The hunt for a new apartment

While on holiday in Vancouver, we got notice from our landlord that she’s selling the apartment and we were given our 60 day notice. Since getting back, I’ve contacted a real estate agent to find apartments for rent in the building we’re currently in.

I met with the agent yesterday and we looked at about five apartments (the joys of living in a relatively new condo), checking out the different views as we went up and down the building. One was a penthouse suite but it was smaller than our place and the laminate on the cupboards was hideous. It looked like leopard print. The view was great though.

One of the apartments I was keen on and it was available immediately. I talked about it with Glen in the evening and we made a plan on what to do next. Our landlord had said we could move out whenever as long as we gave 30 days’ notice, however, it was looking like we needed to move out much sooner.

In fact, we need to be in a new apartment by Thursday 24 April. (Our next payment for the current apartment is due on 28 April and we’d rather not have to pay another month’s rent and possibly lose out on apartments available now.)

So today I got in touch with our landlord and asked if we could move out before 28 April. I tried to sell it saying that if we were gone then prospective buyers could look at the apartment without having to bother us. (Real estate agents are supposed to give us 24 hours’ notice if they want to show the place.) I also told her that we’re going on holiday in May and June so we don’t have much time. Thankfully, she came back saying it was absolutely fine and we could be gone by 28 April, if it worked out.

I called the real estate agent and she laughed when I said we wanted to move in either tomorrow (Good Friday) or Saturday, really any time as quickly as we could, as long as it was before Wednesday. She said she’d see what she could go and rang off.

It was all going too smoothly of course.

A while later she rang to say that the property was no longer available. Sounds like some jiggery-pokery was going on with the realtors who were managing the property. However, our realtor said she’d send over another set of apartments for us to look at. There’s one on there, in our building, that we like so we’ve requested a viewing as soon as possible. With any luck it’ll be the one. (It’s also on a much higher floor which has its pluses and minuses.)

In other news…

Last night we went for dinner with Tim and Vaughan to a Persian restaurant called Sheherzade. The food was really good and it’s probably one of the nicer meals we’ve had in Toronto. I had a chicken dish cooked in lemon and spices, while the boys had a mix of other things. We also had Persian desserts, including a rosewater ice-cream. Mmmm…good food. Check it out.

It was also great to spend time with Tim and Vaughan, catching up on our travels. They’d just been to Orlando and done a few of the theme parks. Sounds a bit hellish but also a lot of fun.

Glen came to meet me at a travel vaccination clinic after work as I’d read and been told that we need Yellow Fever vaccinations (and proof of such) for travel to the Galapagos Islands. However, when we got there and asked about it, because we’re coming from a country that does not have Yellow Fever and we’re not going to any Yellow Fever countries, we don’t need it. I hope they’re right as I don’t want to be hassled at customs.

We also got some injections for other vaccinations. Glen didn’t look too pleased at having the injections and once they were done, I joked that I’d get him a lollipop. The doctor then offered us a couple that they have stored in a jar on top of the fridge. He said lollipops were good as they give you a sugar hit after the injections. Either way, we laughed and took one each.

I’m amazed at how thin the needle is, yet the liquid that’s pushed into the muscle hurts so much.

There are still other things I’ve got to organise before our trip, which is only three weeks away. Luckily none of it is too onerous and just requires a bit of shopping and planning. We’re planning on going on a five-day cruise when we get there but aren’t booking it until we arrive as it’s cheaper. I hope we’re able to get something. It’s a bit scary not having everything planned. I haven’t even booked the accommodation for our first night yet. Still, it might be a fun (albeit) stressful adventure to leave everything unbooked and race against the clock to find a hotel room when we arrive. I’m such Glen will just LOVE that.

Calgary: town of sculptures

Sunday: the last day of our holiday. It feels like I’ve been away for ever but it’s only been two weeks. Love it when holidays don’t fly by. We took our time getting up this morning, had a leisurely breakfast, then checked out of the hotel. I was determined to at least see some part of downtown Calgary, even if Glen wasn’t all that keen.

