Edmonton to Vulcan

Woke up sicker than ever. Sucks! I dragged myself out of bed and packed up. We said bye to Josh (Liz had gone to class already). We drove around town for a bit to find this restaurant where we were meeting Will’s other friend, Joe. Joe also works at NINT but doing MEMS and NEMS. More specifically doing magnetic microstructures from permalloy and seeing how quickly they switch polarization after being biased with an outside field. Interesting stuff! He’s also almost finishing up his PhD. The place we originally wanted to have breakfast was packed, so we walked around the block to another place. The staff barely spoke English but were quite nice. I had a bison sausage + eggs breakfast. I found out that bison is not the best thing to have in the morning. Really dry. Makes you feel like you’re turning into a bison a little bit.

We said “Bye” to Joe and then made our way to the West Edmonton Mall, consumer Mecca. WEM is almost funny in terms of it’s size. I literally saw 4 of the exact same hat store, Lids. There were two Radioshacks, two Fido booths, two of most things. It almost seems like they were trying to get big with being big as the only goal in mind. There is no functional benefit to having several of the exact same store in the same building. Unless the bovine shoppers can’t roam to the other side of the mall. Anyways, all insults aside – the mall is fantastic! There are several rollercoasters, a theme park, a water park with a HUGE wave pool, a sea lion demonstration that was actually pretty top-class, a shooting range, oh and did I mention two of every store? There are also a lot of cool stores that you don’t normally see which are more dedicated to a specific brand. There is a Lacoste store, Tommy Hilfiger store, and many more brands. I had a good time there actually.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then hit the road towards Calgary and Vulcan. I am not expecting much from the drive as it seems to be very barren according to Google Maps. We shall see.

The drive turned out to be quite nice, and seeing wide open fields as far as the eye can see is actually a beautiful complement to the staggering mountain ranges. It really is “big sky country” out here. The moon was red and massive because it was so close to the horizon. Usually you never see the moon rise from that close because it’s always obscured by buildings or hills. There weren’t too many stars out though. I guess it’s partly because it was pretty cloudy and partly because the moon was so bright (full moon). I’m reading ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Stephen Hawking, and I’ve made it quite a few chapters in. It’s very interesting and so far I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the formulation of our modern view of the universe. The book has a lot of historical information on scientists and theories which is one of my favourite things to learn in science. I like to learn about how scientists came to discover things about the universe; the poor judgements, the brilliant moments of clarity.

Pulling into Vulcan was hilarious because the town is very heavily Star Trek themed. Pulling into town they have a massive starship Enterprise with plaques written in various Trek languages such as Klingon. The visitor center is designed like a starship but looks creepily like a new-age cult’s headquarters. The pharmacy in town has a huge mural of all of the doctors from the Star Trek seasons. “Jim, man, this man’s dying of lurgee! Five lurgees!” –Eddie Izzard

We drove to Will’s apartment and watched some TV before bed. I’m still feeling sick, but fingers crossed this is the last day.


p.s. My cross-country beard is coming along nicely. Well, scraggly as all hell, but that’s nice enough for me.

Jasper to Edmonton

Up in Jasper at 8:30. Feeling more sick than before. Dropped another Neocitrine and then we hit the road. Again we stopped at a grocery store (Robson’s, for anyone curious). This time I had sausage rolls, yogurt, and a carrot cake. We did a bit of back tracking right away to go to Mount Edith Cavell. On the way we saw a Lambourgini and 5 Ferrari’s driving into Jasper. Taking some of those mountain roads in a sports car has some serious appeal. Some of them remind me of the roads down the coast of Croatia. I’ll have to take my Carrera 4S through the Trans Canada Highway one day. One day …

At the start of the road to the mountain we saw a male Elk on the side of the road. Took some photos and moved on up. We got to the parking lot of Mount Edith but we didn’t hike up to the glacier because it was really cold and I was feeling pretty sick. Will didn’t feel cold at all, so it was probably due to me feeling sick that I felt so cold. Another strong deterrent was the warning signs everywhere of a mother grizzly and cubs in the early as of early September. Even without the hike, it was a beautiful spot to stop and we could see the glaciers from where we stopped.

After that we drove down and headed out past Jasper again on the Yellow Head Highway towards Edmonton. We stopped once on the way to see a small waterfall (who’s name escapes me … I think it was Kettlepot or something). We also saw a herd of mountain goats and took a bunch of pictures. CORRECTION: Turns out the “mountain goats”, were actually female and young big-horned sheep! We checked on the interwebs to find that out. Animal identification skills: -1. At least we can tell a horse apart from a moth I guess. Our animal count goes up; but the grizzly remains elusive. Then we decided to go up to the Miette Hotsprings. These are much hotter than the Banff ones and have to be cooled down for human … consumption. I rented a towel and decided to go for a dip even though I wasn’t feeling the best. The pool was incredible! Very nice setting too. More rugged than Banff and seemed more wild, which makes sense because it’s literally in the middle of nowhere. Will was nuts and did the cold dip, where you sit in the hot, 39 celsius, water for a while and then jump out (already crazy because it’s single digits and windy out there) and then go jump in a 10 degree pool! I don’t think my fragile heart could handle that experience so I stayed warm and safe submerged to my chin.

