Beach Strip parkrun, Hamilton, ON

Beach Strip parkrun route
Beach Strip parkrun route – South, then North.

Canada Day, 1st July, as I continue to tour National holidays – only this one and the National Day of Sweden deliberately, the others in Europe were almost all a surprise. It is no coincidence that I have been to both those National Days – they both have extra, bonus parkruns. Sweden was an easy one for me, since I was in Europe anyway. Canada a bonus, making sense only because I was booking to go to Panama late, flights were expensive and fiddly, while going via Canada allows me two direct flights and some bonus overseas parkruns.

Beach Strip parkrun is a straightforward out-and-back run along the shore of Lake Ontario. It is fast, along a wide tarmacced route, well-used by other runners, walkers and cyclists, with plenty of room (but check over your shoulder when turning, or if attempting to follow the racing line). It’s also not perfectly flat, with one very short but slightly cruel bump just before the turn. It really isn’t a hill. It really is noticeable.

Canada (plenty) and parkrun (1) flags flying at the start area
Beach Strip start and finish area.

Since I am now entirely blasé about getting to new runs, and usually stay nearby, I had glanced at the map, noticed it was about 10km to the start from Hamilton downtown, and left it at that. When I arrived in Canada last night, slightly less fit and more injured than would make a 10k jog first thing ideal, I checked for buses to take me East – it should be possible to get one East, then one North, and get close to the start, but the trip planner was denying any knowledge (I should have used this Hamilton trip planner). I figured any jet lag would work in my favour to get me up in time to walk, the UK being 5 hours ahead, and so it was. Friendly fellow runners offered me several lifts back somewhere nearer to home after the run, and I gladly accepted.

Bridge over the freeway
Bridge over the freeway. The waterfront is not far away from here.

The moral is – it is walkable, but make sure you have time. And pick your line across the main road/water carefully (as ever, Maps.me chose a nicer, walkway route (Red Hill trail), than Google maps’ roads). My route is on Strava. There are also city bikes for hire, which would have been a nice way to travel early in the morning.

The views. Oh, the views. The lake glistened under morning sun, and stretched off to the horizon. Best to take them in before, or after, the run, as this is a good course to stretch your legs on, and any extra attention might be best used in checking for cyclists needing to pass. It’s easier to look out over the water on the back section of the route, when you can hug the right side of the path without straying while looking right.

Beach, rocks, then Lake Ontario stretches away
View over Lake Ontario.

The meeting point is just North of the Lakeview building, which has public toilets (they say they’re open at 8:30, but I was there at 7:30 and used them), at the 4600m marker on the trail. Don’t be worried if you see a standing sign saying “3.2km” with a walker icon and think you are a long way away – it’s close to that.

4600m painted on the tarmac
Start point here, benches used for setup, scanning, storage etc.

Today, with 45 participants, was the second-highest attendance so far. Compared to many events in well-established countries, that’s a low number, but it means you can chat to pretty much everyone, and makes for a lovely atmosphere. A couple of youngsters finished, grinning from ear to ear, and were fussed over. One dad really hadn’t expected his daughter to want to go further than the ice-cream shop en-route, but she finished, grinned, kept on grinning and looked like she could happily do it all again if necessary.

The volunteers were super friendly and welcoming, and coffee afterwards (I got a lift to get there – it isn’t on site) was social. I was happy talking academia with some Beach Strip regulars, though the conversation turned to firefighters, calendars and toplessness when some of the Nautical regulars joined us. I plan to join them on Saturday, so I’ll let you know if you should always expect comic conversation if you go.

Beach Strip group photo, volunteers, runners and flags
Beach Strip group photo.

Results from event 99, Beach Strip parkrun.

Amtrak from Vancouver to the US

I have done much of this trip before, riding from Bellingham down to Olympia, so had seen many of the views. New, though, was crossing the border, and riding the train from the dark into the sun rise.

Travellers need an ESTA and an I-94. The wikipedia page on visa requirements for UK citizens suggests an ESTA is needed if arriving by air or cruise ship, but you will be asked if you have one before being allowed to head to customs.

The train was due to leave at 6:35, so I (as suggested on the ticket) got to the station at 5:30, to go through customs. With the train less than half full, that was arguably too early, and the whole thing was a breeze. First Amtrak staff check your ticket, then a second line check your passport and ask if you have an ESTA. Then it is on – and this is before you get on the train – to US immigration, who do the usual checks. I wasn’t asked anywhere near as many questions as last time I crossed by land. But then, last time I wasn’t sure how long I was staying and had no ticket out. This time, although casual, one of the early questions was “what are you doing in the US?” and in reply, I said I was there for 6 days to do some running. Although that was more info than asked for, possibly my having said as much meant he didn’t feel the need to ask for more.

