Archive for the ‘canada’ Tag

The Mountain Collective, Banff

I bought one of the Mountain Collective passes, which gives two days each at a variety of West Coast and Rocky Mountain resorts, plus a couple of days in South America, if you can make it there. For $369, it’s reasonably priced, you get an email with a barcode, and exchange it for the tickets at the season pass office. So the resorts are Alta / Snowbird, Alpine / Squaw, Mammoth, Whistler / Blackcomb, Aspen, Jackson Hole, and Sunshine Village / Lake Louise. Sun Valley joins the group in 2016. And if you’re staying longer than two days, extra days are 50 % off.

I managed (so far) to go snowboarding at three of the locations. It’s been a mixed bag conditions-wise, as the western US has generally had a dry winter. So given that, the California resorts were in awful condition, and the plane tickets to actually get to the resorts are not cheap. Still, I bought a plane ticket to Calgary and headed there in mid-February.

My travels started in Calgary, Canada, in unusually warm weather for February, where I caught an evening bus ride to Banff after clearing customs and grabbing my bags. I last visited many years ago, during a chilly, overcast August. It’s a roughly 90 minute ride on mostly freeway, through the national park gate, and then into the town of Banff. I stayed at the fancy-schmancy Banff Springs Hotel, a rather sprawling property that occupies a very prime location uphill, about a half mile from downtown. I could see why after waking up the next morning, it’s a million dollar view, and the facilities and amenities in the hotel are pretty good.

Mount Temple (11627', 3544 m) seen from Lake Louise

Mount Temple (11627′, 3544 m) seen from Lake Louise

The snowboarding was not that great, lots of rocks, rather thin cover for mid-winter, and warm temps. Lake Louise appeared to a magnet for park riders, with a section on the backside full of steep stuff, and more rocks. Of course the views were amazing, it’s kind of a magnified version of the Elks or San Juans, muscular, burly peaks. But it was a mix of ice and spring conditions, more towards the icy stuff at the end of the day.

Bow Range, Canadian Rockies

Bow Range, Canadian Rockies

Sunshine Village, which is much closer to Banff, lies on the Alberta / British Columbia border, and is accessed by this gondola that curls around a mountainside. It leads to this mini-mid-mountain village, with a hotel and a smattering of lodges and restaurants. One lift leads to the ridge that separates the provinces. Another lift crosses the border a couple of times, so that was definitely a novelty. As for conditions, it was a mix. I met a fellow local rider Geoff, who knew where to go, and the place was pretty fun, with lots of side hits and still a bit of powder hidden away. He kindly gave me a ride back to Calgary at the end of the day after some dinner.

Above Sunshine Village, in a wonderland of snowboard-eating rocks

Above Sunshine Village, in a wonderland of snowboard-eating rocks

Geoff, taking in the scenery

Geoff, taking in the scenery

A final word about crossing the ‘border’ at YYC, it’s atrocious, with the combined effect of a holiday and a Monday morning. It was easily 90 minutes of hauling bags and security and immigration lines. Surely this process can be better?

 

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St. Pierre and Miquelon

This slice (officially an overseas collectivity) of France lies off of Newfoundland’s coast, a tiny territory that’s sparsely populated, and a bit surreal in that you find yourself landing in a place that flies the French flag, operates on 220 V and Euros, with the familiar French city and street signs, all of this a 40 minute flight from St. John’s. Weird. It’s evidently not that touristed, and there’s a general lack of English-language websites and literature on St. Pierre and Miquelon. So here goes, a few of my observations from three days on St. Pierre island. I took the short flight from St. John’s to St. Pierre, in the process going from chilly rain to a sunny, humid day. The signs were the first giveaway that this was France, in fact the sole remnant of New France still under French control.

Yes, you can walk to and from the airport into town. I was offered a ride by a lady, who dropped me off at the Hotel Robert in central St. Pierre. The hotel was nothing special, a rather bare-bones room (100 Euro / night) that was rather noisy since it overlooked the main thoroughfare in the city. Despite being around 6000 people, there are a lot of cars. No doubt it’s necessary to have one to get around during the winters, so instead of the small cars normally found in France, many of the cars were the large American trucks and 4WD vehicles.

