Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Porta-Party (Wrapping Up Canada)

This is meant to be a Canada wrap-up post. As this is the first wrap-up, I'm not sure how exactly to proceed. I've added a bunch of pictures from earlier posts. After chatting with Dan (see: future posts and the Wacky Rally), I've come up with eight Best & Worst and four Most & Leasts. In no particular order:


Vancouver is going to show up a lot on this list, so I figured I'd get it out of the way. With sensible public transit, tasty food options, walkable (indeed - jaywalkable!) streets, I felt very much at home here. It was a great place for a guy who loves to stomp around Philadelphia to stomp around. I would have loved to explore more of the city (I realize I spent all of my time in the equivalent of Philly's Center City), but such is the press of time. The only black mark would be the homeless issue, but that's only really an aesthetic issue in this case (I don't mean that to be callous - obviously I want all humans to have their basic needs met. I mean it more as they minded their own business and I minded my own). Overall, again, Vancouver was an absolute delight.

Ottawa, on the other hand, was my worst stop by far. I'll chalk this up to "I needed insider information", but that shouldn't really be necessary. My lodging was a cat lady house (as opposed to a house with cats), the streets were wide and unfriendly, the tourists were out in droves, I missed any chance at seeing parliament, and the beer was expensive. All those complaints taken into account, I still had a nice time. I got to try some interesting local beers, I got to flirt with a tour guide, and I had a hell of a breakfast at a little greasy spoon.


This was a tough one, but I think the trip from Edmonton to Vancouver wins. Really, it was a three-point checklist: was it scenic, was there good company, and (if applicable) could I sleep. As this went through the Rockies, Stoch was aboard, and I was able to get a night's sleep, it wins overall. We'll talk more about the Toronto to Winnipeg trip later (two nights of no sleep kept it from taking the cake), but the Ocean (Halifax to Montreal) requires special mention - a delightful trip with great views and a very modern train car, it only suffered from lack of a friend and a decent sleep.

Winnipeg to Edmonton, however, was an easy pick for the worst trip. The views were fine (I'd been cautioned that they were all farms, but I took one of my favorite pictures on this leg), but the lack of friends, the inability to sleep, and the anxiety caused by a very late arrival into Edmonton all easily make this my least favorite leg of the trip. Again, it wasn't all bad - I got some writing and reading done and was greeted by a glowing smile at the end - but in a list of best & worst, well, it takes the latter position.


This was extremely hard to decide. Some runners-up include various landscapes from the train, Ciel! restaurant, an aforementioned smiling face on the train platform, and the nature walk in Oakville (Toronto), but I think Mount Royal takes the cake. Not only is the story of "accidentally climbing a mountain (asterisk)" a great tale, but the trek, the anticipation, the exhaustion, and the payoff all make Mount Royal my favorite "sight" of this trip.

One thing I didn't have an issue with on Mount Royal was tourists - the same can't be said about the CN Tower. After paying a million dollars (alright, ~$30 US), I got to stand in line with a bunch of morons who couldn't figure out how to take an unnecessary photo of a fake moose, who couldn't figure out how to get on an elevator, and who couldn't figure out how to take a photo of Toronto. The expedition killed all desire I had to "climb the tall thing" as I had in cities and trips past. I did get a few good photos and called my parents from the top, so I'm not super salty. Watching people try and inexplicably fail to take a picture of a fiberglass moose, however, left a real salty taste in my mouth.


Working on a tip from Rebecca in Vancouver, I wandered over to Samurai Sushi. I'm not sure what all to write, since I gushed over it pretty hard in the last blog post. It was fuckin' tasty, fuckin' cheap, and a fuckin' ton of food.

Speaking of fuckin' - fuck Pub Edward (the terrible burger). You may recall my seething hate poured upon this establishment in my Quebec City post - I don't want to get myself back into a lather about it. The only good things to come from this encounter were calories soon expended in climbing stairs and a poem.


I had a hard time picking the "best" library I've been in. Some were grandiose, some were cozy, some I did great (well, okay) writing in. I've taken another tack - I was most surprised by Hornepayne's library. Walking back from the train, baguette in hand, Melissa called out to tell me we were passing by a library, knowing that I was on a poem-writing kick. I quickly ducked in, had a nice chat with the librarian, and ducked out - one of my most shared poems ready.  Unexpected and quaint, it has a charm all the grand walkways and indoor ponds can't touch.

I had an equally hard time picking out a "worst" - and I fear my pick of Edmonton's library is totally unfair. To begin, we visited a branch, so how could one expect grandeur? You may have noticed the word "we" there - that's the second complication. I was more focused on getting back to hanging out with my friend than focused on writing. Indeed, I think the poem that I pushed out is one of my weakest (although it does possess a quaint story). Unlike with the food post, I don't want to steer you away from this library - it's just that, of all the libraries I've been in on this trip, it was the least exciting.


Montreal takes the cake here, with no question. The city hall (hotel de ville) is a beautiful building with a hell of a history. Bonus points liberally awarded for providing me with several days worth of puns and having a flirty tour guide. I even got to celebrate the 375th anniversary!

Back in the anglophonic arena, the legislature of Ontario in Toronto creates the low-water mark. The building itself was reasonably well appointed and historic, but the annoyed tour guide, the annoying fellow tour-takers, and the "vote now" alarm all drag this to the bottom of the list. It seemed like we skipped more information than we learned and what we learned seemed like a burden on the guide. Still though, I learned some interesting information that I actually passed along when in Edmonton.