Watery view from the train
Watery view from the train.

I didn’t have to show any proof of my flight out of the US, nor did he ask about it. I did need my wits about me when it came to the I-94, though. It is only $6, and you can just pay that at the time. The website suggests you pay cash, but crossing via car, card payments were taken, and maybe the same is true here. You can, however, apply for a provisional I-94, paying online, and I’d done that. But he either didn’t check, or missed any automatic “wait! This person has paid!” notification. No harm done, I just said I had paid online, and showed my confirmation. Without the latter, though, I might have had to pay again. Plus when I said I had paid online, they assumed I meant the ESTA, poor confused tourist.

Sun rise, seen through the train
Sun rise, seen through the train.

It was easy, anyway. The train stops at the border for another check. There are warnings that you must be in your seat and not wearing headphones. Pay attention! There are enough officers that if they want to ask questions, they could, but on my carriage at least, they checked passports and moved on.

Sun rise in Washington
Sun rise in Washington.

The train rolled down the coast, right next to it much of the time. The sun rose just a little way into the journey, which was lovely. The views are at their best early on and when moving around Seattle, but it is a journey you could pass by staring out of the window.

Blurry view of the water
Blurry view of the water.

I even took better pictures as the time went by. The weather was entertaining. Bright and clear in Canada, thick fog once we were in the US, then that cleared, only to return a little later. So there might have been great views early on, too, though I am fairly sure the fog was sitting over farmland.

View over Puget Sound
View over Puget Sound.
Boat moving away from the train, WA
Boat moving away from the train, WA.

It is a lovely way to travel. If you want just to head to Seattle, Bolt Bus are cheaper, but I only paid $33, and that’s a pretty good bargain for a relaxed ride through the US countryside, and the best way to get to intermediate stops.

Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

I walked round most of Stanley Park. It is easy to disappear onto the trails in the middle, and find your way to a couple of lakes and plenty of tree life. Just try not to get stuck on the road at the top end – you can follow it for a while and not find lots of options to turn off onto trails.

Stanley Park is widely known to be a highlight of Vancouver, so I am not exactly breaking news by saying it is beautiful and popular. But it is so accessible from downtown, especially if you are staying nearby – the Westin Bayshore, for instance. I wasn’t, that’s a little out of my price range. But still, it is a great thing to have a beautiful big park so near to accommodation and everything else downtown Vancouver has to offer. Some pictures, for a flavour.

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Views of Vancouver, BC from its Bridges

I wandered happily through Vancouver’s downtown area, exploring the two main bridges over Granville island and into Kitsilano. The higher bridge, the Granville, I ran over, surprised at how indirect its progress is. That is to say, as you step onto it, you feel you are likely to be turned and be heading for the other side, but it isn’t obvious. I know I wasn’t the only one to wonder if my first steps were taking me on to the bridge, as I was stopped the other side by a girl who asked “Does this bridge go to Granville Island?”

I didn’t know where that was, but figured it did. Still, my answer that “It goes all the way to the other side,” was, on reflection, not as helpful as I had intended. She walked on, happy enough, though.

View from Granville bridge
View from Granville bridge.

It is also a bloody scary bridge. The pavement is only just two people wide to start with, the bridge rises high above the water, with a peak in the middle – which means you can’t see where it goes to. And there is no barrier from the traffic. I mean, it’s fine, but I didn’t love it.

Vancouver Harbour
Vancouver Harbour (okay, yes, not from a bridge).

The other bridge, the Burrard Street one, is great. Traffic, concrete barrier, cycle path, then a wide pavement. And it is lower. Perfect!

From Burrard Street bridge
From Burrard Street bridge.
Burrard Street bridge at night
Burrard Street bridge at night.

Vancouver in November varies its weather. It’s the Pacific Northwest, after all, so rain is a possibility much of the time. But it is almost certainly warmer than much of the rest of Canada, and for me, there was bright sunshine for much of the daytime hours.

Burrard Street bridge at night
Burrard Street bridge at night.

I feel I have soaked up Vancouver, despite only being there for 7-8 days, with stays in Richmond, Kitsilano, New Westminster and downtown. Recommendation? Do the lot, miss New Westminster and perhaps Richmond if you are tight on time. Though if you want to walk, bike or run, then get to Richmond and head round the coast – marvellous. For pretty flowers, Kitsilano in summer was wonderful.

