Dreaming of snow

I’m dreaming about snow. I know what you’ll say; it’s only August, enjoy the heat while it lasts. Snow will be here soon enough. Well, whenever the temperature starts to drop from it’s summer peak, when the car steering wheel is too hot to touch without gloves, my thoughts turn more frequently than usual to the mountains in the west. I see them every day on my way to and from work, and often get out into them at the weekend, but I find myself thinking of them as I’ll see them in a couple of months. Covered in thick snow, with cloud drifting among the shattered pinnacles and buttresses like smoke. Get far enough out and you can experience a silence so profound that it has mass. Standing among the high peaks as large heavy flakes fall in the great empty spaces is one of my favourite things. If you’re lucky enough to find somewhere quiet enough, the only thing you can hear is the hiss of blood running through your ears.

DSCF3643

This week has seen the start of Autumn, or the Fall, as they call it here in North America, in Calgary. At the moment, it’s fairly subtle, just patches of leaves changing to yellow and orange, with a few dropping from the trees on the way to work. Still, other visual cues tell me the earth is beginning her roll away from the sun, shorter days – driving home from Taekwondo there is now less light; daytime temperatures are finally, finally(!) starting to dip towards something more comfortable for a Scot from the West.

DSCF2107

The local landscape changes greatly with the advent of snow. Tourist traffic drops off significantly, and it is possible to visit places and see absolutely nobody. There is something to be said for experiencing a place in every season. Much as I love to visit Lake Minnewanka in spring, summer or fall, I miss the sound of frozen trees cracking in the dark, as the stars wheel above Cascade Mountain, and the silent dance of the Aurora Borealis. Driving on roads that for six months will be hard packed snow and ice is a challenge, but fun, requiring careful thought about vectors and when to brake. More importantly, when not to brake. Avoiding snow-filled ditches is another good thing to try, particularly when the blizzard outside drops the temperature to around minus 35ºC. At least you won’t have to worry about that this year, May. Up along the Icefields Parkway, on the way to Jasper, the glaciers are visible year-round, but I prefer to see these colossal walls of ice when their mountains are swaddled in snow.

DSCF3605

I love the clear light of winter, and cold, sharp air that chills as you breathe it. This season gives me more opportunities to drive and reflect in peace, as most normal people don’t like to head out into the back country when the conditions are less than ideal.

Mostly though, I think that winter improves the mountains. While they’re always impressive, vast sheets of snow and frozen waterfalls add character. The Weeping Wall is transformed from a large cliff into one of the best ice-climbing sites in North America. Driving down around Big Bend, near the Sunwapta Pass, the snow highlights the truly epic grandeur of the scene. Snow deeper than the Armco gives you the impression that if you don’t get your speed right, you will sail straight out into the valley, followed by a tumbling plummet to the pine-forested slopes below.

DSCF3640

When you do meet people out there in the heart of winter, they tend to be good people. I’ve noticed that people almost always stop to check on stationary motorists. I’ve done it myself. Nine times out of ten, they’ve stopped for some mundane reason, but in the more remote places, breaking down runs the risk of freezing to death.

So, in reality, it’s probably about six weeks or so until we’ll see snow. In the meantime, I have to content myself with thinking about the conditions above. Western Canada is beautiful year-round, but when we sink into winter, that’s when I love it the most.


Southbound Highway 40

Christmas Day was beautiful this year in Alberta. Clear blue sky, cold, but the snow was glinting on the mountains on the western horizon, and I had itchy feet. It wasn’t the happiest of days for me, for a couple of reasons, and the prospect of a long drive looked likely to help blow the cobwebs away.

DSCF3675

Foothills of the Rockies, from the Bow Valley

At this point, it wasn’t too cold, and the bright sun in the southern sky looked to be the biggest problem I’d have to handle. This is where Highway 40 runs south from the TransCanada, past a really ugly casino on Stoney First Nations land. While I think the First Nations art of the Pacific Northwest is fantastic, I really think they could teach the Russians a few things about ugly buildings. Possibly, aesthetics were not at the top of their list, rather than income.

