Woo July 4th. Not a huge deal in Canada. Saw one girl in an American Flag outfit, and when I asked if she was American she said naw, it was just the occasion.
It was another day with a lot of driving. I expect I'll be saying that a lot as I make my way through central Canada and the "flyover
My first stop was the maritime museum in Selkirk, covering a lot of the history around Lake Winnipeg. I wandered around the ships for a short time, but they were all fairly modern and most of the history was within the last 80 years. Not my preferred era for maritime history, and definitely not my preferred region.
Drove up to Winnipeg Beach and relaxed for a while. I went swimming as much as I could do, since the water was REALLY shallow and only came up to my knees for a quarter mile or so. It was still fun to walk around the lake and see the tiny fish swimming around my ankles.
Relaxed on the beach and read a while. I think I'm gonna try to take it easy for the rest of the trip, and not push myself as hard to see everything. My FOMO is diminishing, and that feels like a good thing.
Got dinner at a pub called Ship and Plough in Gimli, then walked around enjoying the waterside. There was a lot of Icelandic history to learn about in the visitors center, with viking landmarks and statues strewn about the small town.
My evening drive led me through a beautiful patchwork of canola farms, all in bloom with brilliant carpets of canary yellow that spread beyond the horizon. There might have been a hundred small lakes all dotting the farmlands, creating a striking spotted pattern of blue among the neat rows of yellow.
Its a huge contrast to the larger mountains and dense forests of Ontario.
Day 26 - July 5
Welp, that was it for Manitoba! The province is narrow near the border, and there wasn't much I wanted to do besides visit the lake, so it felt good to move on.
After five more hours of farmland driving, I'm already sick of the landscape. I get it. Its pretty. Please give me something new.
The main stop in Saskatchewan for me was at a mineral spring an hour or two before Saskatoon. in my continued efforts to take things slow, I parked at Manitou Beach for most of the day. I splurged on a one hour massage, getting a lot of the kinks out of my neck and back from driving for hours and sleeping in the car for weeks. That combined with a few hours of floating in the hot mineral pool, really did me a lot of good.
It was soooooooo amazing to relax and just float around in the water for a while. The last time I went to a mineral spring, my hair was super long and it weighed down my head. This time my head floated just as nicely as the rest of me, and I was able to let my arms drift aimlessly to my sides.
Afterwards I showered (yay a shower!) and walked around the hotel and main crawl. Instead of bar hopping, I stopped in a small dive-y place and enjoyed a few drinks while reading my book. A few girls came in to plan a spot for their bachelorette party, and I got randomly invited. Decided I didn't want to spend my evening around a group of screaming girls, however, and made my departure before sundown.
Definitely went far over budget today... will have to worry about that later.
Day 27 - July 6
Stayed in Saskatoon last night, but didn't linger for anything in the city. Instead I went south to a cute breakfast spot called the Berry Barn to have waffles with local Saskatoon berries. It was a nice outdoor meal on the edge of a river, and I took my time. Walked around their garden center afterwards just enjoying the plantlife.
The next stop was a feature called "The Crooked Bush" - a copse of strangely twisted trees in the middle of flatland. It was an unusual stop, and a little far off the beaten path. Still, the drive was nice, and I was able to finally finish all my Harry Potter audiobooks. I had been due for a re-"read."
Saskatchewan was also a bit narrow without much to do, so I continued to Edmonton, Alberta for the night. I can finally see the hint of mountains on the horizon, again!
I started the evening by going straight to the mall. It was closing in a few hours, but I walked around and looked for a spot to grab dinner. Found a Sherlock themed pub and relaxed there for a while, then took off to find a Walmart for the night.
Day 28- July 7
This mall is freaking crazy. There is a hockey rink, a petting zoo, an amusement park with several rides, an indoor "pool" that simulates the ocean with waves and everything, plus waterslides on the side, and an area with a giant pirate ship and seal performance. Yes, a seal will come out and do tricks. Plus plenty of other things I'm sure I'm forgetting, I'm sure.
