Quest for Seventh

Travel + Photography = Bliss


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Canada: Alberta and New Brunswick

One would think that it is an unlikely pairing — a province in the west and a province in the east.  Well, the reason I grouped these two is because I only spent a few days in each province and my experience was very limited.  This is not to say that there is nothing to see in both.  I actually would like to go back, see and experience more of these provinces.

Fredericton

Fredericton is New Brunswick’s capital. I had the opportunity to see the city as part of my work, again.  I never really had the chance to go around the city as the work was very hectic and we were on a tight schedule. Even on the weekend that we stayed there, I did not have a chance to go around as I had to work. Probably, the thing that sticks out in my head about this trip is how apologetic our client was about the traffic during the morning rush hour, when in fact, it can barely be called a congestion. Yes, the cars were stopping and there was some sort of build up, but it was because of the traffic lights and not car volume.

Oh and I do remember seeing my favourite Australian chocolates in one of the supermarkets there and could not help but take a picture of it.

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My favourite Australian candy! I especially like the one in blue wrapper

Calgary

My first and only encounter of Alberta is my visit to Calgary in 2006 to spend Christmas with a friend. I was just new to Canada and it was my first time to be away from family on such kind of holiday.  So I thought, the closest I can get to a family celebration was to spend it with a friend. I only stayed a couple of days so I was not able to see the famous mountains and lakes of Banff and Jasper. We mainly stayed in the city as the two of us were still not driving that time.  However, the trip was still memorable as we went skiing.

By the way, you might have read from my previous post about the Northwest Territories that I have been in Canada for 8 years now. If you take 2006, which is the year I was in Calgary and subtract it from 2017, you definitely will not get 8 years. The reason for this discrepancy is because I lived in Australia for 3 years in between my stint in Canada.  Sorry for the maths, I just had to. I am still an accountant and I would like everything to tie up. Haha. Anyway, back to Calgary.

Coming from the tropics, my knowledge of winter sports is limited to movies like Cool Runnings and the Mighty Ducks. So, I told myself that since I will be living in Canada, I might as well try to learn them. Besides, there is no other way to enjoy winter but to immerse yourself in it and be part of the winter culture. As me and my friend do not know anything about skiing, we signed up for a beginner’s class.

The class was at the Calgary Olympic Park. The first order of business was to fit our skis and helmets. The feeling of wearing heavy ski boots was weird and challenging.  I felt like a robot. When we finished gearing up, we were finally introduced to our instructor and our classmates. Our classmates were mostly kids! Hahaha!!! There was one other teenager, but we were definitely the only adults there.

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Skis on!!!

We were given some basic safety instructions and then we went off to the hill. It was a bunny hill — perfect fit for kids but kind of awkward for us. We had to get on a conveyor type of machine to get from the bottom of the bunny hill to the top.  Getting on was okay, but getting off was really challenging.  The skis are already attached to your feet so it was harder to manoeuver your way out of the conveyor belt. And the thing is you have to be very quick or else you will see human dominoes rolling down the hill.

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Our hill

When we were finally on top of the hill, we were given the basics — the form, how to change directions, how to stand up when you fall and most importantly, how to stop. It looked very easy on tv but it was very hard in person! I knew I will be sore the next day because my muscles were working extra hard that day.

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Looking down from the top of our bunny hill

Then the moment of truth, we have to apply what we have learned. One by one, we were asked to ski down the hill. We let the kids go first until finally it was my turn. I started moving slowly, then physics did its job and I accelerated. The wind started sweeping on my face. It felt awesome, but after about 5 seconds, I fell. Haha. After an hour and half of trying to perfect the art of skiing, I finally decided it was time to hang up the skis and rest. I was so exhausted and sweaty. So while my friend went to the top of the slopes and try her newly learned ski skills, I went to the cafeteria to get a hotdog and hot choco.

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No that’s not me, but I wish I was good as this guy.

We then went home. I do not remember eating dinner that night as I was really exhausted. I just slept. The next day, my body was so sore that I can barely move. There were parts of my body  that I never knew could hurt like that. My bum was especially sore due to all the gliding movement. Skiing is good for the ass! Haha!

