Posted by: bkivey | 29 September 2015

Canada Vacation: Observations

Prior to my vacation, I’d never been to Canada, although I’ve met plenty of Canadians, and northwestern Montana appears to be Alberta South. I’ve seen a lot more Canadian flags in the US than I saw American flags in Canada. My expectation was that Canada would be a sort of parallel-universe US: mostly familiar, but just different enough to know I was in a foreign country, That’s pretty much what I experienced.

Considering that travel days are generally a wash, and I spent a solid day-and-a-half dealing with problems, I really only had 1 1/2 days in Vancouver, and a couple days in the Calgary-Banff area. Not very much time at all, but when I’m in a novel situation, I keep my eyes open and my mouth shut, and I try to put the new situations in context with my experience. Some observations from my all-too-brief time visiting our northern neighbor.

Canadians appear to have a stronger national identity than Americans. Considering the entire population of the fifth largest country is smaller than that of the DC – Boston corridor, this is perhaps not surprising. It’s a relatively small club, and the population density works out to about one square mile per person. I think that the fact Canada has a wilderness frontier also contributes to the mind-set. It’s a little mind-blowing to consider that nearly the entire population is in the southern quarter of the country, and beyond that, it’s nothing but wilderness to the North Pole. The US has vast swaths of undeveloped land, but next to Canada, we’re comparatively  built-out.

The ‘Canadian accent’ is overblown. I noticed some folks had stronger accents than others, the same as in any other large country, but couldn’t say which accent went with which region. Most of the folks I talked to sounded pretty mid-western American, with only the occasional ‘eh’ thrown in. I did notice that accents became more pronounced with emotion.

Also overblown is the idea that Canadians are ‘nicer’ than Americans. I had a gentleman bring this up, and I opined that the idea was generated in the northeastern US; full of, um, direct individuals. Compared to them, Canadians probably are nicer. My travels were confined to the western part of the country, and I’d say that the civility was on par with anyone in the upper western part of the US.

You seriously do not want to enter Canada without hotel reservations, or at least knowing a Canadian. I understand that it’s Canadian Customs job to protect the citizenry and national interests of Canada, but there’s a line between that and harassment. I was a middle-aged businessman on vacation to a place I wanted to see. All documentation was valid, including a paid-for return flight, and I had ready access to several thousand dollars. Hell, I even had business files with me showing jobs for the next six weeks. My biggest threat to Canada was dealing with Vancouver traffic. Why it took an hour-and-a-half to figure that out is mystery.

Vancouver is a nice enough place, but I realized that visiting a city on vacation isn’t really my cup of tea. I live in an urban area, and if I want shopping, or nightlife, or spectacular scenery, I have that at home. Unless a city has something that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, I’ll pass.

Well, Stanley Park doesn’t exist anywhere else, so there’s that. A truly amazing place: it was an unexpected pleasure.

I like the consumer end of Canada’s monetary system. They’ve eliminated pennies, and the lowest denomination of currency is the five. Small change is similar to the US, and loonies and twonies are easy to get used to.

Canada does not want people to drink or smoke. The country overall is more expensive than the US, but when you get into sin items, you’re going to pay. A lot. There’s no popping into the convenience store for a beer; all alcohol is sold in liquor stores. Some US states have the same system. Granted, most liquor stores are open later than their US counterparts, but it’s still inconvenient. Bar prices for alcohol are similar to the US, maybe cheaper given the currency conversion, but you will pay at the store. I was told that the exorbitant prices for alcohol and tobacco were a funding mechanism for the health care system, and this makes sense. On the other hand, it appears the drinkers and smokers are subsidizing health care for the non-users. No system is perfect, but Canada hits the sin taxes hard.

I’m convinced that if they could, news outlets would run every story through a hockey filter. I’m sure that during the Second Coming, the questions from the Canadian reporter would revolve around hockey. I’d had an inkling of this, but hockey is more deeply ingrained in the Canadian psyche than baseball in the US. The US sporting scene has the Big Four of football, baseball, basketball, and hockey, in about that order. Canada has hockey. Sure, there was some interest in the Toronto Blue Jays, who are having a very good season, but it felt bandwagon. There was strong support for the CFL Calgary Stampeders in Calgary, but hockey was the clear ruler of the sporting scene.

Most of the people I met had been to the US, and a fair number had spent time there. I’d posit that a high percentage of folks in the upper tier of the US have been to Canada.

Canada doesn’t appear to do chain stores, unless it’s Tim Horton’s. I don’t mean they don’t exist, it’s that the franchises don’t appear to be allowed to sport the company standard signs and architecture. The chain franchises I saw in various towns weren’t distinguishable by color or appearance. They’d have a sign, and that would be about it. Fast food chains were mostly noticeable by their absence. Subway is around, and there are some McDonald’s, though fewer than you might expect. A&W is big.

A few folks wanted to talk about US politics: something I avoid even at home. One gentleman remarked that he hoped we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves. I replied that it was already too late.

Although the vacation was not really, I truly enjoyed my time in Canada. I didn’t get to see as much of the country as I would have wished, but the things I did see and the people I talked to were fascinating. I took French for three years in elementary school, and had the opportunity to dredge that up. I expect to be  back in the eastern provinces next year, so reason enough to brush up on the language.

Canadians: Chapeau







Posted by: bkivey | 27 September 2015

Canada Vacation Pt. 7

20 September 2015

Although I’d been in Calgary for three days, I hadn’t actually seen downtown save from the air. I’d entertained the idea of taking a couple hours Sunday and driving around the metro core, but my flight was scheduled for 1250, and I didn’t want to miss it. After packing and breakfast, I turned in the car, and walked in the terminal at 1000.

