Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Jasper National Park

Medicine lake
Originally uploaded by raindog.

This is, without a doubt, the most amazingly beautiful place I've ever been to.

I switched my schedule around a week ago, so I have 4 nights here, instead of 2 as originally planned, and I am soooo thankful that I did, as I had fantastic weather the first day I was here and spent an incredible day driving up and down the Icefields Parkway. On my original schedule I would have been stuck in Winnipeg for a couple of days: Winnipeg is a fine town, but I'd already had two days there and I don't think you need much more than that to see the sights.

Jasper National Park is huge, so I rented a car and went to see Mt Edith Cavell, the Angel Glacier, Athabasca Falls, the Columbia Icefields - including a walk on the Athabasca Glacier, Maligne Canyon, Medicine lake and Maligne Lake. And along the way I saw ground squirrels / chipmunks (not sure which), sheep, some mad female deer who ran into the road right in front of my car, and quite a few male elk. .

As I was leaving my b&b last night to walk into Jasper I got about 500m down the road and passed a little wooded area behind some houses. I saw a female elk in there and went to get a photo - as I got closer I realised the small tree behind her were actually the antlers of a huge male elk who was lying down. The male elk are just coming into rutting season, so they are very, very dangerous at the moment.

It turns out the kids in the houses by these woods were all shut in doors waiting for the elk to go so they could go play in the park. After about 10 mins he eventually got up and went about 20m down the embankment and across to the other side of the highway, where there was another female.

This began about 20 mins of silliness with drivers pulling onto the side of the road, or even just stopping dead in the middle of the road, and getting far too close to the elk in an attempt to get photos. He put his head down and started little charges at a couple of people and a car.

He then crossed the road - straight towards me..which was a little frightening, and headed back up the bank to his original place in the woods, and I managed to get a couple of closer photos before he fixed me with a stern glare, which I took to mean "Don't push your luck sonny".

Magnificent animal - they harm more people than any other animal in the park, but I bet half the people asked for it by getting too close to them.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Northern Exposure

I have returned, intact, from my trip to Churchill, on Hudson Bay, and it was a very interesting experience.

Its a very isolated town (30 hr train journey or expensive charter flight from Winnipeg) of about 800 people, rising to 1200-1300 in polar bear season. That's pretty much all that I knew before I arrived, and I was expecting a quaint little town like in 'Northern Exposure', which is kind of what it is, but in its own different way.

It's a small place - you can walk around it in about 15 mins - and there must only be about 3km of decent roads: once you leave the town itself you're on dirt roads that get worse and worse the further you go. It's a tough place - functional buildings, a lot of which look the same even though they serve different purposes (a 'cocktail lounge' looks identical to the residential houses around it). The place is littered with the corpses of old trucks - school vans particularly - as I guess if something breaks down there's nowhere to take it, so it's left to rot. Outside of bear season - from the end of November onwards - when the tourists have gone and the severe weather is settling in, it must be a hard place to live and work.

It has loads of good points though: mainly the people, who are a really friendly and relaxed lot, and their main hobby seems to be belting around town on quad bikes, which looks great fun. Even though the local bar is a big barn of a place with no atmosphere the restaurants and diners are all full of friendly people who chat to you - generally about bear sightings.

The nature of the area is amazing too: great night skies, including the Northern Lights, thousands of Beluga Whales coming into the river every summer, loads of birds, the bay, the river, lakes and, of course, polar bears.

I went just before polar bear season kicked off, so I didn't see any bears, although there were lots around the outskirts of town as they wait for the bay to freeze over. They are getting bolder and bolder every year it seems - there had been quite a few coming into town this year. Those that come in are tranquilized and transported to the "Polar Bear Jail" outside of town, where they are held until the bay freezes and then released back away from town.

I love walking around places, but you are limited when the bears are around as if you disturb a sleeping bear you can become bear lunch. There were signs around the outskirts of town warning of bears, but I drove out to see the Ithica wreck a few miles out of town and walked down to the shore - a local told me on the way back that that was not a smart thing to do, as they often sleep in the rocks. After that warning I found myself getting halfway to a couple of places and then turning back because of the possibilities of bears. Polar bears are the largest land carnivore and can run at up to 60 km/h...they look cuddly in pictures, but would have no problem making a snack out of a stupid English tourist.