DSCF3678

The Yam

To the north lay one of my favourite mountains, Yamnuska. I’ve seen this hill in just about every kind of weather, and different light. My normal route home runs right along the base, visible as a line just below the main slopes. Seeing this mountain in the early evening, as the sun sets in the Bow Valley, is one of the things that I really love.

DSCF3689

Kananaskis view south

Heading south, the road runs between towering masses of the front ranges. I was surprised by how many people I saw, this being Christmas Day. One consequence of being in a winding valley was that the wind made the temperature drop. Starting off at minus 17C, it dropped steadily towards the mid-twenties. Strangely enough, the air itself seemed to have a blue tint to it – an effect that I couldn’t explain until yesterday. Apparently even the colour of shadows can be affected by reflected light from the sky. In this case, light from the intensely blue sky. Apparently the shadows aren’t black, but can appear really deep blue. Who knew? Certainly not me.

Highway 40 is only open part-way to the south. When open, it allows you to make your way to Longview, for possibly the longest wait for a cup of coffee in the history of catering, but that’s another story. Fortunately for me, it was closed and barricaded off well before that became a possibility.

DSCF3706

Mt Kidd

 

The run south takes you past one of the popular ski resorts of the area, and Kananaskis Village. I seem to identify better with trees and mountains than people – certainly I understand them far better, so this is a good drive just to get away from people. The views are superlative; it is almost impossible to take a bad photograph, though I would caution you as to where you stop to take said pictures. It is possible in more clement weather to be flattened by some yahoo in a pickup truck who hasn’t noticed you.

DSCF3697

Superbly folded rocks

 

The forces of geology are on display here in a number of ways. First, the effect of the collision between continental and oceanic tectonic plates, creating the Rockies. I tend to bang on about that quite a bit, so won’t belabour the point here. Secondly, the effect of glaciers, carving the landscape over an entirely different timescale, leaving unmistakeable traces in the country around you. While they operate more quickly than your average continental collision, I wouldn’t use either plate tectonics or glaciation to set your watch by – even Lothian Buses run more quickly.

DSCF3714

Glacial scouring ahoy!

 

Down here, the road branches off west and north around the base of the mountain chain, and becomes the Smith-Dorrien Highway. This runs north past Mount Chester, Black Prince Cirque, a whole load of interesting mountains and the (presently frozen) Spray Lakes, reappearing at the east end of Rundle (EEOR) high above Canmore and the Grassi Lakes. The steep descent to Canmore on snow and ice is not one for the faint-hearted, but not overly difficult.

DSCF3726

Starting to run out of road…

 

DSCF3747

Unknown but intriguing peak, from the east.

Mount Chester is a great day-hike, though possibly not while the trails are covered in a thick blanket of snow. There are lots of promising mountains here to wander, though bear spray is essential in non-winter seasons. I never did get to the bottom of why so many Canadian peaks in this part of the Rockies are named after British World War One naval vessels (Chester, Galatea, Black Prince, Nestor, Hector, Indefatigable and so on). Many of them exhibited an unsettling habit of exploding and sinking, which makes them even more improbably candidates for immortality. I would imagine that Canadians have a variety of other names for them that are more suitable, and think it would be more appropriate to go back to using them.

 

DSCF3761

Artificial lake, above Canmore, looking south-east.

From here, I started to encounter idiots on the road again, after a refreshingly long time. Some people fail to understand (or don’t care) that their brakes won’t prevent them from crashing into the rear of cars ahead when driving on ice. While it is comforting to know that their insurance will repair my car, I don’t much fancy the prospect of being forced off the road into a steep slope of conifers with massive boulders in it.

At least once through the township of Canmore, it was possible to head back home along one of my favourite roads, Highway 1A in the fading sunlight. All in all, possibly the best Christmas Day I could have had, and proof that sometimes, the best company is your own.