We ate lunch at a little restaurant up on the mountain. I had a Western Denver which is a green pepper and ham omelette on a toasted sandwich. Cuppa coffee and a filled up Lake Louise water bottle, we were ready to go.

On our way down, we saw a motorcycle which had slid out and crashed on a bend. It was barely visible in the trees, but we noticed it because there were a few cars stopped already. I hope the driver was OK! He must have been going too fast round the bend because the bike was facing uphill, and was on the opposite side of the road. Very scary.

After that I slept. Slept and slept and slept. When I woke up, the mountains had been steam rolled into the earth to become flat Albertan fields. The reason for my wakeup was that a deer had darted towards the road from the trees. Luckily the deer ran back before we came too close. Still gave us a bit of a shock.

We drove into the West end of Edmonton which is the farthest thing from mountain beauty you can imagine. Square concrete industrial buildings, factories, and run down stores. Yeuch! Luckily the main part of Edmonton was quite a bit nicer. There’s a big river running through the middle of the city with nice yellowing trees throughout. It isn’t as attractive a city as Vancouver and seems to suffer from incurable urban sprawl, but it is a relatively nice city. Anne and Will were very impressed and could not stop talking about the fact that the streets are all numerical. The North-South ones are Avenues, and the East-West ones are Streets. The house numbers also correspond to the nearest Street/Avenue as well which makes it quite easy to find houses without an address. And in this grid-paper method we made our way to Josh and Liz’s house. They were friends of Will and went to his elementary school and high school. They have a great dog called Stuckey that’s a mix Lab/Retriever and it’s very fun and well behaved. Josh works at NINT (National Institute of Nanotechnology) doing his PhD with the University of Alberta. He’s been building a holographic electron microscope. It sounds really cool, I want to read up on it if there’s any information out there. Theoretically it should be able to obtain structural 3D information about a sample from a single electron point source. Making a hologram, similar to the ones that you see in some credit cards. Neato! Liz is training to be a nurse here at UofA as well. We all went out for dinner to a buffet Indian place which was very stylish and cool. Ate a lot and loosened our belts a few notches. Next we went and bought some beers and spent the night hanging out at Josh and Liz’s place. Hit the hay around 12, feeling pretty sick (from the flu!) and hoping to feel better in the morning.


Vancouver Day 4

Wedding day! The reason for the trip. Anne and I got up early and prepared our stuff for the wedding. We were getting picked up around 12 and the wedding was at 2:30. In the morning we found time to watch “My Super Ex-Girlfriend”. It’s a not-too-bad comedy whose shining gem is the fact that Eddie Izzard plays the evil mastermind. Brilliant!

Will and his mom and dad came to pick us up on time. We went to their hotel and got ready. Actually I’m not sure why we went to the hotel now that I think of it? Anyway, that’s how things go sometimes. Then we left for the wedding. It was in Stanley Park at a part of the park that Nate, Anne and I already walked past on Thursday. It was a short and sweet ceremony. Bees abound. The sun was out briefly, but most of the ceremony was overcast. This was quite pleasant as it was neither too hot nor too cold. Also Anne’s side of the family was quite relieved as none of them had brought their SPF 8000 sunblock that day. Everyone was fascinated by the bridesmaid’s dresses having secretly pockets massive pockets. Other than some microphone troubles it was a great time and their wedding vows were very honest and lovely. By the way, it is Stephen and Raylene wearing the groom and bridal outfits respectively.

After the ceremony there was the usual hour or so of pictures and then we left for the hotel again. By accident we got lost and by fortunate accident we had to drive all the way around Stanley Park. It was a fantastic drive! When we got to the hotel we ate some quick food and I had one of Will’s beers, Duchess of Vourgogne (I think?). Expensive but really a nice beer. Will is quite the beer buff, and so he knows tons of different kinds of good beers. I was looking forward to this trip J. He can drive the way back and I’ll just drink good beer all day. Unfortunately my looming sickness ruined that dream (spoiler alert).

The reception was at the Vancouver Convention Center West. From the dining room you could see the bay and the mountains, it was a really nice setting. I devoured my chicken dinner and half of Anne’s as well. I sat at the table with the Stephen’s mum. Stephen’s side of the family is from Ontario so they were under-represented there. The bride and groom gave some pretty hilarious and touching speeches later in the night. No one really got into the dancing very much unfortunately, but there was a really great photobooth where you could take pictures for free in ridiculous hats and costumes. Ridiculousness showed a direct correlation to alcohol consumption as the night progressed.

Anne and I left to make our way back to Nate’s place at around 1am and had a rough time of it because it was pouring rain and it seemed there wasn’t a cab in the city. We ran under overhangs and awnings (seems to be a common Vancouver activity) to the Sky Train and made our way alone (i.e. without Nate) back to Nate’s place.


