-style lampposts.

13 April 2005 :

A lazy day today, spent reading, writing and relaxing.

Some days, I just wake up and feel like not doing much. It’s nice to have the option. And as I’m writing this, I’ve got no idea if this is a weekday or a Saturday or Sunday ! Bliss.

14 April 2005 :

Another day spent relaxing in Vancouver, and with a decent Internet connection to my laptop I was able to start bringing the website back up-to-date. There’s a lot to do, but I’m in no hurry. Falling behind in the updates is just a sign that I’m enjoying myself.

With just about a month left on this trip, I took the chance to re-visit all the future travel and accommodation plans, just to make sure that there won’t be any last minute problems. So much to think about – it’s a hard life !

15 April 2005 :

After checking out of my hotel, it was a short walk along to the AVIS office in Hornby Street where I was to pick up my next rental car, a Pontiac Sunfire. With the necessary paperwork completed, I set off for the Rocky Mountains.

I left Vancouver via Stanley Park, one of the world’s greatest city parks, with the original intention of stopping for a walk round. However, torrential rain had arrived, and I decided to just drive on and stay completely dry. It was so different six years ago, when I played Pitch and Putt whilst squirrels and chipmunks scurried around.

So, after crossing the Lions Gate Bridge, I headed east along Highway 1. Passed some familiar places that I recalled from my last visit to Canada … such as Burnaby, Surrey, Chilliwack and Hope. Tricky driving conditions, as the rain was settling on the surface of the road meaning lots of spray being thrown up by the other vehicles ahead of me.

I switched to the toll-road (Route 5), which climbed gradually up into the mountains. This became a very scenic drive, with many pine forests, rivers and streams along the way. Every so often I would hit a patch of fog, and there were many areas still covered with thick snow.

Eventually, I arrived at the town of Kamloops and decided to stop at one of the many motels for the night, rather than continue any further.

16 April 2005 :

Another day of driving. And another day for encountering lots of fog and snow. Many of the mountaintops were obscured by the thick mist. The air was cold, and the trees were glistening in the early morning sun. It was at times quite magical.

After a brief stop at Revelstoke, and after driving through a few tunnels, I reached a Time Zone line – so I immediately lost an hour. A bit later on, I lunched at the town of Golden (the Town of Opportunity), and then at 2pm crossed the border into Alberta.

Image: ALBERTA flag

A little bit further, and I reached one of the most famous spots in Canada – Lake Louise (and the village bearing the same name).

I shouldn’t have been that surprised, but I was amazed to find the lake completely frozen over. There were a few warning signs at the edge telling people to keep off the lake due to the thin ice, but these were generally ignored.

Image: Lake Louise

It was certainly very cold, and very icy underfoot, especially on the footpath between the lake and the car park. But what a sight.

After about an hour spent enjoying the view, it was back in the car for the 45-minute drive to the town of Banff, where I would stay for the next two nights. I was booked into the Caribou Lodge. It was wonderful to sit in front of the roaring fire in the reception area – a nice contrast to the freezing temperature outside.

17 April 2005 :

It snowed overnight, and was still snowing when I was woken by an alarm call that I didn’t order! Oh well, perhaps I’ll get a lie-in tomorrow morning.

I headed off through the town, on towards the base of Sulphur Mountain, and bought a ticket for the Gondola ride up to the 2281m (7486ft) summit.

Image: Sulphur Mountain Gondola, Banff

Image: View of Banff from summit of Sulphur Mountain

The lingering mist affected the views, but it didn’t matter. Being up there early in the morning in the crisp clean air was wonderful. It was definitely the coldest moment of my trip so far, so I was very glad that I wrapped up well.

CLICK HERE for more info and live webcam (www.banffgondola.com)

Signs at the top informed me that I was 4419 miles (7112 kms) from London and 4104 miles (6605 kms) from Edinburgh.

But I was a world away.

After spending some time with my hands wrapped around a warming cup of coffee, I climbed back into the Gondola for the descent. The journey takes about 8 minutes each way.

There was no hanging around in the afternoon. I went for a drive outside Banff, and ended up at Lake Minnewanka. As with Lake Louise yesterday, it was frozen over. There weren’t many people around, so it was a great place for some peace and quiet. The Native Canadians called it Minn-waki (“Lake of the Spirits”).

I did encounter a few of the mountain goats, but they seemed disinterested with my presence.

Image: Goat walking by Lake Minnewanka

A few miles further on, and I reached Two Jack Lake. More goats, and more wonderful views.