 

 

 


The Icefields Parkway – Frozen Beauty

Here in Western Canada, winter normally means crazy freeze/thaw cycles (the Chinook, where moist, less cold air from the Pacific Ocean rolls over the Rockies, raising the temperature by up to 10C) and vast numbers of people for whom a steering wheel is an unfamiliar and unsettling object. The bonus is frequent days like today, with clear skies and bright sunlight. While cold, it is a great opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy the mountains. Last weekend, I took a trip up Highway 93, otherwise known as the Icefields Parkway. This Highway connects the TransCanada to Jasper, running through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. The geology is varied, the landscape titanic, and the driving conditions quite interesting, in a don’t-lose-concentration-or-you’re-off-the-road sort of way. Early in the winter, the driving surface tends to be powdery snow, which then packs down and is polished, to an icy base layer. The actual route isn’t too bad to drive, as long as you think carefully about bends, and changing your speed without braking much. I didn’t realise just how slippery the road was until I stepped out of the car to take some pictures.

DSCF3572

Crowfoot Mountain

Being several hundred kilometres long, the weather along the Parkway can be quite varied. On this occasion, it was fairly cloudy, with snow falling through the lower reaches of the route. Where Highway 93 branches off from the road to Vancouver, infrequent traffic meant it was necessary to estimate where the lanes were. I love this turnoff though, as it always gives me a sense of going somewhere special, off the beaten track, as it were. The Smith-Dorrien highway out of Canmore to the Spray Lakes also does it, and Highway 68, down Jumping Pound way. On this occasion though, the drifting snow made finding the appropriate lane something of a challenge.

DSCF3643

The road goes ever on and on…

The drive follows a path between ranges in the Rockies, with lakes frequently to the side of the road. In summer, these are a vivid turquoise colour through the presence of ground up suspended minerals, termed “rock-flour”. Today, everything lay under a layer of ice and snow, though not everything had frozen. It was possible to see patches of unfrozen lake, though they were being swallowed up rapidly.

One of the things I really love about being up here in the winter time is the silence. Stepping from the car, often the only audible sound was the murmur of the wind through the endless pine trees. Occasionally, you might hear the gurgle of a creek that had yet to freeze solid. Proper silence, without any of the things that we normally tune out.

When you drive east to west (or vice versa) anywhere in the Rockies, you are weaving your way through successive waves of a geological car crash, literally waves frozen in stone. To the south, on Highway 40, Mt Kidd is a graphic reminder of this, with the waves plain for anyone with eyes to see. You don’t need to be a geologist to see how and where the forces that shaped that mountain range were applied. If it bakes your brain, don’t be concerned; we are no more capable of being blase about the forces and timescales involved. After many years, the specialist term that I apply for such situations is “Oh wow”. Works most times.

DSCF3717

Mt Kidd – not on the Parkway, but with folded rocks easily visible.

Back to the Icefields Parkway – here, we are travelling north-west, between successive waves of mountains. For me, the things of note change depending on the season. In spring and summer, the lakes dominate, with their beautiful turquoise caused by rock-flour. In winter, the mountains running alongside the road are dominant, brooding shattered crags, often rising into mist or low cloud. Then there are the glaciers. Frozen titanic masses of water, descending from immense ice sheets to the west, some hang down mountainsides, such as the Snowbird Glacier, while others extend to the east, such as the Bow or Athabasca Glaciers. The ice that makes them up has a vivid blue hue, due to the removal of ice bubbles that normally gives ice a whitish colour. This material has had all of the bubbles crushed out of it, and so looks almost synthetic in nature.

DSCF3613

Snowbird Glacier, on Mt Patterson (3197m)

The primary rock type up here is limestone, and the weather has eroded it into the kind of vertical structures that I’ve seen in pictures of karst topography in the Far East. Below is a picture of the crags on Mt Murchison which illustrated the landform quite nicely.

DSCF3640

Limestone crags on Mt Murchison

It is a long drive, and the landscape changes as you head towards Saskatchewan River Crossing. Ahead is Mt Wilson, with its large syncline (v-shaped structure, caused by rock beds being folded) and inclined beds. Beyond lies the Weeping Wall and the Sunwapta Pass. The aptly named “Big Bend” rises to the pass, with Cirrus Mountain on the right, with the Palliser, Banff and Rundle Formations all laid out for inspection. For my part, my concentration is focused on staying on the sharply rising curving road, and not driving into the thin armco barrier that really doesn’t look as though it would prevent a plummeting descent into the valley below.

IMG_0749

Cirrus Mountain in summer, from the Big Bend.

