Wednesday, December 26

Christmas in Montreal!

So, after having no idea what to do for Christmas as late as Friday, the offers just poured in over the weekend, and I ended up with too many options! So here's what I ended up doing:

Around 5ish, I went to a place called the Co-op sur Genereux to help cook for an orphans' christmas that I wish I could have stayed for - it was great to see the place, as I'd heard a lot about it, and to meet more interesting people.

About 7pm, I went to Leyla's new place (she the person I'm currently subletting from) to meet her flatmates at her new place: Romain, an ever-so-cute-Parisien, and Rosie, an entertaining American who hasn't been here much longer than I. An hour or so later, and we set of to the 'loser's christmas party' at Romain's old host-family's house, which turned out to be full of architects and their teenage kids. Enjoyable, but definitely different to the sort of company I've been keeping for the last few months! And the food was delicious, but entirely meat-based, which unfortunately rather disagreed with my mostly vegetarian stomach, which made me a little antisocial for the last hour I was there.

So around 11 I took my upset stomach away from that party, taking Rosie's keys with the plan of napping on their couch for a while. On my way back, I passed a church that was ringing bells, so I stopped in for the last 15 minutes of their mass (which had been going over an hour already, I gather - glad I just caught the end!). But that nicely satisfied my vague traditionalist's desire for a little bit of church at Christmas. And I had a revelation about the purpose of organs in churches. I don't know the name of the piece the organist played for the recessional, but played on that massive organ, it sure put the fear of something or other in me!

When I got back to the apartment to find Rosie already back there much earlier than planned, Leyla just arrived home from her other party thing, and everyone wondering if I had dropped dead while walking home. I really thought no one would miss me when I dropped into the church!

As I was soon feeling better, Rosie and I went upstairs to our next party - one that we could already hear most of anyway, in the form of elephants on the ceiling. Their upstairs neighbour Marco was also having a late-night orphans' christmas party, and we arrived just in time for the massive turkey, which had been planned to serve at midnight. Despite not knowing anyone there, managed to find so many interesting people to talk to, that it was 4am before we went back downstairs to bed!

So that was Christmas Eve, which is the more important day here (because of the French tradition, I think). While I enjoyed the parties very much, they were interesting parties, didn't really feel christmassy enough. Christmas day solved that:

I stayed at the apartment for the night, and this morning (by which I mean, at about 12.30pm) we opened the few little presents from under their little tree (well, they did) while listening to Christmas music (the one day a year it doesn't grate), and ate french toast (which is apparently pain-perdu, en francais) and fudge and cookies.And then we set of to got ice-skating. Outside. On a bit of frozen water! In a park! About 5 minutes walk from their house. AND I didn't fall over and break a leg. (That's me on the bench in the background - I swear I was skating for all but this 5 minutes!)

And then we came home (to their house) and had tea and more fudge and cookies, and toast with pesto and olives and cheese, and more tea, and I spent about 3 hours explaining my entire life's travels (well, they did ask!) and then we invited Marco from upstairs down for more tea and a tarte au citron that Romain had whipped up while Leyla was making the french toast earlier.Finally, I came back to my little flat, so that I could feed the cat and sleep in what is currently my own bed. Which I should do about now, as I see it is now nearly 5am!

Thursday, December 20

An Archbishop's view...

Here's an interesting take on the christmas legend - at least, interesting coming from the Archbishop of Canterbury! I've always mostly liked Anglican dogma...

Thursday, December 13

More on living in Montreal (so far)

Right now I'm sitting in a cafe a few blocks from my apartment. I've eaten the baguettine and cafe (must turn on french keyboard...) required to purchase my table and net access for a while. I'm sitting by the window, looking out at Avenue Mont Royal, with its christmas lights and after-work traffic and pedestrians in mittens, scarves and furry hoods, rugged up against the -12 degree temperature. Some them are dragging coloured plastic sleds with small children in them. Not to mention the snow that is now only falling lightly, making no apparent difference to the already-dusted pavements and the walls of ploughed snow that line them. It's all feeling rather european, especially as the cafe would not be out of place anywhere in France (except on no other continent would they have a range of 12 different flavoured filter coffees...), and I'm surrounded by french chatter - some of which I can understand, which makes me think there might be actual French people here, as well as Quebecois.

And as to why I'm in a cafe at all, well. I made something of a mistake when I took this apartment for the month. The flat is lovely and cosy, the cat is apparently neurotic, but will no doubt get used to me. I will learn how to navigate the buses eventually, or just learn to appreciate the 30min walk to the metro regularly. But I won't get used to *dial-up* internet. I realise it's something I should have asked, but I didn't really think dialup still existed, so it never crossed my mind that the included internet wouldn't be broadband. And for some reason the dial-up seems to disconnect itself about every 10 minutes, which gets extremely boring. So I surf between 3 rather weak unsecured wifi signals, and toy with the idea of either spending a large portion of my time and cash in wifi-equipped cafes this month, or putting a notice up for the owners of the secured networks available offering cash in exchange for their passwords. We'll see. Other than that, I'm very happy in my little nest for the month!

Meanwhile, I'm looking for flats for January, and I know what to ask this time!

Last Word on the Election

The SMH reports that Howard finally conceded Bennelong yesterday. Officially. He's like a bulldog isn't he - refusing to let go of anything until the last bit of life has been shaken out. Incredible. Anyway, I find the picture that goes with the article rather interesting as well! Well done to the photographer for capturing those expressions.

And here's some more election reading from friends' blogs that I meant to post ages ago: Nick's entertaining account of Election Night, Nathaniel's take on the new state of Australian Politics.

And finally, something completely non-election related. Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's! Argh! It's the end of the Discworld! Well, not yet, apparently, but it would seem to be the beginning of the end. And, in His words, an Embuggerance. Here I was thinking that he, his brain, and the Disc were immortal, and he would churn out books at a rate of 1.5 per annum for the rest of eternity! (Thanks to Amanda & James for the news - I think)

Wednesday, December 12


So I realise I've barely posted anything about Montreal yet. The truth is, I've been too busy doing things to blog about them, and now that I have time and my own apartment for a month, I seem to prefer to spend my time sleeping. I have about 6 months to catch up on, so I'm not too surprised. I thought I'd give you a taste though:

Here I am, sitting in my tiny flat, drinking my breakfast hot cocoa (I left my coffee pot at Steph's place!) french-style from a bowl and eating fresh baguette with butter and raspberry jam and a glass of grapefruit juice with a splash of fizzy water. Outside the weather is alternating between sunny blue sky and big fluffy white snowflakes. The fluffy white cat I now live with spends his time either curled up somewhere near by, or demanding food.

And now I think I'll return to bed for a little bit and watch the snow out the window!

Saturday, December 8


From the beginning -
My birth. I've just discovered that I share a birthplace with Australia's new prime minister. I'm not sure if that makes it more or less embarrassing, though. I comfort myself with the fact that I never lived there. Rudd apparently did, however.

To two days ago -
On arrival in Montreal, I had an odd experience. I knew I was going to be staying with Steph, in her student residence. My rideshare dropped me off about a block from where we believed I needed to be, and pointed me in the right direction. I was carrying my ridiculous amounts of luggage and the snow was about a foot thick.
Wheeled suitcases do not like snow. But I managed to head in the right direction, found what I assumed was the street, and walked the half block to the right numbered building. The first thing I noticed was a padlock on the outside of the door. Not a good sign. Then I looked up and saw the windows were boarded up and had big black burn marks above them. This was freaky. It appeared the place had recently been on fire. I began to worry - first about the safety of the inhabitants, and then about what on earth I was going to do with too much luggage and no idea where to stay. I also had no phone number to call. I dragged my stuff the long block to the nearest metro and decided I had to find internet to find out if there was an email explaining had happened. I got to the metro, and saw a local area map, which I thought might be helpful in pointing me in the right direction for internet access. On studying it, I realised that the street I had been in was the wrong street! I had gone one block too far! I dragged all my stuff back through the snow again, fond the right place, and was very very grateful that there was someone home, AND that I was expected! It had been disconcerting to think that the place I had lined up to stay in had burnt down just before I got there. I'm very glad it hadn't!

