Rockin’ Vancouver

It’s quiet and rather cold here in Auckland today, so I thought I’d take this chance to talk about the final leg of my journey to New Zealand. I only spent a few days in Vancouver, staying in an extremely bare-bones hostel on the outskirts near the train station, but what I saw of the city left me somewhat stunned that such a place actually exists in the world. Vancouver, from a visual standpoint at least, was amazing.

Mountains Gandalf!

I don’t believe there are many cities in the world that can offer such impressive visuals. A highly developed, modern looking CBD surrounded by pristine water on three sides with a huge range of mountains running along the horizon as far as the eye can see in either direction. A city that was clean and varied, that had electric buses rather than streetcars and so don’t suck in every way imaginable, that has various other districts than the CBD that are equally as wide and diverse and dammit we didn’t have enough time again!

The one negative I can draw on the city is that a lot of it smelt of piss. That is quite the negative. Canada really needs to do something about its hobo problem.

Anyway, the first day we got there was of course at the end of our three days of ball numbing, mind destroying hell. Oddly enough even though we’d barely slept at all during this time period the sheer excitement and invigoration of not being trapped in a steel cage of terror anymore meant that we were feeling surprisingly active, and so we set off straight into the city after dropping off our bags at the hostel.

As is becoming our standard pattern upon being greeted with a new city we basically just picked a direction and walked. Within five minutes we found ourselves in the heart of the CBD, huge tower blocks in all directions, but unlike Toronto’s rather drab 60’s decor Vancouver positively gleamed. I can only assume they either had utterly different architectural ideas or Vancouver is just a newer city or something, but if you were to argue aesthetics between the two Vancouver would win hands down. The city also represented our first set of ‘hills’ since we’d left England, Ontario largely being utterly flat until you go far to the north, and we were reminded of how utterly unfit we were as we trudged up the main thoroughfare.

“We’re going to need a bigger car.”

We found ourselves in Stanley Park, which is basically a case of “City, more city, more city SUDDENLY JUNGLE!” It speaks volumes of the Canadians appreciation of the environment that Vancouver seemed to be almost built around the nature. I’m not foolish enough to think they didn’t knock anything down, apparently Vancouver’s entire area used to be some sort of tropical rainforest, but they’ve held onto the aesthetics of keeping y’know, trees and stuff actually there. Unlike a lot of England’s urban areas, which until recently seem to have been designed on the “If it’s green, kill it” philosophy of development planning.

We got lost in the park. It’s a thing you do.

The next day we were there I heard on the grapevine that there was due to be a huge fireworks display in the city as part of a series of firework ‘competitions’ actually done by other countries. I find the fact that I keep getting fireworks displays wherever I go some sort of grand Canadian apology, as if they are trying to say to me “We know Rob Fords a dick, but hey we really do know how to party!” So after exploring a never-ending wave of enormous and expensive looking houses and shopping districts across from the CBD we set up camp and watched the fireworks.

Holy. Motherlovin’. Shite.

I’ve seen quite a few fireworks displays. I was even in London on Millennium Eve, and that was pretty special. But nothing, nothing, compares to this. I guess it was a combination of things. The atmosphere was electric, we were surrounded by people. The whole ‘fireworks over the Ocean’ thing was cool, and all the different boats out there added to it. There was even some sort of novelty Viking Longboat out there, because even the Nords need to get their firework freak-on apparently. There was also music accompanying it being played back over at the edge of the City, which was loud enough we could even hear it where we were.

Also we kept noticing a little device that was hovering around the fireworks then landing down periodically on a small jetty behind us. Turned out it was a home-made Remote Controlled Drone, like the ones the military use, but this one was being used to catch awesome aerial shots of the city. For some reason they haven’t uploaded them yet, but the Pandora Benevolent Society are worth a look anyway just for all the wacky shit they’re up to.

Then the next day the city was covered in the deep booming slams of epically loud music that echoed a thousand times across the skyscrapers because the Gay Pride Parade was in town. I have fantastic timing in all things I do. We desperately needed to get to a net cafe since our shitfest of a hostel didn’t have a printer and we needed to get our boarding passes sorted for the flight (you can’t print them until three days in advance before you nag) but of course it was a bank holiday weekend wasn’t it, meaning most things were closed between that and the parade! Dammit Canada unify your statutory holidays already! Also net cafes don’t seem to be a popular thing in Vancouver because we could only find two, and one of them the internet wasn’t working. This seems to me to be a pretty major fault for a net cafe, but who am I to judge.

So Vancouver. City of wonder, City of Mountains, City of Intermittent Hobo Piss. If I were to arbitrarily rank the three Canadian cities I’ve visited I’d have to say that Montreal had class, Toronto had energy, but Vancouver…Vancouver had it all. If I were to suddenly become a millionaire, I’d retire to Vancouver. You’d pretty much have to be a millionaire too because Damn those natives pay through the nose for their fantastic city.

The Trans-Canada Journey, Part 3

This is the final part of the tale to my Trans-Canada journey, so if you’ve made it this far – congratulations! Now you too can follow my sage advice to NEVER DO ANYTHING LIKE THIS FOR AS LONG AS YOU LIVE.

Now, read on…

Having probably only gotten a couple of hours of broken sleep at best my brain struggled to deal with the rapidly changing time zones. The hours were sleeting past at this point and whilst my brain was in Toronto my body was about two time-zone hours west of that, rapidly moving further away from my precious circadian rhythms. I’m not normally that badly affected by time zone shifts, I say this with the wonderful certainty of someone who’s barely experienced them of course, but quite probably due to the sleep deprivation issues this time it really started to add to the layer of befuddled confusion that made up most of my concious state by this point.