Image: Two Jack Lake

In the evening, I went for dinner at the Grizzly House Restaurant in the centre of Banff. It’s a chalet-style venue with fondue being its speciality. You cook the meat yourself at the table on a hot stone, and you have a selection of sauces to choose from to dip the meat into. There were some unusual choices on the menu, including wild boar, alligator, ostrich, frog and rattlesnake. I opted for the buffalo and elk. Delicious.

Above me on the wall was a moose’s head – available to buy at a mere $4000. I wasn’t tempted… well, it just wouldn’t fit in my bag. I also resisted the urge to buy one of the 4.5kg bars of Toblerone that were on offer for $124.95.

No chocolate or moose for me. Just coffee.

18 April 2005 :

After a couple of nights in Banff it was time to set off again. But today wouldn’t involve a long drive, and within two hours I had reached the outskirts of Calgary.

As I approached the city, I saw signs for the Olympic Park, and thought I’d have a look to see what was there. Calgary hosted the XV Winter Olympics in 1988, and the Park was home to some of the key competitions, including the toboggan runs and the ski jumps.

A 15-minute film provided all the necessary background before having a look round the various exhibits, including a large collection of Olympic torches. I even had a go on the skiing simulator, and am pleased to confirm that I made it in one piece to the end. I don’t think though that I broke any records.

My ticket also gave me the opportunity to drive right round the park, passing the twisting toboggan run, right up to the 90m ski-jump. An elevator took me up to the top of the tower, where I was able to get a clear view down the jump. It’s a long way down. And I got great views of the city beyond.

Image: Olympic Ski Jump, Calgary

You may recall that it was at the Calgary Olympics that Eddie the Eagle Edwards became famous. I had always thought of him as a bit of an embarrassment to the country, however having now stood at the top of the jump and realised just what he achieved, I take my proverbial hat off to him. He had real “guts” to do what he did, and he must have been so chuffed with himself to achieve a personal ambition (which was probably one of survival as well as obtaining a UK record).

Where Eagles Dare.

Later in the afternoon, and after checking into a motel for the next two nights, I went into the city for a look round. That went fine. What didn’t go quite so well was my journey back to the motel. I had a reasonable idea of where it was, but it took me well over an hour and a half to find it again ! I usually have very good bearings, but everything looked very different once darkness had fallen. And please believe me when I say that Calgary is a very big and far-spread out city.

19 April 2005 :

Spent the day in the heart of Calgary – much of which appears to be exactly like every other city I’ve visited. It has its own observation tower, called (imaginatively) the ‘Calgary Tower’, so I thought it would be worth a look.

Image: The Calgary Tower

It was a clear day, so I could see right across to the snow-capped mountains of the Rockies. You also got a good view of the Calgary Stampede complex, although I was a few months early to see the show.

I’ve been to some revolting restaurants in my time, but this was the first time that I had eaten in a revolving one. The floor, chairs and tables move round at a gentle pace, with a full revolution taking one hour in the evening. However I found out that at lunchtimes they speed it up so that one revolution takes just 45 minutes – this is to allow people on a restricted lunch hour to get the full 360° before returning to work. I got two full revolutions whilst I was there, so you can work out that I didn’t rush my lunch.

CLICK HERE for more info on the Calgary Tower (www.calgarytower.com)

Image: Calgary Stampede Complex

I’ve had many high points on my trip. This was another one, especially as the meal warranted an entry in this website’s A Good Feed section. Up so high, I felt like a true gastronaut.

20 April 2005 :

Ordinarily, I’m sure it would be a very easy flight across to Toronto from Calgary. However, I had to route via Chicago. This meant that I had to pass through US Immigration and Customs at Calgary airport, effectively putting me back in the United States - even though I was still on Canadian soil.

Image: USA Flag

When I landed in Chicago, I was definitely then in the USA. But I had to stay within the airport transfer area, so didn’t see anything at all of Chicago. All I did see was more Airline security, a few shops and the departure lounge and gate. At least I couldn’t get lost.

The only thing I did lose was an hour, due to crossing yet another time zone.

Image: ILLINOIS State Flag

Still, at least I can now claim that I have visited the State of Illinois.

What I hadn’t bargained for was the lengthy delay at Chicago for my second flight, a delay apparently due to technical difficulties. The flight once it eventually took off lasted only an hour so passed very quickly.

With another time-zone difference, I lost a further hour. It was turning out to be a short day – but it felt long, as I had spent all of it within the confines of airports and aeroplanes (or airplanes, if you’re from the North American continent).