Banff, Canada

It is kind of expected that when in Canada, you will go to the mountains, at least by many of the people whose paths I have crossed. Luckily my hosts in Calgary felt the same way, and thought nothing of driving us the 130-odd kilometres to Banff, to see the waterfall, some mountains and, as a bonus, take in the Banff Centre Mountain Film & Book festival.

View of Banff mountains from the road
View of Banff mountains from the road.

The mountains in the distance become almost commonplace on the drive, until you reach a dip and they disappear. Emerging from the dip, which must last longer than it feels, suddenly those mountains are no longer a background commonplace, but looming large in your vision.

We passed the ski resort of Kananaskis (not, I don’t think, pronounced Kanana-skis, though I am sure some cannot resist), gondolas and the like to the ready. Skiing is not cheap, but I am told the cheapest way is to get a pass just for this resort, which is also the closest to Calgary. Banff is next, then Lake Louise. Plenty of options. If you want a pass to everywhere, it’ll set you back around CAD $2,300.

Bow Falls viewpoint
Bow Falls viewpoint. Not viewing the falls.

We were happy with free entertainment, on a cool but not freezing day. About 1.5km walk from the centre is the Bow Falls viewpoint. The walk there is beautiful, through tall fir trees, along well maintained paths. And the spot itself is beautiful, too, with mountain views all around, and a small waterfall gushing away. To the left of my photos. Honestly, it’s just not the best waterfall ever, so I didn’t take a photo.

(Okay, actually I kind of forgot, but still – trust me, the mountains are the highlight.)

Me, proudly turning my back on the Bow Falls viewpoint
Me, proudly turning my back on the Bow Falls viewpoint.

Rikki was happy to take my photo, and I posed, trying to look serious.

View from the bridge, Banff
View from the bridge, Banff. Any way you turn, there is a view.

Having heard stories of playing golf beside the river and mountains, we strolled back into town. You wouldn’t believe it from the photos, but hidden behind the trees in many of these photos are various holes of the golf course. Much clearer on an aerial view.

View of Fairmont Springs hotel
View of Fairmont Springs hotel, from Surprise Point.

We could not work out what the surprise was at Surprise Point. We stopped there and were not surprised that the view was good, and the posh hotel looked posh.

Mountain views everywhere
Mountain views everywhere.
Surprise Point
Surprise Point.
Fairmont Springs hotel panorama
Fairmont Springs hotel panorama.

It is a beautiful town. We walked, we soaked up the views, we felt cold at Surprise Point as the day ended. We discovered there was free beer for the taking at the film festival, and went and had one, and then headed into one of the auditoriums as the sprawling (honestly, it’s massive) Banff Centre, and watched Dreamland, a film by Stanislaw Berbeka about his climbing father. I realised fairly early on that the bloke sat in front of us was Stanislaw, so let him off the fact that another bloke kept coming over to talk to him, and that he from time to time lit up his phone. It’s a faux pas, but when sitting nervously watching your own film, a forgivable one.

Dreamland, film at the Banff mountain book and film festival
Dreamland, film at the Banff mountain book and film festival.

The film was good, though I was a little lost in the Polish names for a while, forgetting who was family and who an old climbing buddy of his father. There was plenty of old footage, from the 80s and 90s, some of which was obvious, but sometimes the film cut to old footage without me spotting it, which made the story-telling a little jumpy. But I learnt more about Polish climbing in the Hindu Kush – first ascent over 8000m in Winter without oxygen, for a start – than I had known beforehand, and a book/film festival in a Winter resort has an atmosphere all its own.

Banff. Beautiful. Visit, if you get the chance. If you have the money, go and ski/snowboard etc. there. Me? I’m off to Vancouver. Whisper it, because I am claiming to be all happy to finally be in cold weather, but it’s warmer there.

Nose Hill parkrun, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

My ninth and final parkrun of this trip in Canada. I scooted ahead of the coldest weather, by pure luck. I left Edmonton in the snow, and with -9 predicted for Sunday. Calgary was not warm, but had a high of 10, by way of contrast.

I stayed with a fellow parkrun tourist, so had a lift to the run, and no transport or logistics to think about. Even better, it is only 20 minutes or so from downtown Calgary, so we didn’t have an early start. Luxury! Anyone thinking of heading here in October or November; Calgary weather is capricious, you might get snow, you might get sun and relative warmth. I settled for a temperature just above freezing and no snow.

Nose Hill parkrun route
Nose Hill parkrun route.

The chequered circle marks the finish and the meeting point, near the car park. The briefing is there, then everyone walks down the track to the start point, the green circle. From there the route is anti-clockwise, heading left at what will be the finish, then onto the lower loop, completing that twice, before heading up past the start to the finish.

