Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Train, Fixing Mick Jaggers computer and ‘The Big-foldy-painting of death’.

Monday morning and for what felt like Sep 2nd 2010 all over again, I was awake early and really excited. Finally, after two nice lazy weeks in Winnipeg, I am on my real travels again. Only for 10 days or so, but I am really excited to be getting on the road. I have enjoyed my two weeks of laziness, where, apart from the odd party and trip to the shops, I haven’t done much. Winnipeg IS a nice enough town, but there isn’t that much to do that would keep someone amused for more than a week or two, unless you live and work there. I’m sure the longer I stay the more used to it I would get, but being from a small country like England, where within 3 hours of home I could get to Scotland, London or anywhere in-between, I am not quite used to being in a remote city, where the nearest small town is an hours’ drive and the nearest big town is an overnight train trip! But enough of that, as while I type this I am experiencing a new adventure.

Its nearly half four in the afternoon and since midday I have been on ‘The Canadian’ – the train that takes you across Toronto to Vancouver – a 4 day epic journey over the prairies, through the Rockies and all the way from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific (and back if you want to) I didn’t know if I could take it for the entire journey and as Winnipeg is in the middle I decided to just do one overnight leg – From Winnipeg to Edmonton, where I will spend a week or so and also visit Calgary and Banff. So far the train is brilliant. It’s like a mix up between a coach trip and a cruise, but on rails: - I have a lower bunk, which during the day is a massive seat that turns into a ¾ size bed at night. Meals are included and are almost silver service – I enjoyed a lunch of Roast beef and Yorkshire puds, with chocolate brownie and ice cream to follow (It was a choice of Brownie OR Ice cream, but my table mate, Angie, asked for both and I followed suit – cheers Angie!) The food was good as was the conversation with Angie and the other two people on our table – A couple from Wiltshire who moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1988!

I followed lunch by sitting in the viewing car – almost like a greenhouse, with all round windows that sits above a lower level lounge car. Up here you can sit in your wide, comfortable seat and enjoy spectacular 360 views of the country as it passes by. One of the train staff ‘Jeremy’ also came up and gave a talk on the train, its history and what a lot of the signs we see as we pass them mean. It was a fun talk and informative, as we all sat there and looked out for the next sign to pass us.
Inside the dome - Glass viewing car

The route


The dome from outside

Now, I am still up here and sat waiting as a goods train passes – the goods trains are very very long and take a while to get by, but I can see the sun through a break in the clouds and the remains of a little bit of overnight snow around the edges of a small lake where geese and other birds are messing about in the water, next to a lump of branches and mud – a beaver lodge or nest.
We are still in the prairies at the moment and I won’t be travelling far enough on the train to see the Rockies, but so far at least, I have decided that this is a great way see the country and am already working out how and when I can complete the entire journey from one side to the other.Maybe I will do it bit by bit.

That decision has just been made even easier. I am sat with Steve and Linda, a couple in the opposite bunk from me. We were just chatting in the viewing car when we spotted a bear. Yes, a real big Canadian bear. It was about 100metres from the train and unfortunately, we only saw it as we went past and didn’t have time to get out cameras and get a photo, but it was huge, big and a light brown colour. It headed into the small wooded area as we watched it. Steve even admitted it’s the first bear that he has seen in the wild. A minute later we saw the sign telling us that we were leaving Manitoba and entering the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan, so the bear was the last thing we saw in Manitoba before we left. Cool. I know this sounds like the time I was in Nepal and got attacked by a croc and chased by a Rhino on the same morning, but that really did happen, exactly like we just really did see a wild bear!!

Jeremy and his train sign lesson

Dinner with Mick Jagger?