Image: CANADA Flag

Image: ONTARIO Flag

Having left Canada earlier in the day, I now had to re-enter – this entailed queuing up for Canadian Immigration and Customs for processing, but at least I got another stamp in my passport.

I was booked into the local Best Western Hotel ready for a quick getaway in the morning. Pleased that I just caught their last courtesy bus, as it was now nearly midnight and the driver was about to call it a day. Turns out that the so-called airport hotel is actually about 5 miles from the airport, so I was very glad that I got the free transport across.

21 April 2005 :

As arranged, I picked up my latest rental car at the airport – another Pontiac Sunfire. I didn’t enjoy the first part of today’s drive – the Route 401 Expressway east out of Toronto had many lanes of traffic, and the scenery was very reminiscent of Birmingham in the UK.

After a while, the tower blocks and industrial units thinned out. I passed the towns of Ajax and Newcastle, before stopping for a while at Brighton. It’s situated at the edge of Lake Ontario, and the Lake was the only feature on the whole drive that was mildly interesting. The landscape in this part of the world is mostly flat, and primarily agricultural.

Eventually arrived at Kingston, where I checked-in to a Super 8 Motel for the night. Went for a drive round the town (or it may be a city?), but it didn’t have any endearing qualities.

I did have a bit of a panic in the evening. I had parked up at the local Subway sandwich bar to get a bite to eat, and spent a few minutes in the queue before being served. As I was going through what I wanted the assistant suddenly asked me if that was my trunk open outside. I turned round, and yes, it was. There was my car in the car park with the trunk door completely up. I ran out, and was shocked to find that my large blue travel bag (a present from my colleagues in Scottish Widows, and currently full of clothes and other possessions) was missing.

It took me about 15 seconds to realise that the bag was actually back in the motel. I was very lucky though, as my travel holdall (containing my currency, passport and tickets) was still in the trunk …. I’d put it there earlier for safety !! Brain ... turning to mush ... hmmm ?

Memo to self : Be very careful with car keys that also include a remote control for the trunk.

22 April 2005 :

Onwards I continued, past the towns of Prescott, Cornwall and Lancaster, and suddenly I reached the border, crossing from Ontario into Québec.

Image: QUEBEC Flag

Image: The Quebec border

And with a blink of an eye, it seemed like I was in France. It was the same sort of feeling I get whenever I drive off the train out of the Channel Tunnel at Calais.

Zut alors! Mais ce n'est pas un problème pour moi, Dieu merci!

Up ‘til now, most of the signs I had seen had been dual-language. Not in Québec. It’s French* or nothing, or so it appears.

*Well, French for almost everything. As I drove further into the Province, I could see that many of the major retail and restaurant chains were still shown with their English names, apart from KFC which had morphed into PFK (which I believe stands for ‘Poulet Frit Kentucky’).

It didn’t take a long time to reach Montréal, where I would stop for the next two nights, giving me a full day tomorrow for some sightseeing.
Or as the locals might say … (ou comme on dirait sur place…)
Je n'ai pas mis beaucoup de temps pour arriver à Montréal, où j'allais séjourner deux nuits, ce qui me donnerait un jour entier le lendemain pour faire du tourisme.

I’ve decided to add a bit of French to the website in honour of my time in Québec. It’s probably full of errors, but it’ll be good practice for me, and it’ll give the ‘parlez Français’ brigade one or two chuckles.

Many thanks to my friend Michäel Hubeaux in Belgium, who has kindly agreed to proof-read my efforts. So you’ll probably find that the above words in French may change a bit/lot.

Montréal immediately comes across as quite a tricky city to drive in, and it took me quite a while before I found my hotel, especially as many of the roads were one-way, and normally going in the opposite direction to what I wanted. Frustrating at times, but all part of the travel experience.

By the time evening arrived, it was raining quite hard, so I settled down for the night, and decided to watch the television. After watching a lot of the French-speaking channels, which accounted for about 80% of those on offer, I switched to the news on CNN, and caught an update on an earlier story …

When I was in San Francisco, I mentioned that someone had found a human finger in a bowl of Wendy’s chilli. Well, I thought the story was a bit funny at the time, and today it was announced on the news that the lady who made the complaint has been arrested. It turns out that she may have created the finger bowl herself. A chilli con artist (allegedly). It wasn’t even one of her fingers, so the police are still trying to track down the person who’s got less than a full compliment of digits. So, if you can only count up to nine, please contact the SF Police Department straight away.