Walking to the start
Walking to the start.
Runners waving at the start
Runners waving at the start.

This is a well-established run, with the 3rd Nov 2018 seeing the 110th running. The event team are slick, the course is well signed and everything works well. Everything except perhaps your lungs. Calgary is high above sea level, and the park higher still, at around 1000m, if I’ve remembered it right. Not as high as Aspen and Boulder, and I didn’t experience the same feeling of constriction across my chest, but still enough to (I hope) explain being a little slower here, and every kilometre being a little slower than the one before.

Heading down the hill
Heading down the hill.

That said, the topography also explains us slowing down (it was common among those I spoke to), as the start is downhill, the finish uphill, and the course itself undulates, with changing conditions underfoot making for a varied run. I found the ‘bottom’ stretch of the loop the toughest; ruts there are clear, but not flat underfoot, and despite running that stretch twice and choosing a different line each time, I never felt I had the best of it. It is also softer underfoot than the tarmac, which slowed me down a little.

The front pack
The front pack.

Not the easiest course, then, but one with plenty of space for parkrunners and other park users to share. The park itself is massive, as if Calgary had to provide a percentage of space as parkland and chose to do it all in one place. If you want a long warm up or cool down, this is a great place for it. It is pretty exposed, mind, so on a windy day you might fancy dropping out of the wind for respite.

My mate Rikki
My mate Rikki.
Finishing
Finishing. Note I haven’t reached for my watch yet – got to allow for the delay in pressing at the start.

Another lovely parkrun, and one where most of the runners seemed to end up in the cafe afterwards (easier when you have smaller fields than some of the larger events, of course), which added to the sense of conviviality. I’ll be sorry to miss out on a tenth Canadian parkrun next weekend, but who knows what the weather will be like by then? Canada will happily show you a huge temperature range, from -40 to +40, so pick the time of year you visit according to your preference, if you can.

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Canadians laughed at me when I said I would be in Edmonton at the end of October. The cold, you see. But I mostly got away with it – up to 8 degrees in the day, which isn’t too bad. It went all the way down to a chilly 2 today, mind, with snow forecast and -9 predicted for the weekend. I’ll be in Calgary by then, which is expected to be a bit warmer.

Edmonton has lovely waterfront trails
Edmonton has lovely waterfront trails.

The city itself seemed concrete and muted, to my eyes. Much of the infrastructure dates from concrete times – 70s? – with bridges and buildings in the centre that appear initially unlovely. But it grew on me. The city centre is all under one roof – it sprawls, but has been connected, so that those cold temperatures can be avoided for a while. If you don’t know it exists, mind you, it can make the main downtown area seem like the most unlovely service centre of the North American kind – come in, park here, eat here, now push off, there is nothing else for you here. That feeling is not helped by construction that has blocked some sidewalks, making walking the streets a bit challenging – that will improve with time. Once you find a door to the centre, though, you are in to a more pedestrian-friendly area.

View of the city, through a bridge
View of the city, through a bridge.

I am staying in Strathcona, which itself appeared the middle of suburbia when I got there on the bus. Just a street away from the HI (Hostelling International) place, though, is a busy high street, and there are shops and bars a-plenty. I can see why the hostel is better here than downtown – the latter is starker and more spread out, while Strathcona lets you explore, and the streets are more easily navigated.

Bridge to downtown Edmonton
Bridge to downtown Edmonton.

Downtown is walkable, if a couple of kms away. More or less the first thing you come to of any consequence is the Legislative Building for the province. It’s grand, and has free tours through the day, on the hour. The sign currently says “free tours in Winter”, but that may be because the timing is different, rather than meaning they aren’t available at other times of the year.

Neon signs
Neon signs. I couldn’t see a way in.
Edmonton in fall colours
Edmonton in fall colours. They might be caused by the camera, but these muted tones are certainly my experience of Edmonton.
Alberta's Legislative building
Alberta’s Legislative building. Tours available through the day, on the hour, entirely for free.

The staff are well trained to treat all visitors well. Our guide was very welcoming and extremely enthusiastic – not for her the cynicism of the realities of politics, and she took great delight in pointing out the symbolism that points to the British political system – various crowns, crosses of St George, picture of the Queen, Black Rod and so on.

First Nation leader
First Nation leader.

This statue marks the First Nation leader who first signed treaty 7 (?), allowing the Europeans access to the land, in return for essential help for his people, who were suffering as the bison died out, killed off by people encroaching onto their lands. It shows how leaders lead and may be honoured for such, even if they were not entirely loved for it.