So I missed the bears and, more importantly, they missed me, but I had a great time in Churchill. I took a Tundra Buggy tour, I rented a 4x4 and rode around the place pretending to be an explorer. I think I saw an eagle, and I definitely saw Beluga Whales, which swam alongside and around our boat and then buggered off as soon as you pointed a camera at them :-)

I would like to go back to Churchill for the bear season proper, but also to see the place when it is covered in snow and the bay is frozen over - it must look incredible.

Eat at Earls!

Have you seen that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine notices that all the waitresses at a diner share similar "attributes"? Well, I think I found the equivalent bar/restaurant: Earls, in Winnipeg.

I don't know who Earl is, but his decision to dress his waitresses like Fembots from Austin Powers is a great one, and the fact that they're all gorgeous doesn't hurt either. I went in for a bit of lunch and thought I'd strayed into Hugh Hefner's private bar, in 1964.

But anyway, besides the obvious attractions there, it does good food and serves my current favourite Canadian beer: Alexander Keith's IPA, so it's a winner all round. It also ranks quite highly in my "bizarre holiday conversations" competition, with the following exchange:

Earl's Door Fembot: "Hello sir, where would you like to sit today: bar or lounge?"
Me: "Well, what's the difference?"
Earl's Door Fembot: "Well the bar has a TV, and lounge has a giant moose"
Me: "I'll try the lounge then thanks."

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Off the train

Well, I did my first big train journey - actually it was only a tiddler journey (30 hours) compared to what's coming up (3 days!) but still, it was an experience.

I traveled from Toronto -> Winnipeg on the Canadian train, and I have to say it was a blast. The train was superb, as old fashioned and "American" as I'd hoped it would be, the staff were great, the food was superb (it was like being in a very good restaurant that happened to be a train) and I met some good people. It would have been nice if the average age of the passengers was a little lower, but still, I felt very young :-)

I met a photography student from Vancouver, and a guy from Manchester on a trip around the world - we ended up drinking the train dry of bottles of "Dark Ale", which was good fun. Plus, I am now *really* good at Sudoku puzzles, although they are significantly harder the morning after an evening on "Dark Ale"...

So now I'm in Winnipeg for a day or so before I get back on the train for the 3 day trek up to Churchill - I don't think that train will be as plush as the Canadian was, but it should still be an experience.

An experience that stays with you too, as since leaving the train 90 mins ago I find I can't sit or stand still without starting to sway in time with the train. Hopefully that will go away soon, as it's a bit weird :-)

Monday, August 29, 2005

It's hot, eh?

Just a quick one from Canada - it's my last day in Toronto and I've really enjoyed it here: good food, good people, good town and (some) good beer. The tip for the beer seems to be anything with a very Canadian name (Moosehead / Molsen) is bland, but stuff like Alexander Keith (whoever he is) is pretty good.

Toronto is a good city - not too big (but there's so much development going on I'm not sure how long that will stay true) and with very well-defined neighbourhoods..to the point where Chinatown seems to stop dead at the end of a street. I don't know whether that's "natural" or dictated. Anyway, bits of it remind me of Boston - some of the buildings and the feel of it. I had a few pints and a meal in the "Elephant and Castle" last night...which perhaps isn't a good example of me immersing myself in Canadian culture, although it was Canadian beer, so I'm not being a terrible Englishman abroad and demanding tea and crumpets wherever I go.

Yorkville was a good little district - horribly expensive by the look of it. Yonge street is good for shops - nearly got fleeced by a friendly woman in a camera shop who tried to take advantage of my gadget addiction. The harbour area is really good - I'll head back there today and take an island trip I think.

Niagara was excellent - very tacky, but you could easily ignore the tacky and concentrate on the falls, which were incredible, especially from the Maid of the Mist boat, but not as tall as I imagined them to be.

My first big train trip is coming up tomorrow - Toronto to Winnipeg, which is about 30 hours. 30 hours! Should be OK as it's on the plush Canadian train, with observation cars and a sleeper compartment, so I'm looking forward to it. I've seen North by Northwest...I know what happens on these trains ;-)

As soon as I find an internet cafe that lets me upload photos I'll post some holiday snapshots.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Ultimate Pig Pizza

I made pizzas last night and tried a new topping combination: bacon and black pudding!