To yesterday -
I saw two places to possibly sublet yesterday - one that would be sharing with a cool and interesting person and is cheap, but is an unfurnished room, and I'm a little sick of camping on the floor. But maybe I can stay in touch with the person living there!
The second place is about a half hour walk from the metro, which is less than good, but has a decent bus system surrounding it, is lovely and cosy, and comes with everything I want, plus a pretty white cat for company and is being let by a nice and interesting person, so it's all good.

To today -
So I finally heard back, and it seems I'm not going to Morocco. The email said that I could ask for more feedback as to why my application was rejected, so I have, but I have a feeling it will be lack of business teaching experience. And, to be honest, the fat that it was business teaching was the least-attractive part of the job.
So I've spent the afternoon trying to work out what to do with the next 6 months of my life. I've decided to just apply for a bunch of jobs, both here and abroad, and see where I end up. It's like a sort of lottery! Let fate decide! Almost as random as sticking a pin in a map with your eyes closed, but not quite. If I don't have any prospects by the end of January, I'll go live in Paris with Sean. It's nice to have a backup plan!

To tomorrow -
I've accepted the second place I saw yesterday, and get to move in tomorrow lunchtime. I'll have an address! For the first time in about 6 months...

Friday, December 7

I'M HERE!!!!

Ok, you can all start throwing those parties now...
About a year ago, I hit on this mad idea to come to Canada for Queeruption in Vancouver, then have this wild cross-country experience in a possible van, and then live in Montreal for a while. It's taken a year to get here, only about 3 months later than I had planned. Minus one van, but plus months and months of amazingly wonderful (and occasionally sucky) adventures.
Realising that I was about to achieve my goal was scaring me enough that yesterday I nearly accepted a job to drive a U-Haul truck to Vancouver. I realised it would be silly (and the woman wasn't willing to pay what I thought it would cost me). But it would be a sort of overview of my last 2 or 3 months, only in reverse, and much faster.
I'm glad I didn't agree to it, because now I'm in Montreal. I'm staying with Steph, who came to my workshop in Vancouver. She lives in a student residence - luckily an apartment style one. But tomorrow, I have no less than *2* appointments to see flats - one for a shared place with a really interesting-sounding person, and one for a place all to myself, but in a less than perfect location (i.e. more than 5 minutes walk from the metro station, although close to buses. Waiting for buses above ground is less than perfect in a Montreal winter).
And in between, I get to explore the city! Which is covered in more snow than I've ever seen in an urban environment before. And I'm told this is only the beginning. But I sort of like it, so far!

(Meanwhile, I've just uploaded my pics of Crossing Northern Ontario, Toronto and Niagara Falls, which was both more and less impressive than I expected, all at the same time, oh, and has about a hundred pictures of rushing water, so you might want to think about going to the bathroom while they're loading)

Another reason to refuse to join Facebook...

This just confirms my desire to stay far, far away...

Sunday, December 2

Finally in Toronto

So i've made it to Toronto. After the Soo, we drove to Sudbury. The weather was good for the drive, mostly but there was still plenty of snow about. It was just getting dark as we pulled up to our couchsurfer hosts' house. They turned out to be lovely people, of course, and I was invited to go to a yoga with Michelle that evening. I've been missing yoga a lot in the 5 months since my last class, so I jumped at the chance, especially as she had a half-price coupon for me, and it was her first class with this school as well. It wasn't until we got there that we discovered it was the school's most advanced class. Hmm. I survived - there were a few new poses, and a few things I sat out, but overall it was great. And I felt great. And sore. And I can still feel a few of those muscles. But gee I can't wait to find a class in Montreal! And, given that it will be about -20 outside, maybe I'll try 'hot' yoga...

The next day, we sat around far too long because we knew it was 'only' 4 hours drive to toronto. By the time we left, it was pouring with snow. And when we finally thought to look up the weather it gave the visibility on the highway as 'poor to nil'. So we turned around and begged another night at Michelle and Gerald's place. But this time, I cooked dinner, which was nice, and solved my tofu cravings for another few days.

Today we left earlyish - after Gerald cooked us a wonderful pancake and bacon breakfast! I love couchsurfing :) The ride to Toronto was sunny, clear and easy. After a Whole Week of travelling together, Edmond and I finally parted company when he dropped me off at my latest couchsurfing place in downtown Toronto.

I have absolutely no idea what the next few days will bring, as I'm now in contact with about 4 toronto locals (none of whom I have ever met, but that's half the fun!). I'm hoping to see niagara falls in the next day or two, and leave for Montreal on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Yes, that's right - I'm only ONE rideshare away from ACTUALLY BEING IN MONTREAL! At which point everyone who reads this blog will probably throw a party.

Thursday, November 29

The Soo

Ooh Ooh look!
The red dots on my travelpost map have finally joined up across Canada - it almost looks like I've made it all the way across!
I haven't though. I'm in Sault Ste Marie. That's a whole 270km from Wawawawa where we stayed last night. It took over 5 hours to get that far, through this afternoon's blizzard. It got even more fun when it began to get dark and we discovered the headlights weren't working. Luckily high beams were, but that just illuminated the wall of snow immediately in front of us - and blowing rather hard towards us. It was all rather fun, really, and just a *tad* hair-raising.
But 'The Soo' (as Sault Ste Marie is called) seems like a lovely little town. We're staying with a lovely couple (both teachers) and their rabbit, Tutu, whom we found on, in a beautiful little house almost within view of the Mary river - the bit of water between lakes Huron and Superior - and International Bridge, that leads to the *other* Sault Ste Marie, which is Michigan, USA. I'm not going there.
Our host Sarah took us out this evening to her favourite little bar here, which just happened to be the one mentioned in my LP guide book. We even walked there! The temperature is quite warm - only -3 or so, and it wasn't snowing, at least not much, so it was a reasonably pleasant walk, and probably further than I've walked in days! (must learn to walk in snow...). There was practically no one there, but we got talking to the owner and his father, and ended up spending a lovely hour or two in conversation - mostly travel related, of course. The owner, who is not much older than me, has travelled in Australia, and so we were swapping notes about our respective countries.
Hoping to make Sudbury tomorrow - it's only another 4 hours or so, if the weather is reasonable...

Wednesday, November 28

The novelty of snow

Despite 3 days and nights of driving and wading through snow (I'd say deep snow, but I have a feeling I ain't seen nothing yet) it's still being a novelty. And I'm breaking new records all the time - yesterday I believe I was outside in -23 degrees! It probably helps that I don't feel the need to traipse around and sight-see at any of the places we've stopped so far. And having a car means that you drive to see anyway, rather than walk. I can see that outdoor time will be at an absolute minimum until temperatures approach zero again (from the wrong direction, that is). It's nice to sit here watching it fall out the window though, and it does make everything pretty. And pretty eerie at night!
And of course, the other thing that makes the snow ok, is that I found dubbin for my boots here! And I thought it was just an australian thing! I also bought gloves with cut-off fingers and a mitten bit that folds over the fingers, and something called a 4 in one hood, which I still working out how to use, and which makes me look rather ninja-ish, but who cares, when you're warm!
So I'm now in Wawa. Wa! It's a great name for a town. We're hoping to be in Toronto tomorrow, if not tonight. It's about 900km away, but as it's snowing again, I doubt we'll get that far. Also, the road skips along the edge of lake superior for a while, and then along a bit of Lake Huron, I think, so there might be photo stops along the way. Yesterday it was clear and sunny, and the road were well-plowed (ploughed?), so we got from Dryden all the way here to Wawawawawa - about 800km, which is a lot better than 350km we'd managed in the previous 2 days. We managed this by driving late into the night, which meant an increased risk of hitting a moose (Moose!) but the weather and roads were clear, and the moon, although only gibbous, was so incredibly bright reflected off the snow, and the scenery that we could see was beautiful in its light, so it wasn't a bad drive! (pics that in no way do it justice will be added soon)
In Toronto I hope to stay 2 nights, so I can spend a day seeing the place. I'm also considering a day's dash to Niagara Falls, just to tick that box and save me coming back that way later. We'll see...

Monday, November 26

Election/Back on the Road/Morocco?