After filling out the US Customs form, I was directed to the security line. I don’t know if there is separate line for US citizens, but the line I was in was much shorter than the other one. There are stickers throughout the departure area announcing that the area is a US Security Zone. This may be to make people feel better, but I suspect they mark an area where people are subject to more severe penalties for infractions than in other areas. It feels oppressive.

Got a coffee at Tim Hortons, then looked for an out-of-the way area of the departure lounge with an electrical outlet. Found a corner and commandeered four seats (not many people), pulled out my computer and files, and set up an office.

Whatever else I may think about Air Canada, every flight left the gate on the dot. A good look at Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams; too much cloud cover to see Mt. St. Helens. I was on the wrong side of the plane to see Mt. Hood, but I know from experience it’s an impressive sight on the approach to Portland.

My bag made the flight this time.

Caught the MAX out to Hillsboro, where’d I’d arranged to be picked up at the station. I told my ride he was my favorite person of the week. Got home, threw the bag on the bed, went to my desk, and got to work. My 2015 vacation was in the books.


Posted by: bkivey | 27 September 2015

Canada Vacation Pt. 6

19 September 2015

Last full day of vacation, and the plan was to stooge about the town of  Banff for a while, then drive the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise to the southern end of Jasper National Park. There weren’t any trials, tribulations, or other distractions the previous day, and I was hopeful that the run would continue. Breakfast at Denny’s. By the way, I did try the Canadian dish of poutine on a couple of occasions, and liked it. It tastes about the way you’d expect fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy to taste.

After the spectacular drive into Banff, I came across the road to Lake Minniewanka. The Lake:

Lake Minnewanka

There’s some information here:

Minnewanka Lake info

I could see that the weather had deteriorated from yesterday, and in fact the rest of the day would be an exercise in dodging rain. At times, there were full-on rain storms, but you can’t control the weather, and have to make do with what you have. Being from the Northwest, I don’t mind wet and grey, but the challenge was to view vertical landforms against horizontal cloud layers.

Back to Banff, there was the Bow Falls, which is really a big rapid:

Bow river falls

There’s a paved trail along the falls, and a kayak rental place below them. I really wanted to see some kayaks shoot the rapids. The rock forms on the left of the picture are very typical of rocks throughout the park. In the same area there’s Banff Springs Hotel:

Banff Springs hotel

Also in Banff is the Cave and Basin Historic site, the place where Parks Canada got its start. I went to the site, but decided not to enter. It was going to be a long day, and I wanted to save resources for other things.

Procured coffee at Starbucks (probably the first franchise in space), and headed north to the Icefields.

I mentioned previously that I didn’t see any access control on the day before, and wondered how Parks Canada could charge for access. I discovered on this day that the Park had set up roadblocks to various attractions, like Lake Minniewanka. Following instructions, I’d taped the park pass to the driver’s side passenger window (The actual instructions say ‘tape to drivers side’: some room for interpretation.), and breezed through. It appears that Parks Canada is to some extent relying on the innate responsibility of civilized people to follow the rules, and for Canada that may well work. Not so sure how that would work in the US.

Just north of Banff, and in the area of the spectacular mountains I’d seen the day prior, are the Vermilion Lakes:

Vermillion Lakes placard

The placard details the mountain building process, and there are signposts to tell you what you’re seeing:

Vermillion Lakes arrows

North of Lake Louise is the start of Icefields Parkway,  and there are, in fact, some ice fields and glaciers.

Crowfoot glacier:

Crowfoot glacier

Next is Bow Lake:

Bow Lake

Bow Lake placard

And Bow glacier:

Bow glacier

There’s a road to an observation point for Peyto Lake, and at 7000′ is the highest point on the Parkway. When I visited there was about 10 cm of snow on the ground. The observation point is about 300 meters off the parking lot, and you’re feeling the altitude. The trail opens onto an observation deck overlooking the valley and the lake, and isn’t recommended if you suffer from vertigo:

Bow Peak and the lake:

Bow Peak and Peyto Lake

The area on the left is a glacier bed. A look down the valley:

Peyto Lake

It’s a good 300 meters straight down to the lake, but the view is stunning. There’s a short 400 meter interpretive trail off the observation trail, so I took a walk. At this point you’re pretty much at the tree line, and even on this short trail the trees change dramatically. You can find out one way conifers reproduce:

Tree skirt info

And see the process in action:

Tree skirt saplings

There are several other signs with information on plant and animal life at the treeline. Back at the parking lot, there’s a view of Observation Peak, but I’ll have to take Parks Canada’s word for it:

Observation Peak (obscured)

Most of the drive the temperature was around 11C – 12C, but here it got to 6C. This wouldn’t be the coldest spot on the day, though.

Cruise Canada must be doing land-office business, because I saw their RV’s everywhere:

Cruise Canada RVs

Another glacier:

Galcier 1

This probably looks a lot better when you can actually see it.

Not far from Bow Peak is Waterfowl Lake:

Waterfowl Lake

Waterfowl Lake 2

The plant on the left had gone to seed, and had white puffs like cotton. I don’t know what kind of plant it is.

Another glacier:

Glacier 2 wide field

Glacier 2

The next attraction was Mistaya Canyon. I didn’t know what to expect here, but the canyon is about 500 meters off the road. It’s a pretty good grade downhill, and you know you’re going to be making the same hike uphill.

