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 1

I have done it. I don’t know how, but I’ve actually done it. 72 hours, give or take, of continuous coach journey all the way from Toronto to Vancouver. I’m sat here now in the crapped out, run-down Hostel Dan booked us into (more on that later) trying to fight off my incredible tiredness so that I don’t completely screw my sleeping pattern over so I thought this would be as good a time as any to try and assemble my thoughts and break down how the journey went.

Basically how it went was fucking terribly.

Surprise!

So come with me on this recent walk down memory-lane and revel in my continued ability to walk from one catastrophe to another.

It started just like any other day – a day of standing and swearing loudly to anyone nearby who would listen to my enraged cursing at the TTC – Toronto’s Transport Commission – failed to deliver me a streetcar within the ‘every five minutes’ category that they are supposed to. Not even within ten minutes. Or fifteen. Twenty? Nope. Twenty-five? Nah. Thirty? Eeeeeeh, alright then.

When it finally rocked up into place it was of course packed with people, and there’s nothing I like more than having to stand there holding a load of heavy bags for a half-hour streetcar journey whilst being rammed up against a bunch of other people. The icing on this particularly irritating cake was that the bus seemed to be full of screeching school-kids (which confuses the Hell out of me because I’m sure that the schools are off for summer now) who felt it necessary to hum in horribly out of tune fashion the invincibility theme from Super Mario Bros.

Upon finally arriving at the coach station we take our position, well over an hour in advance, and feel secure in the knowledge that we should be able to bag ourselves decent seats. Besides all that, how many other crazy bastards can there be out there who’d choose to do this kind of trip?

It. Was. FULL. Full! Full of people! So one of our main coping strategies of ‘spread out a bit’ had already gone down in lard-ass immigrant flames as everyone from Homer’s Indian cousins to the Hispanic Family decided that today of all days would be a really good day to go spend seventy-two-fucking-hours on a coach. But hey, at least it had power or Wi-Fi or something right to help pass the time with…?

So by this point I’m already angry. It’s an old coach. It’s cramped. It’s noisy. For no reason that was ever accurately explained we were also over an hour late departing, though I suspect it likely had something to do with the Jumbo Indians and the twenty (TWENTY!!) bags they brought with them. And then the old Hispanic lady reclines her seat straight into my knees and refuses to even acknowledge me as I ask, initially quite politely, for her to pull her seat back up at least a bit. So I lost my shit with her.

Those who know me will know that whilst I am prone to occasionally going off the deep end, it’s normally done in private and/or at people I know because at least I know that 8 times out of 10 I’ll get away with almost anything I say. So for me to reach critical mass before the trip has even started and start swearing away at this mad old bat says something for my frame of mind at this early point. However I quickly realised, much to my increased irritation, that she didn’t speak a word of English (Though I’m pretty sure she must have gotten my intent clear enough just from my colourful array of hand gestures) so Dan took the bullet for me and swapped seats.

Annnnnyway we set off and were both glad to be free of Toronto’s horrific humidity and horrific transport system. I liked the place but damn, its negatives hung like Acme-Weights during my temper when we pulled out. Beyond the racial stereotypes on the coach there was a guy who seemed to be the new Bob Geldof, a large bunch of what back in the UK would be called Chavs but here are just called ‘assholes’ who kept shrieking and whooping and drinking and smoking weed so that was great and also a bunch of tattoo’d thugs who seemed determined to start a fight with anyone who so much as sneezed at them. So we had the basic demographics sorted out nicely.

With no power there was no way I could pass the time using my laptop like I’d hoped to, plus it turned out that there was so little room even with a non-reclined seat in front of me that I could barely open the screen anyway. Mercifully I own a Kindle and right now I’d like to tell you that they are the best invention ever. With an entry price at a lowly $100 and a battery that lasts almost a month I cannot recommend one of these fantastic devices enough. If it were not for a Kindle and a large number of Terry Pratchett novels that I’ve been re-reading (having not read most of them since I was a kid) I think I would literally have lost my mind if I had not had the wonders of the Discworld to distract me.

Legend.