23 April 2005 :

Opened the curtains to a wet and overcast day. Many of the tops of the city’s skyscrapers would be shrouded in mist all the way through to dusk.

After an early walk around the downtown area, and a quick dry off, I decided to have a good drive round Montréal in the car.

Just round the corner from where I’m staying I discovered the old town (Vieux-Montréal), with some impressive buildings, a lot of cobbled streets and rows of traditional ‘French’ shops. It looked very picturesque. It reminded me very much of St.Omer or old Boulogne. Just a shame it wasn’t possible for the cafés to put their tables outside.

I didn’t manage to find many places of interest in the newer parts of the city, although at one stage I did drive past the Olympic Park where the 1976 Summer Olympics were held. There’s a large covered stadium, and a large slanting tower that I guess was used for the Olympic flame. But the place look deserted, so I didn’t venture in.

There are loads of concrete monstrosities in Montréal – probably as a result of the increase in infrastructure that was needed for the Olympics. After nearly 30 years though, a lot of it seems to be in a poor state. And the roads are absolutely awful – there are potholes everywhere.

But I’m convinced that I had only scraped the surface, and I’m sure that Montréal is a great city. It’s apparently very popular in the summer, with various arts and music festivals. However, in the cold and wet of April, I was left with a “time to move onto the next place” sort of feeling.

C’est la vie.

24 April 2005 :

I’ve been told that the most impressive place in Québec Province is the city of Québec itself. So that was today’s destination – and the farthest east I would go to in Canada on this trip. But I could only get there once I found the correct route east out of Montréal. That was the tricky bit.

About halfway through the journey, I spotted tourist signs to the Gilles Villeneuve Museum at the small village of Berthierville, and decided to have a look.

Image: Cars at the Musee Gilles Villeneuve

Overall, it was an interesting display, showing the careers and some of the cars of the late Gilles, as well as his son Jacques. There was a film to watch (in French, naturellement) and various trophies to marvel at, but it did all look a bit tired, and could do with a bit of a re-vamp.

When I got back to the car I was shocked to find the trunk open again, especially as it was raining while I was in the museum. Fortunately, my possessions were still inside, albeit a little damp. It’s all getting a bit strange …. I’ve definitely got to be much more careful with the keys.

With a further hour or so driving, I arrived at the provincial capital, although interestingly at the city boundary a sign pronounces Québec in big bold letters as “The Nation’s Capital”. Just a bit premature, but I know that there is still a strong movement within the province to separate from the rest of Canada.

The ever-present rain continued, and there was a great deal of wind about, so I was happy after today’s travelling to settle into the hotel and relax for the rest of the day.

With high-speed Internet access available in the hotel, I was provided with an ideal opportunity to do some further work on the website, by downloading the latest picture gallery and Journal entries. Well, I managed to do some work on the site for about ten minutes, and then unfortunately I got an error message. It turns out that I had used up all the website memory again. Fair enough, as I did add loads of pictures from the American leg of the trip. Just slightly disappointing though, as I had just paid for 24 hours access, and now I won’t be able to make use of a lot of it. But there’s nothing else I can do, apart from e-mail the nice people at 2-minute-website.com and await their reply.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.
Le service normal reprendra dès que possible.

25 April 2005 :

Il a plu toute la journée, malheureusement. J'ai couvert à pied la courte distance qui me séparait de Vieux-Québec, la seule ville fortifiée qui subsiste en Amérique du Nord. Il y a beaucoup de beaux bâtiments, mais le mauvais temps ne les montrait pas sous leur meilleur jour. Si tout va bien, il fera meilleur demain: on prévoit du soleil, donc je croise les doigts.

And, today’s Journal entry in English reads as follows …

It was raining all day, unfortunately. I did walk the short distance to the old part of the city (Vieux-Québec), the only remaining walled city in North America. There are a lot of beautiful buildings, but the poor weather wasn’t showing them in a good light. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day – the forecast is for sunshine, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

26 April 2005

A new day and a new perspective. What a difference a day makes – the sun was out and the rain had stopped. Merci. So I spent some enjoyable hours back in old Québec – and it made such a difference without having to worry about the wind and the rain. And it certainly makes taking photos a lot easier, especially when you don’t have to hold an umbrella at the same time.

Image: Chateau Frontenac, Quebec

As it was dry, many of the cafés had their chairs and tables out, and it was possible to enjoy some beer and coffee outside. And the traditional ‘French’ atmosphere was completed by a man playing an accordion in the Town Hall Square. Merveilleux.

