Category Archives: Canada

Travelogue Canada 6: Toronto – London – Wales

October 2009

 

Niagara was cool. glad i did it seeing as it’s a big ‘natural wonder’ deal ‘n all. lots of falling water (but still i’m thinking that their novelty t-shirt industry would make uber$$$ if they did shirts with upside down falls pics and some sort of Viagra joke – there’s a huge market for that if you think about the ‘I’m with stupid ->’ market) but not enamoured by the drenching of close-up shots… ‘specially seeing as it was a foggy day so there was limited WOW photo potential.

did manage to achieve one of my personal Canadian Bucket List goals by finally finding an actualfactual Wendy’s!! had the Baconator. 3 words: in. cred. ible. sort of like a double McD’s 1/4 pounder, with double cheese and a packet of bacon. no regrets, was TOTALLY worth the wait. (and took pics, so don’t rely on imagination because it’ll so understate!)

got to the airport well in time. and learnt a beaut from tour guide (amazing how the dynamic changes when the older, better-tipping-potential americans and brits alight the ve-hicle). they (younger skirt-chasing torontoes – although, with their awful diction am sure they’d pronounce it ‘trontoes’) apparently have braced the world of sms and they reckon you ‘can’t get tail without text’… to the point that they’ve coined it ‘sexting’!

got stuck next to a big fat mamma on the plane, which made for a world of pain. she not only took over the armrest (we were sposed to be sharing) but also had impossibly accurate elbows, that have seek-and-destroy function for my (poor unsuspecting) ribs. ended up leaning almost entirely in the aisle, meaning that every moving body in the aisle bumped my foot/knee/elbow/head as they passed and i dozed in 5-7.5 min spells over the (already challenging) 3.5 hours set aside for sleepy time. not even the chicken breast with creamy sweet mustard sauce and frilly noodles could lift spirits. although the fact that BFM is a veg and had forgotten to order special meal so was reduced to a dinner of bread rolls alone did marginally *evil laugh*

got thro the heathrow experience and to kings cross without incident and was met at burger king (rodeo king deal – cheese and bacon burger with onion rings) by RoRo. SO much better a brekkie than the banana muffin that air canada thought would suffice! then it was off to barry’s office to dump (ever-increasingly heavy) luggage. newly liberated, me and RoRo headed to find Faye HQ – Guardian London. conveniently close + bud with useful gameplan = Camden!

was heaving! and changed so much since i was there last (worked out it was 1992 – believe it. or not) but all for the good – lots of atmosphere and oozing with the under-promise of over-delivering good times! ;o)

first pint in days…

and then second…

and then faye arrived.

*giggles, chatter, hysteria, nostalia, giggles, snickersnort, wittybanterwittybanter, giggle, PHOTO!*

off to next pub. barry got off early, but has the dreaded lurgy so was a tea for him 🙁

needed to head back towards the office to outrun london peak traffic to collect (dreadedstartingtohatethecommitment) luggage. traversed the city effortlessly to deposit selves at Ruby’s. so very the first people there. was a bit ‘eurotrip’ as the next 2 hours disappeared on fast forward and people filled every conceivable space around us.

then it was off to kings cross and paddington to get on the train to wales (picking up BK en route, Bacon Caesar Angus burgers of cheese, bacon, onion straws and caesar sauce + spicy jalapenos and chewy cheese encased in a crunchy batter).

the train was heaving. we got really lucky finding a table for 2 in first class (and no conductor so not having to pay upgrade!) seeing as there were people IN FIRST CLASS who stood 2/3 of the 3 hours journey! passed the time with ‘spite and malice’ (our favourite card game). was 5-1 down at one point, but we ‘agreed’ to call it quits when clambered back to 5-5 position.

quick power-snooze… and we were there. swansea.

interesting locals. very slapperish uberhighheelpelmetskirts types. waited for john (moir) and headed for ‘home’. couldn’t see much seeing as it was about midnight, but happy to get to <the unpronounceable=”” town=””> and the lovely warm home where we could start our Wicked Weekend in Wales adventure :o)

did the usual slumber-party, catch-up stuff and then had the greatest night’s sleep in as long as i can remember (YAY). to wake up on Halloween…