Roof of the building
Roof of the building.

You might just be able to see, at the top in the picture above, palm trees. They have been growing there since 1932. No one knows why they were given; they are native to Australia. But they are faithfully watered, and thriving.

Fountain in the main hall
Fountain in the main hall.

There is a lovely sound effect from the 4th floor. Switch the fountain on (and they have put a switch up there for just that purpose) and stand underneath a particular light, and it sounds as though water is rushing all around you. Step away, and the sound disappears. It freaked out a workman, changing a lightbulb one day in 1959. When they investigated, they found there was no water near the electricity, just a sound quirk, as it rushes round and round the building, up the stairs to the main chamber, then bounces at 90 degrees to that floor. Turn the fountain off and because the sound travels so far round and round (over 2 miles), it is a good couple of seconds before the sound ceases.

Lieutenant Governor of Alberta
Lieutenant Governor of Alberta; the Queen’s representative.

The Lieutenant Governor is the Queen’s representative, with some symbolic power – they sign bills into law. Though the signature is all they do in that process. They are admitted to the chamber to sign, then ushered out again, so as not to interfere or cause any difference in behaviour. Up until the 1970s, they were in the ceremonial uniform as above.

Lieutenant Governor of Alberta
Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, in Cree regalia.

In the 1970s, though, came a maverick. A Cree native, although the position is officially neutral, he tended to give a distinctly First Nation perspective. And his official photograph has him in the outfit shown above – a welcome change.

The main chamber
The main chamber. Flags of the provinces on the right – other provinces do not do this. Picture of the Queen, on the government side of the chamber.
Roof of the main chamber
Roof of the main chamber.

The tour takes 40-45 minutes, though with only 4 of us on the 3pm one, and all of us able to scoot upstairs quickly, our guide got talkative and kept going till after the next hour.

Looking down into the main foyer
Looking down into the main foyer.

Her favourite story, despite her having met Kings and Queens and the like, was of discovering she had a member of the British Royal Family on a tour when said member paused outside the main chamber, and insisted she had to be invited in. “Course you can come in!” said the guide. “No, but I must be invited,” she said, to make it clear. “She knew, you see,” said the guide, explaining how Charles I’s failed attempt to arrest 5 parliamentarians with whom he did not agree had led to the fall of the monarchy, Cromwell, and so on, and the fact that, subsequently, the Royal Family must be invited in. Indeed, when they are invited to the main hall, the mace is banged against the door three times, the door is opened, then shut in their faces, to show they are there by invitation.

I can’t help but think that that minor member of the Royal Family was a little too keen to show that “she knew”. I suppose, once you know the protocol, you are damned if you do (obey it) and damned if you don’t. But still, I am not convinced she was showing “she knew” so much as wanting it to be known that she knew.

The Visitors' Centre has this lego model
The Visitors’ Centre has this lego model.
Stormtroopers and Darth Vader outside the Legislative building
Stormtroopers and Darth Vader outside the Legislative building.
Legislative building
Legislative building.
2 degrees C, looking over the river to downtown
2 degrees C, looking over the river to downtown.

I have really enjoyed spending a few days in Edmonton. I’d like to see it in summer, to see if the colours are more vivid with more plant life, but the riverside trails are great for exploring, the city is pretty compact and Strathcona offers plenty of places to eat, drink and generally be happy.

Three nights, two days on a train: Toronto to Edmonton

I went East through the US on a train, and returned West, through Canada, on a train. Book tickets at www.viarail.ca/en. They do discounts every Tuesday – I travelled in economy (so no sleeper, no meals included, no access to events or the Park car – see Seat61 for more details). It’s also worth a look at Viarail’s special offers page, though bear

Day 1 selfie
Day 1 selfie. Yes, from the toilet. Blame a friend, who likes to send these drunk, late at night.

in mind that though these fares are cheaper than even the discounted ones available via the standard link (e.g. CA$760 vs $960 for a sleeper when I looked – and right now, for November, there are some great prices, around $550), they don’t include taxes (which pushed that 760 up to 860, and just like that, I lost interest).

We left at 10pm on a Saturday, due to arrive just after 8 on Tuesday. Delays are routine. My first worry was that my train from Ottawa would not get there in time. That left at 2.30pm, due to be in Toronto around 7. It was delayed an hour and a half – all in one go, waiting for a freight train – but that just filled most of the waiting time. The longer train was fine till past Winnipeg, giving time for a long break there, but was then hugely delayed in the run to Edmonton, eventually getting in to the town after 2pm.