First: some election rejoicing: yay! And the Bennelong result (albeit as-yet-unofficial) is just utterly brilliant. We're just waiting for Howard to concede officially (again) so that McKew can claim it officially. But of course, Howard is well known for hanging on until long after he should have made a graceful exit...
Some of my favourite election opinion pieces are this one by Paul Keating, and this, slightly more vehement one.
And stay tuned

Next: I have left Winnipeg! Sadly - I was having fun there, staying with these lovely Sunday-Breakfast-Eating people:

But I have a Mission. I must get to Montreal!
I'm travelling with a guy on his way home to Toronto in a slightly dodgy dodge car. I knew it was slightly dodgy, in that he had been delayed getting to Winnipeg by a couple of days by car troubles already, but I don't mind, as I'm not in a hurry, and I much prefer the adventure to just taking the bus. Of course, we'd barely gone a hundred km (through the driving snow) when the engine started losing power and chugging a bit, intermittently.
We made it to Kenora, and decided to stop to get it fixed. There's nothing open on a Sunday afternoon, so we got a hotel room across the road from the place that will open at 7.45 in the morning, hopefully will be on the road soon after that! My current plan is to spend a day in Toronto before heading to Montreal, but I know that none of my plans are ever set in stone!

Last: Would anyone think me odd if I suddenly went to Morocco? I think I'm going to apply for that job I mentioned in a previous post. It's so very tempting. But of course, it's possible they won't give it to me, which would be one way of making me stay in Canada. I'd regret it if I didn't apply, though... The job is from January 7th to Feb 28th, and then I could either come back to Canada until June, or go live in Paris. Hmm... Decisions, decisions...

Saturday, November 24

The suspense is killing me!

It's 3am, and I was supposed to go to bed hours ago. I have plans to see an art gallery and/or a museum tomorrow, but at this rate I'll be up all night listening and reading the election coverage. My mistake was reading an opinion that said it should all be settled within an hour or so of polls closing. So I thought I'd stay for that, but of course, it's not settled yet, and now I can't go until it is! At least my blog is benefiting from the extra time...

The most amazing, exciting, thrilling thing that I'm waiting on is, of course, Bennelong. I find that I'm relatively confident about an overall labour victory, but ousting Howard not only from government, but from his own seat as well, would just be too wonderful for words. Until now, I hardly dared hope, but reports like this one from SMH: "The Labor Party's Maxine McKew is ahead of Prime Minister John Howard with a swing of 6.6 per cent at this stage with 14.9% of the vote counted." leave me breathless with antici


Blog Work

So I finally succumbed and transferred this blog to the new blogger template system thingy. I've been resisting because I knew I'd lose a lot of my personalising - everything I had spent hours html-ing for.
But I've been really wanting a 3rd column for a while, and all the how-to's I could find online dealt with New Blogger, and there were various things that suggested it was hard to add another column to blogger classic. So after spending an hour or two trying to avoid it, I gave in.
And then I spent another hour or so browsing templates, figuring that if I have to redo everything, I could change the whole look. But everything I found would have just got in the way of my own personal style. So 'minima' it is.
And now I've just spent yet another hour adding my old link lists and widgets to my sidebars. And fiddling to try to get the colours more or less the same as before. With maybe a few changes. Let me know what you think: I've added a poll - one of the things that is now much easier in New Blogger. I've also improved the 'Recent Comments' widget, thanks to this guy, and added the labels links on the left, which will actually make me use them properly. Over then next few weeks (months) I'll tidy the labels I've already got. I've found lots of other interesting things to add at some point too, but not tonight.

At least it's kept me occupied while waiting for the polls to close in Aus, and Roy & HG to turn up on triple J. I'm glad I've got a decent net connection tonight!

And here's something else I found in my blog-tip-surfing today. I've been meaning to add my NYC pics, so here they are - all of them - in an Even Better Slideshow than before.

I managed to vote, just!

I dropped my postal vote in a mail box at about 4.50 this afternoon - with 10 minutes to spare before the last scheduled pickup. If it had been postmarked later than today, it wouldn't have been accepted, which would have sucked. The reason it was so late was that I spent 2 hours trudging through the snow (ok, not a lot of snow, but snow nonetheless!) trying to find someone who would witness it for me. It had to be a minister of religion (who all seem to leave early on Fridays), an officer of the military or JP (where does one find those?), an Australian Citizen (for once, I seem the only one in town!) or a doctor. So, after trying a church or two, I was directed to a medical centre, where a doctor did agree to sign it for me - as long as I paid him $15! I was outraged at this, and refused, not surprisingly. It just seems incredibly wrong.
I finally found another medical centre, at about 5.45, and a doctor who signed it without really looking or caring, but that's ok with me. Thankfully there was a mail box right outside, as well, and I'd already bought the right stamps earlier in the day, just in case this happened.
So, phew! That's done. And with only minutes to spare. By about 4.30, I was beginning to think it wouldn't happen, and that would have been a pain.

In other election related things, I've been busy opinionating all over the triple J election blog Float Your Vote. You can see my thoughts on overseas voting here, and on whether I'll bother returning to a Liberally Governed Australia here. (At least, you will be able to when the comments are approved and appear...)

(And I know 3 posts in one day is excessive, but as I'm probably going to be travelling for the next few days, who knows when I'll get another chance! And I'll break up all this dull text with some pictures soon too, I promise.)

Friday, November 23

Election Day!

It may be only Friday here, but it's Saturday morning in Australia, and the polls will soon open for the election we've been waiting 10 years for!
I sooo hope Howard loses his own seat. That would just be wonderfully fantastic.
Meanwhile, I've just heard that my own ballot papers have arrived at the house where I was staying a few days ago, so I have to go over and get them, and post them so that they are postmarked today!
I get to vote! Yay! Although it looks like it might not matter, if the massive swing predicted happens... Still, I'm very happy to be part of this election.
Better go and trudge through the snow to get the ballot papers and send them off. You see the lengths I'm willing to go to for politics!?


I've been homeless since mid-june at this point. That's 5 months. 5 months of travelling thousands of kilometers in a bunch of different countries. I'm kinda looking forward to some stability and a flat of my own (well, sublet) when I get to Montreal. So how come I lay awake last night planning the next several countries I want to live in? And being impatient to get there?
You see, last night I went to FTW Collegiate again, the DIY educational evening that they run here. I learnt so much about the Dewey Decimal System, and also about Yoda, and also about the similarities between mathematical and political radicals. It was fantastic. After that, we went to the pub that seems to be *the* place to hang out. And there I met someone who is about to start a new job in a cafe chain store. Not exciting, you might think. Until you find out which branch she will be working at. One on a military base in AFGHANISTAN. And getting paid more than I have earnt in the last 2 years for her 6 month contract slinging donuts and making coffee.
I could *so* do that.
Although I'd probably prefer to find a teaching job. But Afghanistan sounds like fun!
And then, of course, there is the fact that I would love to go spend some time (3-6 months, maybe) borrowing Sean's life in Paris. I haven't really wanted to live in Paris before, but, damnit, despite my quebec sojourn, Sean's french is so going to be better than mine - it probably already is.
And then there's the 4 months in Kiribas that Pam did this year. I want t
o do that - AND it would be a good-on-the-resume job.
But then, what about going back to Istanbul? I've wanted to that for a while now.
And Romania? I've been talking about living in Romania ever since I was there in 2005!
And then there's africa somewhere - I could do a volunteer stint...
Grrr! The world is too big, and there isn't enough time!

EDIT: And then there's this job in Morocco, for just 8 weeks, and then this one in Algeria, for 6 months... Maybe it's not the end of the world if I don't find a decent job in Montreal...

Wednesday, November 21

Cold much?

So right now, outside, it is apparently -11 degrees Celsius or so. -16 with wind chill...
I'm not sure what the coldest temperature I've ever experienced in my life is, but I can't remember anything negative in double figures. So it's all a new and exciting experience for me.
And tomorrow, I'm going to buy proper longjohns (I've discovered that there are longjohns and longjohns, and I need the latter, if I'm to survive).

One major benefit, however: Jack, whom I'm staying with, just brought home a huge quantity of icecream from a local dumpster. And frozen waffles. In Vancouver we joked about the possibility of dumpstering icecream. Here, it's a reality... And you don't need the freezer space - just store it in a plastic box outside!

EDIT: So we went back, with the car, and there is now over 100 litres of icecream and a similar quantity of random other frozen food stuffs sitting in the back room here. And that's even after we've all stuffed ourselves this evening. Apparently, the store had a freezer break down today, so dumped all the stuff in it before it thawed. The max temp today was -4 or something, so everything is still good!
The back room here is pretty cold, as it's a sort of add-on to the house and there is a tree sort of growing into it. Unfortunately, my dollar store thermometer is only reading 4 degrees in there. A great temperature for a fridge, not so good for icecream. There are too many animals outside, and not enough plastic boxes to put it all in. This could get interesting...

