The Halifax and the HUGE Explosion

We were greeted by a glorious day – about 20 degrees, clear blue skies, slight breeze from the south and free wifi! Yes, that most desirable of modern travel commodities. 🙂 Travellers loitering around outside port terminals, visitors centres, libraries, and even restaurants, bludging their free wifi have overtaken the plethora of smokers that used to loiter in such places. 🙂 It’s amazing to see 30 or 40 people all standing around staring at their devices intently as they try to catch up with family or upload their latest travel pictures to Facebook. An inherently modern phenomena that I have a strong suspicion is here to stay with us for quite a while.



 Anyway, I had decided I would head down to Halifax Boardwalk towards the Maritime Museum today in search of Titanic history. Halifax was the nearest town to where the ill fated Titanic sunk in April 1914, and as such became an integral part of the story. The rescue efforts were co-ordinated from here, and victims and survivors alike, were all bought to Halifax. Many of the victims were buried in the local cemeteries and their headstones tell the more intimate stories of the disaster. 

But on gaining entrance to the museum, I became more engrossed in the Halifax Explosion of 1917, a tragedy that I had never even heard of before and which had undoubtedly had an even greater impact on Halifax than the Titanic disaster just a few years before. The Halifax Explosion was a unprecedented maritime explosion that occurred in the early morning of December 6th, 1917. The SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship fully loaded with explosives intended as WWI supplies, collided with the Norwegian shhip called the SS Imo, in an area called the Narrows – which is a small strait that connects the Harbour of Halifax to the Bedford Basin. From the accounts at the museum, approximately 2,000 people were killed by the explosion, in fires, collapsed buildings and by flying debris, and another 9,000 were estimated to have been injured in the blast, the tallies for which were exacerbated by onlookers coming out to stand in the streets and watch the enormous fire.

  The SS Mont-Blanc was deployed by the French government to carry an explosive cargo from New York to Bordeaux via Halifax. At roughly 8:45am, she collided at slow speed, approximately one knot (about 1 to 1.5 miles per hour) with the empty Norweigan cargo ship, the SS Imo which was headed from Belgium to New York to pick up cargo. Both ships were navigating the harbour – one inbound, one outbound, and both attempting to avoid submarine defences – and each sounding their horns to indicate the other should give way. The SS Mont-Blanc had the right of way and so was convinced the SS Imo would divert given the SS Imo was on the wrong side of the channel, but this stand off of who should yield resulted in both ships merely slowing their engines until the Captains realised they were going to collide – at which point the SS Mont-Blanc veered hard a port, and the SS Imo blasted three times and threw their engines in reverse. But it was too late. As the steel hulls of the ships collided, barrels of benzol fell over, cracking open and sparks flew igniting a fire on the French ship which rapidly spread out of control. Given the nature of the ship’s cargo, the order to abandon ship was given immediately. Approximately 20 minutes later, at 9:04am, the Mont-Blanc exploded with an hitherto unforeseen force, with the ships hull being thrown an estimated 300 meters into the air. The blast was the largest man-made explosion prior to the development of nuclear weapons and the bombing of Hiroshima in WWII. It is estimated that the energy equivalent of roughly 2.9 kilotons of TNT was released.  

  Nearly every structures within a one kilometre radius was obliterated, including the entire district Richmond. The force of the blast demonished buildings, threw vessels aground, snapped trees like they were twigs, bent iron rails, and carried debris from the Mont-Blanc for over 4 kilometres – the twisted remains of a cannon from the Mont-Blanc was found 5.6 kilometres away! The city proper was also hit hard, with barely a single window in the entire city surviving the concussion of the air pressure wave that followed the explosion On the other side of the harbour in the district of Dartmouth, there was also widespread damage from the force of the blast and a tsunami that swept through the harbour completely wiped out a population Native American peoples, the Mi’Kmaq, that had lived in the area for generations.