Boarding trains in North America carries a sense of excitement. Staff – and there are lots of them on the train, as if to taunt Brits, who are told that their overcrowded trains cannot possibly afford more than one member of staff each – are pleased to see customers, and each of us is guided to the right carriage.

Day 2 - waking to snow
Day 2 – waking to snow.
Snow falls, day 2 (Ontario)
Snow falls, day 2.

I love a long journey. The US and Canada were meant to be places where, with a more familiar culture, I could settle in to catching up on TV series I haven’t seen and so on, but it hasn’t quite worked out like that. A long train journey, though – so long as you have enough food, and no aches and pains, there is nothing to stop you passing the time, moving from book to podcast, looking out of the window to several episodes of Stranger Things 2 (for instance), then realising the day has slipped by. Because it is a train, you can get up and stroll around; for me, at least, that erases any sense that I am trapped in one place.

The first evening went by quickly, and we all experimented with different sleeping positions. It may be different at peak times, but our attendant, JP, was happy to tell us “you all have a 2-seater each”, and referred to it as “our area”. A little room to spread out, and it is possible to sleep reasonably well, curled into that space. I preferred to wait for the small hours and slip to the floor, stretching my legs out into the aisle for a few hours, and don’t think I got in too many people’s way. Certainly no-one tripped over me and woke me up.

Kit. I have two coats, so didn’t take a blanket. Whether you need one will depend on the train or, perhaps, the staff. My carriage was lovely and warm for two nights, then the staff changed, and it was cooler the next night. Correlation is not causation, but I wonder if the new bloke preferred it colder. I took a pillow – just a neck pillow – and that really is needed, whether you’re on the floor or wedged up against the arm rests. Food is available on the train, but I had enough for at least a day. I figured, having toyed with paying for the more expensive sleeper, I could run to the cost of a day’s food onboard.

On Monday morning, to my growing excitement, we stopped in Winnipeg. It was 7am, so I had only just woken up, and it took me a while to work out the options. The attendant came through to let us know that the platform was open till 8.30, after that, we’d have to wait till re-boarding was open at 9.15. That didn’t quite sink in, and I sat there for a while. Browsing the map using the wifi that was available via the station, I found a Safeway a good 2km walk away, and figured that was a good way for a quick exploratory walk. There are organised walks available if you want to sign up for one.

Winnipeg welcomes you

I walked and shopped, and then the import of the attendant’s announcement came home to me. I could hop back on the train before 8:30, but not after until they re-opened the platform. So if I hustled, I could get back, change and go for a run through Winnipeg. A total bonus. I didn’t mind missing Sunday, and had run the extra miles to parkrun on the Saturday anyway. But why have a second day off?

Manitoba State Legislative building
Manitoba State Legislative building.

I had left the station through the front entrance and was about to do the same, only in my kit. But look! Right next to platform 4, the back entrance. And it leads right to the Human Rights museum, statue of Gandhi ready for a selfie, and then on to the river path. Glorious. I was overexcited by how cool this stop was. With re-boarding at 9:30 (not 9:15), and the train not leaving till 10, I had plenty of time. More, in fact, than I allowed. I stopped for a picture of the museum and its rainbow pavement, to be told by a passing local that “it is even more spectacular inside”. It might be, I said, but I’m on the train. “Oh,” he said, “they are just about to board now, so you’re fine.” I knew that, but it felt lovely and communal that he had just strolled through the station and knew my business. We shook hands and went on our way. Despite not getting in to the station till 9:35, I wasn’t back on the train for another 10 minutes or so. Sleeper passengers board first, so don’t rush (but don’t give in to the thought that “I could run all day!” and miss it completely).

That was it for long breaks, but I was suitably enervated. I love the long journey, and barely used the observation car, and only walked past the snack bar, content in my coach, but still, it is great to hop off the train and have a walk.

Past Winnipeg, we were into miles and miles of prairie. The banal Canadian a couple of rows back decided, in conversation with a non-committal member of staff, to delay heading into a dinner booking until we hit BC, for better views. He might have been right. But he was dull. My personal hell arrived, only for half an hour or so, when he engaged the two Australian girls in the row behind me in conversation. Banality and cliche met, like, comments on, like… oh my god. I reminded myself that it really isn’t just the English who seems functionally illiterate in conversation. But I look forward to meeting more Europeans with fabulous and well-constructed English. Perhaps it being a second (or third, or…) language forces people to think before they speak. If so, the latter is a lesson for English people all over. I have a heavy podcast habit, and hearing a professional broadcaster talk to a non-professional is stark – Jon Agnew interviewed someone from the ECB over the summer. The latter made very little sense, but what I could understand could have been expressed in (sort of, like, you know) half the words.