Monday, November 19

Oh Canada!

I'm back in Winnipeg! And very happy to be back in Canada. And in Winnipeg, which I enjoyed so much last time.
I'll blog more when I haven't just spent 13 hours on buses. I miss the Beast! :(

Saturday, November 17

The End of the Beast

So yesterday I borrowed Brian's prius (yay for hybrid cars!) again and drove out to Avon to collect all my stuff from the beast. It was hard to do - not least because, by the time I sorted everything so I could leave, and drove the hour and half there, I only had about 50 minutes before the place closed to transfer everything I own from the Beast to the prius. This was stressful. But I managed it. I still have this feeling like there was a cupboard or something I failed to empty, but I think I got it all. By the end I was just tipping the drawers into bags to sort out later.
And now I'm sitting in the living room at the place where I've been staying, next to a large pile of everything I own, trying to decide what I can get rid of, and what I actually want to keep - and carry. I'm hoping to avoid having to post anything, but I will have to abandon a lot, I think.

To mark the passing of The Beast, here's a slideshow of ever photo tagged "The Beast" in my flickr account. You have to pretend it plays automatically and has sad and soppy music playing over it. In fact, if you want these things, click here for the pathos-enhanced version!

Friday, November 16


I need to invent a term that is even worse than ludicrous...

There is, at least, a resolution today. I'm taking the money, losing the van. The Beast Will Be No More. And they offered me a little more money for it.

Here's an excerpt from the latest email. I realise this may not be ethical, but it saves me typing the info:

the policy was sold for 3 months only to allow you (as a non resident) to get to where you were moving, 3 months is the maximum - also the territory rating on your policy should have been for out of province use, territory z, but it is listed for lower mainland use, which is incorrect if you were always intending to go outside of bc with the vehicle

So there was some doubt as to whether or not they would even cover me now! Ha! There was, of course, no mention of me not being a resident when I bought the vehicle. I had an address and was looking for a job. I was offered whatever term of insurance I wanted. I chose three months as a compromise between convenience and cost. I don't recall any question or mention of a problem if I were to to take it out of BC. And I can't believe you that taking your vehicle out of your own province makes your insurance questionable!

So, now I just have to work out how to get me and my stuff back to Canada. I'm hoping to be able to drive the hour and half to where it is today and clear out everything I can. And then bring it back here and sort through what I actually want. Which is probably not a lot of it. Maybe I should have a yard sale tomorrow - or a car boot sale, I suppose! I could advertise on Craigslist, even last minute!

So it's almost over... nearly... although I'm not planning to relax until I have the cheque in my hand, and I'm out of the US...

Thursday, November 15

I should have known it wouldn't be that easy

So I was given the wrong information, and I can't renew my insurance over the phone, because I'm not a British Columbia resident. I pointed out that I have an address in BC, and I don't have an address anywhere else, and that makes me a resident, right? Wrong. The only way to prove you are a BC resident is to have a BC drivers license, which of course I don't. Legally, I only need the Australian one and the international one for the first year I'm in Canada.
More hysterics over the phone.
That was hours and hours ago, and I'm still waiting for someone - anyone - to contact me.

Second problem: my van has not yet been towed to Minneapolis. I was looking forward to getting to see it tonight! I should have known it wouldn't happen.
The american claims and repair company with which my insurance company is now working told me last night that they were waiting on some information from my adjuster (the one who is on holiday). I was able to give them the info they required. This morning, I rang again, and they told me they were still waiting on contact from my adjuster. Something about a discrepency in the ACV. I didn't know what that was, neither did the person on the phone, but she went away to find out, and was told it was the 'actual cash value'. Something about them seeing a photo of the van and questioning its value.

The end of my tether was reached quite some time ago. I'm now way out in untethered land. Ropeable, one could say.

I wanted to blog more about NYC, but it seems a long time ago now. The photos are on flicr though, and I'll add some highlights to this blog a bit later. I have to go have hysterics on the phone again now.

Oh, and it's my birthday. Yay. I think I will move it to December 15th instead, as I don't feel like having a birthday right now!

Wednesday, November 14

I just agreed to have the Beast repaired...


  1. I just spent a weekend travelling in the old-style: Flights, airports, buses, hostels and junk food. There are definite advantages to having your own transport and taking your home everywhere with you.
  2. It would be such a waste! ok, they'll sell what parts they can, but the rest is a huge, perfectly good van that would probably end up in landfill or whatever it is they do to dead car carcasses.
  3. The insurance company will let me renew the insurance over the phone, as long as it's before midnight today (when it expires)
  4. I'm not allowed to be afraid of a couple of days driving through what will probably be very cold and possibly snowy conditions. I have good 'all-season' tires, and, while they aren't winter tires, they should do on the highways.
  5. And I'm not allowed to be afraid of freezing to death. I can always pay to stay either inside or somewhere with electricity if it's bad, although I was doing pretty well finding gas station car parks that have power outlets before...
  6. I realised that I'm not likely to do nearly as much travelling in spring without it.
  7. I'm reading John Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley" about his journeys in a van (a far nicer, custom built van) with his large poodle. I've only just started it, but it has some useful ideas already, mostly about the anonymity and freedom of solo van-travel, and about eternal wanderlust.
So now I just have to hope it doesn't take two weeks more just to get it back on the road...

Thoughts thunk on a subway train

The buskers on the subways in NY address everyone as 'New York'. As in "Help us out New York!" Which got me thinking. Who is New York? Should I feel included? And then I realised: for these four days *I* am New York. I am one of the cells of this huge seething organism of a city. I may not live here, but I'm as much a part of it as those who have chosen to live here (in lofts, fancy apartments, or subway stations) and the tourists shopping on Fifth Ave.
Nowhere else have I had quite the same feeling that you can be anyone, anything, and still be a n integral part of the whole. For this is a city that welcomes everyone without exception, folding them into its rich - and occasionally stained - fabric of diversity.

Tuesday, November 13

Second impressions of NYC

  • Central Park - Wow. (this was a first impression, and now a second, and tomorrow probably a third impression too)
  • MoMa - wow again.
  • The Guggenheim - my third Guggenheim, and still pretty impressive, although the current exhibition wasn't my favourite, although it made me think philosohically about photography (more about that when I have more net time)
  • I look like a local. I know this, because I get asked for directions an average of 5 times a day. Even locals ask me for directions. And I thought my new beanie, with which I am cultivating my convicted felon look, would keep people away! (pic uploaded when I'm back to my own laptop!)

More musings on the fate of the Beast

While lying awake in my 12 bed NY hostel dorm last night, I was thinking about the fate of the Beast. And the fact that staying in hostels and buying food out all the time isn't nearly as luxurious as travelling with your own space, bed, and kitchen. The Beast may have some drawbacks, but it really is a good way to travel. And it would be such a waste to declare dead a perfectly good van. Think of the environment!
I'm still thinking about what to do, but I have come up with a whole lot more arguments for keeping it. I think this weekend of flights (not my favourite form of transport) and hostels (private space is a nice thing) and pizza slices, hotdogs and an apparently fibreless traveller's diet, maybe a few days of cold and the possibility of having to do some driving in snow might be worth having the use of Beastie next spring. I probably wouldn't do nearly as much travelling without her.

Monday, November 12

NYC: First Impressions

  1. 6.30am flights are Not My Thing
  2. I broke my 'no flights this year' resolution...
  3. New Yorkers really *do* talk like that!
  4. AND look like that!
  5. The Statue of Liberty is small than you think.
  6. The subway is about as reliable as the london tube, and twice as confusing.
  7. It is a LOT cheaper though.
  8. And the people on it are nicer. I've even had a conversation!