Mistaya Canyon info

On the way to the canyon, there’s a sign:

Mistaya Canyon info 2

And the canyon proper:

Mistaya Canyon 1

Mistaya Canyon 2

Mistaya Canyon 3

A bridge crosses the canyon, and there are a couple of trails. One goes up the side of the slope to an overlook. The warning signs make it sound like the trail clings to a cliff side, but it’s a normal trail, although steep, and you do want to stick close to the up-slope side of the path. The top of the trail doesn’t really give better views than you’ll get at the bridge.

Back on the road, there was some compensation for the rainy weather:

Rainbow 1

Saskatchewan Crossing is where Hwy. 11 intersects Hwy. 93, and there’s a store/restaurant/hotel/gas station complex here. There’s an installation in the parking lot with a compass rose and map showing the various attractions in the area. This is also home to the largest crows I’ve seen:

Large crow

I wouldn’t leave small dogs and children unattended. By the way, there’s essentially no phone service in Banff National Park. Outside of Canmore and Banff, your phone is useless. There isn’t even service at Saskatchewan Crossing. I didn’t mind, because I couldn’t be reached, but on the other hand, if you get in trouble, you can’t reach anyone.

It’s about 30k from this point to the Athabasca and Saskatchewan glaciers, and even though it was getting late in the afternoon, I was going to see those glaciers. About 2/3rds of the way there, the valley comes to an end, and the road makes a large bend to gain elevation and exit the valley. The view from the overlook just before the pass:

End of valley panorama

The mountain on the right is called Weeping Rock, and there’s Bridal Veil Falls on the left:

Bridal Veil Falls

This is the third Bridal Veil Falls I’ve seen (the others being in Yosemite and Columbia Gorge), and this one probably ranks between the other two.

Not far from here is the boundary between Banff and Jasper National Parks:

Jasper Park sign

There’s a monument here explaining where all that water is going. Some goes to the Atlantic ocean:

Sunwapta pass sign south side

And some goes to the Arctic ocean:

Sunwapta pass sign north side

You won’t see that in the lower 48.

Almost within sight of the park sign is Athabasca glacier. Along the access road to the parking lot, there are signs showing the extent of the glacier at various dates. The parking lot is built on the glacier bed, and you can hike up a short, steep trail to see the toe of the glacier. The glacier bed:

Athabasca glacier bed

Along the way, there is ample evidence of glacial activity, including scoured rock:

Glacier scoured rock

The toe of the glacier:

Athabasca glacier toe

It was cold and windy here. Air comes down the valley and is refrigerated as it moves along the surface of the ice. Wind was a good 70 km/hr,, and the temperature was likely in the low single digits; much lower with the wind chill. I had the hood on my hoodie up and drawn snug. Most folks were wearing parkas and wool hats. Very different conditions than in the parking lot. On the way back a Japanese gentleman asked where the glacier was, and when I showed him, he took a look and turned around. Can’t say I much blame him: he’d seen it. It was cold. I was looking for a souvenir rock, preferably one with glacial scarring. I couldn’t find any that would fit in my baggage, so took an example rock. Hey, it’s been in a glacier.

Back at the parking lot, a rainbow:

Rainbow Athabasca glacier

Another glacier in the same location:


Glacier 4

Saskatchewan glacier is adjacent to Athabasca:

Athabasca and Saskatchewan glaciers


Saskatchewan glacier

That’s as inviting as Canadian Customs.

Last year I took a picture of the chariot in front of a cargo plane, this year: scenery:


I’d had an idea to take Hwy 11 east to Red Deer, then south to Calgary so I could see more of Canada. When I got to Saskatchewan Crossing and made the turn, there was a sign giving the distance to Red Deer at 263 km. Um, no. That would be three hours, and then another four to Calgary. It was late enough in the day that most of the trip would be made after dark, and as with cats, all scenery looks grey in the dark. As it was, there was about 250 km to cover back to Calgary, but driving through Banff Park is no great hardship. Another glacier along the way:

Glacier 5

I got to Canmore around 8, and had to stop for gas (petrol). I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so found a diner and had dinner. Mediocre food and service, but I was too tired to quibble. Back on the Trans-Can to Calgary. A long day,but very enjoyable.


Posted by: bkivey | 24 September 2015

Canada Vacation Pt. 5

18 September 2015

Got up reasonably early because I wanted time to see Banff National Park, and there was laundry to be done. The hotel had a laundry, but both of the washers were broken. A quick search found a laundromat 3 km away, so I headed over. I’d bought a roll of quarters for laundry, but found that the machines only accepted dollars. No problem; I had enough. After the wash was done I went back to the hotel and put everything in the dryers, then headed to Denny’s a short distance away for breakfast.

Denny’s sends a bit of a mixed message. The menu cover proclaims that Denny’s is Canada’s diner, but when you open the menu, the very first breakfast dish is the All-America Slam. I ordered it.

I’ve mentioned that the home stadium for the CFL Calgary Stampeders was behind the hotel, and I saw from the paper there was a game that evening. I thought it would be cool to see a CFL game, and there were tickets left I could afford. Seeing a game was definitely on the nice-to-do list rather than the have-to-do list, so I refrained from buying a ticket. If I was back in time, fine, if not, no loss.

After recovering the laundry, I set the GPS for Banff National Park, and was informed it was a little over an hour away. On the way out of town, I was happy to find the ski jumps from the 1988 Olympics:

Olympic ski jump

Adjacent to this is the bobsled/luge track:

Olympic bobsled track sign

Bobsled track

I didn’t see any Jamaicans.

