Sunday, June 19, 2011

She wouldn't have a Willy or a Sam

No pictures - I had enough to cope with, doing a journey of more than five hundred yards with a car-sick puppy to worry about a camera - but today was a satisfactorily complete day, although nothing went entirely to plan, which in itself made it just right.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the departure from this stage of existence of our friend henry, so a few of us decided to make an Expedition to his first ever geocache and visit the spot nearby where his ashes are buried. For us this involved taking a car-sick puppy on a long car journey, followed by a long walk (when she's only been allowed outside the garden for 2 days, and is limited to 15-minute walks). We delayed our departure till three hours after her breakfast, so that she got some of the benefit of it, and fair play to hre she lasted for an hour before she threw up the first time. By the time we eventually arrived at the meeting-point (Nelly, you did say meet at Tanner's Lane, I've triple-checked) she'd bee sick a few more times and was feeling very sorry for herself. So was I.

Once we'd located each other with the echoes of "Why does nothing ever fuc 'scuse me, doorbell" ringing in our ears, finding the cache went smoothly ... until we realised that the bottle of cider (of which more anon) had succumbed to the law of gravity and emptied itself downhill ... (Why does nothing etc).

Then we set about locating henry's resting place to plant a replacement tree for him, the original one having failed to thrive. For an hour we searched, first with muttered curses which gradually became more audible as the frustration levels grew. We rang his sister to double-check the location - yes, we were in the right place - and the search continued. By this time I was sitting on the ground ("Am I sitting on him?") and finally called out "Come on henry, where are you?". No more than 20 seconds later Andy cried "Victory!!" a mere four feet from where we'd been standing around for ages. If only we'd asked him sooner where he was! I bet he was chortling at us! The cider? The last few drops were sprinkled onto the tree as a libation, sending our good wishes to our friend.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

I didn't know what day it was

May 15th

Heathrow Terminal 5 is a disaster. Despite being built only recently it's shabby, dated and user-unfriendly. It was obviously designed by someone who flies a lot and so knows the ropes, and who is wealthy or well-connected enough not to have to fly cattle-class. They really should have tested it out on guinea-pigs like us who haven't a clue - and we weren't the only ones getting confused.

1. Why on earth would you have direction signs for Baggage Reclaim (which you're not allowed to go to before being dealt with by immigration) before you get to the signs for Immigration?

2. Why on earth aren't the signs for UK/EU passports and Other passports clearly differentiated?

3. Why don't the new biometric passport-recognition machines, designed to save time, work? (To be fair, passport photos are bad enough, but after a 10-hour night flight you look even worse than your picture.)

4. Why, once you've negotiated Immigration (1 person manning two desks, with two people on another, isn't efficient) and make your way to Baggage Reclaim (the directions for which are harder to find now that you need them) is there no large, clear sign as soon as you enter the huge hall as to which carousel your luggage should be deposited on?

After the comfort, cleanliness and efficiency of Vancouver airport, this is an embarrassment.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Trains and boats and planes

May 14th; Day 15

Our last day in Canada; this is a lovely place and we're rather sorry to be going home. We checked out after breakfast, leaving our luggage at the hotel to collect later because our flight isn't till this evening. We took the car to fill it up (Ned cleverly guessed very accurately how much petrol we needed) and returned it to the hire company. Delivering it took more time than anticipated because four enormous cruise ships had docked in the same area and were disgorging 19,000 passengers into the city. Thankfully there were plenty of traffic controllers managing the umpteen cars, coaches and taxis.

That done, the rest of the day was our own. It was a bit showery so we strolled through the shops. The Granville Street/Canada Place area is similar to Regents Street/Oxford Street in London; lovely stuff but we could only afford to window-shop, and then only if we didn't stop for long. We were delighted to find the Hudson's Bay Company shop still has an area, albeit small, where they have their famous blankets ($350!!) and canoes. Ned took some convincing that we wouldn't be able to take one as hand luggage.

There was a very extravagantly-decorated VW beetle parked at the side of the road;

obviously the owner is a Canucks (Vancouver Ice-hockey team) supporter. To be fair, though, I think it's compulsory. The Stanley Cup is on (it seems to be on a par with the FA Cup) and every bar has a TV showing ice-hockey.

By lunchtime the sun had come out again and after indulging in a Starbucks we spent a very pleasant hour sitting on a bench in the sun at English Bay, soaking up the sun and listening to the waves on the sand.

On our way back to collect our luggage to head to the airport we stopped at the weird, creepy set of statues on the corner. I don't know what they're supposed to be about but I think they're horrid!

We were slightly puzzled to discover that the Skytrain (an excellent underground/overground rail system, spotlessly clean, and totally automated so there's no driver. The unions here would never allow it) tickets are $7.50 from the airport to the city, but only $2.50 from the city to the airport.