Saturday, November 10


Today didn't start well. I didn't get the promised phone call from the insurance company this morning (I was past expecting it, anyway) and then when I rang my usual person - the one who's been dealing with my claim and whose answering machine I'm on intimate terms with - her voicemail message had changed. It said not to leave a message, as she was out of the office until THE 20TH OF NOVEMBER.
Yes. Despite pretty much daily contact with this woman, she had failed to tell me she was going on holiday. And leaving no information to anyone about anything to do with my claim. Not even the name or number of the assessor whose report we were still waiting on, despite it being 10 days since he was employed!
After a few moments of hysteria, I followed the instructions to talk to someone else, who in turn put me through to someone else, whose answering machine said she was 2 days behind in returning messages, but to leave my name and number anyway. Oh, and I later discovered that Monday is a public holiday and thus 'two days' actually means Wednesday next week.
So after a little more hysteria, I rang again, and followed different menu options until I got to talk to another real person, demanded to talk to supervisors, etc etc. Eventually got someone who was as helpful as she could be given that she apparently had no information. I also got the name of someone who would be looking after my claim from now on, and a promise (yet again) of a phone call within an hour or so (which would be after 5pm local time, so too late to organise anything to be done before this long weekend! But still, it was something).
I did get to talk to someone this evening, eventually, and it was someone who was actually helpful, and apparently far enough up the chain of command to make offers and decisions. And she's given me three offers I get to think about. Oh, and apparently the assessor finally gave them his report this afternoon. The three options now are:

  1. They will pay the estimated $1200 to repair my van (I have to pay the first $300 of that). This can be arranged and happen on Tuesday, more or less.
  2. They will give me a $1200 cash cheque, couriered to arrive on Tuesday. The van will then be my responsibility to either repair or 'dispose of' however I wish - including auctioning for parts and I'd get the money.
  3. This last one she seemed to think up on the spot while we were talking on the phone. She can do some research on Tuesday and find out what they are likely to be able to get for the van, and can then come up with a figure to offer me - possibly/probably not the $4000 it's insured for, but maybe over $3000...
So I have to make a decision. Right now, I've asked her to do the research for option #3, as the other two will still be options after that. But I still have to decide. So pros and cons:

If I repair the van:
  • I have a van to live in/use next spring
  • The Beast would ride again!
  • It's MY Beastie!
  • I would have to pay to renew my insurance before wedneday, when it expires.
  • I would have to drive through what is now 2500km of snow covered roads and below freezing max temps to get to Montreal.
  • I would have to find a place to store it for the winter, as I don't want to get expensive snow tires, and the Beast hates the cold anyway. This storage is unlikely to be free.
  • I might not want to use it next spring - the 'drive down the east coast' plan is off - I don't want to come back to the USA for a long time. I might also want to head for Europe earlier than the end of June, or be so involved in my job/Montreal life that I don't want to live the Van Life again...
  • I would have to spend time/effort/money selling it before I left the country, and I'm told the Montreal market is no where near as good as the Vancouver one, so I might not get my money back. A glance at has sort of confirmed this.
That doesn't seem very balanced... And the last 'pro' is a purely emotional one, and I'm long past being emotional over my poor little Beastie...
And then I have to decide whether or not to take the $1200, and the van, or the $3-4000 and no van. The latter seems easiest there. And well worth it. Still, I'll sleep on it, although I'm not sure how much time I'll have to think this weekend, as the next thing I'm going to do, right now, is buy a plane ticket for New York. For tomorrow morning. If I'm stuck in the US for the weekend, I may as well spend it somewhere interesting...

Wednesday, November 7


So I'm waiting for my van to be repaired, right. Or rather, waiting for the insurance company to assess whether or not it's repairable. The deer incident happened on Friday night - nearly two weeks ago. It was WEDNESDAY before the insurance company realised they might have to send an assessor to make sure it was repairable. It was FRIDAY before the assessor actually saw the van. I expected a pretty quick report - it shouldn't be that hard! But it took until today - ONE WEEK LATER - to get it. And then, just to make the whole experience perfect. HE ASSESSED THE WRONG DAMN VAN! Apparently, the holding yard where it is showed him to a green Dodge Caravan (which is a type of people mover - like a tarago). They didn't even start making those until several years after my 1979 Dodge Van was made.
(I also have to say that this isn't the first time there's been confusion over the Dodge Van vs. Dodge Caravan difference. Especially when I describe my van as a 'Campervan', or to minimise confusion, a 'camperized van')
So now I have to wait until at least tomorrow to know if I will still have a van or not. I'm a little sick of the waiting game. But at least I don't have to sit by the phone today, as I know it won't happen til tomorrow. Morning, hopefully.
At this point I hope they just write the poor Beast off, so they can fax the paperwork, give me my money, and I can be out of here. After clearing everything out and arranging for all my stuff to be shipped, of course. And then resigning myself to a 2500km bus ride...
It would be sad, of course, but if they do decide it's repairable, I STILL HAVE TO WAIT AROUND WHILE IT IS *ACTUALLY* REPAIRED.
Can you sense a little frustration in my writing? Gee, I wonder why...

Tuesday, November 6

1000 visitors

I was just my own 1000th visitor to this blog. I rarely look at the stat counter, but the round figure in the sidebar caught my eye just now. And, then, as I went away and then came back to the blog, I was my own 1001th visitor as well. Yes, that is pronounced "one thousand and oneth", in case you're wondering.

Monday, November 5

And another thing...

It's over a week since this happened now, but I didn't have net access for a lot of that time, so I just thought of blogging it now.
I had a very disturbing experience just before I left Winnipeg. It was about 5am, and I was sleeping in my van in a friend's driveway, which was in the back alley behind the houses, when someone tried to break into my van. Now earlier that day I had noticed my back doors were hanging funny, like someone had tried to open them. They aren't the most secure back doors. Although they lock together well, the pins that should lock them into the door frame in the middle are bent or rusted, and don't stand up to anything but the lightest tug. You still can't get in, because they do lock together very well, but it means I notice if someone has given them a try. That was the first time anyone had, though, I think.
So I think it was probably the same person who came back at 5am, this time armed with a crowbar, and tried to break in again. I woke up as soon as they tugged on the doors, and pulled the curtain between my bed and the 'garage' at the back of the van aside and saw a guy in a toque (that's a beanie to australians) on the other side of the window. He was just working on applying the crowbar, I think.
So I leant over and knocked on the window before he could damage my back doors any more than they already are. It was quite amusing really. He got the fright of his life, jumped back, yelled out (he must have had a friend somewhere) that there was someone sleeping in the van, along with a few expletives, and then hightailed it out of there. And I went back to sleep.

The thing is, I was supposed to be sleeping inside the house, as there was a spare room, but I was enjoying being in my own space until late at night, and decided just to crash in my own bed. I'm more at home there, as a rule. If I hadn't been there, I probably wouldn't have lost anything of value (the important things don't get left in the van unattended overnight - they aren't insured if they are, I think), but my back doors would have been damaged, which would have been a pain. I've no idea what they thought they would find in an ancient beat up dodge van. And they couldn't steal the van - it takes a good 10 minutes to warm up so you can drive it at all - probably longer in the middle of the night when the temp is below zero. It's the best anti-theft device I've seen in a car. Silly thieves.

And I've just uploaded more pics on flickr, for your enjoyment.

And I'll go back and add a few to my previous posts, just to make this blog look pretty.

The Beast with the broken nose

So this is why I've been in Minneapolis so long. I had rather planned to be pretty much in Montreal by now, and here I am still thousands of kms away.
The Beast had an encounter with a deer. An argument, you might say. I wasn't driving at the time, and it was very late at night, and no one was hurt - except the deer, who definitely came of worst in this. And the Beast, who is suffering from a badly cracked radiator and a squashed-in nose. It's all covered on insurance, thankfully, although that has actually considerably slowed down the repair process, but it should be driveable and back on the road, though probably not very pretty, in a few days. I hope. The only catch is that I have to go back to Canada for the rest of the repairs - so I think I will go via the north side of the lakes after all - I did come south in the end, but I'm already pretty sick of the US, and will be happy to get back to Canadia. Also, I didn't get a new US visa thingy, as I already had one from last time, but now the old one is nearly finished, so I'm just going to get out of this silly country as soon as I can.
One good thing, however, is that the deer incident happened only a bit more than an hour outside of Minneapolis (although even closer would have been even better) and they guy who was driving, Jack, has a wonderful family here in Minneapolis who have very kindly adopted me until the van is fixed. Jack's back in Winnipeg already, but I'm still here hanging out with his parents, which is actually kinda fun. It's just sad when I remember that poor Beastie is sitting all alone and cold a hundred miles away in a auction & holding yard full of dead autos, while the people who work there keep threatening to auction her for parts (they really aren't used to repairable vehicles coming through their gates!).