Past the Sunwapta Pass, the weather became quite a lot worse, with snow blowing in from the north, as well as off the icefields to the west. At the Icefields Visitor Centre, closed for the season, the snow lies in thick drifts. This is not a place to get into trouble, as I was shortly to find out first-hand. Here, on a clear day, the Athabasca Glacier descends from the Columbia Icefield, and several hanging glaciers push down from Mt Andromeda and Mt Athabasca. Vast quantites of lateral moraine (ground-up debris from the passage of the glacier) lie on both sides of the valley. In summer, special buses take tourists up and on to the glacier itself. Today, it would end badly. and to be honest, even if you could get out on to the glacier unharmed, the weather was severe enough to make you wish you hadn’t.

DSCF3665

Mt Athabasca (with lateral moraine in centre of shot)

This was not a good time to drive your car into a snow-filled ditch, but I did. Two of us proved unequal to the task, and thankfully we managed to enlist the help of a number of people passing on the road. For an hour or so, it was fairly unpleasant, and a tow-rope moved to the top of the to-buy list.

IMG_0623

Here it is on a better day, with hanging glacier on left.

Interestingly enough, one of the currently invisible peaks in this area, Snow Dome (3456m) is, according to Ben Gadd’s Handbook of the Canadian Rockies, the Hydrographic apex of North America. In short, water poured on the summit of this mountain flows into three oceans. To the south and east, water drains into the North Saskatchewan River, and by a meandering course, into Hudson Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. To the west, into Bush River, the Columbia River and ultimately the Pacific Ocean. To the north, water drains into the Athabasca River, Slave River, MacKenzie River and finally the Arctic Ocean.

So, all in all, a good drive. It’s worth remembering that it’s a long drive back to Calgary, and breaking the trip up somewhere like Banff or Canmore to have some food and decompress from concentrating on driving for a few minutes is a really good idea. This is one of my favourite drives, and certainly not one I’m likely to forget any time soon.

 


Love letter to Luxembourg II

I was in Luxembourg again last week, after an absence of almost four years. It was interesting to see the place after a reasonable time interval, as it showed up quite clearly where things had changed, and others where it hadn’t at all. In the city, there is a never-ending sequence of construction. No matter where you look, something is being built. In other places, some of the more rural places I know, it looks as though nothing has changed since I first visited in 2002. I’ve never really had the chance to wander through the heart of the city, down by the river, and it was lovely to see some of the curved streets with their (to me) unusually coloured houses. Lots of buildings down there look a creamy yellow colour, possibly a combination of nice building stone and paints.

Central Luxembourg City

Central Luxembourg City

One major difference this time was actually in myself. The last time I visited, I was only used to driving in the United Kingdom, whereas now I have experience of driving in Canada, on the other side of the road. A friend once let me drive her car near Diekirch, and I remember clearly how nerve-wracking it was, as everything seemed to be on the wrong side, and it was necessary to look in all the wrong directions. This time, it was far more normal, and I could easily drive there.

I love walking in the countryside in Luxembourg. They have, for such a small country, a vast network of walking paths, but for me, one of my favourites is called Meysembourg. If you’re relatively antisocial, like me, you will enjoy the fact that you meet almost nobody on your travels, and you could be miles from anywhere. In fact, you are miles from anywhere! What I didn’t know was that part of the walk there was a Roman road. Curious to think that even now, it was serviceable, and you could imagine the sound of marching feet from two thousand years ago. Two thousand. It’s hard to imagine what was happening here in Canada, that long ago. There are some lovely buildings here, which wouldn’t look out of place in a novel by Alexandre Dumas. Ivy clad, with the appearance of being on the verge of collapse, and a peculiar covered bridge, that you could believe would take you to another time or place entirely.

Door to where?

Door to where?

Wonderful buildings

Wonderful buildings

This place made me think of all of the books that I liked as a child, and continued to like in adulthood. It reminded me of the special hidden places in C.S. Lewis Narnia stories, where you would find houses beneath trees occupied by badgers, or lodges with beaver, or perhaps some of the hidden places in the Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit. Special, unseen places. They felt as though they were all around me here, just outside the corner of your eye, in a direction you can’t quite point to.

Covered bridge

Covered bridge

Curiously, in the photograph above, the facial recognition software on my computer identified a number of what it thought were faces. Curious, as nobody was there. Or were they?