I met up with an old WoW friend for a late breakfast and caught up. Mostly we reminisced about old times, occasionally talking about games we're currently playing. We walked around the mall a while, trying to find me new shoes (since my current ones are really worn out). No luck, but it was fun hanging out in real life, even if the mall was starting to get to me. It was hella crowded, and I started feeling anxious to leave.
I took off and found a little dive bar for dinner, then drove the three hours to Calgary for the night. Calgary was described as "Texas in Canada" but it really just looked like a terrifying sprawling suburb. Luckily tomorrow's activities will be more rural.
Day 29 - July 8
Okay first stop had to be an oil change. I was a few *cough*thousand*cough* miles over when I should have gotten it changed last, so it felt like the right thing to do.
My second stop for the day was at a train-themed tourist stop called Aspen Crossing. It was mostly children's activities, but I had lunch in a renovated old train car and walked around the tracks looking at the old trains.
Since I was in the area, I had to stop at a town called Vulcan. Originally named after the god, its now a destination point for Trekkies. Luckily for my social threshold, I arrived a few weeks before the major convention, and enjoyed the visitors center. Bought a little magnet of Jadzia Dax cause bae.
The ultimate stop I was looking forward to was Dinosaur Provincial Park in the badlands. It was a breathtaking area to hike through, full of amazing rock formations and archaeological points of interest. I spent several hours exploring the layered almost-mesas and marveling at the paths carved out by rainfall. Definitely would have loved more time there.
Day 30 - July 9
I spent the morning exploring some of the smaller towns in the area, grabbing lunch at a kitschy saloon in an old ghost town. It was an interesting bar, covered in taxidermy and old licence plates. The town had very stereotypically been a mining town, and it shut down shortly after the mine closed.
Drumheller was the best place to stop for the more touristy side of the badlands. Gift shops and dinosaur statues were everywhere. There were also quite a few museums and other dinosaur-related activities, such as a "dig up your own fossil" sand park for kids. I didn't make time for any of the museums, sadly, but I did stop at the badlands amphitheater. That was phenomenal! It was really slow so the lady at the front personally showed me around after I mentioned my interest in theater. I got to see the backstage area, costume department, and rehearsal stage. Truly a remarkable theater, and one I'd love to return to for a performance.
After that I backtracked a bit through Calgary, then proceeded to the rocky mountains. The terrain went from badlands, to farmland, to suburbs, to spruce forest, to mountains. It felt like clear lines of delimitation each time
If I thought the Rockies in the US were huge, I was wrong. In Canada they're gigantic. You feel so tiny when passing through them. Like a child sneaking behind the counter of an ice cream shop - just to be there, and not because you can actually reach any of the ice cream. I was in giant's country; where humans aren't supposed to go.
I stopped in Banff for a small meal and walked around the art galleries. There was a textiles store I was proud of myself for not buying anything in, and it was nice appreciating the quilts on display. Picked up some nice chocolates at a candy shop, instead. Then spent the rest of the evening enjoying the fresh air and conifer trees as I lazily strolled through the town.
That night I had to backtrack a bit for a grocery store, but I was in luck. I found a genuine caravaning spot! It was full of hippies in their cars, vans, and tiny trailers. I parked next to a gay couple from Quebec who had their tent on top of their jeep. They also had a golden retriever I was all-too happy to keep an eye on while they ran to the store. It was very much a Burning Man environment, where music was playing from every other vehicle, folks were cooking food while sitting in their trunks, and everyone strolled by to offer their extra food, booze, or pot. I settled for having one of my own gummies, then walked around and met a few neighbors. Once it started kicking in, I relaxed in my trunk for a while just knitting, happily chatting with anyone who wanted to swing by.
It was such a comfortable environment. Really made me miss the desert.