  The loss of life could have been much worse, and the ability to respond with relief efforts could have been much hampered, were it not for the actions of a quick thinking Richmond railway station worker named Vincent Coleman. Coleman was only a few hundred meters from the Pier 6 where the burning Mont Blanc was drifting ashore in flames. Warned of her explosive cargo, he returned to his telegraph to stop all incoming trains. Coleman himself, was killed by the explosion but his message, “Hold up the trains. Munitions ship on fire and making for Pier 6. Goodbye boys.”, was heard by every station from Halifax to Truro which alerted the Canadian government to the disaster and very quickly enabled six relief trains with firefighters, and medical help to be dispatched from Nova Scotia and Halifax.

  Relief efforts began immediately after the explosion, and hospitals quickly became full. The same mortuary that handled the victims of the Titanic disaster just a few years before had to once again implement their system of identifying mass casualties. Rescue trains began arriving from throughout eastern Canada and the northeastern United States, but were apparently impeded by a snow storm. The immediate construction of temporary shelters also began soon after the disaster to house the many surviving people who were left homeless. Entire families were killed in an instant. 

Amazingly, all but one of the Mont-Blanc’s crew survived, with only one poor fellow being killed by flying debris in the explosion and a judicial inquiry into the disaster found that the Captain, the Pilot of the Mont-Blanc were totally responsible for the safety of it’s cargo and was therefore considered to be at fault for the disaster, even though the Imo was on the wrong side of the channel and had refused to yield. This verdict was largely put down to a general bias against the French at the time. The Captain and the pilot, along with the Royal Canadian Navy Harbour master were all put up on charges of manslaughter, but a later appeals and trials determined that both vessels were to blame and the charges against the three men were dropped.

It’s a morbidly fascinating aspect of local history, and the Maritime Museum has many artefacts and accounts of from the people who lived through this tragic event.

After such an interesting yet somewhat disturbing morning, I met up with KPeth for lunch and we opted for a meal at Murphy’s on the waterfront to try some local delicacies. The menu was somewhat overwhelming as we wanted to try a bit of everything – it all sounded so good, we felt they should have a taster platter of some sort, so in the absence of same, we had to create our own, and we tried the local crab cakes with relish, the bacon wrapped scallops with blueberries and currants, and a cheesy lobster tip served with tortilla chips, all washed down with some local cocktails. I tried a drink called the Black Sparrow (1.5 oz Jamaican rum, 0.5 oz of Jaegermeister and topped up with root beer!) which was actually really nice.

    We sat out on the Murphy’s waterfront patio, and marvelled at the gorgeous harbour before us and squealed like excited schoolgirls about the amazing places we had just been visiting. All up a very pleasant way to spend lunch in Halifax. After a little spot of shopping, it was back to the ship for me via Amos Pewter, where I picked up some pewter sand dollars that I had promised myself I would not buy!   


 As we sailed out of Halifax Harbour an errie mist seemed to be hanging around the habour entrance, and we stood on the very forward viewing area of Deck 15, which is literally above the brigde to watch us sail out.   It wasn’t long efore the fog horn was being sounded every minute or so.  I’ve never seen such fog, visibility was down to about 50m or less, which is just not far enough for such a huge ship IMHO.  We could see sailing boats occasionally emerging from the mist in front of us that would tack away very sensibly. No doubt they were having as much trouble seeing us, as we were seeing them. I eventually went indoors – driven inside by my now wet jumper and hair, while KPeth stayed out a bit longer to take some more misty photos as we sailed out of the harbour.  When she eventually came back in, she told me that at one stage, she could hear voices yelling in the fog and  she though ‘Surely not’, but suddenly emerging from the mist was a small sail boat that obviously hadn’t seen us soon enough and it was rapidly trying to tack out of our way, she snapped a shot of the sail boat which shows the ship in the bottom corner of the picture – I’m no expert, but it seems to me they had quite a close call.  The fog horns went for ages as we sailed out and I was extremely grateful that these modern ships have all the technological whizzbangs known to man, to help them navigate

Halifax is another place on my list of towns I would definitely go and visit again – seeing I have now visited Canada twice, perhaps one day I will drag that Canadian husband of mine, back to Canada to road trip across the country, starting in the west and making our way across to the east coast. What say you, Mr K?