Of course there were wonders outside the coach window don’t get me wrong. Most of Ontario’s scenery is extremely impressive with most of the road having been blasted out of the rock and creating some quite dynamic vista’s that reminded me of some of the roads around Stockholm. Throw in a variety of greenery and intermittent views of Lakes Michigan and Superior and there was definitely some stuff to be looking at.  The thing is though, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful exactly…but after several hours of it your eyes start to go blurry. It’s just so hard to maintain constant interest in that sort of thing, for me at least. Dan didn’t even have the Kindle yet somehow managed to find enough constant amusement in the scenery that he staved off madness but I needed Pratchett for that.

We eventually reached Sudbury which was our first major stop on the long road out of Ontario. As you can tell this is going to be a bloody long story as I’ve only just gotten out of Toronto as far as the narrative is concerned, so I’m going to break this up into a small series that I’ll work on uploading over the next couple of weeks. Hey, at least this way I can guarantee some content!

 

Epic Fail

I finally got around to trying to sort out that new blog I’ve been tossing ideas around for the last few weeks. Something that will evoke a more general sense of travel and discussion, something that can accommodate my occasional tendency to review the latest game or film I’ve seen, something that doesn’t have Canada in the name when I’m not in Canada any more.

So I laid down some dollars, not an insignificant number of them either, fired up a new blog and got cracking!

This guy ain’t got nothin’ on me.

Then after a few hours of playing around I realised that not only have I just blown a big chunk of cash on upgrades that I didn’t really need but sounded good at the time, but I also discovered whilst playing around with the WordPress settings that I can simply rename this damned blog to something else without having to make a new one!

I’m trying to get a refund out of WordPress now and their customer service seems pretty good and they offer a 30 day return, so here’s hoping! Otherwise, well, see above.

On the flipside I’ve got a whole bunch of articles I’d been working on that I was going to upload to the new blog rather than post here which now, hah, I can. So at least that should cover some updates for a while and perhaps even allow for some regularity. Probably not though.

Anyway! I am literally under a week away from leaving Toronto. It’s kind of a bitter-sweet feeling. I’ve had a fantastic time here for the most part, the only real exception being the horrible summer weather, but on the other hand I feel like I’m done here. Does that sound ungrateful? I suppose I could happily spend plenty more days here – it’s not like I’d have much to be getting on with if I went home right now! – but I feel like we’ve covered everything pretty well. I’m pretty certain I’ve seen more of Toronto than most Torontonians now. From the Islands to the Zoo, Concert Hall to Expo Hall, The Beaches to Roncesvalles…this is a city I’ve seen more of than I have of London I’m pretty sure. Beyond that I saw the other London, I’ve seen Niagara Falls – which I suspect even with Oz and New Zealand ahead of me will be a challenge to beat – I’ve seen Kirkland Lake and Northern Ontario and I’ve even seen Montreal.

Montreal was especially awesome, and I’ll go into that in more detail when I load up one of those pre made articles, but my point is that I feel like I can leave Canada with my head held high. We’ve still got that massive three-day coach trip across Canada to…look…forward to…?

Hmmm…

And four days in Vancouver which I think safely sits on somewhat firmer ground in the surety stakes. I would have liked to do more, fuck I would have liked to actually spend two years in this country like we had originally planned, but beyond my extreme pleasure of even making it to New Zealand after all the uncertainty earlier on in the year the fact that I don’t entirely feel like I’ve wasted my time here helps quite a lot.

Obviously I haven’t been Captain Active as I’ve had to hold down a regular job to make sure I didn’t experience any sort of financial collapse. My job at Atlas has actually gone pretty well for me as I’ve managed to actually ‘Make’ money – a rare and unusual experience for me to be sure. As such I’ve actually managed to recoup the high opening costs of this trip, meaning I get to go to New Zealand with more than a few pennies. This also helps stave off the panic attacks, which is nice. I remember when I interviewed for my job with SIG I came out with the line “I don’t get stressed easily”, a lie so massive in it’s magnitude that it actually caused several planets elsewhere in the Universe to detonate purely out of surprise. The fact that my biggest worry now is trying not to have a panic attack whilst I’m on the plane is actually comforting in a weird, not-all-that-comforting-now-I-think-about-it kind of way.