Anyway, such hell was short lived, and the train rolled on through prairie. I read, watched films and comedies, and changed position as I saw fit. The major stops are listed, but there are some smaller ones, like Rivers. There are two rivers there. The run down, probably disused, station building has been coloured up a little by the addition of puzzle pieces. They are pretty, but serve mainly to point out the incomplete structure of the building.

Rivers station

The train started to stop for long periods of time, sometimes an hour or so, as we waited for freight trains to pass. The staff kept us loosely updated, particularly when something odd was happening. At one point, a freight train was pulling up very close to our back end, for instance, so as to allow the train on the next track to pull past, with that one then replaced by another, allowing us on our way. The sleeper passengers have use of a special Park car at the rear of the train, which is glassed all round, so that announcement was mostly to prevent them worrying too much about the train creeping closer.

My area. Car 4, seat 7C
My area. Car 4, seat 7C.
Fire in the distance
Fire in the distance.
Orange bee hotels
Those tents? Bee hotels, for pollination.

We pulled into Edmonton – backwards, to allow the train to pull back out and head West, and after slow progress through a huge train yard – some time after 2pm. I walked off down the road, as instructed by the hostel instructions. Walk South for four blocks, onto Kingsway, and catch the no. 12 bus to Kingsway Mall. Ask for a transfer ticket, and your $3.25 will get you all the way downtown. In fact, it wasn’t even $3.25. I had £3.05, and the driver said it didn’t matter, just put it in the slot and let’s get on with it. Okay, he didn’t actually say the last bit, but I’d have let him. His kindness, or Edmonton Transit’s possible view that “actually we’re not counting, so drop in some coins and let’s go” was much appreciated.

Viarail, train 1, across Canada. Highly recommended. Now, excuse me, but I’m going to sleep in a bed, and stretch my legs out. After a shower – washing in the bathroom keeps the wolf from the door, but there is a joy to the first shower.

Orléans parkrun, ON, Canada

My 8th and penultimate, at least for this trip, parkrun in Canada. There are now two parkruns near Ottawa, and I ran Kanata the other week, while I had a car. Both Kanata and Orleans are reachable by bus from the city, but Orleans is closer, so I saved it to run to, first thing.

It’s a nice out and back route, as you can see below, with a slightly downhill start to give some welly, after which it is pretty flat. Even the hill that must be there on the way back to the finish isn’t really noticeable, so this is a course to race, if you are in the mood.

Orleans parkrun route

I will admit that in my planning I had not counted on a slightly iffy knee – recurring, but it has been fine recently – nor, more importantly, on how the weather would shift in October. I have had 11 months in hot or at least tepid weather – one rainy 17 degree start on the Gold Coast, and one chilly April morning in Christchurch were the only cool Saturdays I have seen for a year. Kanata, two weeks ago, was freezing when I got there, but it is not so bad stepping from a warm car. This morning, I set off at 7.20 and it was -3. Not just that, but my route to Orleans took me straight up Montreal Road, into a slight headwind.

It wasn’t that bad. I’m still a Brit at heart, it seems, and not adjusted to hotter weather forever. 7-8 miles in to the run, I turned off the main road and got onto the coastal path, which brought relief from the wind, and scenery, too. Running just over 10 miles to the start gave me a lovely feeling of accomplishment, and seems to have stretched out my legs, rather than further injure them.

Ottawa River pathway
Ottawa River pathway, and relief from the wind.

The start is simple enough to find. If you are going to get the bus, I’d recommend just hopping on the 95 (see www.octranspo.com for times – the 7:50 looks like the one from the Mackenzie King bridge) and walking/jogging the last 2km. It is possible to connect onto the 38 and get closer, but unless the timing is good for you, you’ll be waiting around for the second bus and still won’t get right to the run. The Aussie had tried that method, and ended up in an uber from the local shopping centre, missing the start by a few minutes. She got her run in, though.

Orleans parkrun startline
Orleans parkrun startline, obvious at the end of Orleans Boulevard, next to Cairine Wilson School.

The volunteer team were extremely enthusiastic. There were runners from South Africa, England and Australia, as well as plenty of Canadians and at least one ex-pat Brit. The team was French-Canadian; all of which gave an extra international flavour.