Although Alberta is one of the prairie provinces, the rolling hills reminded me more of central Oregon than Kansas, although Alberta gets more precipitation. I discovered that the Rockies in this part of Canada don’t really have foothills; they pretty much rise straight up out of the landscape. I also found that the Canadian tendency toward lower speed limits extends to limited-access roads. The speed limit on this part of the Trans-Canada Highway is 110 km/hr, or about 65 mph. Not exactly crawling, but Canada is 5000 miles across. Apparently the government wants you to enjoy the scenery.

The first town after entering the mountains is Canmore. When God was handing out scenery, Canmore camped in line:

Canmore panorama

The 360º panorama gives a hint of things to come.

Next is the Park entrance, where you can buy a pass.

Entrance to Banff National Park

Day passes for individuals were C$9.80, and I bought passes for Saturday and Sunday.  There’s a bypass to avoid the toll booths, and I never saw any access restrictions, or rangers patrolling. I wondered what was to keep people from accessing the park without paying. I’d find out on Saturday.

A little further up the road is the town of Banff:

Banff Alberta

It’s pretty much like every other town in a tourist attraction: lot’s of ways to separate people from their money.  Even the alleys in Banff offer views:

Banff alley

There’s a tourist information facility run by Parks Canada, and I picked up a brochure to plan my activities. Given the time constraints of the day, I figured I’d tour the Bow Valley Parkway, then see Lake Morraine and Lake Louise. The weather was problematical, but you take what Nature has to offer.

The scenery quickly turns from amazing to spectacular:

Fault-block mountains

The mountain in center-left is one of the finest examples of a fault-block mountain I’ve seen. The placards describe what you’re seeing; but it boils down to kilometers-thick sections of the Earth’s crust thrust up and then overlapped atop each other. Then the whole assembly was moved kilometers west from their original location. The forces involved are mind-boggling.

On to the Bow Valley Parkway:

Bow Valley Prkwy sign

That’s actually the sign at the northern end of the Parkway.

Scenery abounds around every turn. There’s the Castle Cliffs:

Castle Cliffs

Castle Cliffs sign

Directly across from Castle Cliffs is Storm Mt.:

Storm Mt panorama

The mountain itself:

Storm Mt

Storm Mt placard

A WWI internment camp:

Internment camp site

The American internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII is somewhat well known, and Canada did the same thing with European-Canadians during WWI. The statue in the background is of a Ukrainian entitled ‘Why?’. There were bouquets at the base.

While here I heard a train on the tracks that follow the Bow River through the valley, and thought ‘How cool would a photo of a train in this setting look?’ Answer: cool. I didn’t hurry; after all, this was another bonus. When I got to the road, I saw the train was moving right along: I paced it at 100 km/hr. The speed limit on the Parkway is 60 km/hr, and I’d obviously have to go faster than the train if I was going to get ahead. I pushed the car to 120 km/hr, which was as fast as I cared to drive on that road. I did get ahead, and found a likely spot, but I could hear the train when I stopped.  There were only a few seconds to set up the shot.

Canadian Pacific loco

There were better shots available, but not in the time I had to work with. Still, a bonus.

Back on the Parkway, and past the Village of Lake Louise and on to Lake Morraine. The lake is off the road and up the side of a mountain. Signs advise that parking is limited. You get an idea just how limited when you see cars parked on the side of the road half a klick from the lake.

Lake Morraine is in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. There’s an overlook at the lake shore, and an enormous pile of rocks called ‘The Rockpile’. A trail goes to the the top of the rockpile, and involves some serious grades and steps. At the top, there’s a view:

Lake Morrraine

At one time this view was on the back of the Canadian $20 bill.

A look down onto the trail:

Trail from top of rockpile

A placard details some of the wildlife making it’s home here:

Life on the rockpile placard

And there were a couple of Least Squirrels foraging about.

Least Squirrel

This area is heavily traveled, but the squirrels were busy. As far as they were concerned, it was Winter, and the humans were an intrusion on their efforts to lay by for the season.

Back down the mountain to Lake Louise. I saw a gentleman in Toyota’s version of the Land Rover. He had three spare wheelsets and two shovels strapped to the back, and an aluminum bridge strapped to to the top. If there was anywhere he couldn’t go, I didn’t want to know about it. He was French-Canadian, so I asked him in my abominable French if he was driving around the world: it ‘s the sort of rig you’d have to do that. He said he was just driving through Canada, but that Canada was big.

Lake Louise is well set-up for the tourist trade: there’s ample parking. And if you’ve ever seen a photo of Banff Park, you’ve probably seen some version of Lake Louise. It is impressive:


Lake Louise 2

And it’s the scene that captured me as a child, and motivated me to visit Banff Park. In a sense it’s sort of a gateway scene. It gets you interested in the Park, but is not the most impressive feature. There’s a hotel directly behind this scene on the lake:

Lake Louise Lodge

Mid-September is late in the tourist season, but the Japanese were out in force:

Tourists Lake Louise

The walkway was a minefield of family portraits and selfies.

And that was it for Banff on the day. I drove back to Calgary, arriving at 1900. I had to take care of some business, so wasn’t able to attend the game. I went to the Best Western bar, and discovered that unlike the NFL, the CFL televises games in the local market even if they don’t sell out. A bit weird watching a game on TV that was taking place only a few hundred meters away.

Hey, nothing went wrong today.!



Posted by: bkivey | 23 September 2015

About Vancouver BC

I’d decided to visit Vancouver because I’d never been there (‘But why are you really here?’ – Canadian Customs) and people I’d talked to commented on how nice it was. I got to see a fair amount of downtown, and some of the outer districts. Some observations:

I’d mentioned that there was money in Vancouver but didn’t realize how much until I saw a large banner in front of a downtown housing development touting “Houses under $2 million!” I have never in my life; not in San Francisco, not in Honolulu, seen housing under $2 million as a selling point. That’s insane.