Sunday, November 4

Random thoughts

There's something wrong with my brain. I just thought 'oh, I'll blog that straight away before I forget", and then, in the time it took to open a new browser tab and get blogger up, I forgot. Damn.

So I'll blog this, instead. It's a book called 'Does God Love Michael's Two Daddies?' which some fundamentalist bigot saddled with the name Sheila K. Butt has recently released. There are two reader reviews on amazon - both well worth reading. One of the reviewers had even actually read the book!

Thanks to Slog for entertaining me with that and similar nonsense.

And now back to answering Craigslist sublet & sharehouse ads for Montreal...

Oh, that reminds me what it was I wanted to blog: I've been studying maps of Montreal to work out where I might want to live, and I've just noticed something: unlike every other city and small town I've been to on this continent so far, Montreal appears to actually use street *names* and not numbers. Not a single '24th street' have I yet found. AND a glance at a map of the city shows you that it isn't laid out in the standard North American battleships grid pattern, which, while it makes navigation a little simpler, seems to lack soul and character. I have a feeling that I am going to like Montreal. I think it will be refreshingly European, and, after 3 months on this continent, I'm kinda missing that! I wandered through the European section of the Minneapolis Institute of Art the other day, and realised that I suddenly felt more at home than I have in ages. Canada is better than the US, but I've not been entirely at ease in either place. It all just feels too American. But it seems Montreal, with its street names, language and metro system, will be quite different. And that, of course, is a major part of the reason that I chose it as my destination in the first place.

Saturday, November 3

Pearls of Wisdom

So I don't often wax philosophical on this blog, but I recently met a very interesting Sikh grandfather on a bus who spoke with such sagacity and profundity in such a lovely lilting indian accent from under his turban (or rather, between his turbans - I'd never seen a beard-turban before!) that I felt I should write down some of what he had to say.

  • The earth provides all things.
  • Be cool with the nature. Look at the nature.
  • Keep the whole world inside you, and you will be happy anywhere.
  • Novels, TV, Movies - all these things are Distraction, Diversion, Deception. They are not freedom.
  • Meditate everyday.
I'm sure it all sounded a lot more profound when he said it, but they are the major principles I remember from our conversations. And I'm not going to convert to Sikhism and run off to India. At least not yet. But I am going to make more of an effort to find yoga classes more often again. It will all be easier when I finally get to Montreal and start setting up my life again.

I must be in a particularly philosophical frame of mind lately, as I also noticed this in the PD James book I'm currently reading:

'You couldn't exorcise the past either by returning to it or by running away. You couldn't resolve to put it out of your mind and memory because it had made you what you were. It had to be remembered, thought about, accepted, perhaps even given thanks for, since it had taught her how to survive." (A Certain Justice)

I like the idea that everything that happens to you, the good and the bad, becomes a part of you, and you have to accept it as a part of you, and value everything because it is a part of you.

Anyway, I realise this is not the promised post about my recent adventures. I'll get there. Really I will. And I'll even try to upload some photos. Soon!

Monday, October 29

Change of Plan

I think I've decided I prefer smaller towns. Cities are too much trouble. I also really enjoyed Moose Jaw, and could have hung out there longer than the few hours I was there, except I'd promised my hitchhiker I'd take him all the way to Winnipeg. He was happy to hang around, but I felt I should get on the road at some point - especially as he'd offered to buy my lunch in the next town! I've had good experiences in small towns, whereas cities mean enforced parking restrictions, navigation problems (you don't really need a map when a town only has 3 streets...) people who get annoyed about you parking outside their house, and way too many choices of everything - you have to decide if this laundromat/auto repair shop/supermarket/whatever is the one you should go to, whereas in small towns, it's probably the only one! And in cities you can't find anything, because you have to know where it is, and you can't just drive up and down all the streets because there are too many of them. So right now I have to wash clothes and I'm thinking I'll get an oil change and tune up somewhere. But I'll wait til I'm not in Winnipeg because here I'd have to do research first. In a small town, I'll just turn up at the first auto parts store or something that I see, and ask where I should go! And then maybe meet some locals and get decent advice and all that sort of thing. People have more time in small towns, I think.

So maybe I'll stay in Canada to go to Montreal, and see the small towns along the rest of the Trans-Canada highway. the big cities of the US feel a little daunting, not to mention dull, at the moment, anyway.

Friday, October 26

Reasons I could live in Winnipeg

  • FTW Collegiate (a monthly present-a-topic gathering)
  • The Bike Dump
  • A small flat city perfect for bike riding, except for the couple of months a year it freezes...
  • Friendly people and an active alternative community
  • Cheap for cost of living
  • A good number of francophones, and a whole French Quarter
  • Pretty sunsets

Of course, there are a few negatives: those months of the year when it gets to -40, for a start. Then the months in summer when it gets to +40 degrees. And I'm told it's really hard to find ESL work here!

Thursday, October 25

T-Shirt Weather

I would just like to point out that I am sitting here, at 5pm, in Winnipeg, in late October, wearing a t-shirt. And with all my van doors and windows open. It's 20 degrees here today. I was getting frostbite* the night before last, and now it's t-shirt weather.

*I didn't really get frostbite, but I did get the impression that I need better gloves. In fact, i need mittens.

Trois timbres, s'il vous plait.

I had my first canadian-french conversation in today. Well, transaction, rather than conversation...

As I've moved east, the percentage of french in the environment has steadily increased. In Vancouver, if you heard french on the street, the people speaking it looked like tourists. In Canmore, I heard bunches of kids loitering around town after school speaking french. In Winnipeg, there is a whole suburb, St. Boniface, that is the French Quarter. And when I crossed the river into St Boniface today, it was quite a noticeable shift. I wasn't there long, but I stopped at the post office to get some stamps, and got to eavesdrop on the previous person's conversation - all in french. So when I stepped up to order my stamps, I did it in french. Now, it was a conversation I think we probably learnt in grade 9 french class, but none the less, it was my first transaction in canada conducted entirely in French. It was very exciting. Really.
And then I went to a bookstore that apparently only sold french books. I got quite excited, but prevented myself from buying anything because a) they cost money, of course, and b) just because it's the first francophone bookstore I've seen here, doesn't mean it will be the last. There is time, and I haven't read all the books I already have here!

Wednesday, October 24


I arrived in Winnipeg early Monday afternoon. I had no idea where I was going - I had an address for my friend, but it wasn't somewhere I could stay, just somewhere I would have to be at some point collect a parcel I had posted from australia. And I had no idea how to get there. So I stopped at a thrift store, just for something to do, and spent $5 on some woolen leggings, an italian espresso pot (I'd looked for one in every thrift store for about 2 months so I was very happy to find one!) and an extra spoon. And asked for a map and directions. Which didn't help much. So then I drove around more or less randomly, sort of looking for net access somewhere, anywhere, and stumbled across a library, which was great, until I discovered that their wifi access had to be paid for by credit card, which is silly. But there were free computer terminals there I could use for free (cos obviously using their computers costs them less than using my own? Go figure.) So I got oriented, and then got a phone call from Ken, one of the people I vaguely know here (thanks to queeruption) who told me about The Bike Dump - a bike collective who happened to have a workshop time that night. This meant I could get my bike fixed! As the offroading I did in Canmore sort of wrecked my dodgy rear axle. So, with guidance, I got to fix my own axle, for free, (and learn how!) as well as meet some interesting people and learn lots about the interesting things in Winnipeg. And they told me how to get to the Walmart, which solved the 'where can I park tonight' problem. Walmart may not be the coolest place in town to hang out, but they let you park overnight unmolested, and have bathrooms. And they sell things I needed like engine oil and an power inverter that will allow me to run my laptop off the Battery of The Beast. Which will be nice!

And then yesterday, Ken and I I went to Mondragon, an anarchist collective cafe and bookstore - every town should have one! - for dinner and ended up chatting all evening there and then at a bar after they closed, to a varied group of interesting characters, one of whom invited me to park in her driveway, which even has a power outlet that allows me to sit here in my van and 'borrow' some wifi...
So, so far, I rather like Winnipeg!

And this is me, right now, in The Beast, sitting in the sun coming in the window, wrapped in the wonderfullest warmest ugliest doona and absorbing all the intermittent internet I can!