We walked around her neighbourhood for a bit and met some of her friends afterwards. Here are some of the very few snaps I took in Calgary.

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Neighbouring buildings

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View of the Bow River

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This is the closest I have ever seen the Rockies

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Bow River Pathway

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Bow River

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Calgary skyline


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Canada: British Columbia

Mere mention of Canada connotes at least one of its big cities such as Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. When I was about to move to Canada, the company who was hiring me wanted to bring me to St. John’s in Newfoundland. At that time, I honestly have never heard of that city or that province. As I do not speak French, Montreal was definitely not an option so I asked if they can just assign me to either Vancouver or Toronto. They gladly sent me to Toronto and my love affair with Canada started. However, this post is not about Toronto, but about Vancouver and the province it belongs to, British Columbia.

British Columbia is the westernmost province of Canada. It shares border with the Yukon and Northwest Territories in the north, Alberta in the east, the American states of Washington and Montana in the south and Alaska and the Pacific Ocean in the west. And while Vancouver is the most populous city of the province, it is not the capital, as that title belongs to Victoria. The province joined the Confederacy of Canada in 1871.

The only time I saw Vancouver was through a hop-on hop-off tour I took during a long layover from Australia. I never really hopped off though, as I was feeling very sick — fever, nausea and all. However, one thing about me is that as long as I can walk, I will go to where ever my feet takes me — even if I am sick. Haha. Actually, there was another instance when I also traveled even while having the flu, but that deserves another story.

In the summer of 2015, I finally had the opportunity to spend a little more than layover hours in Vancouver. As usual, it was for work, but of course, I made sure I did some sightseeing too.

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The first time I saw Vancouver was through a hop-on hop-off tour I took during a long layover

Aside from flights paid by my company, one of the perks of travelling for work is that I get to stay in hotels that otherwise would be too expensive for my liking. It was the FIFA Women’s World Cup during the week I was there so I was not able to book a hotel for the full two weeks of my assignment. I stayed at the Westin for a week and then transferred to the Pan-Pacific the week after. The Westin was okay, but I prefer the Pan-Pacific as it is on the waterfront. The room given to me at the Pan-Pacific was at the northern end of the 9th floor of the hotel. It was a long walk from the elevators which kind of irritated me. However, the moment I opened the door, all the irritation and agitation were gone. Because, how can you not be happy with this view?

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Room with a great view

There was a day when I woke up to what sounded like Disney’s “When You Wish Upon a Star.” I looked at the window and I saw a huge Disney cruise ship.  The horns of the ship were indeed playing the song!

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I thought I was dreaming when I heard a familiar tune playing.  Apparently, the ship’s horns were indeed playing “When You Wish Upon a Star”. 

I took a quick stroll at the waterfront upon checking-in at the Pan-Pacific.  The place was very lively and had throngs of tourists and locals enjoying live telecasts of the soccer matches. The weather was also just perfect on that day. Actually, I was very spoiled for the entire two weeks I was in Vancouver as it was always blue and clear skies.

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Vancouver waterfront

One of the best things about downtown Vancouver is having the 1000-acre Stanley Park. The park sits on the northern tip of the city and being a peninsula, it is surrounded by the Vancouver Harbour and English Bay.  It is not a man-made, landscaped park, but a forest that has evolved into urban space. The park, as it was in the past, is still pretty much a big forest.

Surrounding the park is a seawall which tourists and locals can enjoy either by biking, running or walking. Since I do not know how to bike (yes I know it is odd, but I never really learned this skill when I was younger), I walked all 9 kilometres of it! Include the distance from my hotel to the park and back, and I probably walked for more or less 15 kilometres! Anyway, it was not too bad as I was doing it leisurely. I had to take my time to enjoy the sights and also snap some pictures.

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Some of the markers along the seawall were easier to spot. These are the ones I saw while walking all 9 kilometres of it.

For more pictures I took in Stanley Park, you can view them in this link.

As with most people, I like free things. While researching for free things to do / see in Vancouver, I stumbled upon Queen Elizabeth Park. The park used to be a quarry but was converted into a park and sunken gardens and can be found in Vancouver’s southern end. I decided to check it out one day after work. If you are into flowers and well-manicured and landscaped lawns, a visit to this place is a must.  The park is also on a hill so it offers a great view of downtown Vancouver.