Day 31 - July 10
The area we were in didn't allow parking between 7am and 9am, so it ended up being an early morning. One by one engines started up and people began filing out; some quietly and some waving while hollering their well-wishes to those they met the night before.
I passed back through Banff and continued on to Lake Louise. Stopped at a little cafe for a coffee and explored the shopping center to look at local crafts. Paused for a while at the visitors center before proceeding to the lake. It was so crowded! There wasn't any parking at the lake itself, so I had to drive a bit out of the way to a shuttle area. Then the wait for the shuttle was a full hour -_-
I got some knitting done in the meantime, so that was nice. And by the time I got there, it absolutely felt worth it. The water was an aqua blue-green, and as still as ice. It had been raining that morning so everything felt fresh and clean, and very peaceful once you lose sight of the throng for a bit. I walked the edge of the lake a while, ducking into the forest for an hour or so, knowing I didn't have much time for a full hike. Instead I spent a bit more time relaxing at the fancy hotel cafe, having a local craft beer and chatting happily with the bartender about shitty tourists. Ironic, I know.
That pretty much took up the full day, so after lingering once again at the lake for a moment, I took the shuttle back down to my car. The drive through the rest of Banff park was lovely, and I mostly played music while keeping the windows down.
With great regret, I made my way through to the other side of the Rockies, and parked at a small town in British Columbia for the night.
The last province I'll be visiting.
Day 32 - July 11
Holy shit gas is expensive here. It's like 30 more cents per liter.
Its fine though. I paid for what was to be my last tank of gas in Canada, and continued on my way to Vancouver. First stop - Botanical Gardens! I never get tired of city gardens :)
Another lovely scene to walk around for a few hours. I could go on about the variety of trees and flowers, and my excitement at seeing California poppies again, but the real feature was the hedge maze. Its a fairly complex hedge maze that was a TON of fun to navigate through. It was also greatly enhanced by a summer camp group running about it, screaming for their lost friends and playing "avoid the monster" games. I spent way too much time just at the maze, watching tired camp counselors and excited post-lunch children just being children.
Took a break for some tasty sushi, some thrift shopping in a continued attempt to find more boots (which failed), and drove to the Bloedel Conservatory. Its an amazing little biodome full of exotic birds that just fly around freely. It reminded me a lot of the butterfly conservatory in Lowell. Only this one had more children trying to Disney-princess the birds onto their hands or fingers. Very cute to watch, and worth a good hour for the visit.
Then it was time for a semi-famous tiki bar called the Shameful Tiki Room (which, interestingly enough, has a Toronto location that I missed). Every time someone ordered a fancy group drink, it started the simulation for a thunder storm. It was dimly lit and kept cozy for a tropical environment. Very enjoyable!
Finally, it was time for an early night. I splurged on an airbnb in the north end of Vancouver for a bed and shower. Took some time to relax and write a while.
In just a few days I'll be back in the states!
Day 33 - July 12
Started the morning with a nice brunch downtown! Went to the Jam Cafe first but the wait was about an hour for a Friday morning... so I found another place around the corner that was perfectly delicious and just right at 11am.
I explored Gastown a little, but there really wasn't much to do. Went to an ammonite jewelry store and drooled a while, but that's about it. Also, this city has a serious homeless problem. Its horrid! I haven't seen it this concentrated since Salinas, with tent cities and people filling the sidewalk. I know its a major city, but I always had a better impression of Canada than that. I must not have traveled through those areas in other parts of the country.
Walked down the waterfront for over an hour, making my way slowly to the Roedde House Museum. That was fascinating! It was an old Victorian home once owned by a bookbinder, made up to how it used to be when his family lived there. Lost of great furniture and incredible outfits.
I grabbed a Turkish pastry for breakfast tomorrow, then moved on to a nice seafood place for dinner. Hooray for happy hour! Had dollar oysters and a cheap glass of wine. Chatted with a local about what to see on Granville Island, since I'd be heading there later today. It sounds like a big touristy place, but there's a lot more art than I'd have expected!