Colorful St. Pierre

Colorful St. Pierre and harbor

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Houses, St. Pierre

St. Pierre is a remarkably colorful town, although with nothing especially notable or old. A 20 minute walk out of town brings you to the wilderness, which is basically lots of rugged hills, dense, ground-hugging vegetation that was very green when I visited in August, and sparse trees that grow barely above your head. It’s also covered in these small ponds (étang), some blooming with lilies and flowers, others stagnant bodies of water with frogs jumping around. This is not the grand scenery of the Rockies that I’ve gotten used to, but it’s genuinely subarctic.

Pond, St. Pierre "backcountry"

Pond (étang), St. Pierre “backcountry”

The food was a bit disappointing compared to what I had been eating in Montreal. St. Pierre is small town France, and it’s a pretty limited selection of restaurants and shops. The hours take some getting used to, businesses are usually closed between noon and 2 PM, dinners start after 7 PM. And the time zone is strange, west of St. John’s, Newfoundland, but 30 minutes ahead of St. John’s time. The sun rises and sets late around here. The TV channels are a weird mix, I got French TV, some Canadian TV, and US TV from the major network affiliates in Detroit and Rochester, go figure. There’s one bank, where I exchanged money at a crappy rate, and the ATMs don’t take debit cards, only credit cards. In other words, use your credit card, or bring cash to change into Euros. Don’t expect regular schedules, either, ferry docks are not posted, and transport is irregular. Reserve hotel rooms in advance, as accommodation is limited.

I covered several sections of St. Pierre island on a network of hiking trails. They all were similar in scenery, with the added bonus of sea views, and views of the cliffs of Miquelon. Newfoundland, despite being only 15 miles away, is not that clearly seen and usually lost in the haze. So it really does feel like a far-off, exotic island, even if it’s virtually surrounded by Canada.

On my final day in St. Pierre, I took yet another walk among the tundra and etangs northeast of town, then hopped on the short ferry to L’Îleaux-Marins (Sailors’ Island), located just beyond the harbor breakwater, and this was probably the highlight of the visit. It’s a semi-ghost town, once housing nearly 700 people, now just 60 houses and a handful of summer residents. Its last permanent residents left in 1965. The ‘streets’ are pedestrian grassy pathways that go from one end of the island to the other, past large swaths of stone fields (graves) once used for drying fish. So instead of wheat or grass fields, the plots are covered with stones and demarcated by little grassy medians. The houses are slowly crumbling, with lots of collapsed buildings and foundations, and the ones still standing are picturesque in their bright colors and peeling paint. It was a remarkably calm three hours drinking in the views, feeling the grass under my bare feet, and photographing the scenery. The northern end is marked by the crumbling, rusting shipwreck of the Transpacific, a German vessel which ran aground in 1971. The adjoining beach is unfortunately pretty dirty with all sorts of debris and garbage washed ashore. On the southern end is a little lighthouse decked out in purple. Everything here is a riot of colors, no doubt to brighten up the harsh winters and generally crappy weather.

View of St. Pierre from Ile-aux-Marins

View of St. Pierre from Île-aux-Marins

Wreckage of the Transpacific

Wreckage of the Transpacific

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Houses and fish drying stones (graves)

And that was the end of my visit, I gathered my stuff back at the hotel, and walked to the airport, a one-mile walk. A 40-minute flight later and I was back on Canadian soil in a foggy St. John’s.

Art and architecture of the Montreal Metro

It’s mostly good stuff, with some great pieces as well. I haven’t been through all the stations, but managed to get a look at 55 of them (out of 68 stations) over the course of a few days. I would say that this is best when you don’t want to be outside, i.e. when the weather is bad, and for the most part, it’s also a nice tour to do during the evening. I bought a $8 CDN 24 hour pass, and rode the rails, mixing it with walking around the neighborhoods.

Some of the stations are best seen in the daytime, especially the Champ-de-Mars station with its stained glass. This provides a colorful, ever-changing pattern of color in the entryway, and at certain times of day, even onto the platform itself. The remainder of the station is a clean 1960s design with a swept roof and streamlined columns. Like many of the stations built in the 1960s, the tones are neutral to bright, with plenty of tiling.

Champ-de-Mars station (1966), orange line

Down the orange line, the Bonaventure station is another one of my favorites. The interior is mostly exposed concrete with brick on the floors, the lighting scheme brings out the numerous arches throughout the entire station. Also, the signs are integrated into the pyramidal lamps. It’s more of an exception to the 1960s stations, this one looks forward to the predominant tone of the 1970s stations, which are mostly exposed concrete, but without the textures.