On the recommendation of a friend in Australia, I set course for downtown and parked near Prince’s Island. We walked over the little bridge into this bit of urban parkland, walked around, saw some sculptures, then headed back into downtown and up to the cultural centre. The signposted maps around the city are great. They’re easy to read and point out highlights of Cow Town.

Being Sunday morning, the place was practically deserted. Very few cars on the road and there were next to no people around. A little eerie at times, kind of like Perth city after 6pm. The cultural centre is along Stephens Avenue, and features a number of sculptures and old buildings with beautiful carvings (that have all been turned into restaurants or shops).

There’s a big sculpture about the Famous Five, a group of five Albertan women who fought for the right for women to hold public office (all highly accomplished women in their own right, they took the Canadian government to court to determine that women were “persons” in the eyes of the law, and therefore able to hold office. All this in 1929). The sculpture shows all five women as if they were in the house of one of them, having tea and planning to fight for women’s rights.

Further down the street is the municipal building/town hall, which has horse sculptures out the front. We then went back the way we’d come but down another street, taking in some other very large and impressive sculptures, including the Family of Man and Wonderland. You’d never think they’d find a home in Calgary.

We stopped for lunch at a Chinese restaurant, called Dragon Chinese, and had yum cha. It was more like eating regular sized Chinese food. We ordered way too much and the serves were a bit excessive for just two of us. I made the waitress laugh by asking for po lei tea (instead of jasmine) and then when we asked for kai lan, the majordomo came over and asked why we asked for those two items (with those names).

Glen explained he was born in Hong Kong and said no, he didn’t speak the language. Later we heard her talking in Cantonese to the other staff about “kai lan” and laughing. Glen went a bit red.

We ate as much as we can but couldn’t finish everything. We couldn’t even take it away as we were on our way to the airport.

We walked through a bit more of downtown, found another awesome sculpture (the nautilus in the photo), then jumped in the car, drove to the airport and checked in a couple of hours early. There’s more to see in Calgary (like the zoo or the fort) but we’d had our fill.

So that’s really the end of a great couple of weeks away from Toronto. I can’t believe how much I’ve seen over that time and the variability in the landscapes has been a real highlight. I’d take the cross-country train again, for sure. Would probably visit Whistler again and Banff and Lake Louise. Maybe a bit of northern Alberta. Still so much to see.

However, our next trip is to Montreal (in two weeks) for a couple of days while Glen goes to a conference, and two weeks after that we’re off to the Galapagos. I’m just the teensiest bit excited for that.

When we get back to Toronto, it’s back to “normality”, with the added annoyance of having to find a new place to live. We were told a couple of days ago that our landlord is selling her place so we need to find somewhere by 8 June. We’re hoping we can find another place in the same building as that will make moving furniture easier and we’re pretty happy with where we are (plus Pete & Royden and Bec & Alastair live there).

Boarding soon so I’ll sign off and see you back in Toronto.

Dinosaur hunting in Alberta

Wow! What a day Saturday was. I don’t think I’ve ever driven that far in one day before either. The reason we decided to spend more than a day in Calgary was to check out the Dinosaur Provincial Park east of the city. Glen had found it listed on a website last year and declared he wanted to visit it. Fair enough. We were going to go in August but as we were over this way, I thought we may as well knock it off while we had the chance. So glad we did.

We left Calgary about 9 and drove east towards Drumheller. Our first stop for the day was the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Canada’s only museum dedicated solely to palaeontology. When I was telling people on the train across from Toronto to Vancouver that we were going to visit the Dinosaur Provincial Park, they said how awesome the Royal Tyrrell Museum was. And it lived up to expectations.

We arrived at about 11:00 and I bought our tickets from an exceptional front entrance server (smiled, gave great information, provided excellent customer service) and then we entered the first gallery. We were met by a bunch of dinosaur sculptures in a diorama type setup, showing what the Albertan landscape would have looked like back then (swampy).

There was excellent interpretation as soon as you enter and it didn’t stop. Bite-sized chunks of information that explained what you were looking at in an easily digestible and interesting way, as well as telling you what to look for (e.g. the early mammal clinging to the tree above you).