Image: Rue Saint Anne, Quebec

I really like Québec (when it’s not raining). Saying that, I don’t think much of the rest of the city situated outside the old walls. There are some imposing Government buildings, but the rest of the place looks just like any other modern (and much expanded since the 1960s) city around the world.

I was pleased to get an E-mail to confirm that extra memory had been made available to the website. And thanks to my friends at 2-minute-website.com, I’ve now learnt a bit of HTML programming, which is why you might start to notice different fonts and colours etc suddenly appearing at various places in this website.

27 April 2005 :

I split the drive from Toronto to Québec into three stages.

Today, I would do the reverse journey, all in one go. A very ambitious move. At over 800 kilometres, it’s the longest single-day drive I’ve ever attempted. With various stops along the way, it took me roughly 10 hours.

The scenery, as I’ve mentioned earlier in this Journal, is fairly boring on most of the route, so I won’t bother adding any further comment here. The only thing I would say is that I would happily make return visits to Montréal and Québec, but I won’t ever want to do the drive again. Next time it will be either the train or the plane.

Image: ONTARIO Flag

Once back at Toronto, I had to return the rental car to the airport, not forgetting to fill it with gas first. Although I had to drive around for about half an hour to find a gas station, I ended up timing my return to the airport perfectly. Just as I was driving into the AVIS parking lot, my friend Juliet was arriving on foot (having caught the metro/bus from her home). I worked with Juliet at Lloyds Bank in East Grinstead in the early 1990s, and it was great to be meeting up with her (and her partner Sandro) again.

I’m hoping to stay 3 nights, which should give me time to explore some of Toronto, to make friends with Juliet’s two cats Bob and Angel, as well as to catch-up on what we’ve been doing over the past few years.

28 April 2005 :

A dull, overcast and drizzly start to the day. So it was a perfect opportunity for me to do a few errands (’messages’, if you’re Scottish). I managed to get my latest parcel sent off at the Post Office in spite of the lack of help and humour from the lady behind the counter. I then found the local barbers, where I was to receive the shortest haircut of my life. Still, it was cheaper than the one I got at Las Vegas so I should think myself lucky. I just hope it will grow a bit before I get back to the UK.

It was tipping down with rain by 11.30, the time that I got off the Metro train and out into the heart of the city. I quickly abandoned the idea of visiting the famous CN Tower – the top of which I could see was shrouded in mist. There was just no point.

I noticed a lot of people walking in one direction away from Union Station, and although I don’t believe in the Pied Piper Syndrome, I decided to walk along with them and see where they were all going. Fortunately, most of the walk was inside (along the ‘Sky Walk’), but eventually we headed out into the open. A few minutes in the rain was all that was required before reaching the ‘Sky Dome’ and where all the people I was strolling along with were starting to disappear inside.

They had all come to the Sky Dome to watch a game of baseball. The home team, Toronto ’Blue Jays’, were playing against US opposition Tampa Bay ’Devil Rays’.

So, after purchasing a ticket (just $9+tax, which I thought was pretty good value) I found my seat, and armed with a bottle of pop and a slice of pizza, I settled down for the game. I was in the Family Section of the stadium – the lady at the ticket booth said I’d get a better view from there and I didn’t need to worry as it wasn’t a requirement for me to be with other family members. The only restriction was that no alcohol was permitted in that section of the stadium. Better views were available nearer the Home Plate, but the tickets for those seats would’ve cost me anything between $50 and $250.

Before the game batted off (well, I can’t say ”kicked off”, can I ?), the spectators and players all stood for the two national anthems. And preceding this was a rousing promotion of the Blue Jays, with music and imagery on the large screens. Many famous players were shown, but of course none of which I’d ever heard of.

I haven’t even seen a game of baseball before, unless you count the small scenes in the old Charlie Brown cartoons on television. But it didn’t take me too long to get the gist of things. I have to say though that it was far slower than I thought it would be, and I did at one stage find myself thinking that cricket is more exciting. Now that’s saying something.

In an effort to create some semblance of atmosphere, loud music over the tannoy and adverts and competitions on the screens punctuated every break of innings. There was even the Blue Jay mascot prancing around – maybe an out-of-work actor/actress dressed up in the blue feathery (and no doubt stuffy) costume? Other professional dancers and majorette-types were doing their best to gee up the crowd, but that was difficult with the stadium more than half empty. (Final attendance was declared at 21,409 in a stadium that has a maximum capacity of 53,000).