Vancouver appears again, as you may have anticipated. I have a theory or observation that I'm most comfortable in places where I feel like I can jaywalk at leisure. Vancouver's streets are perfectly sized for a pedestrian and, with a little foresight, every neighborhood and sight is well within an easy stroll. If you don't feel like walking, the bus and skytrain system (indeed, even the aquabus!) are easy to navigate and can plant you wherever you wish to go.

The same cannot be said about Quebec City. While I had a great time in the city, it was a pedestrian nightmare. While the streets weren't the worst (I'm looking at you, Toronto), the cliff (mount? hill? height?) that made Quebec City the strategic key to Canada's waterways also makes it a nightmare to perambulate. Small demerits to cars rushing down hills looking like they're not going to stop in time for the cross-walk. On the bright side, the ups and downs certainly burnt a few calories!


Before we get into this category, I should say that I'm expanding and contracting this category by only including places where I ordered a beer. Else, Pub Edward would once again rear its ugly head under "worst". That being said, Halifax makes its first appearance on the list with Freeman's. While I made great friends on the latter half of my plane trip to Halifax, after checking into my AirBnB, I still needed to bend an ear (and have a couple drinks). I found some willing participants at Freeman's. The establishment was nice (featuring a decor I could feel comfortable in) and I immediately used the ATM and got a beer. The countertop featured currency frozen in resin and I bonded with the bartender over a newspaper we both agreed was pretty mediocre. The beer was good, the food was good, and the company (two guys - one a dishwasher traveling the world and one a caterer with an amusing train story) was delightful. Overall, it was hard for me to pick a "best", but given the nature of finding a place to relax after a day of air travel, I'd say this fits nicely.

Unfortunately, the Atomic Cafe in Montreal comes up as worst, though I feel it's a victim of circumstance. I was tired, I wanted food, and I wanted to make a friend. The place seemed a bit standoffish / the barista seemed to want to get me on my way. As the menu was all in French and I was tired, I didn't want to order something I didn't want. So I just got a beer. Then I sat, alone, with no internet service, in the back of the building. I don't think I even mustered up a poem. I left as soon as my beer was finished.


Changing gears a bit, instead of "Best & Worst", I thought I'd do something a bit different. In the case of "Most Fun", this was a no-brainer of a choice - I had an absolute riot of a time on the Toronto to Winnipeg train with Stoch, Mia, and Melissa (and others!). I don't think I stopped smiling any time we were together. The act of swapping stories, playing cards, and watching the beautiful landscape pass will stick with me for as long as I live.

On the other hand, my whole experience in Ottawa was that of a rush, a burden, and feeling like I was spending too much money. I don't regret going, but I wish I had another day and some local advice. As it stands, it was the least fun portion of my trip.


With its walkable streets, sometimes gritty feel, and how quickly I slid into "I know this place", Vancouver kept me saying "this is like Philly, just overcast". Obviously there are more differences, but I kept having to remind myself that I was in a different city - indeed, a different country! - throughout my visit.

Toronto, on the other hand, felt like New York City spread thin. Unjaywalkable streets, foreign languages on every tongue, and a general sense of gray made pushing through the city more foreign than not. It wasn't bad - indeed, I had a nice time in Toronto - just, to me, the least like Philadelphia.


Another no-brainer, Winnipeg (well, the lake house outside Winnipeg) was a wonderful way to spend an evening and morning. Swimming, drinking, card games, and a whole lot of lounging around make this my "most relaxing" point on the trip.

In no surprise, Ottawa shows up here again. Rushing from the train station, rushing around town, and rushing back to the train station did not make for a relaxing stay, unfortunately. Even Halifax, where I stayed a mere score of hours, felt less rushed.


Alberta has been lurking around the edges of this post for some time now and I think this is where it gets to pop its head out. While Vancouver was certainly most Philly, Alberta reminded me most of America, generally. Cowboy culture, long drives across open land, and just a lot that reminded me of growing up in the midwest. As a bit of a dig, I'll say the public transit was the most American as well - I'm glad Mellina had a car!

I was told time and time again that Quebec City would remind me of a small European town. Well, it absolutely did. With its streets, its hills, its castle-town, and the fact that everyone spoke French, it quite naturally takes its spot as "least American".


As hinted in the last entry Red Deer (Alberta) and Mellina have been runners-up in a lot of these entries. I couldn't put my visit there as "most relaxing" when I'd lounged around a lake house, but spending a day playing board games in my pajamas is right up there! I couldn't put beer and boardgames and new friends as "most fun" when I did all of those on a train!

I'm not sure what else folks would like to hear about or if there are more categories I should include. Drop me a line or leave a comment with suggestions!



Aug 4 to Aug 27: 23 days.

Long-haul trains: 127 hours

Cost: ~$2400 (incl: ~$1,000 in long-haul transit, ~$400 in lodging)


  1. I definitely agree about that view from Mount Royal!

    Also, we just got your post card. Loved it! Thank you!

  2. Glad to merit some special mentions. And yes, Alberta is Texas with health care and snow, and I like it just fine. :) Hope the next leg of your trip is treating you well.