The train

After a stop on Melville, a tiny little town with knackered rusting old cars lying about everywhere I went for dinner and ended up sharing a table with an old English guy from Winchester and a woman who looked like Mick Jagger on a bad day. Dinner was really nice and as we ate I found out that Mick is getting off at the same stop as me. We arranged to share a taxi or bus in the morning to the hostel, which will hopefully same me some time and money. The sun was starting to near the horizon by the end of dinner and so I went back to the dome car and watched it fall, leaving a lovely red sunset which looked awesome alongside the snow that still lay beside the track.

Once the dark had arrived I went down to the lounge car and sat writing up this blog whilst the stewards ate their dinner and discussed different stains that they had found whilst changing beds on the train. The conversation suddenly stopped though when one of them went to the kitchen and found a passenger going through the stewards’ suitcase. He called his train manager to talk to the thieving passenger and I decided it was nearly time for me to head to my bed for the night.

I slept ok, but was woken up at about 5am by a goods train sounding its horn right next to my window. There was no chance of sleep from then on and we arrived on time in Edmonton at 6.40am. A nice touch was a certificate given to me by the steward to acknowledge my journey on ‘The Canadian’.

You dont get one of these for going from Leeds to Grantham!

I left the train and saw ‘Mick’, waiting for me in the arrivals hall, so we started the walk towards the bus stop, about a half mile away. On the way I found out that Mick was in fact from Tel Aviv and is really called Nini or Nana or something like that. We found our bus easily and arrived at the hostel before 8am – far too early to book in though, so we had a coffee in the kitchen and I spent the next hour fixing Mick’s net-book, as it wasn’t finding the internet wifi signal. I finally got it working and left Mick behind, setting out for a wander around the city. My first stop was a park that has some pyramid structures in that turned out to be greenhouses. It was $12 to get entry though, so I just had a look around the gardens before heading into the city centre.

'Micks' computer is fixed - You cant always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need!!

Edmonton skyline

My bed on the train

Mall dome

I did find a really cool dome in a shopping centre that had shafts of lights streaming into it and reflected off mirrored walls on every side, making it look like there were 10’s of domes in the roof. I also found a strange little ‘modern’, art gallery where there was an installation consisting of old TV’s and fake poo, plus a painting called:- ‘The Big foldy painting of death’. This went all the way around 4 walls of a large room and had weird things like ‘Cold dripping toast,  ‘Poopyheads’, and a dog dragging its arse across the floor. There was a pamphlet telling you all about the artist and his vision, but I read through it and guessed it was just a piss take. I did like it, but you don’t really need to read 4 pages of philosophical bullshit. Also in the ‘art’, gallery were a tennis ball, covered in grass, that had supposedly written its own story about being filled with drugs and being tossed into a woman’s prison, where it became stuck in a fence. My favourite though was a cool chess board made by a real women prisoner out of chewed toilet paper, so she had something to do while in prison. That was really impressive and I liked it a lot. Weirdest of the lot was a video, showing a bloke drawing on a blank piece of paper, until it looked exactly like a ‘Subway’, sandwich wrapping. He then wet the paper, covered it in dirt and threw it in the street, where it looked just like a Subway wrapper that had been thrown away. A lot of effort which was fun to watch, but also just fooking strange. I guess I’m not cut out to be a modern art critic! It was getting late afternoon by now and so I went back to the hostel and got my bed sorted, before enjoying a late afternoon siesta.

'Art' installation, complete with old tv. broken microwave and fake poo

Part of......

...the big foldy painting of death

It’s only been one day and its only Edmonton – a fairly bland little city, but I am loving being back on the road again. I love turning a corner and seeing something cool, unusual or just plain weird. Ok, I may have a fat bloke in the dorm snoring his head off, but that’s part of the ‘fun’ of hostels. The bed is comfortable and I have already had a good kip. I just need to find something to do tomorrow now:- Apparently there’s a massive mall with the world’s largest indoor lake, the world’s largest indoor theme park and a full sized copy of Christopher Columbus’ ship – The Santa Maria. Sounds like something interesting to do on a cold day.......Oh yeah, there may also be a fire breathing dragon!!!! 

Toilet paper chess set

Tennis ball from womans prison



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