Driving in Vancouver is a special kind of nerve-wracking. The city-wide speed limit is 30 km/hr (about 20 mph). There were a few places marked for 40 km, and a couple of bridges were marked for 50 km. I did see one stretch of 60 km (a little over 35 mph). By comparison, most American cities have a base speed limit of 30 – 35 mph, and arterials are commonly marked for 45 mph.

What the low speed limits do, and I’m sure this is intentional, is put motorized and non-motorized vehicles in the same speed range, especially downtown. There is a lot of bicycle and pedestrian traffic, even in residential areas where you maybe wouldn’t expect it. The result is that you’re constantly looking around, and very cautious at intersections. While this may be great for the non-motorized folks, for drivers the number of hazards is multiplied, and the environment may give cyclists and pedestrians a false sense of security. Getting hit by 250 pounds of bike and rider is one thing, an impact from a 3,000 pound car, even at low speeds, is quite another.  In fairness, pedestrians in Vancouver seem to be more aware than most Americans. I never saw someone crossing a street engrossed in their phone; something that’s common in the US.

Vancouver doesn’t do left-turn lanes, and center turn lanes are a fantasy. Someone making a left turn is going to block a lane of traffic, and likewise if you have to make a left turn, you dread the experience. This situation leads to some aggressive driving by the populace to get around the offending vehicle; more aggressive than many Americans may be comfortable with.

Another unintended consequence of setting speed limits so low is that they are widely ignored. I tried driving reasonably close to the posted limit, and was in danger of getting run over. People drive as fast as they feel they can get away with, which is significantly faster than the posted limit. I noticed that speed limit signs are marked ‘Maximum’ over the limit, rather than the American practice of “Speed Limit’ and a number.

I was impressed by the relative paucity of homeless in the city. I saw an article in the paper that put the number at around 2500; a smaller percentage relative to the population than many American cities. The homeless I did see weren’t aggressively panhandling,  and except for a few sleeping on the streets downtown, relatively invisible. I suspect that the high percentage of Asians and Indians has something to do with this. Both groups are known for their industry and lack of tolerance for those unwilling to work. The fact that alcohol is expensive may also be a contributing factor.

Id’ say that Vancouver is Canada’s version of San Francisco: world-class shops and restaurants, a very good transit system, a high standard (and cost) of living, all in a stunning setting. Having what’s been called ‘the world’s best park’ certainly adds to the allure. For myself; a nice place to visit, but not really interested in living there.

Posted by: bkivey | 22 September 2015

Canada Vacation Pt. 4

17 September 2015

Grey and wet, but not unexpected.

I turned the car in, and enquired about the gas discrepancy.  The manager didn’t seem concerned. They could check the mileage, and I had the gas receipt. Sort of a non-issue.

Interesting note. Canada is a metric country, but they advertise ‘unlimited mileage’ on rental cars. I suppose ‘unlimited kilomeratage’ is unwieldy.

One of the agents was assigned to drive me to the airport. I asked her if she was a native, and she said she was born in India, but her family had moved to Vancouver when she was eight. I asked her what her favorite (favourite?) thing was about Vancouver, and she said the liberal mores.  I’ve heard this from other Indians concerning Western society. Progressives, take note. You’re destroying the very thing you purport to support.

A word about Canadian airport security, and something I noticed about the country in general: they’re more pragmatic than Americans. You keep your shoes and belt and light coat on, don’t empty your pockets, and you only put your luggage on the scanner track. They don’t have million -dollar millimeter scanners, yet manage to provide a reasonable level of screening. I asked an agent if they’d like to take over American airport security.

I’d had to check my bag; something that wasn’t a problem on the first flight. Another C$25.  The Canada Air seat lottery put me on the window.  After an uneventful flight, I disembarked and headed for baggage claim. My bag had not made the same flight.. And it wasn’t the only one. There was another passenger fruitlessly looking for her baggage. Off to the claims counter, where I was told that a courier would bring the bag to the hotel when (if) it showed up. I asked to have the baggage fee waived, seeing how I did not, in fact, have my luggage. I was told that the baggage fee had nothing to do with service. Oh no, I explained, when I’m paying for something, the provider is held to a higher standard., not to mention that I could well be out several hundred dollars to replace the items in the bag. Well, she couldn’t do anything about that. I asked for the name and number of someone who could.

Off to get the car, which surprisingly went smoothly.

At the hotel I discovered that Expedia had sent duplicate reservations. This was a problem. On the phone to the bank and Expedia (US and Canada). One reservation was non-existent as far as Expedia was concerned, and my card had only been charged for one reservation. Another hour + on the phone. Goodness gracious, was there no end to these troubles?

All parties concerned agreed to ignore the one reservation Expedia couldn’t find. As long as I wasn’t charged for two rooms, that was fine, but still a lot of valuable vacation time on the phone. Got to the room:

Calgary hotel room

This room was also C$70 per night. Compare to the room in Vancouver. This hotel is directly across from a light rail stop, and the CFL Stampeders stadium is right behind it, so very conveniently located. There’s a small strip mall with restaurants and liquor store in easy walking distance. I didn’t know any of this when I booked, so a fortuitous coincidence.

It was late afternoon by this time, and I’d asked the desk agent what cuisine Calgary was famous for. They said steaks, but given the events on the week, that was a bit beyond me. They’d also recommended a BBQ joint within walking distance. I was skeptical that Canadians could do BBQ, but thought I’d give it a shot.