Not exactly a traditional Italian combination I guess, but it worked out pretty well - it was certainly devoured in record time by everyone at the table.

Shame I didn't have any sausages handy to make it the Ultimate Pig Pizza...next time.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Travelling aboot

"I don't even know what street Canada is on."
Al Capone

So, in just over a week I'm off on my Big Canadian Adventure (TM)!

Off to the land of Bryan Adams, Alanis Morisette and Celine Dion. Hmmmm.....why am I going again?

Anyway, it's come around very quickly and I'm just now reading up on all of the places I'm going to, something I should have done a while ago I guess. Despite my rather haphazard planning the trip still looks good and I'm pretty excited about it. It's nearly 6 weeks of scooting around Canada by train, with some bus and ferry rides thrown in for a bit of variety, mostly on my own with my other half meeting me in Vancouver for the final week.

I guess this is my big chance to see some amazing scenery, a lot of it while lounging around on (hopefully) swanky trains, meet some new people and see some bears, while staying far enough away that I can run for it if necessary (from the bears that is).

Things I'll miss while I'm away:
  1. The missus (aaaah)
  2. Riding my motorbike (#2, but I rode it today for the first time in 2 weeks...and maybe I should make it #1 :-)
  3. The cats (mainly because I'm the only one who's nice to 'em!)
Things I'm taking with me;
  1. My Nikon D70, and an enormous amount of memory cards. Seriously.....enormous.
  2. Books.....lots of books. I aim to know more about Che Guevara, the history of Nearly Everything, and be a Sudoku master by the time I get back. And maybe some Spring and Hibernate too if I'm feeling geeky.
  3. Various essential gadgets, such as phone, PDA, MP3 player and their associated chargers...I've heard of travelling light, and I want no part of it.
So unless anything especially interesting happens next week, my next post should be from the land of big mountains, big bears and big adventures.

Friday, July 15, 2005

End of an era

I'm trying to be serious
Originally uploaded by raindog.
So I finally finished work at FTSE, after joining for a 6 month project nearly 2 years ago.

It's been a good experience overall - the work wasn't always that interesting, but the people I worked with were great.

Every job I've had I think that my colleagues are the best bunch of people I've ever worked with, but I genuinely don't think it's going to get much better than the friends I made at this place.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Total Recall

Why is it that I have the short-term memory of a stunned goldfish, and yet I can recall all of lyrics to songs that I haven't heard for 10 years or more?

I was driving along yesterday and Big Time by Peter Gabriel came on the radio. I remember quite liking it when it came out (1986), but can't have heard it since then - and yet there I was singing along to it with clinical recall of the lyrics. Odd.

I did think maybe it was just my brain holding onto embarrassing song lyrics to deliberately annoy me, but perhaps the real explanation is that I just had terrible taste in music when I was younger. It's the only explanation for being able to sing along to Animal by Def Leppard as well...

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Hiding from the cops

So there I was, for one reason and another, waiting for the Police to turn up.

I'd called them, given them my address, they had passed on my details to the patrol car and they were on their way. I realised the address I was at was a little tricky to find, so I had given them a full address, some notable nearby landmarks, and I was standing lookout by the roadside. Still, it's West London, not some god-forsaken hell-hole, mostly, and so how hard can it be?

40 minutes later I get a call from the controller or someone.

Police: "Are you standing outside?"
Me: "Yes, I'm waiting by the road"
Police: "Well we have two motorcycle units in the area and they've been looking for you for 10 minutes"
Me: "Well I'm here, at xxxx. It's under the main road, near to X, Y & Z"
Police: "Can you tell us where you are?"
Me: "I have done. You have the address, it's near to X, Y, Z"
Police: "Are you near Doo-Doo tube station?"*
Me: "I don't know, but there is a taxi station next to where I am called Doo-Doo taxis, so possibly."
Police: "So you don't know where you are?"
Me: "Yes, I do know where I am - I have the full address and told you what is it near to - it's you who don't know where I am."
Police: "Well alright. Please stand as close as you can to the main road and we will try and find you."