Things we've learned about Canada:

1. The natives are friendly

2. The drivers are courteous; they give way to pedestrians, obey the speed limit and hardly ever use their horns

3. The light switches are upside down

4. People are capable of either using litter bins or taking their litter home for disposal

5. There are lots of TV channels but not much worth watching (unless you like ice hockey. Needs must, and we got quite keen)

6. Recycling and 'green' concerns are very high on the agenda; even TV adverts stress the eco-friendliness of the products

7. The buses have cycle racks on the front

8. We like it and want to come back

Saturday, June 04, 2011

I would walk 500 miles

May 13th: Day 14

Friday the Thirteenth. We had a disturbed night last night; at 4.30 am the phone rang in the room next door. And rang and rang. And rang some more then stopped. Then it rang again a few times then stopped. Then it did it again. Then someone started knocking on their door. Honestly, if you've arranged an alarm call the least you could do is acknowledge it.

As it was another beautiful day we drove over the Lions Gate Bridge again to North Vancouver and after visiting a Wal-Mart (just to see what it was like; yes, it's Asda) we went to Lynn Canyon. Many people have heard of the Capilano suspension bridge, but there's another one here which has far fewer visitors. It's slightly smaller, but still wobbly enough to give me the heebie-jeebies!

This is a beautiful place with lovely trails along the river which gushes through a gorge and over rocks.

We thought about dropping off the hire car on our way back but had quite a lot to carry so went back to the hotel to unload. We strolled to a little shop around the corner that was advertising 'Bubble tea', which we'd heard about years ago and were intrigued to try. It's very strange; imagine iced milky tea with large purple tapioca 'bubbles'. You have to suck really hard and then the tapioca bubbles suddenly shoot up the straw and nearly choke you. Interesting, but not something I'd choose to repeat.

Then for some reason we chose to carry on our stroll to find out where we should drop the car off; behind the commercial streets there are lovely residential areas, so it made a pleasant walk. We found out where the car needed to be left, and located a garage to fill it up (another challenge; in BC the law is that you pay for your petrol before it's been dispensed, so when you don't know how big your tank is but it needs to be completely filled you have to be good at guessing). Then of course we had to walk back to pick the car up again. That was too much for me - I'm surprised my feet weren't bleeding. We'll drop it off tomorrow.

Friday, June 03, 2011

I walk the line

12th May: Day 13

Today the weather was beautiful again - it certainly isn't boring and predictable! - so we decided to drive inland to Harrison Hot Springs up the Fraser River, both to see a bit of more rural Canada and hopefully visit some of the places that RWH would have known. We only got lost once finding our way out of Vancouver (although we thought we must have got lost when driving through the town of Langley when, instead of the main Highway 1A that we were on - and was a straight road with no turnings - we were in a narrow shopping street. But no, it was still the main road. Bizarre.) Once at Harrison we enjoyed a wander around (failing to find a couple of caches) and visiting the hot spring itself. And yes, that water is really hot - the sign said it's 140ºF coming out of the ground.

All around the edge of the public pool, which says it's fed with water piped from the hot spring but it seemed to be low tide for our visit, there are memorial benches placed so that people can sit and enjoy the view over the lake.

Only two of the people remembered on the plaques were older than us. How depressing.

On the return journey we made a slight detour to a place called Sumas, right on the Canada/US border. RWH wrote a letter home from here on 5th May 1859, so we nearly got the date right for the anniversary. I can't tell you how thrilled I was to be able to get to 'Boundary Road' and take a photo to show that the cleared border line is still maintained. It seems to be colder in America than in Canada, judging by the snow!

We didn't have time to visit Fort Langley - a settlement that RWH knew well and which has been reconstructed on the original foundations; that'll have to wait till next time.

Tonight we went round the corner to eat at the Banana Leaf on Denman Street, a Malayan restaurant. You don't make reservations; when you arrive you write your name and number in your party on a blackboard by the door, and when a suitable table becomes available it's your turn. An odd system but it seems to work well; and the food was lovely. Thoroughly recommended.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

When you're on the street

11th May: Day 12

A damp, drizzly day to say goodbye to Vancouver Island and return to the mainland. It was a very calm crossing and the short drive from the ferry terminal over the Lions Gate bridge (gosh, that's high!) into Stanley Park and back to our hotel (the same one as at the beginning of the holiday) was wet but uneventful. It's funny; when we were here last week the hotel seemed quite swish. Now in comparison with some of the others (the last one in particular) it seems almost ordinary - although it's still very comfortable!

After checking in we went for another explore, despite the rain, this time taking the little ferry (very like the ones we saw in Victoria) over to Granville Island, watching cormorants fishing for weed then flying up to build their nests beneath the road bridge high above the river. This odd little place is home to a great number of art galleries and up-market craft-type shops.

We saw lots of wonderful stuff, but you need to be rich! It's very much an outlet for quality artisan products, not tat.

Then rather than take the ferry back we managed to find our way through a housing area (stopping to read the notice warning about the presence of coyotes!) to the steps up to the road bridge - gosh, that's another high one - back over the river to the main part of the city.