Image: Baseball at the Toronto SkyDome

There were quite a few parties of school students in the stadium, and they were all encouraged to shout and scream when their school’s name was flashed up on the big screens. They also participated in a competition for the best school banner, but I have no idea who won. I do know that the prize was $500 worth of school equipment, so a perfect excuse (bribe?) for the schools to give their students time out to watch the game. A real field trip.

Still, in the 6th innings, things began to hot up. The Blue Jays had been behind 3-0 since the 1st inning. Now in the 6th, they were able to get 5 runs, which included a Home Run that set the crowd wild with excitement.

I could see from the scoreboard that there were 10 innings to play. I was therefore somewhat surprised when the proceedings suddenly stopped halfway through the 9th innings, when at that stage the Toronto Blue Jays were 7-4 ahead. Not quite sure why, but perhaps it just wasn’t possible for Tampa Bay to get back into the lead ? Anyway, the home team had won, so that’s all that really mattered. Everyone I saw walking out of the stadium seemed very happy with the result.

Despite the slowness of the game, I certainly enjoyed the experience. After all, it gave me a perfect excuse to stay inside out of the rain. The Sky Dome was the first stadium in the world to have a fully-retractable roof. Needless to say it was closed-up today. It looks a bit like an albino armadillo. It’s just been re-named the Rogers Centre, after the media mogul who has just bought it – but I’m sure everyone is still going to call it the Sky Dome.

Later on, back near home, I went to the local Flight Centre shop so that I could sort out a flight to Boston, which (with Martha’s Vineyard) I was hoping to visit as the next part of my trip. It became clear pretty soon that I would be unable to buy a good (i.e. cheap) one-way flight across to Boston. According to travel agent Julienne it was currently cheaper for me to (1) buy a return ticket to Mexico City, (2) return to Las Vegas and Vancouver, or (3) fly one-way to London ! As I wasn’t quite ready yet to return to the UK, or back-track to Vegas/Vancouver or go as far as Mexico, I opted instead for a flight down to Washington DC. Actually, it’ll be two flights, as the routing will take me via New York’s LaGuardia airport.

The flights don’t depart until Monday, so on the plus side I will be able to stay a bit longer in Toronto (with thanks of course to Juliet & Sandro). Hopefully I can now squeeze in a day-trip to Niagara Falls. And it will be good to see the capital city of Washington as part of my American experience. It’s a real shame though that I won’t see Boston or MV, as so many people have told me that they’re great places. They will just have to go on my “visit next time” list.

Finished the day at one of the local pubs (Swan & Firkin) for tea. We were able to sit outside on the balcony, but only thanks to the gas heaters overhead. The meal was washed down with a pint of the local Canadian ‘Moosehead’ beer.

Ale’s well that ends well.

29 April 2005 :

Woke up to a pleasant sunny morning, so got ready and was at the Metro station by 9.30 to go into the city. Following my visit into the city yesterday, I was confident I knew where to go and what to do.

As the sky was mostly clear, with only a few clouds about, it was the perfect opportunity to ascend the CN Tower. It’s the world’s tallest freestanding structure, and has been part of the Toronto skyline since 1976. Once I bought my entrance ticket and got through security clearance (air jets over the body, similar to what I experienced at Los Angeles Airport) it was a short wait before the elevator arrived to take me and about 15 other visitors up the tower. The elevator was a bit wobbly on the way, but we all arrived in one piece at the Observation Level in less than a minute.

Image: CN Tower, Toronto

Including the masts and aerials, the tower is 553.33 metres (1815ft, 5ins) tall. The observation deck is at 346 metres (1136ft), and provides some amazing views in all directions. I could even see right across to the other side of Lake Toronto, to some of the buildings of Niagara Falls town.

There is a higher lookout point (at 447 metres), called the ‘Sky Pod’, but I read that it’s rather cramped and not worth the extra expense. I can confirm that 346 metres was definitely high enough for me.

Image: A view from the top of the CN Tower

There is a café and shop at the lookout level, together with some displays of photos and interesting facts. For instance, I found out that in strong winds, the tower at the Sky Pod level can sway up to a metre – I was just glad that it wasn’t very windy today. And I found out that the tower weighs exactly the same as 23,214 large elephants. I wonder who gets the job of coming up with those sorts of statistics? (I’ve got a funny feeling that I found out a similar elephant fact at one of the other towers I’ve visited on this trip).

Image: Another view from the top of the CN Tower

For those who wish to climb the tower via the stairs, and want to set a best time, the current men’s record is 7 minutes 52 seconds (set in 1989). The women’s record is 11 minutes 52 seconds (set in 2000). And if there’s anyone wishing to go one step further, the pogo stick stair-climb record currently stands at 57 minutes 15 seconds. I was happy to make use of the elevator.