Eventually we pulled into Regina sometime in the morning, as usual nowhere near the town but at least there was some food. Some precious, greasy, fried breakfast food.

Mmm, tastes like clogged arteries.

Have you ever eaten a fry up after two days on the road and about five hours sleep whilst in a constant amount of nagging pain from the waist down? No? Well if you ever do find yourself in that situation don’t eat the fucking fry-up! My stomach had more bounce than a bungy fanatic. As we piled back onto the coach, now for no good reason re-arranged yet again to place the noisy smoking drug addicts back onto our now crowded bus, I spent most of the next three hours trying to think very placid thoughts and hold my stomach in place so that I didn’t get to see my breakfast in re-wind.

Yet again the coach departed late for no obvious reason, meaning that even though the three hours-behind had been nullified by the long wait in Winnipeg were were yet again running an hour or so behind schedule. It’s also worth mentioning at this point that most of the coach drivers we had been given were, with occasional exception, complete and total asshats. I believe the phrase we are searching for here is ‘jobsworth’, a wonderful turn of phrase I picked up off an old boss of mine. These people are veritable kings of their own little castle. I don’t doubt that most of them hate their job, and even more likely the pay sucks. So how do we deal with a job we hate that doesn’t even pay worth a damn? We take it out on as many people as we can of course!

I imagine this is what they see at each intersection.

Apart from constantly threatening to leave anyone behind if they were even fractionally late back to the bus – in defiance of the amount of times they’d just stand around whittering to each other whilst we’re all waiting to go – the particular driver on our stretch between Regina and Calgary seemed to take great offence at people even breathing loudly. Now I admit I found the guys behind me to be a bit of a pain in the ass but I’m not entirely sure why the driver felt the need to threaten the entire coach with expulsion if the noise level wasn’t dropped to below that of a buzzing gnat, like we’re all obnoxious school kids going on a field trip or something, but I think it is clear by this point that Greyhound (and possibly all coach operators going by past experience) really, really need to work on training their drivers on that whole ‘customer relations’ thing. Hint – if you don’t like dealing with people, don’t take jobs where all you do all day is interact with other people! Just a thought.

We stopped in one of the few nice towns we saw on our journey, Medicine Hat (wtf?), which was blissfully uneventful. We did happen to see the worlds largest teepee, which was about as interesting as it sounds. It was just a few large metal poles with some fake fabric on it. Ehhhh. The scenery around here was quite pleasant though, all slightly undulating green prairie as far as you could see, which for some reason made me think of Norfolk.

We pulled into the edge of Calgary, which from a distance looked like quite a large city but as usual we didn’t get to look at any of it, and were told that we only had about twenty minutes to make our connecting coach to Vancouver so get to it soldier!

Move yo’ ass before ‘dis driver loses his shit wit’ you!

So we ran, and we got to the (big) queue and…we waited.

and waited.

and waited.

Around this point I was seriously tempted to just scream out “FUCK YOU GREYHOUND!” and go find out where Calgary airport was, except I couldn’t do that because money. Dammit.

About two hours later we were piled onto the tiniest, most cramped, uncomfortable shitfest of a coach I have ever seen. And I’ve ridden on coaches in Devon. This was by far and away the worst vehicle on four wheels ever designed to take more than a small family over long distances I had ever seen and now I was going to be trapped on it for the last sixteen hours of our journey.

EVERYTHING I FEARED HAS COME TRUE!

I couldn’t even fit in my chair at all with the people in front reclined into my face, who I couldn’t really complain to because they were only reclining to get away from the seats in front. However it had apparently been designed for midgets or something because neither me or Dan could comfortably even put our heads on our seats headrest without splaying ourselves out at weird angles and desperately jamming our skulls backwards.

Literally the only comfort that could be found during this physical hell was that we were now going through probably the most picturesque part of our journey – the Rocky Mountains. I can’t even begin to describe how epic they were even whilst trapped within our portable Hell vehicle. For one thing they were massive, looming over the road on both sides. Covered in trees even at the most absurd of inclines, and largely bereft of snow since hey – summer! We began our journey through the Rockies at Dusk, so we go to see the sun set over their edge which was cool.

What wasn’t cool was that our driver, who was clearly some sort of draft-in due to us being so late and overcrowded back at Calgary, was absolutely desperate to get to the finish line. Now I admit so was I but I preferred to get there via the road and not via simply throwing ourselves off the side of the fucking mountain but I’m not entirely sure he had the same idea. Sleep was basically impossible anyway but the sheer amount of G-Force and pants-soiling terror involved in this guy slalom-ing us down the side of the fucking ROCKY MOUNTAINS at a speed I don’t even want to think about did not assist in this. There have been few things more terrifying that I have experienced in my life than careening around some bend where on one side there was a mind-numbingly long drop, and on the other side was a huge articulated lorry roaring past close enough to kiss.

Obviously we eventually passed out the other side where he suddenly pulled into the absurdly named town of Kamloops at 3am, hopped off the coach and disappeared. Literally. Not a word to anyone on the coach just stopped – off – gone. Eventually realisation filtered back up the coach with those who apparently had balls of steel and had managed to sleep groggily started moving about. We fell off the bus into the cold of the Rocky Mountain air and had to wait, as one final ‘fuck you!’ from Greyhound, until yet another replacement driver came and we could finally get a move on.

Eventually he did. The rest of the trip was blissfully uneventful.

Finally. FINALLY. Vancouver.

WHERE AM I? WHEN AM I? WHO AM I?!

But that is a tale for another day.