Sunday, October 21

From Moose Jaw

So I left Canmore, got to Calgary, spent a total of 2 hours there - partly because I had 2 hours free parking, and partly because that seemed long enough. It's just a city. There's a nice park on an island in the river though, and I spent most of my 2 hours there lying on the grass in the sun. It was so nice in the sun, and the temperature must have reached at least 17 degrees, which is about as warm as I've been in a week or two!
I left Calgary and drove as far as a rest stop near Brooks where I stopped for the night. It was a fun drive - the prairies start at about Calgary, so the mountains vanished and there was a whole lot of nothingness. Gently rolling hills, if you're lucky, and grass and cows and that's about it. It's pretty though, and the sky is very big. There were lots of real Canadian experiences to be had on the way: as I was leaving the mountains there was a whole herd of Elk or something grazing on the side of the road. And there are regularly signs to say watch out for Elk, Deer or Antelope on the road. I haven't seen a moose yet though. I did have to dodge some tumbleweed on one stretch of highway - yes! real-life tumbleweed! I'd never seen it in real life before. Parked at the rest stop there was very little to shelter my van from the wind, which was fierce for most of the night, and brought the sound of what I'm told were Coyotes howling in the night, which was pretty amazing.
And the temperature was a few degrees below zero when I woke up in the morning, which was less amazing, as my van is unheated (except when the engine's running). I refilled my hot water bottle and decided to spend a few more hours under my slightly inadequate sleeping bag. And determined to buy more bedding at the next thrift store I found.
I was in Medicine Hat soon after lunch, and found a Salvation Army store that sold me the world's ugliest floral-and-frills doona for a huge $3. It's damn ugly, but incredibly warm, and queen sized, so I thing I will never be cold at night again. Certainly I was a lot warmer last night - too warm, in fact! I'll have to pack up my sleeping bag, I think!
Leaving Medicine Hat I also picked up another Quebecois hitchhiker and his great big (and well-behaved) dog, who are planning to stay with me til Winnipeg. He even gave me some money for gas, which is really nice! I felt a bit sorry for him sleeping outside last night, but it's not like my van was much warmer!

I'm now in Moose Jaw, which is just a wonderful name for a town, even in this area. Nothing was open, so we found this cafe and I've spent an hour and a half doing internet. It's probably time to go explore now! Al Capone lived here, so there's some kitsch tourist things to do/see!

Winnipeg next...

Friday, October 19

New photos on Flickr

And now Canmore

So I left Hope, drove and drove and drove until late that night, and got to Salmon Arm. (Yes, they have interesting names of towns around here.) I stayed a night in a carpark of a 'beach' on a lake and then set off early the next morning in the pouring rain for Canmore. My friend - and QUT lecturer - Debra moved to Canmore on Monday, so I've been here crashing at the hotel suite she's rented for the first few months here until she finds a permanent place. It's very swish. At least by my standards, and staying in a comfy bed with heating is rather nice given that the temps outside are getting a little negative at night. And it's snowing up in the mountains. I can sit here in the living room and watch it!
In the first town outside Salmon Arm, I picked up a couple of Quebecois hitchhikers - and their small kitten, whose name was, strangely enough, Hope. I quickly discovered that I'm going to have some major problems in Quebec understanding the local lingo. I really thought I spoke french, but these guys were rather hard to understand, and we switched to english, when they spoke, which wasn't that often, as they both pretty much fell asleep.
We'd been going an hour or two when we got to Revelstoke, where I had planned to stop and get gas, until I saw the prices - 20 cents more than the last place - but my van was rather insistent. In fact, 1 minute up the road past Revelstoke and my music started cutting out again. And then m indicators didn't work when I went to turn around. I though (again) 'Uh-Oh' and droke back to find the nearest repair shop. Turns out the cable to my battery from the alternator was broken. The part was delivered from the shop up the road in 10 minutes or so, but it turned out to be the wrong part, so we waited about an hour until the right one was delivered, installed and we could get back on the road. At least it gave me time to make breakfast. And it only cost $20, which was a little better than the$150 I spent on alternator and belts the previous day!

The rest of the day was uneventful. I dropped the hitchhikers and their kitten off in Banff, and finally got to Canmore, only a day and a half after I said I would.
Canmore has been lovely - it's surrounded by mountains (rocky ones, surprisingly enough) and the town has walking paths and tracks all through it, which I explored yesterday on my bike. Yes, I actually went mountain biking! Well, sort of. It was mostly dirt and gravel tracks, but it was definitely off road. I had joked that bits would probably fall off my bike if I took it offroad, so I tightened the loose bolts before I went. But a bit still did fall off, just as I was back in town after all my offroading. The back wheel. It didn't completely fall off, but it fell out of place and became unrideable. Turns out I need a new axle. It's sort of patched up for the moment, but I have to be careful with it - no offroading! and I'll look for a new axle or wheel in Calgary and Winnipeg - the didn't have the right one in either of the shops here.

Tomorrow I'm off to Calgary for the day, then I'll continue along the Trans-Can: Following the Only Road!

Monday, October 15


I'm in Hope. It's a tiny town about 180km from vancouver.
Yep. Day one, and I made it 180km. Not the 500 odd km I planned to go. When my music started switching on and off I wondered if my battery had given up. When my indicators failed to work, I thought 'oh dear'. One look at the first repair place I found (on a Sunday afternoon in a small town!) and he said 'go buy an alternator up the road there, and I'll put it in'.
Much adventure later - about which I will write when I'm not paying 10c a minute for internet, and I have a new alternator and have spent nearly 24 hours in this lovely town, being entertained and significantly assisted by a couple of nice locals.

Now... Back on the road.

And to Ryan, who drove me to get the new alternator from the next town and then solved all the problems required to replace it, and to whom I gave this blog address, but whose contact I completely failed to get: Thanks for everything! And send me an email sometime :)

EDIT: Here's a pic of my mechanics in shining armour, just for proof. It ended up being the only one I took of them!

Sunday, October 14

Leaving Vancouver Today

Today The Beast and I are setting off towards the Rocky Mountains, and then Canmore, and then, eventually, Montreal. It's only 4000km...
And Vancouver has decided to give me a fantastic sunny day to leave. More of these days in the last 3 weeks, and I might not have ever left! But as it is, I'm glad to be finally back on the road again - almost. I'd better go continue packing up!

Friday, October 12

From the Belly of the Beast

Yes, that's right, this is my very first post written from the relative comfort of my own bed inside The Beast. I know I've written lots of posts since I bought my van, but I haven't been able to use my computer inside until this week, when I connected to AC power for the first time. Despite the mental images I had before I plugged in the cord, the van didn't start glowing blue or become completely electrified (it was a completely untested system!) but everything worked fine and I can now run my electric space heater, which makes a BIG difference to the comfort levels, and my laptop, which I will get around to buying a new battery for one day, I promise.
Of course I'm also indebted to the crazyfool who is 'letting' me use his/her unsecured wifi connection. I don't mean to be rude calling the person a crazyfool - it's actually the name of the connection...
So while I'm here, briefly, I'm still in Vancouver, still working, at least until tomorrow, and it's still raining, mostly, although it's supposed to not quite rain for the next few days. Which is nice, because I'm leaving here on Sunday, and once I'm on the other side of the rockies, it shouldn't rain so much. So hopefully I won't have to swim around my van again. (I should point out that my van doesn't leak, but when the humidity is 100%, and you have no heating, it gets pretty damp. And the condensation here is phenomenal!)
More posts sometime soon, when I can drag myself away from *finally* watching series 6 of scrubs... Ah, I like AC power sometimes...