Glen zoomed ahead while I spent more time playing on the interpretative devices (there was a tetris game that helps you learn the names of the eras…or was it eons or ages). Apart from the interactives, there were plenty of fossils in cases to look at, showing highlights of the Tyrrell collection. There was a T-Rex fossil that had been found by kids. Its head was just sticking out of the ground. It’s huge (although it is in fact one of the smallest T-Rex fossils ever found) and displayed beautifully.

After the first couple of rooms, you go through to a darkened room with more fossils on display (most of them complete), including another T-Rex and the first fossil found by Tyrrell. While we had only been through a few rooms, our brains were starting to fill…and then there’s just a whole lot more to discover.

You then go through different ages, including an awesome display with all the different early lifeforms and their diversity which was interpreted using lighting and a storyline detailing what was going on (and who was getting eaten). Then through to a living garden with ferns and then a big room of more dinosaur fossils. Skeletons everywhere!

It ends with mammals like mammoths and giant sloths and then you’re into the gift shop. Both Glen and I would have loved for there to be a cafe about halfway through so you could sit, rest, absorb and then summon the energy to check out the rest. By about halfway through I’d stopped reading all the signs and did feel I was missing out (but “brain full”).

But, if that’s a complaint to have, it’s a good one. I came away so thoroughly impressed by this museum that really is out in the middle of nowhere (yet had lots of people in it and bus loads arriving when we left). I also didn’t know that when the theorised meteor hit the earth and wiped out the dinosaurs, changes in climactic and environmental conditions were already putting stress on plants and animals (dinosaur diversity was diminishing at the end of the Cretaceous Period and T-Rex and Tricerotops were among the last of their kind to evolve). And a similar catastrophic event had happened eons earlier to wipe out a lot of marine life. Fascinating!

We took a short break in the cafe afterwards, then drove back to downtown Drumheller, bought some lunch (consisting of yoghurt, breakfast bars and choc chip cookies) from a Shopper’s Mart, then head out in search of the Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Along the way we drove through some fascinating landscapes and stopped at the hoodoos, wind and rain eroded pillars that stand within the badlands. As far as variability of landscape goes, Alberta wins hands-down (from what I’ve seen). In the west you have snow-capped mountains and forests, in the middle (and most of the east) are grasslands/plains, as well as these hoodoos and stratified places that are hotbeds of dinosaur fossil finds. In the north it’s pretty, from what I’ve seen on the pictures. The only thing is doesn’t have is coastline, but apart from that, wow! Go Alberta!

After our quick stop at the hoodoos, we drove out of the Badlands and across plains that were flatter than anything I’ve ever seen. And they just kept going. Along the way I also saw a (live) coyote beside the road (squeal!) and a gopher/prairie dog/pika thing (also alive), which sprinted off to safety. Yay for wildlife!

We thought we’d missed a turnoff at one point but luckily maps on Glen’s phone still worked and we were on the right road. We turned down an unsealed road at one point to get to the park, but didn’t take it all the way as Glen was getting nervous about it taking so long (and I was hoping we wouldn’t pop a tyre).

We arrived at the Dinosaur Provincial Park at 3:30, stopping at the viewpoint to get an amazing eyeful of the landscape below. It blew me away. So different! So varied! So worth the drive! We then went to the Visitor Centre, fifteen minutes before it closed. A very bored woman was behind the counter. She answered our questions though and was friendly. I say bored because as far as we could see it was just her and us.

We drove the loop through the park. It was where so many dinosaur fossils have been found (and I think continue to be found today). This whole part of Alberta is just rife with fossils (which must really annoy construction and mining companies as you have to be careful and notify Tyrrell Museum every time you find one, which stops work). We walked the loops, discovering the different types of soil and clay and rocks. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any fossils.

We did wonder if we might find a Roman wall and if the place had been gone over with geo-phys (for those Time Team fans).

By about five, I was getting weary so we skipped the last loop and set off back home. Glen drove all the way back, which I was grateful for. I’ve calculated that I drove over 300 km that day, which is doable of course but tiring. I’ve done a lot of driving this trip, which had been good in some ways. Definitely feel a lot more  used to Canadian roads (though the placement of the traffic lights in Alberta is just irritating).