(* There isn't really a Doo-doo tube station, or anywhere actually called X, Y or Z for that matter. I am attempting to be coy about where I was)

The two motorcycle units did turn up about 5 minutes later, in the shape of a single police car, which I though was a little odd. Not as odd as the fact that the London Metropolitan Police have such difficulty finding someone when they have a full address and several notable local landmark details to work with. Maybe they're just not very good at reading maps? I have an annoying GPS unit that will tell me exactly how to get to any given address - surely the Police have access to similar or even better gear than I do?

Anyway, if ever I'm on the run, I now know the perfect hiding place where they'll never find me.....

Sunday, June 26, 2005

I peaked too early

So, last weekend we tried the 3 peaks of Yorkshire walk - I've only now been able to hobble over to the computer to type this.

1st Peak: After a slap up breakfast we tramped up the first peak, Penyghent without any major problems, aside from a little grumbling about the almost vertical last few hundred metres.

View from Penyghent

2nd Peak: It took us a few hours to walk to the next peak, Whernside, mostly through bogs, and the peak itself was a veerrryyy long ascent to a veeerrryy windy summit - damn fine views though.

On the way down

3rd Peak: Well, that's where my story ends.....as I had to abandon things there due to a dodgy knee that was giving me grief when coming down the mountains. From the look of it, and the reports from the survivors, it seemed like a veeeerrryyy hard ascent, and then a race down to get to the final peak in time.

4th Peak: The beer garden of the pub we stayed at - very easy ascent and a lovely summit.....

Altogether the 1 peakers did 12 miles, the 2 peakers 18 miles and the 3 peakers did 26 miles, and we reckoned Ali, a four-legged member of the gang, did about 75 miles due to the constant running backwards from his usual spot in the lead. Everyone seemed to have fun...even the mad people who did the 3rd peak.

Daft dog

Monday, June 06, 2005


Smells have an amzing ability to trigger memories: this morning I was riding into work and passed a road crew repairing the road surface. As I passed I got a smell from whatever material it was they were repairing the road with: and it smelled to me like caps for toy guns.

This led to an immediate flashback to when I was a kid, playing games that would involve using rolls and rolls of caps and cheap cap guns. After a while of course I realised that shooting one cap at a time from a gun was too slow and so moved onto bashing the caps 2 or 3 at a time with rocks. This also became a bit frustrating after a while, and so the final step was to just set the whole roll of caps on fire and watching them all go off in a few seconds, like a Chinese firecracker. This fascination with watching things burn remained until the regrettable incident years later involving an electric bar fire, some tissue paper, and a large burn mark in the carpet.

The sense of smell seems to be an overlooked sense, coming 3rd in the list after the glamourous senses of sight and hearing but it is another sense so can people lose their sense of smell like they can lose their hearing and sight? I wear glasses, and a combination of lousy genes and a history of Van Halen on headphones will probably cause my hearing to go in the future, but could I lose my smell too? Do strong smells ruin your sense of smell like loud noises damage your ears? If so I suppose I'd better lay off the Stilton and chorizo sandwiches, as my sense of smell may be all I have left in later life...

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Hard Boiled Weekend

Well this weekend I've been taking it easy due to a "goddamn bastard cold/cough thing that just won't go away" (official name), so I've been reading and hanging out around the house, which would have been nice and restful if I hadn't been reading Jim Thompson stories and gone to see Sin City on Saturday.

After that lot I spent Sunday mooching about the house, wearing a fedora and standing in the shadows of doorways watching people, getting rough with the cats when they started cracking wise, and moaning about "dames" a lot. Mind you, it gave me an excuse to drink a lot of whiskey, which is no bad thing.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Staines Mr Men

Staines Mr Men
Originally uploaded by raindog.
It's been a busy week for this photo - someone found it on flickr and posted a link to it on BoingBoing, so it went from having 30 views on Friday morning to over 1500 in about 24 hours.

Not many when you consider how many people there are on the Internet, but I felt like a celebrity for a few minutes. Now get me out of here.

First post

Hey, I've entered the exciting world of blogging, which is probably the kiss of death for this particular popular web phenomenon then...