Saturday, September 22

A Week in Vancouver

So tomorrow marks the end of my first week back in Vancouver. So far, I have:

  • hung out with Emma Vardy-Bragg, who's just arrived here and started a year of exchange at the University of British Columbia and some of her new friends, including an outing (in The Beast!) to Deep Cove:
  • found a range of places to park my van on a regular basis, ranging from someone's driveway, to on a street not far from some other van-dwellers, who have so far been very useful, to outside Emma's college residence:
  • been to few job interviews, including one with a middle-aged Korean businessman who took one look at me and I knew I wasn't getting the job, and a couple for schools that I would probably really love to work for, but would feel really terrible leaving after only a month.
  • been offered a week's trial for a job that I'm terribly afraid I might enjoy so much I won't want to leave (I *will* get to Montreal...), but the director says it's fine if I leave anytime, as long as I give a bit of notice!
  • discovered a way to get free gym access (and showers!) for at least a few weeks,
  • Perfected the art of peeing in a jar
  • spent $10 on a down jacket in a thrift store (it's getting cold already!) as well as about $4 on a jumper, a long-sleeved t-shirt, some maps, a postcard and a hot water bottle (have I mentioned that I love thrift stores?)
  • Spent an evening on Wreck Beach out at UBC with Emma and her friends, sitting around a fire and singing.
Well, Emma and I were singing. And then random other people gatecrashed our fire and scared Emma's friends away, but the two of us were there for many more hours, hanging out with the local homeless bums and other interesting beach characters, and, of course, singing! And playing the guitar that I am currently looking after for Antonia. It's going to be hard to give back. I'm considering buying either a 1/4 size steele string I've seen for $50, or, one of those tiny accordions, which I would then have to learn to play. But it's only $30, and more portable. Very tempting...
And then, today, I did almost nothing. It's been raining all day, pretty much, so apart from find the nearest source of water to my van, and come up to this cafe for wifi, I've hung out in my van, read all the free papers I've been collecting (I had quite a collection) and generally relaxed and chilled out.
And now I'm going to buy some things from a little natural-foods supermarket I pass on my way home, and then eat the leftovers from yesterday's pasta that I made, then maybe watch some vodcasts before bed. I have JTV or The Chaser on my ipod, which should be good. Or practice the guitar, or tidy & clean inside my van. We'll see!

Friday, September 21

Bellingham to Vancouver

I wanted to stop in Bellingham to visit Danny, a crust punk queeruptor and baroque music virtuoso (it's a great combination!). I ended up having a great two days hanging out there. It's a lovely little university town, and felt very relaxed. We played chess in a coffee shop that gave us free refills, went to another food bank and made a huge delicious meal, found me a second-hand copy of the Pump up the Volume soundtrack (but I'm still looking for Stereo Total!), sat down by the water at night, watched The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy film, and generally hung out.
It was a very relaxing and pleasant two days. And I learnt a new verb: Spange. It means to busk, or ask for spare change. (Busking with Baroque recorder pieces is Danny's main source of income at the moment, at least until uni goes back at the end of the month.)

And then I set off for the hour or so's drive to Vancouver. It would be an hour, if it weren't for the border crossing, which can take a while.
I was lucky, although I had to wait in a long line of cars for about 30 mins, the actual crossing was quick and trouble free. I didn't even have to get out of my car. Given the stories I had heard of vehicle searches (I have a lot of vehicle to search) and delays, I was quite pleasantly surprised. He just asked a few basic questions, including 'Are you bringing anything into Canada?'. I had to point out that I was bringing everything I owned into Canada, and was he looking for anything in particular?! But as I didn't have weapons (do kitchen knives count? I didn't think of that!), tobacco, alcohol or C$10 000 (unfortunately) there wasn't any problem.

Thursday, September 20

The Puyallup Fair

While in Seattle, I discovered that my friend Brandon, whom I met in Berlin many years ago, just happened to be visiting his family 45 mins south of Seattle in Puyallup (not pull-you-up, which is how I keep wanting to say it, but pu-aaah-lup). And the famous Puyallup fair was on.
So I headed down there to experience another bit of America. I was quite excited to be going to a proper fair, complete with rides and 'cotton candy' and cows and prizewinning quilts and vegetables and giant pumpkins! I really wanted to see a giant pumpkin, and I wasn't disappointed!
There were also these Produce Dioramas, which I found rather amusing:
Brandon's a film maker and does some photography, so his motivation in going to the fair was to get stock footage he could use later, and to take photos. And, of course, for the nostalgia of it all. As I was also there as an observer, and am always doing the photography thing, we both felt a little disconnected and outside it all, I think. We didn't go on any rides, or play any sideshow games or anything like that. But we did eat some crappy fair food. I can't believe that a sausage covered in batter here is called a Krusty Pup. I thought the Australian Dagwood Dog was a bad name!

And, of course, we took lots of photos!
I had a fantastic time. It was great to hang out with someone I'd known more than a month!
And, as Antonia had decided to head straight for Vancouver instead of coming with me, it was also the first time I'd been travelling in my van on my own, which was initially daunting, but actually really nice. It does effectively double my fuel costs, of course, but Puyallup to Vancouver isn't far, so it wasn't too bad.

Many more pics on flickr, as per usual.

Tuesday, September 18

The Seattle Library, and other highlights

I spent a lot of time in the library in Seattle.

It's the most amazing and practical piece of public architecture I've ever seen, and I almost wish I had decided to be homeless in Seattle instead of Vancouver & Montreal, just so I could sit in the library there all day and explore and read and use the internet and go to the talks and do the tours and everything.

I also went to SAM - the Seattle Art Museum. The entry fee was rather a lot, but for some reason, and I'm not sure why, the guard at the entrance to the galleries was very nice to me and let me in without a ticket, telling me to be sure to put some money in the donations box on my way out instead. It's just as well, as I realised later that I only had $2 in my wallet! I put them in the donations box though. And I'm sort of glad I didn't pay the full $13 or whatever it was, as, after the MOMA SF and all the other fantastic art galleries I've seen in the last year or so, it wasn't brilliant. I rather liked the Huge silhouette of a worker outside it though.
I also explored the Pike Place Public Market, which is Seattle's most famous market. I had heard it was a sort of fish market, but I could only find 2 stalls selling fish. They seemed to be famous for throwing the fish about and yelling a lot, however. People were standing around taking pictures, and you could buy t-shirts that said 'Fish Can Fly at Pike Place Markets'. I didn't buy any fish.

Pike Place is also famous for the Original Starbucks coffee shop. I didn't go in. I just walked past.

Sunday, September 9

Portland and Seattle

Portland was a lovely place to hang out for a few days, thanks to the lovely Shea and her housemates, and to Pike from SF, who helped keep us entertained for the whole time we were were there. Apart from the stereo total concert, I also went to a mid-week club night for some ass-shakin', (translation: dancing. I'm learning the local lingo, you see), went to 'First Thursday', when a lot of the little galleries in town open up and have exhibition openings or little shows or whatever, hung out in the Black Cat cafe in Alberta St for the free wi-fi and lovely iced coffee and bagels, went to the largest new & secondhand bookstore I think I've ever seen, and *still* didn't buy anything, rode around Chinatown and other bits of the city just to look, and made good use of Shea's professional skills as a piercer.
Yep. It's 9 years since I got my tongue pierced, so it was obviously time for some more holes in my body. So I got 2 new ones. But more about that later. I might even post photos when they've healed a little...
Random pic of hanging out in Portland, on one of their great steel girder bridges:

Friday night we drove to Seattle - the plan to stop in Olympia was cancelled when we accidentally missed the exit, and it was 9pm or something by then anyway. Staying outside Lindsey & Ash's place here, and they are also wonderfully welcoming, helpful people. Yesterday, by coincidence, Shea was coming to Seattle for a couple of hours to collect a friend, so the whole bunch of us went for a picnic in a park, which was lovely. And the food was all courtesy of a food bank that we visited in the morning. The food bank seems a wonderful thing in this city - it's like organised dumpstering. Shops and other food places donate the food that they can't sell, usually because it is past the sell-by date, but not past the use-by date, and anyone can come once a week (you have to register so they know who's been already that week) and take stuff for free. There are good and bad things, but when a lot of the good stuff, particularly in the 'vegetarian' section, is supplied by a natural foods deli of some sort, so we got artichoke salad and pesto and dips and all sorts of wonderful fancy things. And about half a kilo of macadamia nut pieces each! I think it's the bottom of a bulk lot, so it's sort of crushed nuts, but that's just perfect for sprinkling on my morning porridge, or for baking with bananas and cinnamon sugar, or for just eating with a spoon... Anyway, all this made for a wonderful - and free - picnic lunch. Thankyou Seattle!

And now I'm sitting in the rather wonderful Central Library, about which I had heard so much. Actually, I've heard a lot about a lot of Seattle, thanks to my regular reading of The Stranger. It's great to be able to explore it in person. Not to mention actually do some of the great things that get mentioned in it. Last night I went to 'LSD and other Drug Scare Films', which was a very entertaining way to spend an hour or two! And I picked up a paper copy of the newspaper I had only ever seen online. It was exciting. At least, I thought so!

So now I'm going to go now and explore more of this wonderful bit of public architecture. There's a book spiral here, where all the books are on one giant sloping floor that goes around 4 times - non-stop books!