When we got back to the hotel, it was about 7:30. We had dinner downstairs in the restaurant again then had a quiet evening in our room.

If you ever come to Calgary (or Alberta), make the effort to go to the museum and the park. It’s out of this world.

What we saw on the way to Lake Minnewanka

Today was our last chance to check out the scenery in Banff National Park. We left about 9:30, after having breakfast and packing (somehow everything out of both my suitcases ended up around the room), and I declared we were going to drive to Lake Minnewanka, for obvious reasons.

It’s a short drive from the Banff townsite and takes you through countryside, beside frozen rivers and beneath the stubborn stare of the mountains. We stopped at every viewpoint (even ones that didn’t quite like look a viewpoint) to take photos of the breathtaking beauty that lay before us.

After we’d finished at our first stop and jumped back in the car, we only drove a little way before we were stopped by a goat in the middle of the road. It was licking the road. I’d heard they do this – because of the salt that is thrown on the surface to stop it from being so slippery during the winter.

Anyway, we stopped for quite a while, taking photos of this goat, and then another came down off the hill too. A car came up behind us so we slowly sidled alongside the goat and continued on our way.

Finally! We’d seen some biggish wildlife.

At our next stop, there were a couple of Canadian Geese. We’ve seen them before but they were nicely framed with the Canadian Rockies behind them.

Lake Minnewanka was pretty big and frozen. We got out, walked down to the edge of the lake, then went back to the car. Three deer were hanging around in the car park and the ten or so other tourists there were all standing around taking photos. More wildlife! YAY! The deer didn’t seem too fazed by everyone, though they still kept their distance.

With Lake Minnewanka seen (is it just such a fun word to say?), we drove back towards Banff, spotting a chipmunk sprint across the road, and then meeting the same two goats again. We then detoured to Lake Johnson (seriously! There was also a place called Two Jacks. The whole place is steeped in innuendo.) and walked on the frozen lake for a bit (well, I did. Glen stood on the shoreline tutting and saying he wouldn’t rescue me).

We then drove back to Highway 1 and headed towards Calgary, leaving the beautiful Banff National Park behind. We sidetracked through Canmore but there wasn’t much to recommend it so we zoomed down the highway to Calgary. Traffic got quite heavy once we got into the city (and we weren’t even downtown) and it was only midday! Imagine what it must be like at hometime.

We found our hotel, Four Points by Sheraton by the airport, checked in, had an argument, went for lunch, had another argument, walked back, had another argument, and are now back in the hotel room. Surprisingly we’re talking to each other again. There’s still a good portion of the afternoon left but Calgary hasn’t really inspired me to check it out. Maybe I’m just sick of driving.

Tomorrow: dinosaurs!

Ski hard while the sun shines

(or, “Oh my god, my legs hurt”)

Panorama!

Ryland got us a couple of discounted lift tickets for Sunshine Ski Resort so we headed there today for a full day of skiing. And it was a FULL day. We’re used to spending a couple of hours in the morning having a lesson, then having lunch, then going out for another couple of hours, but today it was just us and just skiing.

We arrived about 9:30, rented our gear and then jumped on the gondola which takes you all the way up to the village. You can’t get to the slopes without getting on the gondola. The ride up took us over snow-covered forests and between mountains. It’s quite a journey up there. By the time we got to the village and sorted ourselves out, it was 10am.

We started with greens, jumping on a bunch of different lifts (there are many and they go for quite a distance), and taking the slopes down to get our ski legs back. It didn’t take long. We skied from one lift to another and by the end of the day, I think we’d been on all the green runs.

After lunch, I was keen to do some harder runs so we picked a few of the easier blues. We had no idea if they were easy or not, we just went with gut feeling. The Tincan Alley was where we spent a lot of time, as it has a nice steep bit without being too steep. I liked the one next to it though, Wawa Bowl, which was much steeper and you get quite a bit of speed.

There was one lift, called the Great Divide, that takes you to the highest point, which I was keen to do because of the view. (The view across the whole park is amazing. The slopes are very wide and open and you’re completely surrounded by mountains. Even being there and seeing it is special, skiing makes it even more so.) This ski lift also crosses over into British Columbia and then back into Alberta (not quite sure how).