Outside the restaurant was more evidence that this wasn’t the US:

Canadian paper box

The BBQ was actually pretty good, and their hush puppies could teach some Americans a thing or two. Went back to the room to return customer calls, then off to the Best Western hotel bar (the only ‘sports’ bar in walking distance) to watch some football. The bartender was a Calgary native, and said her favorite thing about the city was the riverfront parks.

Got back to the hotel, and found that my missing luggage had been delivered. Well hoo-effing-ray.



Posted by: bkivey | 21 September 2015

Canada Vacation Pt. 3

16 September 2015

Hey, we made it to Wednesday! Because I’d never been to Vancouver, and didn’t really have any idea what was here (ask a Customs Agent!), I cast about for things to do, and found the Vancouver Maritime Museum. I was interested in this because a) I’m always up for sea-related things, and b) I wanted to see how it stacked up to the Columbia Maritime Museum I visited last month.

But there was the (by now) usual spate of problems to deal with. The travel debit card I’d procured for the trip had been declined on a couple of occasions, and my phone had stopped making outgoing calls. The phone was the first priority, but to call customer service, I had to use the in-room hotel phone. I didn’t want to do that, because I knew there would be a charge (C$20, it turned out) , but there was no choice. The first few suggestions by the rep didn’t work, so I had to tie up the hotel desk phone to get the problem resolved. Desk agent wasn’t happy, but I had to have a phone. The problem got fixed, but another annoyance. The debit card was more difficult. Turns out that there were some strange charges made, and the bank shut the card down. Small charges, but not ones I’d made. So that left my personal debit and credit cards to pay for the trip. The entire purpose of securing a travel account was to limit damage in case of fraud, so I guess it worked as intended, but something else not going to plan. Then I found that my bank was charging me $5 every time I used the credit card to cover currency conversion. Nice. That was the morning. What was supposed to be a week of active relaxation and discovery had turned into the anti-vacation. I don’t work this hard at work.

On the way to the museum, looked for a place to get a late breakfast. Surprisingly hard to find breakfast places in downtown Vancouver. Found a place called the Elbow Cafe, and their shtick is to have a flaming waiter insult the customers. Food is decent, and by Canadian standards, not overly expensive. The waiter commented that ‘You’ll enjoy putting those sausages in your mouth, won’t you honey?’ My reply was that I was used to something bigger. Hey,  I can play too.

On the way to the museum, I found a 100′ tall totem pole:

Totem pole in neighborhood

Totem pole sign

The Maritime Museum is right behind the pole:

Vancouver maritime museum

The submersible is the PX-15 Ben Franklin, and is most famous for a mission in 1969 when 14 men drifted in the Gulf Stream for several weeks. The mission was overshadowed by another voyage of exploration that same year.

PX-15 Ben Franklin submersible

Not overly large for 14 men on a weeks-long voyage.

The museum sits adjacent to a waterfront park, and there are several other museums in the immediate area. There’s a basin in which several historic vessels with ties to the Vancouver area are moored. The vessels are all privately owned, and you can walk the docks and have a look at them:

Heritage Basin

Heritage Basiin 2

Inside the museum proper, the exhibits are on the right, and the main attraction is on the left, although I didn’t know that at the time. After paying admission, I turned to the right, where there’s an art exhibit. The main attraction in this part of the museum is the model ship gallery. One man’s hobby of modeling ships related to Vancouver’s maritime history has resulted in a stunning display. Highly detailed models abound, and one gets a sense of the variety of vessels that have plied these waters.

The special exhibit was ‘Across The Top of the World’, and details the search for the Northwest Passage. As you walk into each room appropriate sounds play. As you work your way around, you can walk through a replica of a 16th century fo’casle (tight), the children’s discovery centre, and a replica of a tugboat wheelhouse, complete with sound. There are exhibits about the Canadian Coast Guard, and lighthouses and shipwrecks.

The other half of the museum, and the part under the A-frame, is the vessel St. Roch. This was the first ship to complete the Northwest Passage. The ship was put into a concrete drydock, and the museum was built around it. There is access below the waterline, and the ship is opened up with a guide to answer questions. You can access the upper decks, but to do so you have to climb a ladder, and the guide won’t help you with that. The ladders have a placard stating that you climb at your own risk. Of course I went up.

In a corner of this hall is a full-motion simulator with a replica bridge from the St. Roch. You can steer among ice flows, and while the simulator accelerates the speed, the handling of the ship is stated to be accurate. I managed to put the ship onto an iceberg. Arctic explorer is not in my skill set.

Afterwards I walked around the park for a bit, then decided I’d better get a boarding pass for tomorrow’s flight. The Vancouver Public Library was no great distance away, so I headed over. The library is housed in a building reminiscent of Roman coliseums, and there is an atrium and food court:

Atrium Vancouver library main branch

I haven’t seen that in library.

I got a guest pass for the public computers, and discovered that my paid-for flight the next day had disappeared. On the phone to Air Canada, and learned that during the shuffle Monday the agent in Portland had deleted my ticket. So, if I hadn’t checked, I’d have gotten to the airport Thursday with no flight. They booked me on the next available flight at 1000 Thursday (no charge), but I still didn’t have a boarding pass. The library computer system wouldn’t access the page I needed. Oh, well. I’d just show up early and get a boarding pass at the airport.