My nerves were tested on the Glass Floor, with views straight down to the ground. I figured it had to be perfectly safe, even though the eye-to-brain signals going on in my head may have been telling me something quite different. Strong panes but no need for medication.

There’s a revolving restaurant at the top to satisfy any visitor’s hunger. But having recently experienced the one at Calgary, I decided not to go for a spin.

Later on, once back at ground level and amongst the various shopping streets and malls, I searched out the “World’s Largest Bookstore”. I had seen the bookstore advertised in quite a few of the travel guides. Well, from what I could see, the name of the shop was misleading – it appears to simply be a trading name, rather than anything in the record-breaking league. Disappointing. The bookshop I visited in Singapore was definitely much bigger.

The metro system certainly isn’t a disappointment. It’s really good. Trains arrive every three minutes, so you never have to wait very long. The carriages are a bit dated, and there are only a few lines, but the efficiency more than makes up for that.

Spent the evening at ‘The Fan’ Sports Bar, and met some local friends of Sandro and Juliet. From memory, there was Jean, Mike, Beau, Peter and Kenny. They were real characters, and I got on with all of them like the proverbial ‘house on fire’. Played a few games of 9-ball pool with Sandro, winning the first match but losing the second two. It may have had something to do with the drinks – beers, followed by a couple of B52 shooters.

I may have lost the pool, but I still ended the evening quite spirited.

30 April 2005 :

I woke early with a clear head, which was a nice surprise. So, after getting ready and creeping around quietly not to wake my hosts, I closed the front door, walked to the Metro, and after one change of train I was at the bus station by 8.30.

Today’s objective was a trip to Niagara Falls. The bus journey from the centre of Toronto took nearly two hours, but that’s because we had to make a few stops on the way, including one at Grimsby. Once we arrived at Niagara, it was a simple 10-minute transit bus down to the waterfalls area – and due to a special day of promoting the benefits of local transport, I only had to pay 25c for the ride.

I was joined for the first hour or so of my visit by a fellow traveller, called Ruth (from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who worked as a journalist in London some years ago; age not discovered, but I estimate mid-50s; husband mentioned, but current status not disclosed!) who having just arrived in Canada, had chosen a trip to Niagara for her one day’s stay in Toronto. Concerned that she would get lost once off the bus, she latched herself onto me. I didn’t mind too much, as it was nice to have the company, and we were able to swap travel tales.

I don’t think it’s actually possible to get lost at Niagara. As you walk down Clifton Hill, the roar of the water gets louder. And there are plenty of signs about. Anyhow, we were soon confronted with the sight of the American Falls.

Image: The American Falls (as viewed from Canada)

Absolutely fantastic.

After admiring the view for a while, and snapping a few photos, it was just a short walk along the wide paved sidewalk that brought us to the even more impressive Canadian Horseshoe Falls.

Image: Horseshoe Falls, Niagara

Much of the view was obscured by the rising mist, but that simply added to the sheer wonder of the place. On occasions, Mother Nature certainly knows how to impress. And I was surprised at just how close I was able to get to the edge of the water.

Image: Over the edge of Niagara Falls

Truly awesome. The power of the water going over the edge cannot be imagined until you experience it close up.

Unfortunately though, I was now soaked through – not from the spray from the falls, but from the constant rain that had been falling ever since I had got off the bus. The biting wind had also contributed to my now-frozen existence. So, after spending about half an hour at the top of the falls, and not being able to endure the cold any further, I decided to take refuge in a nearby coffee shop. Ruth at that stage parted company with me, having decided that she didn’t fancy a coffee, wasn’t as cold and wet as me, and was happy that she would find her way back. I remained in the coffee shop for about an hour, before thawing sufficiently to venture back outside again.

Apart from when I was at the top of Sulphur Mountain at Banff a week or so ago, this is definitely the coldest place I’ve been to on this trip. It was bitterly cold. And to emphasis just how cold it was, there was still a lot of unmelted winter snow at the side of the falls. I should have brought a hat, scarf, gloves and a warm coat.

There’s an observation tower at Niagara, called the Skylon. But having gone up the CN Tower yesterday, I’m sure it would’ve been an anticlimax, so I decided to stay on the ground. And in any case, the poor weather would have affected the normally clear views.