Travelogue Canada 5: Churchill – Winnipeg – Toronto

October 2009

 

so you’d think i have nothing to say seeing as i spent the whole day in transit, right? wrong!

these amazing things happenned before we left churchill at 09h15:
– (no surprises) i woke up before the alarm (set for 07h00) at 06h15. was showered,dressed,packed and ready ridiculously early.
– ate almost my body weight in bacon with breakfast. sacrificed the french toast to make space seeing as Doug had gone out of his way to get 20 lbs (whatever that is in real weight) for this morning as he’d noticed liked it somuch (oh yes, and i complained repeatedly because there was none yesterday). have also taken to drowning breakfast in syrup (like in the proportions i have gravy with a roast dinner!), which is a habit i might have to try and leave in canada
– we got a photo of doug next to one of the (many) yellow school busses so you can see what a Small Town Super Hero looks like
– we intended to get more sunrise photos (sunrise is at a very civilised 08h20 or so), but it was too misty 🙁
– i took a trot to the eskimo museum (which we still muse over why it’s not called the Inuit Museum – see previous travelogue) to purchase a mini polar bear plush. made sense seeing as i have so many that i actually have one from the home of the PB. of course, keeping to convention of naming them after where i get them, have named him churchill

nothing remarkable about churchill airport.

great snack box on the plane though. croissant with hickory type ham with lettuce (which is rare for these parts – considering the weather, it’s considered an exotic and goes for in the region of $9.50 a head!!). there was a marble cheddar cheese stick in the box which i broke up and stuck on the croissant. GENIUS! there was also a bag of small orange deathsticks (baby carrots, which i refuse to eat since the attempted murder incident of circa 1981 where i almost choked to death on one.granted,i used to swallow them whole because my gran insisted i eat them and i couldn’t bear the taste. but still).

Calm Air (the airline that did our winnipeg – churchill return flights) managed to break my suitcase. the zip that works the expander section, so went to report that. expected resistance seeing as the damage isn’t critical to the function of the suitcase, but they called the area supervisor whosaid that i can get it fixed at home and send her the bill and she’ll reimburse. very civilised. so i complimented her on their sandwiches and said i’ll be in touch! :o)

winnipeg airport turned out to offer me the most amazing experience – HARVEY’S!! the best burger i think i’ve ever had! the bacon cheddar 3 ringer burger (the 3 rings are battered deep fried onion rings). awesome burger, similar to Velskoen style patty with lettuce, onion, tomato, ketchup,mayo and mustard. 6 stars!!

uneventful flight (buy-your-own catering. bummer)

and now in toronto. managed to find the hostel no probs (back in room #32, the ‘Wayne Gretsky’). worked the public transport like an old pro :o)

off to niagara tomorrow and then to london and wales!! :o)

Travelogue Canada 4: Churchill

October 2009

 

monday morning we pulled a (now) usual and got up before the alarm went off. (ironically) an alarming 06h30 or something stupid. fortunately with the time difference with toronto and the 24-hour air canada call centre, we were able to get started on Plan Niagara.

am sorry to report that the results were a mixture of good and bad news. i could change my flights to skip the day in (dreadfully dull) winnipeg in favour of a day in toronto for a day trip to niagara, but phillipa couldn’t. reason being that i had stop-overs on my journey already (whoop-whoop for wales tour!) so my ticket was broken down into legs, but P’s ticket was essentially one ticket from jhb-winnipeg. upgrading would be hundred of $$$ so not economically viable, which is sad for both of us as we have turned out to be enormously compatible travel-buddies. i’m being brave and bold and still going tho. a big step for me (and big thanks to marian and the girls for accompanying me and taking some of the scary out of so much alone time).

anyway, back to the churchill experience…

took a ‘city tour’ of the booming metropolis of churchill, which somehow they managed to turn into a 2 and a half hour affair despite the fact that it’s a 1.5 road town, with 700 odd (in both senses of the word) inhabitants and no roads in or out of the town (only access via train or plane!). they do have an ice-rink and curling rink (indoors because it’s TOO COLD outside), movies, bowling lanes, eskimo museum (surprisingly not called ‘Inuit’ museum – see previous travelogue), post office (which stamps your passport with a polar bear stamp – YAY) and some wheat silo thing which got waaaay too much time with talk of bushels and other (more)agri(than)cultural bollocks.

