Weekend in Calgary, Banff (Bamf!)

This entry is long overdue — I should have issued this sometime last week. But it’s been one of those weeks where I’ve barely had time to check my email, let alone write any.

It all started a few weeks ago, when I heard through the grapevine that my mother and my mother’s mother (to whom all the young’uns on this side of the family affectionately refer to as “Nana”) were going to be visiting my aunt and uncle in Calgary. This was a particularly good thing for me — I hadn’t seen my mother in a couple of months, I hadn’t seen Nana since early September, I hadn’t seen Aunt Brenda and Uncle Mike (not to mention my hyper little cousin Jennifer) since August, nor had I seen Pam since that time (she also lives in Calgary, but is the daughter of another part of the family), and I hadn’t seen Stuart or Therese since Christmas.

No, Stuart and Therese aren’t a part of my biological family. They are however, two of my closest friends in the world — and are for all intents and purposes, my extended family. Having to shift from seeing them nearly everyday, to seeing them once every few months isn’t easy. And I’d been wanting to see them for quite a while, especially since they had bought two new siamese kittens.

So I sat down and looked at the cost of airfare. Allison looked at the cheapest ways out there — by car, and by bus. She wanted to come (and I wanted her to come), but she didn’t have the money to pay for the $200 airfare. (We’d missed the seat sale requirements by one lousy day.)

For a while, it looked like Allison wouldn’t be able to go. And I really wasn’t keen on going without her. But then luck shined upon the both of us … she “found” $800 in her bank accounts. As her father put it: “Only Allison could find $800.” I still don’t know how she did it, but at that point, I didn’t care to find out.

To ease our travelling (and get the cheapest airfare possible), we opted to leave early on Friday the 17th. Allison got the day off, and I just didn’t bother to go in (my office has such flexible time that I can decide not to come in one day, just so long as I make the time up at some point).

We drove down to Richmond (where YVR — the Vancouver Airport — sprawls over Sea Island), and hunted for a cheap place to park Allison’s car. We found a lot at the Comfort Inn that charged only $3 a day. We had considered taking the bus, but we were coming back at 08:20 on the Monday, and Allison needed a quick (and inexpensive) way to work.

We were flying WestJet, a small airline that offers really cheap airfare between cities in the west (they have extended as far as Winnipeg, but whether they’ll go any further is anyone’s guess). We checked in, got our tickets (WestJet doesn’t issue “real” tickets, only boarding passes, which have to be picked up the day of the flight), and went to have breakfast. (WestJet doesn’t offer meals on their flights, and we were starving.)

The flight was quite nice — we flew in an arc over northern Washington State, recieving a wonderful view of area around Mount Baker, and we could see as far as Mount Ranier.

We arrived in Calgary around 11:20. As we touched down, Allison noted that it was “rather flat”. The Calgary-bashing had started. We weaved our way through the terminal to the baggage claim, so I could get my backpack. While we waited, I inquired about taking a bus downtown.

We had to meet my cousin Pam at her office. She had graciously offered us the use of her sofa-bed and even her car (which she barely used) during our stay in Calgary. I checked in with her, and arranged for a time.

We hopped a bus, which took us down to the Whitehorn C-Train station. (The C-Train is Calgary’s LRT system, and is part-and-parcel of their transit system.) We took the train downtown to the approximate intersection where we found find Pam’s office building.

My only gripe about Calgary is that the road systems are WAY too confusing. Downtown, everything is numbered — streets and avenues. If someone gives you the information backwards by accident, you could end up blocks away. To further complicate issues, downtown is also where the city is split up into quadrants — so the roads restart their numbering four times. Fortunately, we were always in the southern quadrants while looking for Pam.

The Petro-Canada tower wasn’t hard to find, and surprisingly enough, neither was Pam — we ran into her after had a bite to eat for lunch. At first I didn’t recognise her — she seemed to have lost a little weight from the last time I saw her. (Then again, she had been wearing a thick sweater that time.)

She gave us instructions, the keys to her apartment and her car, and the code to get into her building. We were off again, to find her illusive apartment. Her instructions weren’t exactly correct, we found ourselves dumped at a parking lot (and yes, we had followed those instructions correctly). A shift of two blocks east corrected that problem).

Our first order of business was to see the family. Pam had warned us that they were out, and wouldn’t be back until 15:30 that afternoon. So we thought we’d take our time and look around a little. We decided to go for a drive in Pam’s car.

In general, I’m not a huge fan of most Japanese cars — I don’t fit in them very well. (The problems with being a large person.) I had complained a few times about Allison’s Toyota Corolla, because it was small (for me — Allison kept saying I should make a concerted effort to be smaller). Pam’s Nissan Micra made me feel claustrophobic.

The sun in the Prairies is bright. I had forgotten how bright — Vancouver’s sun is muted by the cloud cover. The both of us ended up buying sunglasses to counter the painful squinting.

We arrived at my aunt and uncle’s house a little after 15:30 (after arriving early, finding no-one home, and then going off to purchase the aforementioned sunglasses). My aunt Brenda answered the door, motioned us to be quiet, and pointed at the kitchen. I boldly walked into the kitchen, plunked my bags down, and loudly announced “Hello”.