Bonaventure station (1967), orange line

Peel deserves a special mention, the colored circles are a unifying theme of this station, and of the Metro in general. The station, all the way down to the floor tiles, is decked out in circles. One can see the colored circles everywhere throughout the system (see below). The design of the beams is also interesting in Peel station, resting on small steel bases.

Peel station (1966), green line

The major expansion of the system took place in the 1970s and 1980s, with the extensions of the green and orange lines, and the construction of the blue line in the mid-1980s. For the most part, I found the blue line stations rather unappealing, they look outdated already in their color schemes and artwork. But the 1970s stations are excellent and memorable. Georges Vanier station is a standout. The monchromatic gray is offset by a variety of textures, and a nice splash of polished blue tiles. The circle also continues a theme throughout the Metro.

Georges Vanier station (1980), orange line

Monk station is a wonderful synthesis of vertical and horizontal curves, complete with a very tall sculpture at the foot of the bridge. The curves continue on the platform walls, in the form of a subtle horizontal wave of bricks.

Monk station (1978), green line

LaSalle, just a couple stops away, is a standout, with daring asymmetry suggesting crystals and glass. The curves have been replaced by bold lines and sharp corners.

La Salle station (1978), green line

There are also a few duds thrown in there, the busy Guy-Concordia station looks worn out and blank, and well, it is. Atwater station and some of the orange line stations on the Plateau aren’t that much better, but even in these stations, the 1960s flair comes through. The blue line stations seem to be forgettable, with color schemes like this one:

Jean Talon station (1966, 1986), orange / blue lines

Now that’s just a small selection of the stations. By all means, take the tour, the subway is integral to Montreal, and a real treat to experience.

Montreal’s Metro

I think it’s one of the great subway systems in the world, especially in the design of the stations, each of them different, many of them distinguished period pieces.

The system was inaugurated in 1966-67 in time for Expo 67, expanded in the 1970s and 1980s, and expanded again to Laval in 2007. There are now 68 stations in the subway system on four lines, with four transfer stations. It’s a rather expensive fare for single rides, at a prohibitive $3 CDN, but to make up for that, a day pass is $8 CDN, and there’s a new evening fare for $4 CDN. The access points are equipped to handle magnetic cards that you slide through the slot, as well as proximity cards. Overall, it’s painless and easy to use.

Access for the disabled is still an issue, rather few stations have elevators, although this is changing. The platforms are color-coded with the terminal station as the marker showing which direction the train is headed, this requires a bit of familiarity, and the maps are sometimes difficult to find. As with most subway systems in the world, there are no express stops or limited runs, and the system shuts down at night, despite Montreal’s penchant for late weekend partying and dining. The stations are relatively clean, although lacking in garbage bins, so there tends to be plenty of papers and drink cups left throughout the busier downtown stations.

Trains are a standard sky blue in color, apparently not air conditioned, and run quietly on rubber tires. One nifty feature is the Copland chime as the train pulls out of the station, echoing the first notes of Fanfare for the Common Man.

The best part are the artworks and architecture of the stations, so in the next post, coming soon, I’ll present a tour of the best, notable, and the awful stuff.

The official site has an excellent history of the metro system: http://www.stm.info/english/metro/a-index.htm

vancouver, april 2009

Lucky me, I caught one of my favorite destinations in a good, sunny mood.

For now, just a few pics of the nice side of Vancouver, of which there are very many. There’s an unsavory side, but that’s reserved for a later post.  The highlights included a weekday afternoon bike ride through Stanley Park, across the Lions Gate Bridge, along English Bay and False Creek, sushi at Tojo’s (my once a year splurge), and plenty of beautiful views. Didn’t make it to Whistler, didn’t do the snowboard shopping I said that I would do, but I took care of lots of other business, haircut, dentist, stuff like that. And I ate fabulously, the city has the most authentic Asian food outside of Asia for a reasonable price.  And hey, no rain until the night before I left, with warm, almost summer-like weather.

 

Hotel room view in the evening

Hotel room view in the evening

 

And a million dollar view at 7 AM

And a million dollar view at 7 AM

 

Seoul food

Seoul food

In bloom along English Bay

In bloom along English Bay

Skyline from Coal Harbour

Skyline from Coal Harbour

 

Lions' Gate Bridge with an ugly repainting job

Lions' Gate Bridge with an ugly repainting job

Beach dude, Stanley Park

Beach dude, Stanley Park