highlight of the tour was the polar bear jail. they have to incarcerate bears that wander through town and do all sorts of menacing and scrummaging things. they get locked up and given water – “no food, it’s not a hotel after all” – and tranquilised and airlifted to the great blue yonder. there are 15 bears in jail at the moment, but they wouldn’t let us see them. it’s not like we were going to give them cakes with keys in them or anything… 🙁

went on a dogsled adventure in the afternoon. those animals are really (p)awesome! the dude (Dave Daily) that hosted is some champion with accolades in all sorts of races i’ve neverever heard of. he has maybe 35-40 dogs and they’re all well-groomed and well-adjusted despite the fact that they live outside all year round, chained to their individual kennel with a 2 or so metre chain. sounds restrictive, but they are close enough to interact with their neighbours, and are clearly well taken care of and well-exercised – and it was heart-melting to see the way they interacted with their Alpha Male (Dave) who lavished them with affection while he took us on a tour of the set-up.

he hooked up 12 of them to a cart (there wasn’t enough snow to warrant a sled) and took us on rides in groups of 6 at a time. crazycool that the dogs (all mixed breeds, but most with Husky influence) are so strong – and they seem to really get off on pulling the cart! wasn’t as adrenalised as anticipated, nor as i would expect the sled would have been, but still a good way to spend an afternoon.

dinner at Northern Nights last night. we were sharing a table with the tour guide and naturist, so on best behaviour. gorged as usual with beef and rice soup starter (seems soup/salad option is included as standard), then shared (with phillipa) a shrimp (big prawns, shelled but still with tails) fettucini and chicken parmesan with baked potato infused with garlic butter.

new bedtime low, falling asleep watching tv sometime between 20h30 and 21h00. eish.

early start this morning for another tundra day. saw INCREDIBLE stuff today. started with a mother and 2 babies – quite old cubs, estimated to be 18 – 20 months or so. apparently this multi-cub thing is quite unique to churchill; most polar bears only have 1 cub elsewhere, but here it’s quite common to have 2 or even 3 cubs! also here the animals’ curiousity seems to outweigh their skittishness and they are relatively brave with coming to check out the weird 2-legged and 8-wheeled non-bear stuff. got some AMAZING photos of the bears right next to the buggy. even with my camera, they were THAT CLOSE! saw so many bears over the course of the day that we got to the point where we didn’t even get up for Binocular Bears (so far that only really worth checking out with binoculars) or the Boring Bears (the ones sleeping in the kelp), only making effort for the Bonus Bears (ones that did cool stuff worth photographing) and Baby Bears.

kept ourselves entertained in between with people watching (and lunch of course – chicken noodle soup again and a brilliant sweet ham with smokey rind and strong yellow cheese white roll). we’ve been with these people (most of whom are around about mine and Phillipa’s combined age) for how many days now and only know one name. a yugoslavian old lady called Audrey (who has lived in toronto for 40 yearss but still speaks like Borat), who’s name actually isn’t Audrey, but it’s the easier english version of an otherwise unpronounceable name. highlights are:

– Red Jacket Lady: a Candian from ottawa, a schoolteacher and a right eager-beaver. eager to the point of selfish and rude though. always at the front of everything, muscling her way to the photo vantage points, making space for the naturist to sit by her so she can ask lots of questions and giggle coyly at his anecdotes.
– Loud American and friends: started off as one American lady who stood out, but slowly her troupe have gotten to us too. over time have figured out that it’s her and husband and her brother and his wife. there was a lengthy and heated debate today over ages when her and what turned out to be her brother were arguing over whether or not she is 68 and he 72. argument was settled when calculating back from birthdays (nov ’42 and mar ’38 respectively). interestingly, she is also a schoolteacher.
– Old Man and Young Boy: boy must be mid-teens, travelling with what we suspect to be his grandfather. yet to hear boy speak – he sits in hoodie, head down and either snoozes or watches stuff on his ipod. Old Man made conv with us several times today (in between avidly reading his copy of The Economist cover-to-cover). he seems pleasant enough; we don’t suspect him of kidnapping and/or paedophilia
– Mr and Mrs Painful: she’s built like Jabba and walks with a cane. he doesn’t get to speak for himself (right down to Mrs P asking if the people in the queue for the loo needed it badly because Mr P ‘needs to go’. have you ever?!). coup de gras tonight when we got stuck at dinner with them and he couldn’t have the potato and bacon chowder starter because he “can’t” eat potatoes. she sent her steak back twice, proudly exclaiming that it’s not unusual for her to send something back 3 or 4 times, but then ended up getting a take-away chicken strips instead… and couldn’t have the chocolate torte pudding because she’s lactose intolerant and couldn’t have the suggested peaches substitute because it ‘pains her gall stones’, so she ended up with apple pie and we ended up leaving early. PS she’s candian and the only thing we’ve heard him say thus far was all smugness about having dual american / canadian citizenship. apparently that’s quite rare for the USA. can’t blame them for getting him out of there, but can BLAME CANADA for accepting him!
– singapore couple: can’t work out what their story is. they seem to be playing married, we’re not so sure. oh, and they seem to alternate a pair of disturbingly tight ski pants.
– The Walkers: a painful couple who are just too over-achieverish with this X-treme adventure thing. when we were just languishing in the being on land thing, they had already walked to the airport and back twice. they didn’t do the city tour on the bus, they walked from point to point. you know the type.
– German trio: mr (male nurse) and mrs (social worker) + her mentally disabled brother. they’re not too bad.
– Irish Chick: typical middle aged woman, winding down to granniness. trying desperately to be friends with audrey, but audrey keeps shaking her and trying to be friends with us
– Aging Hippy Chick: convinced she’s the only american on the trip. keeps exclaiming it loudly and with disbelief. that, and the oddest fitting pair of jeans of ever (sort of like denim Hammer pants, with unreasonably OTT ode to the elasticated waist), lead us to believe she’s still suffering backflashes from acid in the 60’s
– david, our tour-guide, ornithologist and naturist: he has long, delicate slender fingers with manicured enviably long nails, a bouffant silver grey hairdo, a whistling speech style with over-enunciated verbiage and jeans that always sit askew, with the greenwich mean of the backseam slicing his right butt cheek diagonally in half. that said, he really does seem to savour every sight and sound the tour has to offer… even getting excited – after a long day of awesome polar bear spotting – about the ‘lesser spotted rock ptarmigan and not the willow ptarmigan’ or of course yet another Artesian Whale (see previous travlogue)
– doug: not on the tour, owner of the Churchill Motel, driver of the school bus and who knows what else. he’s been our shining light. lent us a laptop, sorted us out with what we needed for Plan Niagara, given us collectors 2010 vancouver Winter Olympics quarters, order 20 pounds of bacon in time for our farewell breakfast in the morning etc etc etc.

anyway, as soon as we ‘get to know’ these folk, we’re about to be parted. had our farewell dinner tonight (potato and bacon chowder, Arctic char and chips, chocolate torte) and have packed bags and ready to leave tomorrow. it’s more planes and trains with churchill to winnipeg flight, booking luggage into storage then bus and train into town to the old faithful, The Canadiana hostel.

can’t complain because have seen and done everything (and more than) that was on the agenda. but it’s gone so fast…

Travelogue Canada 3: Winnipeg – Churchill

October 2009

 

SO WE’VE SEEN REALLIVEINTHEFLESH POLAR BEARS!!!!!

SUPERAWESOMEUBEREXCITINGNESS!!! :o) :o) :o)

…but let me take a step back…

left winnipeg *yawn* and got to cute little churchill airport. shame man, you should see the little almost conveyor belt they have. it doesn’t even loop or anything, just sort of crescenty grey smile-in-motion sort of thing. anyway, does the trick, so i shouldn’t be condescending.

checked into the churchilll motel. room #17. it’s in the middle of the main <read: only=””> road in town and is lovely and clean and spartan and adequate. not even a distant relative of the Fort Garry Hotel plushness of the night before! … but (again) does the trick, so i shouldn’t be condescending.

ambled over the road to our welcome dinner at the Trader’s Table. had tomato soup starter (was either that or something called ‘salad’, so opted for the safer, more familiar option), filet mignon wrapped in bacon with roast baby potatoes for main and something unfamiliar and (compulsory) unrecognisable for pudding, which was something fruity with something baked, so dabbled with the ice-cream and left the rest largely untouched. phillipa had the salmon for main (served with a honey and soy sauce glazing) which was heavenly. have never ordered salmon before, but should have adventured it this time seeing as my steak was overdone (well, ‘done’ seeing as i had ordered it rare and it was cooked).

in bed by 21h30! new record! AND up (before alarm!) at 06h30! what is becoming of me?!