Because I was turning in the car the next day, I went for some gas. Recall that I had to change cars. I didn’t pay much attention to the gas gauge on the new car; assuming it was full, as rental cars tend to be. I always reset the trip odometer on rental cars so I know how far I’ve driven, and saw that I’d put fewer than 70 km on this car. After pumping almost 30 liters, the gas gauge registered 3/4 full. Assuming the car was full at the outset, this didn’t make sense. Called the rental company to try and sort the situation, and was told to take it up with the manager in the morning. Fine. By this time, I was loosing my cool. Every day of this alleged ‘vacation’ was full of trials and tribulations. Just one thing after another.

Got dinner at the hotel bar\restaurant, then called it a night.





Posted by: bkivey | 18 September 2015

Canada Vacation Pt. 2.5.5

15 September 2015 (still later the same day)

About the hotel thing. I searched Expedia and found a hotel in my price range, which is ‘destitute to poor’. Maybe I should mention that even with the 20% currency discount, Canada is expensive. More on that as I gather information. I landed on the Hotel Patricia at 403 E. Hastings St. The building was completed in 1913, and I believe the elevator was completed in the 1970’s. The hotel is on the edge of the historic Chinatown, although to my eye the entire city is Chinatown, and if you call a business or public facility in the area, you’ll get English and Chinese answers. The hotel is also on the edge of the current Homeless District.

The room was C$68 per night, and was what realtors call ‘charming’. I got Room 420, which is oh-so-appropriate for British Columbia:

Patricia hotel room 420

That’s the entire room. At least they didn’t have fire-hazard level of plugs in a socket like a room I stayed in last year. There’s also a bathroom, sort of:

Patricia hotel bathroom

The view out the window is not to be missed:

View from room 420

And in case you lack a sense of urgency during a fire, nothing gets you going like the double exclamation mark.

In case of fire

The Hotel Patricia is old. However, the owners keep it in good repair, are helpful, and have an interesting display of old tech in the lobby, including a telephone switchboard. In keeping with that theme, you’re issued a key for your room, and they still have the mail slot system of distributing mail. I cannot remember that last time I got an actual key for a hotel room. It must be 20 years or more. I don’t know if the room key is part of a theme, or the owners are too cheap to spring for a card key system. I suspect the latter. The hotel is charming in its way, but the neighborhood leaves something to be desired.

Pro tip: if you ever find yourself here, and the elevator is on a floor above, hit the DOWN button; otherwise you’ll be there all day.

Sci-Fi author William Gibson is rumored to make his home in Vancouver, and during my stay I got an inkling of where he gets his material for dystopian novels. Vancouver is 40% Asian, which is fine. Asian culture values achievement, and it keeps the White folks on their toes. But I discovered that after dark, E. Hastings St. is home to a bizarre bazaar of homeless selling their wares on the street. I wouldn’t care to say how much is stolen, but when you see a guy unloading cuts of meat, you get an idea. For about four blocks it’s a regular souk. I walked through this on my way to the Gaslight district, and I’ve never seen anything like it. The local cop shop is one street away, but they seem to turn a blind eye. Honestly, these folks aren’t hurting anyone (except depriving government of revenue), and they’re less aggressive than homeless in, say, Portland. East Hastings seems to where Vancouver’s homeless gather after hours.

I walked through the Gaslight District, and it appears the same as similar areas in Portland, Seattle, Honolulu, Raleigh, St. Petersburg,  or anywhere young people with money congregate. I stopped in a bar called the Blarney Stone, which seemed to specialize in Guinness Stout. Not in the mood for that, I ordered something else, and the bartender seemed disappointed. Turned out they didn’t even have Harp’s on tap. What the hell?

Day Two of vacation was long, but in good way.




Posted by: bkivey | 18 September 2015

Canada Vacation Pt. 2.5

I broke up the events of the 15th because it was a day of two distinct halves.

15 September 2015 (later that same day)

I’d asked the server at breakfast about (aboot?) things to do in Vancouver, and the first item she named was Stanley Park. I’d heard of the park, but didn’t know anything about it. I could have researched it on the internet, but this seemed pointless. Half the fun of traveling is discovering things on your own. I hadn’t seen much of Vancouver, either, although I did know where Auto Row was.

Setting the GPS for ‘vacation’, I headed north towards downtown. I didn’t have any expectations about downtown Vancouver, but I certainly didn’t expect that it would be Hong Kong East. Rounding the curve of the Granville Street bridge, there’s this panorama:

Vancouver from Granville Street bridge

My first thoughts were holy crow! that’s a lot of apartment buildings, and there’s a lot of money in Vancouver.

Aside: I obviously didn’t take that picture while driving. After I was done in the park, I parked off the bridge and hiked up to take the picture. Along the way, I saw someone who needs to rethink their horticultural abilities:

Vancouver dead trees on balcony

Stanley Park covers a headland jutting into the Salish Sea, forming several bays.

Stanley Park map

There are a few roads, but the primary method of getting around is by bike and foot. A paved bike/pathway circumnavigates the park. bike and pedestrian paths are laid side-by-side, with clear markings for each. Pedestrian travel is bi-directional, while bicycles are restricted to counter-clockwise travel.

Parking is alongside the road in most places, with numerous lots scattered at points of interest. Pay stations issue tickets for set amounts of time, and the tickets are good anywhere in the park during that time. You don’t put the ticket on the car, and I never saw law enforcement, but I imagine if you do get a ticket, you’d better hope your parking ticket was still good.

Another thing I didn’t see in the park were homeless. Not one bum in the entire place. You couldn’t have a place like this in the US without it being overrun. In fact, I saw very few homeless in downtown Vancouver.

I parked on the western side of the park, and started walking north. There are some views:

Stanley Park view north of Second Beach

The 180º view starts with the western edge of downtown on the left, looking across English Bay and the Salish Sea, and then West Vancouver on the right. There were upwards of a dozen ships anchored in the roads awaiting berthing. The tide was ebbing and still had another half hour to run, while the smell was like an especially pungent can of clams.