Vancouver Day 2

We woke up pretty early and went for breakfast at this cool place that was a bus trip away. Nate knows that the express bus (the 99 along Broadway) doesn’t check tickets, so we got to ride that one free for most of our trip. Can’t remember the name of the breakfast place, but it was in Kitsilano near the beach there. We went to the beach, I think I had seen it before in my mom’s pictures of Vancouver. There were big logs on the beach and you could see massive ocean liners docked in the bay. On the other side you could see a hint of downtown Vancouver as well as Stanley Park and North Vancouver across the bay. Very picturesque. The weather was drizzly, and slightly cold but I wore flip-flops because I’m hanging onto summer with tooth and nail. The flops turned out to be a bad idea because that day we walked many, many, many kilometres. We hit Granville Island next, and spent some time there looking through the market. I bought a 2L glass container of cold milk and drank the whole thing. My favourite store in the entire place was this hat store which sold old fashioned hats of all sorts. It was like you had stepped back in time, they had ladders on rails to reach the higher hats, the music was from the 1930s (The Ink Spots, my favourite!), and the staff there looked straight out of old Time or Life Magazine covers. I also found those banana protectors I had seen on Dragon’s Den. I think it’s just the silliest idea I’ve ever seen and I couldn’t believe these people were making money off of these things. In the thousands of years people and apes have been eating bananas, I think it’s a strong sign of a bad idea, that no one has needed a banana protector until 2010. It’s not too far off inventing a device to twiddle your thumbs more effectively.

Next we took the Burrard Bridge into town. We walked around for a bit and found a Chapters. I wanted to buy Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, but it was too expensive so I think I’ll give it a miss for now. Another book I really thought was interesting was the new Richard Dawkin’s book on the proof so far for evolution. I can’t remember the name, but it’s got a really beautiful cover and lots of pictures inside. We made our way towards Stanley Park and that’s when my flops started to kill me. I went into about 10 shoe stores, but eventually my cheapness got the better of me and we just kept on trucking. Every now and then it would start drizzling for a while and we’d stop under an awning for a few minutes. We took the counter-clockwise trip around Stanley Park. It was really beautiful. I can’t believe there is this massive forest in a big city. We saw the aboriginal totem poles, which I thoroughly enjoyed. They were all replicas, which was kind of sad, because the British settlers, explorers, and missionaries basically stole, or told the natives to destroy, the originals. The four main animals shown were the wolf, the orca whale, the eagle, and a frog. The kings of the land, sea, air, and the transition between land and sea. After Stanley Park we made our way back into town, passing the statue of Lord Stanley and his plaque reading, “To the use and enjoyment of people of all colours, creeds and customs for all time – I name thee Stanley Park”. However, from the statue and the fact that Vancouver is perpetually drizzling, I’m pretty sure Lord Stanley was saying, “Do you feel any drops?”. In fact, studies* have shown that this is the number one saying for Vancouverites.

We then made a long walk to grab some sushi that Nate said was amazing. The place was called Koyoba (sp?) and it was really fantastic sushi. I highly recommend it to anyone in Vancouver. Apparently their Davie Street location is far better, so check that one out. We also passed these hilarious statues on the way there. I also found it cool that a lot of buildings had grass on the roofs. In fact one building (see below), had a massive tree on the roof! Cool, I love that concept of making these huge high-rise condos, but not actually decreasing the amount of greenspace in a city (at least from Google Satellite view).

After that it rained pretty heavily for the rest of the night which made our trip back pretty difficult. We stopped at one of the 17 million Starbucks locations and I finished a Sudoku before we realized that the rain wouldn’t let up. Running below overhangs we made our way to the Sky Train which they built for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Slightly disappointing in the respect that it was quite far removed from the sky (essentially a subway), but thrilling in the respect that the train was completely automated. You could stand up at the front and just watch the train go by itself. Cool! We also didn’t have to pay because the ticket machines were broken. So after a completely free ride back to UBC campus, we got home and hit the hay after a long days trip.


*Sample size: Nathan Belliveau

Vancouver Day 1

I flew from Toronto direct to Vancouver, the flight wasn’t too bad, about 5 hours long. West Jet is a really good airline with friendly staff. A funny trick they like to play is coming around with food and drink that costs money, and then 15 minutes later coming by with free stuff. I watched Dragon’s Den on the plane (they have live TV … in the sky!! Wow!). Landed and met up with Anne and her folks pretty quickly. Then Nate showed up and we were driven home by his roommate Justin. They live about 15 minutes from the airport, right on the University of British Columbia campus. We took a night time walk around campus and saw a 25m blue whale skeleton, as well as their two beautiful libraries. UBC campus is pretty incredible. They only had one building, Education Studies, which came close to the 1970s architectural travesties of UWaterloo. It was really great to see Nate again, and he knows his way around Vancouver like the back of his hand, so he was an excellent tour guide as well! We made our way back to his apartment and then Anne and I went to sleep around 12, which was 3am in Ontario time. Nate slept in the living room. Poor Nate!