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Dancing fountains of the Bloedel Conservatory

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View from Queen Elizabeth Park

You will find more pictures of the park here.

Vancouver, and Canada in general, is a favourite place for shooting American movies and TV shows. Canada is actually called Hollywood North as a great number of films are shot here. I remember one time, when I was walking in downtown Toronto, a film was shooting scenes and they put props around to make it look like Manhattan — subway markers, yellow cabs, NYPD cars and even garbage! Haha! For a big city, Toronto is still considerably clean, especially when you compare it to Manhattan.

One of the tv shows I have grown to love is ABC’s Once Upon a Time. Being a fan of the show, I knew that they shoot some of the scenes across the greater Vancouver area. The fictional Maine town of Storybrooke is actually a town in British Columbia called Steveston, a 20 to 30 minute drive from Vancouver. I rented a car and drove to where Emma and her gang lives. It was so cool to see Granny’s, Mr. Gold’s pawn shop, Madam Mayor’s house and the Storybrooke Library. Unfortunately, the iconic Storybrooke clock tower is no where in sight, as it was only made through the magic of CGI.

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Storybrooke Library, minus the clock tower

For more pictures of Once Upon a Time’s location, click here.

While downtown and its surrounding area are great places to see, probably the best thing about Vancouver is how close it is to the mountains. You have Grouse Mountain in the northern suburbs and Whistler just few more hours of driving in the very scenic Sea to Sky highway.

On my way to Grouse Mountain, I stopped by the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Feedback from other traveller’s said that this place is a tourist trap. As such, I was a bit hesitant to go but decided to give it a try. I am glad I went as I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. While I have a slight aversion to height, getting onto the suspension bridge was not as scary as I thought it would be. The bridge was shaking more intense upon reaching midpoint, but it actually added fun and excitement.

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Capilano Suspension Bridge</span?

Upon crossing the bridge, you can check out some of the birds and animals in their mini zoo. You can also get onto more suspension bridges by going for their Treetop Adventure, a series of suspension bridges hanging between huge fir trees.

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Treetop Adventure

For more pictures of Capilano Suspension Bridge, please click here.

After spending a good chunk of the day at the suspension bridges, I drove to Grouse Mountain to look around and take more pictures. As I have said above, I usually like to do things that are free, but I decided to pay for the gondola ride and ski lifts to bring me to the top. I could have taken the Grouse Grind trail, but I was not ready that day. I was not wearing proper attire and I did not have enough time.

The views at the top were just breath taking!!! Look south and you will see downtown Vancouver. Look north and you see more mountain peaks, some snow-capped, even in the middle of summer.

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So high!!! Good thing I only have slight aversion to heights.

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Downtown Vancouver as seen from the top of Grouse Mountain

For more pictures of Grouse Mountain, click here.

Whenever I am travelling, I like to stop at random places and look around. I find some of my best pictures were actually those unplanned and unexpected locations. One such place is Capilano Lake. The view was enchanting. The mountains, its mirrored reflection in the lake and the sun peeking through to allow just an ample amount of light was all I could ask for. It was picture perfect.

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Capilano Lake

On my last weekend, I though of driving to Seattle to visit my cousin. However, I figured, I might as well stay in Vancouver and do some more exploration. I am so happy I stayed and went to Whistler. You know the saying that it is not about the destination but the journey? When you go to Whistler, you will say, it is actually about both the journey and the destination!

Driving through the Sea to Sky Highway was like driving through a postcard. I was left in awe by the amazing vistas and panoramas. I remember myself saying “wow” a LOT of times. And all I thought while driving was how unfortunate it was that no one is taking pictures or videos. I did stop in a number of viewing points along the way so I can take some photos.

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Howe Sound

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Snow-capped mountains

For more pictures of the Sea to Sky Highway and Whistler, please click here.

On my way back from Whistler to Vancouver, I thought of BC’s tourism tagline — “Beautiful British Columbia”. How clever! It is simple, yet powerful. They do not need any gimmicks or fancy taglines as the simplicity of their slogan already speaks of what one can expect in their province.  I, for one, have only been there for a short period of time. But I can say with certainty that British Columbia is indeed beautiful.