I’d told Glen there would be a green run from the top of this slope, but when we got there, there were only blacks and blues. Boy, were the blues fun! Steep, speedy and a really good work out for the legs. I had such a great time going down it (we went down it about four times over the course of the afternoon). This blue then connects up with a long green.

This green has a valley in it where you get to the bottom and then have to go up the little hill to continue the run. The trick is to pick up as much speed as you can way back when you first turn on to it. Once I’d figured that out, there was no stopping me. Knees bent, low to the ground, poles behind me, I was off like a rocket. So exhilarating!

The weather was great too. It was a bit windy in some places (while on the chair lifts mostly) but that was bearable. It also snowed a couple of times during the day, but otherwise the weather was perfect.

We had a couple of short breaks throughout the day (mostly to go to the washroom) but other than that we were skiing for a good six hours. Glen’s favourite was Tincan Alley, while mine was definitely the blue from the top of the Great Divide. As it was getting closer to four, my legs were just about giving out. My quads were so sore that if I had to do any more skiing (other than to get out of the park), I wouldn’t be able to make it.

There’s a green run that goes from the village out to the car park. Ryland recommended we do it as it’s a nice run and it’s the last run of the day. My god, is it long! It’s not very wide but thankfully not very steep because I was struggling to turn at all. I had to snow plow most of the way and it just kept going. I think I stopped about four times just to stop my legs from cramping. And I was getting to the point where all I wanted to do was get off the snow but didn’t know how much further we had to go.

Then, thankfully, it ended. We handed back our ski equipment (I was so glad to get out of the boots), looked at a few of the sale items but didn’t buy anything, and then jumped in the car back to Banff.

Overall, I think that was one of (if not) the best day of skiing I’ve had. I didn’t have any major falls. I skied a lot. Did some harder slopes. Got to ski all day in a beautiful terrain. And all with Glen. Just brilliant. And that’s probably the last time we’ll ski this season so it’s a great high note to end on.

I videoed a few of our runs so when we’re back in Toronto, I’ll patch some together and post it.

Now to find dinner.

From Lake Louise to Banff

We woke up at a reasonable time and went down to one of the hotel’s restaurants for a really good buffet breakfast. Lots on offer and not many people getting in the way. After breakfast, with a couple of hours to spare before check-out, we thought we should at least see a bit of Lake Louise from the outside of the hotel.

We asked the concierge for walking tour suggestions. She said it was avalanche season so don’t go here, here or here. Instead, we could take the hour long roundtrip up to the lookout. Thinking it was cold outside, we were rugged up a bit but soon after starting out on our trek, we began to overheat. It was a bit of a steep climb, as we should have expected considering we were going to a look-out point.

So we scrambled up mini-hills covered in icy snow, coming to a sign that said bears lived in the area and we should travel in tight groups of four. We were flouting that rule so obviously if we got attacked/eaten by a bear it was our own fault.

Soon we began to see animal tracks in the snow, but nothing resembled a bear print, or really even a wolf print at that. I tried to hide my disappointment. Despite the tracks (which were probably from some kind of mountain sheep or goat), we saw no animals of any kind and only heard a couple of birds.

We finally made it to the lookout point and got to take in the whole wonderful view that you see on so many postcards and in so many photos of Lake Louise. There it all was: the forest, the mountains, the lake and the chateau. We arrived while another guy was there but after a brief chat and a moment of silence, he set off back to the hotel. He may have been eaten by a bear. We’re not sure.

We hung around for a while, snapping away. The sun came out when asked, which gave a better view. After taking in enough eye-straining beauty, we returned to the hotel, slipping down the track at quite a few places. Soon after, we checked out and headed to Banff.

We arrived at our hotel around 12 (Rundlestone Lodge) and our room was ready. We dumped our bags then walked into the town centre to have sushi for lunch (it was served on a real Canadian Pacific miniature train). It was quite good and not all that expensive.

From there, we walked across the river and set out for the Bow Falls lookout. Unfortunately, the route was blocked off but the walk back to downtown was really pleasant as it was beside a half frozen river and there were mountains up the ying-yang. We also saw a couple of birds and a squirrel/chipmunk type thing.

