Saturday, 22 September 2012

Pick Up

A young guy gets on the train, juggling a bag, a plastic bag, and an umbrella. He sits down in the empty seat across from me and accidentally on purpose bumps the young woman sitting beside me as he settles himself. He apologizes profusely right away, but the young woman barely looks up from her video game when she acknowledges his apology.

He continues to fuss with his bags and just about whacks her with his umbrella a half a dozen times, all the while staring intently at her video game. Having settled his bags, his eyes flit to the girl's face and he asks her a question, apparently about her game.

Whether engrossed in her game or grossed out by the guy, she answers him curtly and returns to her game with only the briefest of glances at him. Not easily deterred, however, the young man persists, asking her more questions and trying to draw her into a conversation.

The doors open at the next station and, without looking at the guy the woman dashes off, her game held tight in her hand. Without pausing for even a second the young guy moves over into the newly empty seat (away from a slumbering salaryman). He pays no attention to the older woman who sits down in his old seat, intent instead on the young woman in the seat that is now next to him.

He gazes, interest oozing from every pore, at the sheets the woman is furiously marking as she consults a dictionary. When he asks her about her work the young woman jumps, startled by his voice and the sudden intrusion.

She smiles as he answers, explaining she does the work (a translation?) as a hobby. He compliments her linguistic prowess but she laughs and shakes her head, repeating that it is just a hobby.

She bends over and picks up her pencil again, thumbing through her dictionary with the other hand. Not easily deterred, however, the young man bends over too, and asks another question and gives another compleat. This time she doesn't laugh, only turning her head slightly and repeating that it is only a hobby.

When the doors open at the next stop her pencil, papers, and dictionary disappear as if by magic and she gives him a half nod as she flies out the door and disappears up the stairs.

Un flappable, the young man looks about, looking for woman to chat up. (Un)luckily, however, the train has reached the last stop, and even the foreigner who had been sitting across from him is getting off the train, a bemused smile on her face.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Visit

'Twas the night after the visit, his parents' first.
And in the maisonette, the couple conversed.
They lay flat on the couch, their feet up in the air,
Their eyes glazed, skin ashen, expressions bare.

The sink was piled with dirty dishes aplenty,
Evidence of foreign foods prepared uncert'nly,
But eaten and enjoyed by both generations
And praised kindly, without reservations.

The rest of the house was shiny and clean,
Not a surface that didn't glisten and gleam.
The floors were without even a speck of dust
And even the fry pan had been scrubbed free of rust.

The futons had come from their vacumn-sealed pack
And lay on the tatami in a neatly piled stack.
By the sink in the bathroom were two plastic cases,
Hotel toothbrushes set out on little towels for faces.

They arrived just before dinner, fashionably late.
And all four then went out to the izakaya and ate.
The food was delicious, the alcohol flowed.
The boy's attempt to pay the bill was strongly forbode.

The parents came prepared, loaded with presents,
Personal towels, toothbrushes, and some other oddments.
Didn't use those prepared or laid out ahead.
Preferring to take home to launder instead.

They showered and bathed and headed straight up to sleep,
But the younger two were busy with things that wouldn't keep.
Morning came early for the young sleepy two,
But up they got to prepare feta omlettes and a big pot of brew.

A tour of his workplace, from machines in his office,
To tree-lined boulevards and the construction on campus.
Getting lost in a deserted dark hospital hall,
Before finding the cafeteria o'erlooking it all.

A long-weekend ending, the roads would be crowded.
So after a quick lunch of ramen the parents departed.
And heard to exclaim, ere they drove down the road,
"We enjoyed our visit to your lovely little abode!"

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Rockies 3

Our visit to Jasper corresponded with the Jasper Heritage Rodeo and although we go and see it, we did enjoy the RCMP parading through town. One of the officers in particular was great at posing for pictures.  When he saw a young Korean woman posing on the side walk so her boyfriend could take her picture with the RCMP the officer nudged his horse over to her.  The boyfriend snapped happily away but the girl didn't know what was going on until the horse hung its head over her shoulder. She was more than a little surprised, but appreciative (once she stopped squeeeeeling).

We had hoped to go to the Angel Glacier on Mount Edith Cavell, but the road was closed due to landslides. When asked what he wanted to do, U admitted he would like to try kayaking.  We went to Pyramid Lake where U rented a a little kayak and we spent a few hours paddling around on the lake.

On the road back into town there was an animal jam, with cars stopped all over the road.  Since most of the tourists had climbed out of their cars and walking towards the forest I figured it was something harmless.  Imagine my surprise when I realized it was a young bear up a tree! One particularly bright man was standing at the foot of the tree taking pictures.