…Fuck.

That aside though I think I’ve done the best I could with the time and resources available and I don’t really have any regrets beyond the whole two year thing. The fact that this is beginning to realistically look like it could go for the ‘Five Year Plan’ like we’d optimistically suggested back when we started this thing only serves to make this all the more awesome.

Fresh Developments

So I think my Nan’s Birthday post has sat here quite long enough. Events have been slow to come, but a few things have occurred now that warrant speaking of. Chief among them is that (almost) all the details of ‘Operation: New Zealand!’ have finally been ironed out. And Holy Shit, this is gonna be a long, long journey. Let me talk you through it.

You, yes you! Pay attention!

So owing to the fact that I finish working for Atlas Machinery on July 27th, that gives me a few days before I have to be out of this place or pay another months rent, so there’s an outside chance that we might head to New York for a few days. But that’s undecided.

What is decided is that on July 31st we are going to set off on the longest motherfucking coach journey you ever motherfucking did see.

Over the course of our three day journey, we will be taking in somewhere in the region of, and I’m really not joking, around 80-100 different stops across the entire length of Canada. Those of you with a mind to use Google Maps, a few of these locations include such wonderfully named places as Wawa, Thunder Bay, Winnepeg, Moosomin, Indian Head (wtf?), Calgary, Banff and Chilliwack to name just a tiny, tiny few. I am hoping, nay praying, that the coach I am on has some sort of power source – it has been suggested to me that it might, may even have wi-fi in fact – because otherwise I’m going to go out of my freaking mind.

Remember this?

I am however loaded up with more games, films, TV shows and books than I could possibly get through inside of a decade, so I should have plenty to keep myself occupied…so long as there’s that power supply. I mean sure, there will be plenty of shiny shiny Canadian countryside, some of which I’m assured is Very Nice To Look At. Well, apart from the prairies which have been described to me by several people by now as “Endless fucking nothing in every direction”. That…might get a little boring. Although, the way they describe Calgary to me as this huge City nestled at the bottom of the Rocky Mountains on the edge of the plains, I can’t help but picture it as Minas Tirith.

Identical, of course!

I would at least be able to cry “Mountains Gandalf!” when we pass through the Rockies, but since we’ll be doing them during the night-time all I’ll get to do is shake my fist impotently at the window whilst I watch mountainous shapes whizz by vaguely in the distance.

So anyway, assuming me and Dan haven’t cannibalized each other during the journey, we’ll be spending four days in Vancouver to recover/explore the city. This doesn’t quite compare to the entire year we had planned on spending there originally, but I’ll take what I can get. This entire coach trip/stay in Vancouver is largely aimed at trying to compensate for the massive amount of Canada we’ll be missing as a result of our trip here being shorter than intended, and also poorer than intended meaning we’ve barely gotten out of Toronto the entire time we’ve been here.

Anywho, after that we’ve got a 27 hour flight to Auckland because obviously what I want to be doing is spending more time in transit, especially on a form of transit I enjoy so much.

I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS HAPPENING.

Our flight initially takes us from Vancouver to Los Angeles, City of Angels, Land of City Planned Racial Segregation and whoops, did I say that last bit out loud? It’s kind of an anticlimax to be spending literally 3 hours in LA, considering our Grand Plan involved us spending a few days there and flying to NZ direct from there rather than Vancouver. Plus I have some friends that live there it would have been nice to visit. It’s a city that I’ve oddly studied quite a lot, be it in History, Geography or Sociology so it would have been nice to look around a bit, even if it is a bit shit by all accounts. But noooo, I get to see the wonders of LAX (reportedly one of the worst airports in America) and that’s it.

So assuming I escape LAX it’s then a nice long flight to Fiji, which again would be cool if I were spending anything more than a fraction of time there, and then on from there to finally arrive in Auckland.

I will probably be doing this for at least five minutes upon arrival.

Then it’s off to the hostel in Auckland and from there…who knows. In fact I’m meant to be working on my CV for New Zealand right now rather than writing this blog post, so maybe I’d better do that instead…