I walked about 2K, and there were some things to see:

A good use for a stump.

Stump chair

Sandstone exposed at low tide:

Sandstone at low tide

Just in case you were wondering:

You are here

Rather than prohibit people from mucking about in the tidal zone, there are stairs off the walkway, and placards describing the various plants and animals. I stopped just before the path curved around the headland:

Stanley Park northwest view

On the hike out and back, I’d seen a lot of shells laying about. I thought that seagulls had eaten the animal inside, but it turns out to be crows. A crow feasting:

Crow eating shellfish

The crows don’t even bother to drop the shells from altitude; they just pick them up and crack them open.

Driving back around to the south side of the park by the Rowing Club. The hike/bike pathway is alongside the fence.

Stanley Park view from Rowing Club

Directly across is one of the more landscaped sections of the park, and there are several monuments:

Park founder and former governor-general Lord Stanley:

Lord Stanley monument

And Robert Burns, for some reason:

Robert Burns monument

The view across the pedestrian overpass into the city:

Pedestrian overpass toward city

And what passes for a rose garden in Vancouver. Sorry folks, but Portland has you beat on this.

Stanley Park rose garden

There is some more impressive landscaping:

Landscaping at Pavillion

This area has a sign describing proscribed items and activities. It’s fairly long:

Stanley Park prohibitions

A little further along to the north and east is the yacht basin, with the cruise ship terminal off to the left.

Stanley Park view across yacht basin

This area is where the local seaplane airline approaches their ‘runway’:

Stanley Park seaplane landing approach

A little further north is a collection of totem poles:

Stanley Park totem poles

The majority of the poles were carved in 1987 -88, and were done by Native craftsmen. There is a placard for each pole describing the symbols. There is another sculpture originally done in cedar then cast in bronze:

Stanley Park First Nations bronzze

At the northern tip of the headland is a now-decommissioned lighthouse:

Stanley Park lighthouse

And some more views of the city and environs. To the right of the lighthouse:

Stanley Park view northeast

And to the left looking generally northwest is Lions Gate bridge. The southern approach of the bridge is actually the park.

Stanley Park Lioins Gate suspension bridge

Near the lighthouse is the figurehead from the ship Empress of Japan, a freighter that plied the Vancouver – Japan route for many years. This is actually a bronze cast of the reconstructed piece.

Stanley Park figureehead from Japanese cargo ship

There is also a ‘Lady of the Lake’ so to speak. The sculpture is Woman in Wetsuit, and is designed to highlight the dependence Vancouver has on the sea. You can see that the tide is about 2.5 m, which is much more than occurs lower down the coast.

Stanley Park Woman in Wetsuit

Before my parking ticket expired, I wanted to see Beaver Pond; maybe see an actual beaver. While this may have been a pond when the park was incorporated in the 19th century, it’s a marsh, and won’t even be that in the not-to-distant future:

Stanley Park Beaver Pond

Forests will naturally overrun small bodies of water as silt and vegetation build up. Beaver Pond is almost at the end of that process. Next to the pond is this door and frame inexplicably left in the woods:

Stanley Park door in the woods

So that was it for Stanley Park. I still had to find a place to sleep the next couple of days.





Posted by: bkivey | 17 September 2015

Canada Vacation Pt. 2

15 September 2015

I tried to sleep late, but was nagged by the fact I had a fair amount of work to do. I had to deal with the mobile data problem, field calls from customers and vendors, find out if my credit card would insure foreign rentals, and find a cheaper place to stay for my time in Vancouver. The last was actually the least important. I was already here, despite the efforts of Canadian Customs. The mobile data problem was Priority One. I had to have it to run my businesses, and basically function.

I’d arranged to switch my phone to an international plan two weeks prior, and was assured there wouldn’t be any problems. I made a point of telling Verizon that this had to work. Phone: check. Text: check. Data: oh so not check. I talked to one guy who walked me through the protocol, but ended up at ‘shutting the phone off’.’ That’s the last ditch, and it didn’t work. I called again after breakfast, and another rep nailed the problem on the first try. Chapeau! In fairness, Verizon customer service is good, but as with any other organization, competence can be variable. So that was done.

I called my bank, and after a couple of transfers, found that my credit card acts as the primary insurer on foreign rentals. That was good, as I could take the insurance off the rental, and save some much-needed money. Another problem solved.

Vacation yet? Uh, no.

I’d noticed the rental car (Mazda 3)  making chiming noises at random intervals. There didn’t seem to be any correlation between the chimes and operational aspects: braking, acceleration, etc. It was very annoying. I couldn’t see four days of that. I stopped by the rental agency, and they had no clue. I told them I was going to the dealer for an advisory opinion. The dealer’s mechanic informed that the driver’s side airbag was bad, and the chiming was likely caused by a faulty ‘door ajar’ sensor. As the mechanic noted ‘Safety first, eh?’ Back to the rental agency to exchange the car.

Oh, yeah. There were calls from customers and vendors.

Let’s recap the first 36 hours of my vacation week, something I look forward to all year:

Buy company truck.

Run errands.

Miss flight (because kiosk)

Pay $150 for later flight.

Detained by Customs for an hour.

Pay exorbitant amount for a room I’ll be in for 12 hours.

Deal with phone company all morning for something I was assured would work.

Something wrong with rental car.

Take rental car to dealer.

Exchange rental car.

1200 Tuesday. Vacation now?

Yes. Vacation now.


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