Even in winter, the place is beautiful. Winter has not really touched Luxembourg this year, with only a few flakes of snow in the north. While I was there, it was mainly misty and rainy, but there is a kind of beauty to that. I walked early in the morning once, and everything seemed so still, almost as if the world wasn’t awake yet. Some of the landscape is so familiar, it could almost be Scotland, but I guess that must be due to the foliage and agricultural use being similar. There is nothing like the smell of soil, foliage and water in the air.

My favourite avenue

My favourite avenue

I will always love this place, no matter what the future holds for me. It may be a very long time before I return – I currently can’t even guess when it may be. Regardless, this small place in western Europe, its people, its castles, valleys, trees and language will always hold a special place in my heart. At least nobody can take that away from me.

Small chapel(?) in the heart of the city

Small chapel(?) in the heart of the city


Columbia ice-fields

As a geology student, and even before that, I used to look at illustrations of glaciers, and learned the names of the various structures, both on the glaciers themselves and the landscape formed by their passage. These words gained a special meaning for me, conjuring up images of far-flung and distant places. Moraine, lateral and terminal, bergschrunds, arretes and horns. Eskers and crevasses. None of this really helped me to get an idea of the scale of a real glacier. Standing on one did.

We drove for hours through the Rockies from Calgary, stopping for breakfast in Canmore. Normal Canadian Rockies scenery, that is to say, breathtaking in it’s expansiveness, surrounded us. For me, driving north of Lake Louise took me into new territory, as I had never been further from Calgary since I arrived. Aside from some unexpected tailgating from idiots with pickups, it was a ridiculously good drive north, with scenery that really did threaten to make you drive off the road. The mountains themselves started taking on a new character. The southern Rockies had all appeared grey, laminated, and well, if not smooth, then certainly less jagged than some of these. Reds and creams started to appear in the rocks, as well as the first icy intrusions of glaciers. As I said, I had never seen one up close and personal before. It was quite a sight.

Glaciers, for those who don’t know, are colossal “rivers” of ice, flowing down from an ice-field, carving a path through the surrounding rocks. They leave evidence of their passing everywhere, if you know what to look for. Typically, U-shaped valleys, and large piles of ground up rock tend to provide clues. Despite the enormous mass of ice in a typical glacier, it is in motion, albeit very slowly. We passed a number of glaciers on our drive north, the Crowfoot and Bow to name a couple. Vast hanging sheets of dirty ice, just to the west, above lakes of turquoise.

Johnson Lake

Johnson Lake

The Icefields Parkway is named after the Columbia Icefield, from which at least six glaciers extend (Athabasca, Castleguard, Columbia, Dome, Stutfield and Saskatchewan). The icefield is also surrounded by some of the largest mountains in the Canadian Rockies, including Mt Athabasca (3491m), Mt Andromeda (3450m), Mt Columbia (3747m) and Snow Dome (3456m). Snow Dome is apparently the hydrological apex of Canada. Pour a jug of water onto the peak, and the water will find it’s way into one of three oceans: Pacific, via the Columbia River, Arctic, via the Sunwapta and Athabasca Rivers, and the North Atlantic, via the N.Saskatchewan River and Hudson Bay. The North American counterpart is in Glacier National Park, Montana.

From the icefields visitor centre, it is possible to take a trip up onto the Athabasca Glacier. From the centre, the glacier is striking. GIven that the maximum recorded extent of glaciation was at the visitor centre in 1844, the glacier has lost about half of its mass. That said,  it is still very impressive, with another couple of glaciers running down almost into contact with it. The centre was also chock full of noisy tourists, but that’s my problem. I don’t deal well with crowds. From this vantage point, it was possible to see tiny specks moving up on to the glacier. These would turn out to be large, six wheeled tour buses, specially geared to allow safe operation on the glacier. There are 23 in the world, with 22 based here. The one remaining bus is stationed at McMurdo Base in Antartica. Cool or what?

Athabasca glacier from the visitor centre.

Athabasca glacier from the visitor centre.