Oh … did I mention that neither my mother or Nana knew that I was coming?

My mother looked up at me, and there was an instant look of recognition in her face … quickly followed by the look that appears as the visual thought of something that is out of place. Surprise followed soon after. Nana, on the other hand, seemed completely overwhelmed by the seemingly unending surprises.

Allison and I sat down and talked with my relatives for a while, during which various family members came and went. Eventually, it was our turn to leave. Our family night was planned for the following night, and I really wanted to see Stuart and Therese.

We spent a little time at Therese and Stuart’s (trying mostly to get their two new kittens to come out from under the bed long enough so I could see them) before we decided to go out to dinner.

Stuart suggested that we try Montana’s, a chain of steakhouses that had finally migrated to Calgary. Therese referred to it as “Stuart and Geoff food”, which I have to admit, I took some offense to. My diet has changed quite significantly since I arrived in Vancouver, and I tend not to eat all the things I used to.

At any rate, the place was packed, and we ended up at Joey Tomatoes not too far away. It was a pretty decent meal all around. And it gave us a good time to sit and talk and visit.

Afterwards, we went back to Stuart and Therese’s, where we continued to talk a while longer. Well, most of us talked a while longer. Therese kept dropping off. She works a lot at school, and it takes a lot out of her. One day, she’ll be able to stay up after midnight…

When Allison and I arrived home that night, we were ultra-careful not to wake up Pam. The sofa-bed was already set up, and it didn’t take us long to go to sleep.

The next day, Allison and I decided that we would visit Banff. Although we had both been there before (not at the same time), we wanted to visit again. In both cases, we had only a short time to look around, and Banff is one of those places you really need to see carefully.

The trip out was uneventful … except we were wondering whether Pam’s Micra would make it intact. It was a peppy little car … going downhill. The hour-and-a-half drive was a little more than the car could take.

But it was worth the drive. Banff was in full bloom (snow included), and was quite the sight to see. The tourists were mostly gone (I guess it wasn’t their time of the year anymore) … except for the throngs of people waiting outside of the Roots. We guessed that someone like Elvis Stojko or Ross Rebigilati was inside.

We visited the Hot Springs (the wrong ones, so it turned out — the original hot springs were in a different location), the Banff Springs Hotel (I have to stay there at least one night in my life), and drove around in the town. Finally, we headed back to Calgary for dinner with the family.

The next day, on a suggestion from my family, we visited Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, an historical site in the southern portion of Alberta. In use for nearly 5,700 years, the buffalo jump was a cliff that natives used to kill large groups of buffalo.

The museum is built into the side of the cliff, not too far from the location of the actual buffalo jump. Great care was taken in building the site, such that it wouldn’t affect the any of the archeological remains in the area. The design, combined with the unbelievable quality of the education, garnered the museum the honour of being a UNESCO site. It was worth the five hour round-trip.

We asked Stuart to come along with us, mostly because it would get him out of the apartment he shared with Therese. (Therese had to mark 40 20-page essays, and having Stuart around wasn’t exactly helpful.) Furthermore, I wanted to see as much of my friends as possible.

The next morning, we had to catch our flight back to Vancouver. By that point, we had pretty much come to the conclusion that we could not live in Calgary. Allison had written off Calgary within a few moments of arriving (her first comment was: “It’s flat!”), but it didn’t take too long for me to realise that Calgary was no longer for me either.

Having arrived in Calgary from Ontario, I found it very nice. But after living in Vancouver for nearly four months, I found Calgary’s appeal much lessened. I suspect that I shall have a hard time finding another place I love as much.

And if you’re wondering just how I came to this conclusion, when I arrived back in Vancouver, not only did I feel more relaxed, but I felt like I was home. Not just back where I lived, but where I felt I should live.

We then had the nasty task of attempting to find Allison’s car. We couldn’t remember the name of the company we had left it with. I knew it was a set of initials, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. We eventually remembered that the lot was at the Comfort Inn. It seemed that DPS, the people we left the car with, were known as Diamond Parking Services … everywhere except on their signs.

On Sunday (the 28th), we delivered Allison’s sister, Jane, to the Hand of Fate — and the airport. Jane was moving to Europe. She had made the decision that she would live in Britain for a while … about a year.

And she was not too excited about it either. Well, she was and she wasn’t. Most importantly, she was terrified. This was the first time she had been away from home. Mrs. Collins was almost as worried as Jane.

I was envious. She was going somewhere I hadn’t been. I want to go to Europe. I’ve never been, and there’s so much to see. Perhaps one day I will go. Allison even hinted that we could visit with Jane.

I wish her well, and hope that she has the time of her life. She will likely be a very different person when I meet her next. I only hope that life doesn’t jade her.

Taking the Ferry to Nanaimo, Easter Weekend on Vancouver Island

It’s been an interesting few days. This weekend, as you already know, was Easter. This was the first time I was not in Ontario for Easter. I had been away from home before — usually on co-op terms (although university often did its fair share), but this was the first time that I was threatened with complete isolation from all friends and family.