As for the run, my fellow Brit, Chris, set off like a bat out of hell. He doesn’t have the same “I’ve spent 11 months in warm countries” for not having warm running clothes, but, like me, he was in shorts, and raced downhill to help warm up. I caught him after a while, but had company, and that company stayed with me throughout. Multiple sets of feet, but none, it seemed, that wanted to take the lead. Luckily for me, and my vanity in enjoying finishing first, even though I know there are plenty of people quicker than me in any postcode, I was able to put some distance between one of the chasers at the turn, and the other was unregistered and happy to have a, for him, gentle run while pushing me to keep my pace up.

Me with a fellow Brit, Chris, at the finish line
Posing with a fellow Brit, Chris, and the Canadian flag, at the finish line.

As a result, although I ran slower than the last couple of weeks, my last mile was my quickest. Courses here err on the side of being slightly long, at least according to my watch, and this one measured 40-50m over (admittedly, I took a couple of corners wide). Which would explain my average pace being sub 19, and my overall time being just over. My goal has to be to speed up to the point where a few extra metres doesn’t push me over into the next minute.

Unfortunately, the cold stopped the hand scanner from working, so we all stood around for a while. The volunteers were very quick to switch to hand-recording id numbers and positions, but the wait, and then pausing for some photos, meant I was chilly when walking to the bus stop. I had company, a couple of international runners who had only planned their trip to parkrun, not back, so we walked. I ought to have run – my teeth were genuinely chattering, so my conversation game was not strong.

But we timed our walk perfectly to be on the 10:08 bus back to town, which got us all back to the Ottawa Jail – the place to be for all tourists, it seemed – before 10:40, time to shower and pack before an 11:00 checkout.

Canadian Museum of History, Ottawa

Thursday evenings, 5-8pm, is “go to a museum in Ottawa for free” time. That is not enough time to cover more than one, perhaps two, without rushing, and I took a leisurely stroll round the Canadian Museum of History, specifically the history of Canada section, and then headed to Cine+ to see Trolley, a love letter to the streetcar.

View over the Rideau River
View over the Rideau River.

The history of Canada took me around two hours. It is separated into three: early history, colonial and then modern. It is an easy read, though I occasionally got lost following the thread, with both French and English sometimes seeming scattered around the boards at random, with the sequence mysterious. It doesn’t go deep into First Nation history, nor the controversy therein, but nor does it ignore it. Overall, though, the impression is of a country that is fairly relaxed with its history.

View of Parliament, behind the National Museum
View of Parliament, behind the National Museum.
Ancient Inuit artefact (reproduction)
No euphemism here. Yes, they are sharing an intimate moment.

There are some digital interactive displays, like the one above – click (in the museum) on different parts of the image for information. Some of those displays didn’t seem to be working.

Canada's proud war history
Canada’s proud war history.

Once again, visiting a Commonwealth country and seeing its proud history, and the loss involved, shows how daft it is for Britain to claim it ever “stood alone” in WW2.

Terry Fox, diagnosed with cancer, who ran across Canada
Terry Fox, diagnosed with cancer, who ran across Canada.

As a runner, I was drawn to the story of Terry Fox, who was enduring cancer when he set off to run across Canada. He made it much of the way before the disease prevented him going further, and achieved his goal of raising $1 CAD for every person in the country (around 24 million at the time).

Pow wow costume
Pow wow costume. A pow wow is a ceremonial celebration of cultural pride.

I loved the colours on this costume. That’s all I can tell you about it. Do you see that large sign at the top of the post, saying Ottawa? From behind it, obviously, reads AWATTO, which has a certain smack to it. At least I understood it. Last Sunday, watching Toronto’s American Football team, the Argonauts, it took me three go-rounds before I understood why people were running round the pitch, flying flags to spell “SOGRA”.

Shot from film called Trolley
Shot from film called Trolley.

I loved the film, Trolley. Partly that was because I had run in the morning, walked around plenty of Ottawa and this gave me the chance to sit down. It is a love letter to the trolley bus/streetcar/light rail, with a warning about the dangers of the combustion engine towards the end. Toronto, unlike other cities round the world, never got rid of its streetcars, and there are great shots of the ‘red rockets’ heading round the city. The film ends with ‘light rail’ use growing, and some great shots of life in various cities (only North American or French, probably to save the cost of heading everywhere) with those street cars rolling by in the background.

Police escort for ?
Police escort for ?

Leaving the museum, I was paused in the act of crossing a street by a police escort whizzing through, stopping traffic ahead of a convoy. I like to think that as a result, I have been this ~~ close to President Trudeau, an actually intelligent head of state, but it could just as easily have been a prisoner transfer (insert obvious joke about your own country’s government here).

Ottawa; relaxed, a little rough round the edges, with great museums and some lovely parks to the North. Also: at the end of October 2018, cold.

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