A regular tourist coach takes you from the visitor centre to a handoff point, located on the left side of the photo above. Here we decanted into specially designed buses. Ours, curiously enough, was brightly decorated and nicknamed the “RastaBus”. Here’s why:

The RastaBus

The RastaBus

Close up, the glacier is something of a surprise. Due to the immense weight of ice, all of the air bubbles are squeezed out, resulting in a material that has a vivid blue colour. As would be expected, it is also very slippery to walk about on. I would have been far happier with my crampons and a walking axe, but would have looked quite out of place among the tourists milling about! There are numerous streams running off the glacier, and unsurprisingly, they are a little chilly to drink from. Where they cut through the glacial ice, more of that beautiful blue colour is exposed.

Glacial spray

Glacial spray

While I remember, credit where due. I took very few of the pictures in this post. Most were taken by my friend, Di, and her far superior camera. Standing on the surface of the glacier, it is impossible to gain a sense of how deep the ice is. In this instance, it is approximately 300m deep, or about the same height as the Eiffel Tower. Food for thought. Looking up towards the icefield, you really do get a sense of it being a river of ice. One recent survey counted 30,000 crevasses in its surface. Looking to the sides, the Andromeda and an an unnamed glacier both extend down towards us. Between us is also a barrier of lateral moraine. This is rock that has been ground up and pushed to the side by the motion of the glacier. In this case, it has resulted in the formation of quite a large berm.

Athabasca glacier

Athabasca glacier

Lateral moraine

Lateral moraine

Another thing you don’t realise is how far away the end of the glacier used to be. It extended all the way down to the visitor centre, as mentioned above, and can be seen in this shot looking back down the valley.

The visitor centre

The visitor centre

So, not bad for a day’s trip out of Calgary. We headed back down to Banff and found meat products in the form of Eddie’s burger joint. Slow initial service, during which time we were at risk of eating our own hands, but the food, when it came at last, was excellent. All in all, the Icefields Parkway can be thoroughly recommended. To finish, another couple of photos, showing Bow Lake and the Crowfoot Glacier.

Bow lake

Bow lake

Crowfoot glacier

Crowfoot glacier


O Canada II

I’ve been in Canada for about six weeks now, and have some new observations on my adopted home.

Canadians are still (based upon my experience) generous and courteous people, who will often go out of their way to help you. However, I have found lots of rude people, just like anywhere else. It happens particularly often on the C-Train, or local transit rail system. Going to work during morning rush hour, it is often impossible to get on the trains, because some bozo insists on standing in the doorways, instead of moving down the aisles to let more people on. I feel like saying to them “Hey, don’t you know you’re letting your countrymen down?” Clearly not, as most people are pretty good at that kind of thing. There must be a special bus of these people, that decants one stop up from me, to put them in my way. Paranoid? Me? But of course! Some segments of the city have a clear substance abuse problem, though if I didn’t get on and off the train in a particular part of town, it wouldn’t be so obvious. I did have one guy walking along behind me, wringing his hands and saying “Kill him. Kill him” while looking at me. That wasn’t too friendly.

Weather-wise, it has become a lot colder, and looks as though winter, which apparently lasts for about eight months, has sunk its teeth into Calgary. Funnily enough, it might be about -14C, but unless the wind blows, it doesn’t feel much different from when I was growing up as a kid in Midlothian with bad winters in the 80s. However, when the wind blows, then the temperature really drops, becoming painful on exposed skin, and doing bad things to your nose. It’s definitely not a place I would want to be caught withough gloves or a warm jacket. As I write this, the last few days of November are passing, and the Bow River, running through the centre of Calgary, is beginning to freeze over. The large plates of ice are still fragile at this point, and when they break up, it looks like a plate tectonic map of the world. At least, I think so! As the train leaves downtown, it rises up, and gives a beautiful view of the Rockies, sometimes lit up by the rising sun. Calgarians tend to be a bit nonchalant about these big lumps of rock out to the west, but I think they’re lucky to live in such a beautiful place.