Once I got there, it definitely felt like an artistic collective. Rows of unique artists had store fronts attached to their workshops, and most were working on their craft while an employee or fellow artist manned the counter. From glass blowers to wood carvers and all types of painting, it was a great place to walk around and explore. There was also a unique sake tasting room, distillery, and microbrewery. Naturally, I spent a bit of time in each one.
Then it was time for the original reason I went to Granville Island: Chris got me tickets to a Star Wars burlesque show! I was so blown away... Front row seats, too! The show itself was a blast. R2D2 was played by a cute girl on rollerskates and blue pigtails who said "beep boop" in various combinations to communicate. Her and C3P0 were constantly making out. Luke was a really squeemish dude who flinched at all the sexual content, while Obi-wan was a really hot guy with long hair filled with glitter, so that every time he "swooshed" it dramatically, a trail of sparkles was left behind. Darth Vader was a fantastic drag queen. The whole performance was incredible.
It was a perfect way to spend my last evening in Canada.
Day 34 - July 13
I started the morning in Stanley Park, enjoying the Pacific Ocean for the first time in years. Munching on the pastry I'd picked up the day before, I walked the waterline. This was my last morning in Canada. I wanted to make it count.
As it got closer to 11am, I made my way back into the city. The gaming tavern I'd found in Toronto had two branches out in Vancouver - one of them being the original location. So naturally I had to visit both. The Toronto location was called Storm Crow Manor, while the Vancouver ones were called the Storm Crow Alehouse and the Storm Crow Tavern. Very cute gimmik.
I got an early lunch at the alehouse, then jaunted to the tavern for a drink. If you get their Irish coffee you can purchase the mug for a little extra, and seeing as I've already earned the shot glass, I might as well have a mug too :)
It felt like a good final stop for the trip.
I tipped my server with the last of my change and made my way toward the border.
That's when things got awkward.
You see, I still had some of the gummies on me. Its legal in Canada, and legal in Washington, but I'd forgotten it was still illegal on a federal level. It didn't even cross my mind - especially after living in Massachusetts for so long and working at a place where one of my producers handed out jars of pot as a Christmas gift.
So when I got pulled over for a search (since my car was packed with moving stuff) I got nervous. They asked me to declare anything I had - so I did. A bottle of wine from Quebec, some leftover candy from who knows where, and the gummies. Then they proceeded to tear my car apart...
Meanwhile, I was brought into the immigration center for more questioning. Because of the gummies, there was some paperwork required. Trying not to panic, I was up front and honest about everything. Got searched by a very stern lady cop (if cop is the right title) who managed to give me a sympathetic look when she was done feeling me up.
Then I waited.
After an hour or so they called me up, and said I was free to go. That was it. No paperwork, nothing. The woman I spoke with had the aura of "yeah sorry this is all bullshit" and that really put me at ease. She said if I hadn't declared the gummies, it would have been a $500 fine. So they were confiscated and that was it. I'm pretty sure they also took some tea I bought in Montreal... Because as I'm writing this its a week later and I haven't been able to find it.
So that was an adventure.
My car was a mess. Everything had been tossed around and upended. I didn't bother to fix anything since I knew I'd be home that evening.
I drove a short way down the road, now in the US again. I pulled over at one point to fully close my hood (which they hadn't shut properly and had been rattling as I went down the highway) and have a nervous cry. Filled up my tank at a much cheaper rate than Canada, then proceeded on my way home.
I had to keep reminding myself to look at the mile portion of my dash, rather than the kilometer. It was strange making the adjustment back. I was also sad to find out that Carl's Jr discontinued my favorite Teriyaki burger, so I'll heave to learn how to make that one.
I made it home around 9PM that night. Hugged my parents, took a shower, and we spent the rest of the evening in pajamas watching the Overwatch Tournament together.
I look forward to spending many Saturday nights like this for the next several months.