I walked back to the Clifton Hill ‘Tourist Area’ (The Street of Fun at the Falls), with its many attractions and amusements, but most of it was far too commercialised for my liking. I imagine that it’s similar to how Blackpool is – although it may be a poor comparison, as I’ve never been to Blackpool. I then couldn’t find the right place for the transit bus. Knowing that I didn’t want to stand around in the cold, I decided to walk back to the Bus Station along the river road, a journey of about 4 kilometres.

I had got about half way along when two local lads who were walking towards me warned that there were some dangerous birds just around the corner. (Funny, I didn’t think I was in Chatham?)! As I got closer, I could see that there were a few large birds flying around. I approached with caution. A few people had stopped their cars to take photos, and I found out from them that the birds were vultures. On reflection, I’m not sure that they were, but who was I to argue. So after taking one quick photo I decided to keep moving, just in case I froze to the spot and the vultures decided, thinking I was no longer alive, to take a bite out of me.

Image: Vultures? near Niagara Falls

It was only once I was on the metro after the journey back to Toronto that I fully warmed up, and that I could again sense that the ends of my fingers were once more joined to my hands.

1 May 2005 :

Brunched this morning with Juliet and Sandro at Sharkey’s Café Lounge, a smart eatery just round the corner from where I’m they live. The café’s motto is ”world tastes with an urban twist”. I ate some very good Belgian crêpes. I got the great taste, but I didn’t sense an urban twist. Still, it was a great way to start the day.

With a few hours to relax, Juliet and I then took the chance to make a few phonecalls to friends back in the UK. I also got the opportunity to write and send my last batch of Canadian postcards.

Later in the afternoon, we went to visit Sandro’s friend (and fellow Italian) Pete Cugno who was celebrating his 36th birthday. Pete and his wife Lou(ise) made me feel extremely welcome, as did their two daughters Madelyn and Julia who insisted I played ‘Zombies’ with them in the garden.

Image: Juliet and Jeremy

No … best not to ask !

I also met Pete’s brother and sister-in-law, Mike and Mel, and we all sat down to a lovely home-made meal of lasagne, and desserts including trifle (made by Juliet) and birthday cake. It was all good fun, especially when the after-dinner drink selection was placed on the table. Lots of travel tales exchanged, and I also received some tips for my forthcoming trip to Washington DC.

A great way to finish the weekend, and perfect preparation for yet another non-working week (for me anyway !)

2 May 2005 :

My last morning in Toronto, and my last day in Canada. The time has passed far too quickly. I’ll definitely want to come back again at some stage as it’s a fabulous country.

After saying my goodbyes and thanks to Juliet and Sandro (and of course the cats Bob and Angel), I walked down to the Metro Station, and caught the next train west, all the way to the end of the line at Kipling. It was then a simple transfer to the Airport Express bus (the Airport Rocket, Route 192), and within 15 minutes I was inside the Terminal 3 building at Toronto International Airport.

Now, it’s possible for visitors to Canada to reclaim any GST (Goods and Services Tax 7%) and HST (Harmonised Sales Tax 15%) on purchases of eligible gifts as well as accommodation bills. In order to reclaim the GST/HST on gifts, you have to go to the Canadian Customs desk and get the various receipts stamped – before you go to check-in for your departing flight. So, I walked up and down the whole length of the Departures level to search out the desk, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. There were no signs (despite the fact that all guidebooks I’ve read said there would be), so they certainly don’t make it easy. It turned out that at Toronto Airport the Customs Desk is on the Arrivals floor, and hidden away right at the end in one corner. A very strange arrangement for departing passengers ! Anyway, having taken nearly 20 minutes (it was a good job I was early for my flight) I got the necessary receipts stamped, and I’ll be submitting my claim the moment I get back to the UK.

My big tip to World is my Lobster readers : Make sure you pick up an official claim form from Canadian Customs at the airport, rather than use the leaflets displayed at hotels which, if you read the small print very carefully, you’ll find they incur processing fees ranging from 10-20%. There’s no processing fee if you deal directly with the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency.

Back to the usual drill of getting checked-in, getting rid of the big bag, and then getting processed through US Customs and Immigration. I’m flying to New York LaGuardia (pronounced Lar-Gwar-dee-uh) on CanJet, before switching to a United Airlines flight for the hop down to Washington DC. That will take the total number of different airlines on my trip to 13. Let’s hope the flights aren’t unlucky for me.

So, yet again I’m off to the good ol’ U.S of A. Yee hah !

Oh Canada …. I’ll be back.



© Jeremy Cousins, 2004-2014 


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