The city itself has a distinct character, but it’s hard to pin down exactly what it is. There is an interesting mix of old and new buildings, and a wide range of ethnic food opportunities. I had Vietnamese food for lunch today, and that is becoming a firm favourite, along with Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. Canada seems to be founded largely on immigrants, and is certainly richer for the influx of various groups of people. Pubs and bars are another thing that reminds me of the differences between here and the UK. I was recently in a pub in Eau Claire, the Barley Mill, and it had all of the best bits of a British pub, but with a uniquely Canadian atmosphere. Not too loud, even though it was full of people at the weekend, sports on TV but not too obtrusive. Good Canadian beers, and decent food. It was also not so brightly lit that you felt under the spotlight. Drinking here is different, in that you don’t pay until the end of the evening, and they serve you at the table. Now that is civilisation!

So, in summary, do I still like it here? Yes. Do I like the people? Certainly. Calgary has a super-abundance of pretty girls and I love it. The non-pretty and non-girl population is generally amiable. Am I happy here? Definitely. Barring disasters, I can see this being home for an awful long time. I’m beginning to understand why so many people apply for citizenship. More from Moose-land when it happens. This is the Loose Moose signing off, for sure 🙂


O Canada…

Last week, I said goodbye to my family and boarded a plane for another country. While it has been exciting, and possibly the best chance for a good life that I’ll ever have, it was also one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. I guess if I didn’t care about my family, it would have been much easier.

Even before had boarded the plane, I was experiencing what seems to be a pretty widespread Canadian trait. Friendliness, coupled with openness. I got talking to a mother and her son from Vancouver, who ended up sitting one row ahead of me on the flight. Not only did they chat for the entire flight, they gave me headphones when the aircrew would only accept credit cards, not cash. What’s that all about, Air Transat?

Leaving a cold and damp Glasgow behind, we cruised out over the Outer Hebrides for Iceland, where ice-mantled volcanoes reared skywards. I have never had a clearer view, and it was awe-inspiring. The crew were clearly having a great flight, chipping in over intercom to describe what was visible below. Greenland was also clear, with massive fjords filled with glaciers. Icebergs calving into the Atlantic looked like toys.

Northern Canada was shrouded in cloud, with the occasional glimpse of frozen tundra. This is the territory of Ice Road Truckers, without the trucks, or roads. Utter wilderness. Hours later, northern Alberta hove into view. Mile after mile of well ordered fields, running for fifty miles to each side. The scale was quite astonishing.

Calgary from the air was pleasant, bathed in clear sunlight, with the snow-capped Rockies off to the west. Much of the city appears pretty flat from the air, with only the tall buildings of the downtown core showing any sharp relief. As it turns out, those buildings are quite tall, lending the centre of the city a shiny and high-tech air. When I arrived, the sun was shining, hard enough to hurt my eyes, and it was reasonably warm.

One of the first things I’ve noticed about Calgary is the food. I mean, I love food, but there is a wide range of ethnicities here, so it’s easy to pick up something Vietnamese, Cuban or Japanese for lunch. Not to mention the Albertan specialities, triple-A beef, which is as good as it sounds, or the Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich. Whoever invented that deserves a prize! I’ve eaten two of those since landing, and am approximately twenty five pounds heavier 🙂 For those who like such things, there are loads of vegetables, and fruit too.

People here have been pretty universally friendly. You do encounter the odd person having a bad day, but the general level of friendliness and politeness is an eye-opener. People _do_ talk to you on the train or bus, and don’t treat you like a freak if you strike up a random conversation. I’m talking to you, London! I’ve been welcomed here by almost everyone, including my boss and his family, and it has been a humbling experience. When I raised the issue of politeness and decent behaviour with a government official, she said that she tells her children (they’re all from Kashmir) that this is how you should behave. It is learned behaviour. I’ve even found myself biting back frustration at traffic delays or someone doing something stupid, because that’s what they do here. Nice.

The winter is approaching though. While I arrived in shirtsleeves weather, it rapidly turned to snow showers and dropping temperatures. Thankfully having bought some good winter clothing, the cold is currently merely inconvenient. I’m told that it gets far far colder. That’s OK. Watching spindrift rolling off the roof of the station at Banff Trail, it was almost beautiful, if bitterly cold.

Have sorted out accommodation, and am looking forward to getting my feet properly on the ground here in Canada. Once I move into my own apartment next week, and start accumulating the things that make a home, I’ll feel much more grounded. After all, this is home now.