‘pancakes’ (flapjacks) and french (canadian) toast with bacon and syrup for brekkers and then (uncharacteristically) on-time for 07h45 departure for polar bear expedition.

it’s freezing cold, but nothing a pair of tights, fleece trackie pants, socks, ski socks, thermal vest, jersey, ski suit, ski boots, scarf and gloves can’t solve! got the front seat for best vantage point and spent the day ogling polar bears, arctic hares and artic foxes in the tundra, padding across frozen bodies of water, snoozing in the kelpy stuff by the water’s edge, just generally chilling and arbing about the place… and right up close to the buggies! total awesomeness! these creatures are incredible. so big and beautiful (and i STILL don’t think they’re as vicious as they’re accused of being). can’t wait to get back out there (we have town tour and dog sledding tomorrow and then back into the tundra on tuesday). phillipa’s taken a ton of really good pics with her new camera, so will bore whoever i can corner when i get the disk(s) from her.

had a laugh this morning when the tour guide was going on about how we should keep an eye out for Artesian Whales along the way. of course he was pointing at a trickling streamlet no deeper than 10 or so cms at the time, so we were marvelling at what these could possibly be, considering the possiblities of miniature this and that, the sea creatures on the back of comic books etc etc… until we realised it’s a dialect thing and he was talking about Artesian WELLS! duh! *giggle* been a running joke all day and never ceases to amuse :o)

same guide redeemed himself with a useful factoid though: eskimo is a derogatory term to the people we’ve always called eskimo. they are actually the Innuit (which means ‘The People’) and got the name from the Cree Indians who called them that based on the words in their language ‘e ski mo’ which means “eats raw meat”. tres interesant.

on the food front: delighted by another soup and sarmie combo for lunch. this time chicken noodle + turkey on portuguese roll. gotta say it for these folk, but they do understand the bread:filling ratios. very nice. very nice indeed. dinner at Gypsy’s with a tastytasty chicken cordon bleu burger and poutine (chips with melted cheese and gravy on top) and a couple of beers (Lebatts Blue)

on return to motel, made headway with Plan Niagara by befriending Doug, the dude at the front desk and (so we learned) owner of this place. and all the town’s school busses. and i say ‘all the town’s schoolbusses’ because all the tour busses are the traditional yellow schoolbusses – as well as the one which obviously transports the kids to school (189 kids in Churchill from nursery school to matric – Doug’s a veritable RainMan when it comes to this town).

so, doug’s lent us his phone, his laptop, his internet, his best advice… and i’m travelogue-ing instead of making Plan Niagara a reality. go figure.

Travelogue Canada 2: Toronto – Winnipeg

October 2009

 

had the world’s greatest city tour around toronto yesterday morning. brilliant guide with a good combo of history and trivia and (seeing as i was the only one on the bus most of the way he shared) some of the left-of-centre factoids that i’m guessing he doesn’t tell just everyone. ;o)

toronto is a very interesting city. love the fact that they have an entire mall/city under the city itself. what’s not to love about 17 square kilometres of shopping under the hustle bustle of the poor bastards that have to work for a living?!

am pleased to report that fast food underground is just as satisfying as overground (altho i guess i could have just checked that with The Wombles), having been persuaded through some not-so-subtle indoctrination by tour guide to sample Tim Horton’s – the biggest fast food chain in Canada started by some famous sports guy (and that contraversially bought out Subway and is now based in America – oooo). they’re famous for their soup & sandwich combos… and you know how i feel about sandwiches. had a (magnificent) french onion soup and chicken / BLT / honey mustard club on sourdough. woah, awesome!

all fed and ready to go, headed to airport to meet (almost literally) Phillipa. did a catch-up at the airport (including me giving her a guided tour of Canadian sandwaiches – they are EVERYWHERE here) and then hopped on plane, managing to swap seats to be next to each other.

