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Monday, June 24, 2013


This year’s spring vacation to the Pacific Northwest started in Calgary. FYI, no airline will fly directly to Calgary; you have to kind of sneak up on it. We had a stopover at Salt Lake City, where we stocked up on a couple extra wives at the airport.

After a few delays we finally made it to Calgary, where we toured Prince’s Island Park and caught a birds-eye view of the city from the Calgary Tower, then had dinner and drinks at a nice sports bar, which is a total misnomer in Canada, since they only recognize ONE sport. There were approximately 200 TV screens there, all of which had the hockey game on, even though none were Canadian teams. It's amazing how much they can find to talk about in a 1-0 game.

The next morning we boarded the Rocky Mountaineer, the sightseeing train heading west to Vancouver. Through a lucky circumstance, we were literally upgraded to the upper seats of the car, with the domed plexiglass roof. As we wound our way through tunnels, bridges and outposts we took in views that you just can't fully appreciate any other way than by rail.

The majestic Rocky Mountains loomed in the distance, and soon we were chugging our way among them. We photographed a hundred beautiful panoramas of picturesque towns, mountain scenes and river valleys, each shot more gorges than the next.

Our tour guides instructed us to shout out when we saw any type of wildlife, and for a while things were so bleak that when somebody announced that there was a bee in the bathroom we all went down there with our cameras. But soon elk, osprey and eagle sightings were commonplace, and I thought I saw a black bear giving us the finger at one point.

We learned much about the history of First Passage to the West, and how difficult it was to finish the railroad that would open up trade and expansion, taking Canada from a series of fur trading posts to the series of larger fur trading posts that it now is. By the way if skunk fur ever becomes popular my house is sitting on a virtual gold mine.

We stopped overnight in Kamloops, which I never heard of, but I can tell you that whatever a Kamloop is, this place is hardly big enough for more than one. Meteorologically, it is a semi-arid desert, which means that it only rains when WE are there.

During the next day's leg of the journey it was announced that there would be a poetry contest. I figured I was a shoo-in, since I am a sensitive and subtle individual. To me poetry is a perfect art form, like jazz, where you can do whatever the hell you want and get away with it. Where else can you write some A-hole thing like, "A rose is a rose is a rose," and people think you're a frigging genius? So to make a long poem short, I won, even though I had to restrain myself from starting the poem, "There once was a lady from Dallas...."

In Vancouver, where it is extremely difficult to tell which people are the homeless and which people are simply eccentric people with no place to live and nothing to do, we took advantage of the compact downtown area to walk everywhere we wanted to go. We toured the famous Granville Island Market, with its myriad stalls and crafts shops. You hardly need a map there to get around; just close your eyes and let your nose act as your GPS. Mine directed me past the fresh fish (REALLY fresh- one tried to pinch me on the ass), through the cheese aisle (where I immediately embarrassed the guy who cuts the cheese), the florist and finally to the chocolatier! My nose is no idiot, although I did bump into three other noses headed in the same direction.

Later, we strolled through Chinatown to find a spot for dinner, even though it was past 10. Nothing was open so we asked a big, burly delivery guy where a good restaurant was. He told us to walk as fast as we could in the opposite direction- this area is “brutal!”

We took in the Eli Young Band at the Vogue theater- a good young band who has come a long way in a short time. “Follow your dreams,” Mike Eli said to the young audience who stood up for the whole performance. I would add: unless it’s the one where I fall out of the bed.

Incidentally, Chinatown in Vancouver was originally settled by railroad workers imported from California. The Canada Pacific Railroad needed 10,000 workers to complete the construction of the line, much more than the early populations of British Columbia could provide. They made a dollar a day for their toil, but it was many times more than they would have earned in their homeland. As many as a third did not live to return to China, succumbing to disease, explosives or simply the rigors of the job. The Vancouver Chinatown is considered the second largest Chinatown in North America, smaller only than New York’s. This estimation is based on population rather than height.