All too soon it was time for us to leave Jasper, however, and head west to Prince George.

View Larger Map

We stopped at Overlander Falls and admired the power of Canadian waterfalls again.

And we were amazingly lucky to catch Mount Robson, the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, not hiding behind clouds. Of the dozens of times I've driven by the mountain I have only seen it without clouds a few times.

And we stopped in Valemont to see the salmon spawning.

We arrived in PG, to the natsukashi scent of the pulp mills. Nothing like the smell of pulp mills in the air to welcome you to town!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Rockies 2

Our main goal in Jasper was to go to Maligne Lake, I worked one summer in their ticket office in Jasper and then spent the next summer as a boat driver and tour guide. I loved my time at Maligne Lake and leaving at the end of my final summer was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I love the lake and no matter how many times I have been there I can never spend enough time there. This time we had gorgeous weather and I was very excited to be able to share it with U.

The road up to Maligne Lake is one of the best spots in Jasper National Park to see wildlife and our drive up was no exception.  We couldn't help but see this wildlife as the mountain sheep accosted us.  

The walked right up to the car

and started licking our wheels!

Even the babies got in on the action.

They didn't stay for long, however, before they headed off and started licking the wheels of the car and camper van behind us.

We headed off too, as we had places to go... Maligne Lake!  The day was gorgeous and sunny and the sky was blue, but the mountains were a bit hazy.

As soon as we arrived I headed to the ticket office and ran into an old coworker who is still there and the head manager. Not too long after I was reunited with another old friend, John Albert, the boat we were on for our cruise! 

We spent most of the cruise on the back deck, enjoying the scenery and the weather and just soaking it all in. The cruise goes half way down Maligne Lake, and is the only way (unless you get out in a smaller boat yourself... see below!!) to see the lake as there are no roads or paths.

This is Sinking Ship Ridge named because, well, it looks like a sinking ship.  Something we always waited until the return trip to point out to passengers on the boat...  ;)

Mount Samson Beaver, named after the Indian guide who drew a map of the lake from a very old memory and gave it to Mary Schaffer, the first European to visit the lake.

The Charlton-Unwin Glacier.  The story goes that when the boat tours first started long long ago this was their destination, the boats would beach on the sandy shore of the narrows here and the driver would walk to the edge of the glacier and break off some ice for everybody's drinks. My last summer two coworkers and I hiked up to the foot of the glacier one of the days we were camping on the lake. It gave a beautiful view, but we didn't have any cocktails with the ice... it would have melted away by the time we got back to our kayaks!

Sadly we also saw the reminder of a bad wildfire that hit part of the lake a number of years ago. The area hasn't had a big wildfire in a long time and the forest actually needs it, wildfires are a natural part of the forest life cycle. They don't look very pretty, however, and are a reminder of how dangerous nature can be.

We got to the half way point of the lake far far too soon, and an ever so tempting view down to the far end of the lake.  There is a gorgeous little campsite all the way down at the end.  I've been lucky enough to go three times, and it is the most quiet and peaceful and most amazing campsite I've ever stayed in. U has said he wants to learn to paddle a kayak so we can camp down there one day...

The boat docked and we walked to the viewpoint to take the picture that is the whole point of the cruise... Spirit Island (only an island for about a week or so every year when the water rises up high enough to cut off the land spit, and despite the amazingly high water levels every where we went in Jasper, the water here wasn't quite high enough... But still gorgeous!

All too soon we had to be back on the boat and then we arrived back on shore.  After having our picnic lunch and going for a short walk on one of the paths along the shore of the lake, we put my kayak in the water and I headed off for a paddle, leaving the boys (my dad and U) to go for a hike. It has been far far far too long since I had sat in my kayak, but I can't think of another lake I'd rather paddle on!

On our way back to Jasper we stopped at Medicine Lake (named "Bad Medicine Lake" by the local Native population as the lake would drain away to nothing every fall and then fill up again in the spring/summer.  It wasn't until modern science was used and tests were done that it was discovered the lake drains through underground rivers which flow into various rivers in the area.

Then we stopped at Maligne Canyon, a series of bridges over a narrow river far below.

Our day at the lake ended far too soon, but both U and I are looking forward to and planning for our next visit.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Rockies 1

After only one night in Vancouver we headed off again, this time to the Rockies!

View Larger Map

We left Vancouver and drove through the interior of BC (perhaps not quite on the route Google is giving). We stopped a few times, once near Craigellachie, at the Last Spike Memorial, for the last spike in the cross-Canada railway.