Vancouver — The seas and the skies

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There are people who need a lot of effort to look good, but there are those who are just naturally blessed with beautiful features and can very well say “I woke up like this”. If Vancouver is a person, it is definitely one who could say that they indeed woke up like that. Its natural setting, with the seas and mountains surrounding the city, make it a magnificent and picturesque metropolis.

If you get tired of the city, you can drive to the mountains. And you know the saying that it is not all about the journey but the destination? Well, in British Columbia, it is all about the journey… and the destination! The mountains of Whistler are great, but getting there is also a treat in itself. The Sea to Sky Highway is probably one of the most scenic highways in the world. I do not have a lot of pictures as I was driving and it is one of the times I wished I had a passenger so they can at least get some snaps of the sights around. In any case, here are some of the pictures I was able to take.

 

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Vancouver — Suspensions

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No I am not talking about being suspended from school or from work as some sort of disciplinary action. I am talking about suspension bridges and being suspended in the air via ski lifts or harnesses.  Here are pictures I took when I went on suspension frenzy at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and Grouse Mountain.

Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

Grouse Mountain

 

 

 

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Vancouver — Walking on the Seawall

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I once joined an office activity where our team had to monitor our steps and report it to a website which then pits us against other participants in the globe. We were required to have at least 10,000 steps per day. I no longer remember how far our team walked or what our final rank was, but I do know that I wished we were still competing when I walked around Vancouver. There was a day when I easily could have contributed 30,000+ steps!

That was the day I walked from my hotel to Stanley Park, go around the park using the seawall and then walk back to the hotel. Here is a map approximating the route I took.

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Almost 15 kilometres of walking!!!

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Some of the markers along the seawall were easier to spot. These are the ones I saw while walking all 9 kilometres of it.

While the approximation showed by Google estimated 3 hours for the 15-kilometre stretch, I definitely did more than that as I stopped and took pictures along the way. If only my feet could talk, they were probably nagging me already and complaining as to why I am torturing them. On the other hand, my eyes would definitely thank me for taking time to enjoy the beauty all around.

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Vancouver — Once Upon a Time… in Queen Elizabeth Park

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One of the tv shows I have grown to love is ABC’s Once Upon a Time. Being a fan of the show, I knew that they shoot some of the scenes in the greater Vancouver area. The famous yet fictional Maine town of Storybrooke is actually a town in British Columbia called Steveston. Given that it was only 20 kilometres away from Vancouver, the fan in me did not let the opportunity to pay a visit to Granny’s, Mr. Gold’s pawn shop and the Storybrooke library. It was great to see where Emma, Henry, the Evil Queen and the rest of the gang hangs out.

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Steveston, BC’s Moncton and Second streets is the main thoroughfare in Storybrooke.

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Sunset in Steveston

Queen Elizabeth Park

Queen Elizabeth Park offers a great vantage point to see downtown Vancouver and the mountains of the North Shore. During my visit to Vancouver, I went there to see the gardens and the arboretum. Here are some pictures of the roses and other plants and flowers in the park.

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Bloedel Conservatory and the park’s dancing fountain.

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View of downtown Vancouver from Queen Elizabeth Park

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Kyrgyzstan: Ala-Archa National Park

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After the walking tour in the city of Bishkek, we met with our tour guide who drove us to the Ala-Archa National Park. It is a popular getaway for locals as it is only a very short drive from the city.

The park features the Ala-Archa River and the gorge formed by the mountains surrounding it. As the elevation was higher, it was a bit colder as compared to the city. However, I did not mind, the scenery was just perfect! It was the start of autumn and the leaves were changing colours.

I used my bigger camera when taking pictures here as I just cannot let a bad camera ruin the experience and the moment. I am not a professional photographer and it usually takes time for me to try different settings to get the perfect shot, but Ala-Archa is one of those places where you do not have to do that much. Every where you point your eyes, or lens for that matter, a great picture comes out.

And as I promised in my previous post, here are better pictures of Kyrgyzstan.

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