Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Up and Down Alberta

The train backed into the Edmonton VIA Rail station four or so hours behind schedule and I was a nervous wreck. Unlike every other stop so far, I'd met my host before and my mind was spinning with worry. Perhaps we hadn't had the connection I thought we had? Perhaps our friendship had developed from set & setting and would not survive different circumstances? Perhaps we'd come to resent being in continued close quarters for a few days? Perhaps perhaps perhaps...

I'd met Mellina at PAX Unplugged - a major board game convention that took place in Philadelphia in 2017. She came to an event I was hosting and we hit it off immediately - I had to be reminded a couple times that I should take a minute to chat with the other attendees (normally I'm pretty good at circulating and making folks feel welcome). Over the next two days we became fast friends; when the convention was over there was definitely a "we need to hang out again" in the air (though it was highly unlikely: we live in different countries and connecting with travel friends is always tough).

Over the next months, as my trip across Canada solidified, it became clear that we would reconnect - this time on her turf. She offered (or, perhaps, acceded to my request) to host me as I took this train trip. Which brings me to arriving in Edmonton.

While we'd been communicating about the delay as the train inched toward, then past, then backing back into, Edmonton station, I was starting to feel burdensome - not only was I taking up the usual time & energy of a host, the train being late was certainly piling on some anxiety. Would this whole adventure work out as I'd hoped?

When I saw her smiling and waving on the train platform, a giant wave of relief washed over me and I knew everything would be great.

Hellos were exchanged and plans were made and we headed to Hexagon Cafe for lunch and boardgames (two losses at Pandemic). After lunch, as is my wont, we headed over to the Capitol and learned a little about Alberta's history. The tour was one of the better ones that I've been on in a while (though Montreal still takes the cake). Two interesting notes: the first Mace used for legislative sessions is actually all pieces of junk (literally toilet parts) and there's a spot where, due to the acoustics, it sounds like the fountain is pouring all around you. Also there are palm trees. In Edmonton.


The "Ledge"
After the "Ledge" we followed up with my number two checklist item: a poem in a library. By now you know how to find them. This was a quick one - I usually spend an hour just staring at a blank piece of paper. Inspiration struck as we walked around an intersection to get a photo I'm not using and I figured we were "square dancing" - the smile at the train station and the fact that Edmonton was the capital of Alberta completed the sequence.

A trip made quick through friendly conversation later and we were in the town of Red Deer. A supper of shwarma, some beer, and another board game (Viticulture, was it?) later and I settled down for a refreshing, dream filled night. This is also when I first met Mellina's partner, Davidde, who was kind enough to put up with some random dude (me) crashing the party.

The next morning we headed to Calgary to see what we could see. As it turned out, due to the smoke, that wasn't a whole lot. A park & ride trip into town and we wandered around with ambivilent aims ("you want to walk along the river?" "sure?" "where to after that?" "Chinatown?") but amiable affiliation.

We hit Chinatown for lunch and spiraled from there. Having learned a little about the "Famous Five" (this is where I'd make a link if I were on a desktop - definitely worth searching), we went and took some pictures at their monnument before continuing on our journey to... nowhere in particular.

After the "Famous Five" I pushed for another library visit. After a little more struggle a short poem (again, didn't want to have Mellina wait all day for me) emerged related to the fact that the library had a full firetruck housed inside for kids to play on and the fact that every panel that had a list of facts included the weight, usually in tons, of whatever they were talking about. As if anyone has any relation to what a ton feels like, intuitively/inertially (I'll grant I'm not the most "let's go lift heavy things" kind of guy, but when's the last time you moved something you weighed in even fractions of a ton?).

We continued east, completing a bit of a circuit back to where we got off public transit. We ventured further east to Fort Calgary, which was nice enough, but not what we were in the mood for. I read a couple plaques and we waited for a bus to take us up to... KENSINGTON.

Up in Kensington we hit the Calgary chapter of Hexagon Cafe and played some more board games (Raptor and Santorini). A little Pho for dinner and we made our way back to transit and back to Red Deer for beer, games, and bed.

The next day was a much needed rest day for me - laundry and pajamas were on the menu. In the evening a few or Mellina's friends came by and we played some more board games (catch a pattern? Five Tribes, Meeple Circus, and at least one more). Really, this is what vacations are made of - good friends, good times, and lots & lots of board games!

Unfortunately, the next day heralded my departure. It was also day of discoveries: VIA Rail has no idea what it's doing; there exists a website that's more accurate than calling and talking to VIA Rail; and cheese can be both hidden and expensive in a "super store". With the train running three hours late, we grabbed breakfast at a Ricky's and I bought (future) lunch & dinner at a grocery store. My nerves / worries being what they are, we arrived much too early for the train and played a bunch of card games while we waited for the train (making good use of the cards I was given as a going away gift by my coworkers at the APS). At long last, the train arrived and Mellina and I parted ways - hopefully not for the last time!

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