In the evening, we went for dinner at a Greek restaurant and were served by an Aussie girl who’s waiting on her visa extension. The food was good and filling (we ordered too much once again). Then we met my friend Ryland for drinks at the Elk and Oarsmen.

We caught up on what’s been happening over the past seven or so months. Hearing about life working in Banff over the ski season was interesting and not something I’d really want to do (maybe when I was younger, who knows?), but Ryland is making the most of it, as he does with everything. We stayed our chatting until 9:30 and then we dropped him back at his hostel (with a care package of our leftover food from the restaurant. It brought him such joy.).

Whistler, Lake Louise and everything in between

Tuesday was a travel day. We got up at a reasonable time, checked out of the hotel in Whistler, went for breakfast and then got back on the Sea to Sky Highway to Vancouver. It rained a lot more going down and seeing signs that say “winter conditions ahead” are a bit nerve-racking. The scenery is just as beautiful going the other way (yes, it’s the same scenery but it’s seen from a different direction).

Got to the airport, dropped off the car, checked our baggage and went through to the gate. We had a quick bite to eat for lunch and then boarded the plane. It was packed. I think it might have had something to do with a Toronto flight being cancelled as when we landed in Calgary I overheard a woman ask about the connecting flight to Toronto. Equally, it could have just been fully booked.

Bit of mid-air entertainment on the Westjet flight. The commentary for the safety demonstration was amusing (though I think Glen and I were the only ones laughing). At the end, the flight attendant said, “And if you have any problems, please keep them to yourselves as we’ve had a long day. Only joking! Of course, we’re here to help.” Later we went through some turbulence and dropped a couple of metres. Been a while since I’ve been in turbulence that bad.

Stampede in Calgary Airport

Stampede in Calgary Airport

Landed in Calgary and went to collect the hire car, only to find that I’d booked it from a place that’s 15 minutes away from the airport. We were told to give them a call and they’d send a shuttle. Luckily I had a working phone. What do people do who don’t? I called and was told to wait by door 6 and the shuttle was on its way. 15 minutes passed and nothing. I called again, confirmed where I was supposed to stand and waited.

Still nothing. Called a third time as by then it had been 30 minutes. Got put through to someone different who said I needed to wait at a different door and that the shuttle would now be 15 minutes away. I spat the dummy and cancelled the booking. I should have said why but I was too annoyed (mostly with myself for not checking where the car rental location was when I booked).

We then booked from one of the six regular companies at the airport. The price was more (due to the airport location) but it was there and available. (And the people behind the counter here were absolutely terrible. I don’t think any of them enjoy their jobs. Or life.)

Lake Louise from our window

Lake Louise from our window

An hour after landing we were on the road, tearing down the Calgary highways. Bit unnerving taking these big roads first up as everyone goes quite fast and the change in scenery is unsettling at first. There are no trees for as far as the eye can see. Just plains and lots of housing developments. It’s big sky country and a little overbearing.

We eventually got onto the TransCanada Highway and set course for the mountains. Amazed once again by how much the landscape changes in this country and seeing the clouds hang over the mountains, while it’s really bright and sunny over Calgary.

Entered Banff National Park for free, thanks to Canada Parks passes my cousin and aunt bought for us, and zoomed through the forested valleys below the snow-covered mountains. Just breathtaking.

Inside the lobby

Inside the lobby

We arrived at Lake Louise close to 7pm, an hour and a half later than I would have liked but it was still pretty by the fading light. There’s snow everywhere and big snow banks out front of the Chateau Fairmont Lake Louise, which isn’t that picturesque as the snow’s a bit dirty. Still, the inside of the hotel is old-world and charming, the room is good and the bed comfortable. We’ve also been given a lakeside room and the view is really what you’re here for. Not to compare, but summer here must be, well, like living in a postcard.

We had a rather expensive dinner (captive audience) at the hotel, but it was nice and easy and filling. By the time we were done it was about 9ish, the sun had set and that was pretty much the night. Glen spent the rest of it working on abstract submissions for a radiology conference, which he finally completed. Good to not have that looming, and great that we’re in Lake Louise.