chatted and giggled like old friends and an indeterminate (thanks to changing time zones and the added complication of daylight savings) few short hours later we were in the booming metropolis of winnipeg.

caught a taxi to our hotel and found that we’re indeed the dowdiest people here. tres chic indeed. fortunately the Clan Cameron reunion – complete with freezing Canadians in kilts and accoustically-bold foyer and incessant bagpipe combo – meant we slipped through relatively unnoticed.

after our long planestrainsandautomobiles journey, the big poofy cloud-like beds almost caught us, but we resisted just long enough to get off to pizza hut to eat way too much. didn’t last long on return though and again i’m wondering, post 23h00 to 07h45 sleep, if my bio-rhythms aren’t trying to tell me something…

big brekkie this morning – denver omelette with cheese, ham, spring onion and mushrooms + back bacon + some other pea-something bacon that’s crumbed and sort of like gammon. have pocketed all sort of little nibbly-bit cheesey things for the flight.

did a quick whip around winnnipeg. not much to report. except are trying to lose the extra day here on way back so can get back to toronto and try for a niagara falls tour.

on our way to churchill now. we’re told no comms, so might be a bit til next we speak!!

Travelogue Canada 1: Joburg – Heathrow – Toronto

October 2009

 

almost didn’t get out of the airport, thanks to Virgin and changing the boarding gate at the last minute without warning. still, manage to get on (3rd last passenger) and score the emergency exit seats.

flight was without incident – bar the battle of wits it took to convince the steward that chicken OR beef could actually be chicken AND beef. am pleased to report that the chicken casserole and roast beef and mash were equally yummy and worth the effort.

the heathrow 5 hour stop-over went by faster than anticipated thanks to:
1) hmv sale: have narrowed it down to about 176 items (totally the GDP of a small African country, say The Gambia) which i will obsess over until my return to heathrow next next sunday
2) a take-away called EAT. which does an awesome toasted swiss cheese and hickory ham croissant
3) marion keyes, officially my new favourite travel partner

made friends with the old duck next to me on the air canada flight. she’s from winnipeg, which is where i’m headed, and has been on the polar bear tour which she says is AMAZING (always good to hear).

enlisted the help of the travel aid desk (an australian – they really are everywhere) to sort out my stay here in toronto. had arrived with no plans and an open mind and we sussed the best plan to be the Canadiana hostel and public transport. the polar bear people had recommended hotel @ $138 for the night and coach @ R28, we managed hostel @ $30 (+$5 deposit for towel and $5 deposit for linen) and $2.25 for the transport, which was a bus and 2 undergrounds depositing me 2 blocks from the hostel.

found it easy enough. and luckily the evening’s planned actvity was free pool, so showered and headed out to The Charlotte Room with a motley bunch of people from all over. played shocking pool, but blame the table as is half size as opposed to the thirds we have at home. not enamoured with $6.25 a pint either!

headed out from there for a flit through chinatown and little italy, stopping to Fast Food Meze along the way with a KFC snacker (difficult choice as there’s SO much we don’t have at home. was conflicted about starch choice as didn’t want a whole chips and mash & gravy so couldn’t justify the $8 and don’t like the whole sloppy poutine experience they have with chips drizzled in mash and gravy), Taco Bell double cheese tortilla and a McD’s cheese and bacon burger (SO the future – we NEED them at home!!)

then ambled through the main bar streets – Queen St and King St West – and headed for home, which is bunking (literally) in a Quad room i’m sharing with an Indian and French girl. they’re both ‘living’ here at the hostel so it feel more like a slumber party.

was asleep by 23h30 and woke naturally at 06h45 which leads me to believe that my bio-rhythms think they’re home!

am waiting for my free pancake breakfast – at 09h00 (these people areso civilised,breakfast from 9-10 AND they have free wireless even in a hostel. EVERYONE wanders around with their laptops – as you can imagine i feel very left out!)

today i’m going on a city tour – and hope to find a wendy’s, BK and Popeye along the way for snacks and nibbly bits – then it’s to the airport to meet philippa and off to winnipeg.

will keep in touch as and when possible!