But I was saved by the graciousness of the Collins. They invited me to spend the Easter holidays with them. I, of course, accepted. I wasn’t interested in sitting in my lonely apartment all weekend.

Allison and I left on Friday moring, catching the 12:30 ferry to Nanaimo. We went downtown to catch the 257 Horseshoe Bay Express. We didn’t want to take the car over — BC Ferries is in my opinion (and probably others) prohibitively expensive.

We took the bus from the start of its route. This was Allison’s idea — and a very good one. When we got to the stop at the Bay on West Georgia, there were approximately a hundred people waiting. Our bus was full in a matter of moments.

While we waited for people to board, someone knocked on the window. It was Jane, Allison’s sister. She was returning from the Arts Council Festival (or something like that), featuring Holly MacNarland and Great Big Sea. She was heading home for work. However, she would not be able get on our bus. BC Transit, however, is not for a lack of intelligence. They had another bus following ours, which picked up the remainder of the waiting passengers.

The ferry traffic was heavy. Lots of cars, and lots of people. We made the sailing (so did Jane and her friend, Renata), which was 15 minutes late in leaving. During the crossing, we called Allison’s parents to inform them that there would be four of us, not just two. (This was important because we were to be picked up … and no matter how hard you try, you can’t pack six people into a Honda Civic.)

That night was a quiet dinner with Allison, her parents, and her brother, Randy, when he arrived home from work. It was a roast of beef that came without yorkshire pudding or cheese sauce (for the broccoli), a result of Allison’s aunt Vicky appearing and staying too long. (Allison’s mom, who is Vicky’s sister, could not break away to continue with dinner.)

Afterwards, we played Scrabble. It was a rather interesting game, mostly because the two English majors (Allison and myself) could not defeat Allison’s father. I could not remember the last time I had played, if ever.

The next day, Allison took me around Nanaimo, showing me some of the different little townships that made up the whole city (and let me tell you — Nanaimo is a huge city). We went down to the waterfront (which apparently wasn’t a waterfront until a few decades ago — most of it was filled in), where the last bastion of the Hudson’s Bay Company remains presevered.

We walked along the concrete and steel railed wharf, passing by such interesting things as the Javawocky, a little cafe. Most of the boats in the harbour (that we could see) were fishing trawlers. I didn’t know if there were in harbour because of the holiday, or were idled due to the drop in the fishing industry. Most looked in good condition, so I can only assume it was the holiday.

We continued down to an artificial lagoon. which the city had built to enhance the waterfront. It created a small, sheltered beach, and calm water that remained even when the tide was low. Stray logs from the log booms that are towed through Georgia Strait had washed to the beach … or had been dragged there for character. On the other side of the lagoon was a large children’s playground, perhaps the most exciting looking one I’d ever seen. I wished I was 10 again.

Not far away was a bronze statue of an ex-mayor who was “affectionately” known as “Black” Frank. He was the man who invented the idea of the Bathtub Races (you only way you could *not* have heard about the Nanaimo Bathtub Race is if you’ve been living in a dark room for the past few decades). He dressed as a pirate (especially during said races), which is where he obtained the name “Black” Frank. However. as a mayor, he did some pretty questionable (and in a few cases, down-right unethical) things, so the name had more than one connotation.

That night, we had a full turkey dinner (again, with a delayed Randy) with Grandma Collins, a wonderful woman who was an utter delight to have conversation with. She certainly didn’t strike me as the “typical” little old lady. She was more concerned with having fun.

After dinner, Allison and I went out with Kelly, an old friend of Allison’s whom she hadn’t seen in over four years, and went to a pub downtown (nearly everything else closes down early in Nanaimo … even coffee shops) for a few drinks. None of us had anything alcoholic, but we were there for a couple of hours.

The next morning was the day of the Easter Egg hunts. I can’t honestly remember the last time that the Easter Bunny visited my sister and I, but I can guess at it being many, many years. Well, it seems that the Easter Bunny is alive and well in Nanaimo … and he made many a visit this morning.

First off was in the Collins household. It seems that there is a tradition, where the two resident rabbits (Mr. and Mrs. Collins) hide things in the kitchen. I was an unwitting inductee. Amongst various chocolates, I also received a t-shirt. I was extremely surprised (not expecting anything of the sort), and most thankful.

Then it was off to Mrs. Collins’ parents (less than a five minute drive) for lunch. That was, lunch after the Easter Egg hunt. (Yes, another one.) This time, the hunt was more elaborate. Everyone (except Mr. and Mrs. Vaillette — I apologise if the spelling is incorrect) had a plastic egg hidden somewhere around the tree. Inside the egg was a rhyme, which was our clue to the location of our prize (hidden by Brenna, one of Allison’s cousins).

Needless to say, I think I was terribly well treated for an outsider. But you won’t hear me complaining!

Well, there’s not much more at this point … more will come later on as I continue. But life resumes tomorrow — back to work, back to playing games.