Our last stop was Golden, where we stayed the night  for the night at a lovely B&B run by a friendly couple who made us fabulous brie-stuffed french toast topped with strawberries and maple syrup... mmmmm! Then we were off again, heading into the mountains...

We arrived at Lake Louise as the parking lot was beginning to fill up, but before the line stretched half-way to Banff. Lake Louise is gorgeous, obviously, 

but I also love it because my grandmother worked at the famous hotel (which I apparently didn't take a picture of, although I did take plenty of pictures of the panel talking about the history of the hotel... Yes, I am a historian/museum geek, as if I needed more proof!)

Lake Louise is a major tourist spot, however, and was starting to get too filled with people (and dogs, and even a few parrots) so we filled the car with gas, picked up a few things for a picnic lunch and headed off on the Icefields Parkway. We hadn't gotten very far before we came upon a mass of cars stopped on the road.  In the Rockies a mass of cars stopped means one thing - ANIMALS! You can normally guess what type of animal it is based on how many cars are stopped and whether other cars are driving by or stopping.  The fact that all of the cars were stopped and, wonder of wonder, all the tourists were actually staying in their cars suggested it was a bear...

Can you spot it? He was sitting in the forest just off the road, cleaning bush after bush of berries. He was blissfully unaware of the chaos he was creating only metres away and kept on eating and eating.

After taking plenty of rather bad photographs, we were off again.

There are many many reasons why this road is called the most beautiful drive in the country!

We stopped at a picnic site by a river for our lunch.

And then continued on, the road climbing higher and higher into the mountains.

We stopped at the Columbia Icefields and climbed up to see the glacier.  It seemed to be a longer climb to the viewing area than I had remembered, and you can no longer walk on the foot of the glacier, as I had been able to last time I was there (unless you climb over the clearly marked path despite dire warnings of the dangers of going out of bounds) I know that the glaciers are disappearing, I have seen pictures showing how far the glaciers have "receeded" over short periods of time, but  standing at this marker took my breath away (and no, it wasn't just the altitude!).  I spent a lot of time in the Rockies during the summers of my years as an undergrad, working in Jasper the summers of 2001-2003. I last visited the summer of 2005, when driving through. Standing at this marker I realized why the walk seemed longer than I remembered.

It is a bit hard to tell in this picture just how far the marker is from the foot of the glacier, but it is a fair distance.  About half-way to the foot of the glacier are markers that are waist-height. I couldn't find the albums of photos from my summers in Jasper to compare, but it was a shock to see just how quickly the glacier is disappearing and realize that there may not be a glacier to see, or at least one that isn't perched up on the mountain top, in a far too short amount of time!

We left a little inukshuk to guard the glacier, and as a promise to go back again.

Back on the road, since U is forever stopping at little trickles that he calls waterfalls we stopped at Sunwapta Falls to give him a glimpse of a Canadian waterfall (yes, we will go to Niagara sometime!).

And then it was time to stop for the night, at a place we've been staying for years and always loved, but after the horrible service, self-righteousness of the staff, and the generally sub-par state of the accommodations we were given, I don't think we'll stay there again.  Despite all of the negatives, however, it sure does have a beautiful viewpoint to watch the sky turn pink with the sunset! 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Vancouver Island

I've been putting off blogging about Canada partly because my brain has melted with the heat and partly because although I know our vacation is over I didn't want to admit that it really was...

But here goes, pictures from Canada...

Our first trip was to Vancouver Island. We took the ferry from Tsawwassen to Nanaimo and went to a family picnic before driving down the Island to Victoria. We stayed with a family friend in Victoria for two nights and then took the ferry from Victoria back to Tsawwassen.

We were up early and on the 7 am ferry to Nanaimo (famous for its dessert, the Nanaimo bar, which, besides the coconut, is just about perfect!). The weather was (coconut-less and thus) perfect - sunny and cloudless blue skies that stuck with us for most of our time in Canada!

Our friend in Victoria lives right on the beach and has an ever fascinating and ever changing view. 

Unfortunately we weren't the only ones enjoying the view - the seagulls and Canada geese were very fond of the little sandspit, very vocally fond... especially at midnight.. and 1 am... and 2 am... and... all night until my father snuck out in his pjs and started lobbing rocks from our friend's rock garden at the sandspit. The geese took off in a huff and didn't come back!

Victoria is a picturesque town, said to be "more British than Britain," (although we ended up having Mexican for lunch - really good fast food Mexican) home to the Empress Hotel 

and a few brew pubs with taster sets with six beers to try.

All too soon, however, it was time to head back to Vancouver. This time we took the ferry from Victoria to  Tsawwassen 

and then back to Vancouver, although not for long!