Monthly Archives: August 2013

French but not French

I’ve always held a fascination with the history and legacy of French colonialism in North America, so where Daniella had her Rockies experience on the west coast, I was to have my Francophile indulgence towards the west.

If you’ve been reading our blog posts in order, you’ll know that we kind of bitched about Calgary feeling like America.  It’s always a very poor reflection on anyone to compare new experiences to something familiar, so, call us broke – Quebec feels a lot like France.

I’d like to say it’s not that people speak French (Australians speak strined English but aren’t “English”), but it is… even if a little bit.

It’s the French, and it’s the rows of stucco’ed stacked townhouses with claustrophobic, six-foot ceilings and wrought iron balconettes, and it’s the rich choice of local fresh cuisine, and churches peeking round every corner of a winding, cobble-stoned street, and the romantic feeling of being somewhere old and knowing that – for a moment – it feels like that romantic vision of Hollywood tripe you could easily digest and still have enough room for crepes afterwards.

So, what’s not like France?

I guess the wait staff are generally less like French staff off the tourist route in that most are bi-lingual and extremely accommodating of our  poor French, though in retrospect this may be due to their close proximity, regular interaction and the better neuroplasticity of youth in regard to linguistics, and proximity to their English-speaking neighbors and countrymen.

It also seems to cost a little less.  Which is nice.

Stepping outside of the popular tourist boundary of the old city wall of Old Quebec City we expect to find something closer to the real experience.  So we walk, and walk, and walk, and find (withing reasonable walking distance) nothing but what seems like European charm in old tenements, churches and mansions.

Historical charms on every corner that seem to largely go unnoticed, gardens and new growth in any and every spot of dirt anywhere, greened copper and bright zinc roofs and shady avenues.

The bad news?

Despite seeing poutine advertised across Canada so far, we’d made the decision to delay indulging until we were in its cultural birth place of Quebec.  Two large orders of poutine (chips topped with cheese curds and hot gravy) for lunch at a recommended restaurant left us a little disappointed –  good, but not great.  I’m sure the poutine was good, but I have an unfortunate habit of creating elaborate expectations of experiences via self-denial and delayed satisfaction that are rarely fulfilling when lived.

Here’s the image dump.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChateau Frontenac by night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…and by (an overcast) day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike France…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust a little bit…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd a little more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAParliament (“Quebec de las un politico de assemblianiana casa” or something)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPoutine.

 

Calgary; a place.

 

Other than spending a few hours waiting at LAX, we have yet to step foot in America.  And yet somehow, Calgary seems to tick every box on a list of cultural stereotypes that one might associate with Canada’s neighbor to the south.

Calgary “feels” like America is portrayed on TV; lots of busy freeway, lots of malls packed with lots of fast food franchises, a vague undercurrent of a frontier motif underscoring the city’s cultural identity.

Arriving via Greyhound we catch the CTrain through the city to our hotel south of the city.  I’d spent some time on the bus reading the mostly very negative reviews of our hotel on various websites, so finding that our room was clean, reasonably roomy and included both a mini-fridge and coffee making facilities (largely absent from the hotels we’d stayed at so far) was a welcome surprise.

Heading out to get acquainted with Calgary was a decidedly average experience.  There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the city – it’s reasonably clean, easy to navigate, is somewhat cheaper and has more shopping/food/booze options than the cities we have visited so far, but for a city that is at the heart of Canada’s oil industry, it doesn’t seem to have anything else to offer.

Walking to Fort Calgary (Calgary’s birthplace) we pass unkempt vacant blocks on the edge of the city core, and weed’s and patchy dry grass surround the unimpressive recreated fort.  This wouldn’t seem out of place in a smaller town, but my understanding is Calgary prides itself on it’s cowboy flavour and heritage and that there’s no shortage of money in North America’s fastest growing city.

We head back through the city core passing the tower and the historic sandstone heritage buildings downtown.  We see The Bow, we see the Armoury, we see the other landmarks, we finish at Princes Island Park.  It’s a hot day, it seems dusty and we’re indifferent.

Later in the evening we’ll walk along a busy highway to purchase American beer (cheaper than Canadian) at a large mall and drink it while watching “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” on TV in a hotel room.  Calgary has no soul.  Calgary feels like America.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACalgary Tower next to the Fairmont Pallisades.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking west from downtown.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Bow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking north on Calgary across Princes Island.

 

Banff! Biff! Pow! Kazam!

Banff; the highest elevated town in Canada and site of the UNESCO listed Banff parklands.  Arriving in the town after spending a bit more than ten hours on an overnight bus from Vancouver we stepped off at the Banff railway station and immediately began turning in circles taking in the picturesque Canadian Rockies that encircle the town from every angle.

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As we’d arrived early in the morning, we strolled the main street, drank a coffee and then checked our bags into the place at which we’d be staying and headed out to make the most of our day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the picture above the Fairmont Hotel Banff sits nestled at the foot of Sulphur Mountain – the two peaks in the center are the end point of the mountain gondola ride up, and the weather station from left to right respectively.

Somehow I managed to talk Daniella into climbing up there – it’s a hard climb, but we made it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA From this viewpoint at the weather station, Banff is visible in the bottom left of the picture below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd another view of the surrounding mountains.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs shown in the picture from the weather station above, Banff wraps around the base of the smaller Tunnel Mountain – we climbed that bastard the day after and checked out Bow River Falls on the way back down.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next day we headed out to Lake Louise renowned for it’s views of the nearby glaciers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe water of the lake is a stunning blue due to the minerals scraped out of the surrounding rock by glacial movement.  In the distance you can see Queen Victoria glacier.  We walked out to the Plain of the Six Glaciers for a better view.

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Also, chipmunks are fairly common and cute little bastards.

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Park it right there Vancouver

We rented some bikes and proceeded to treat them as such by putting as many bad miles on them as we could on the bastards before they were due back.

Stanley park is a large reserve on west end of downtown Vancouver that hosts many biking tracks, public parks and the Lions Gate Bridge to North Vancouver.  It’s car free and a pretty fun ride complete with an open-air exhibit of traditional and new totem poles.

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We made our way around and over False Creek and then headed slightly south and then back west into the ‘burb territory of Kitsilano and Pointe Grey.

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We followed this up the following day with a very long walk back to Kitsilano and Queen Victoria Park.

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Vancouver – the first 48 hours

On day two we headed out early for a walking tour of the city.  Enjoy the images.

So what are our thoughts and observations on Vancouver after a good sleep and a little retrospection?

  • For some reason, everyone seems to be carrying a large cup of coffee, juice or soda or a thermos mug.
  • Everyone seems to be carrying a bag – I’m not sure if this is because of the high proportion of tourists in the city, or whether it’s because a good portion of them may be homeless.
  • Smelling someone smoking weed whilst walking along a busy street is a regular occurrence and attracts zero attention from anyone else.
  • Supermarkets (that is; a large store containing a selection of foods and goods) are largely absent, apparently having been replaced with one or two convenience stores per block stocking mostly chips, drinks and cigarettes.
  • The city seems to be largely obsessively clean with beautiful, well-maintained gardens and lush vegetation throughout.

We talked about it, but we still can’t figure it out.