Haunted Ghost Tour of Halifax

Our trans-Atlantic crossing was far calmer than I expected, with the exception of a very large storm cell off Newfoundland, which our Captain wisely decided to avoid. This did of course mean we missed our scheduled port day in St Johns, and we had to forgo the pleasures of Iceberg Beer and the opportunity to hear some very distinctive Newfie accents, but on seeing the radar pictures that were posted around the ship which showed 24′ swells directly in our path… most of us were happy to acquiesce to the Captain’s good judgement on this one. Though it did occur to us that with the slow pace we were making to avoid the storm, we absolutely should have detoured the mere 300 miles north to Greenland! 😀

 Missing St Johns did of course mean we effectively ended up with six sea days in a row, which is the longest stretch of sea days I’ve done on a cruise ship. Yes, I know, six days at sea is probably very paltry for real sea going types – but when you were only expecting four sea days in a row, even the crew were going a little stir crazy with many of them having missed their, much coveted, shore leave in St Johns. Had I known we would have nearly a full week of being ‘ladies of leisure’ mid-trip, I think I would have brought an embroidery with me. 🙂 Anyway, we made it safely to Halifax, Nova Scotia on Friday night, with many enthusiastic grins all around, for both crew and passengers alike.

Actually, come to think of it, I think the crew were far more excited than the passengers – it is not often they have the opportunity to hit the town after their shift as the ship spends most nights at sea, repositioning to our next port of call. Some of them went a little crazy, we found out later; hitting the bars and casinos of Halifax hard, and coming back to ship with empty pockets and sore heads. Like the junior waiter in our dining room, Mario, who was dobbed in by his workmate, Guillermo. Guillermo spilled the beans that Mario had stumbled in somewhat inebriated at 6am with his pockets several hundred dollars lighter, and barely three hours to sleep before his morning shift was due to start. The older and wiser Guillermo had advised him not to go, and apparently the suitably regretful Mario intends to listen to his older and wiser compadre from now on. 😛 Sure, Mario… you keep telling yourself that. These guys have been great at dinner each night – friendliest and most chatty waiters I have ever had the pleasure to meet. They have told us more about life below decks, and about how the galley, the staff hierarchy and the overall running of the ship than any other cruise ship waiters I’ve ever met before. They’re both really good guys, and if any of you happen to find yourself on the Caribbean Princess… say ‘hello’ for us.

Anyway, I was writing about Halifax… now I don’t want to lump south-eastern Canada in with the American north-east (though I am about to…), but I had a rough idea what to expect here – similar architecture, similar timeframe English/French/American history, similar (amazing!) lobstery-goodness cuisine, with a bit of Titanic history thrown in. And of course we found all of that, but also so much more. Seeing we were unexpectedly arriving the night before our original schedule, the ship had made arrangements for some cheap and cheerful tours to get people off the ship and help get us all orientated. So we chose to do a Haunted Halifax Ghost Walking Tour… Woooooo! Ghosts. 🙂 Naturally we weren’t expecting any actual ghosts, but rather a historical and cultural walking tour of the city with some weird and wonderful stories thrown in for good measure, which is exactly what we got.

To set the tone, our guides were dressed in black, with lace gloves, hats, kilts, spooky lanterns and basically all gothed up… picture if you will, a sweet little bespectacled granny who looked like she’d be more at home serving tea and biscuits, wearing a black dress, a black hat with veil covered in plastic spiders, complete with cobwebs, walking with a cane… and wearing her Tena hiking sandals and handing out glow-sticks to her PAX, and you have Colleen our guide for the evening. Halifax is known to be a very creepy place indeed there are reports of people being touched, doors opening and closing on their own, lights blinking on and off, feelings of being watched, of not being wanted, of being touched, of light anomalies, disembodied voices, apparitional footsteps, objects moving and disappearing, mysterious mists and all sorts of paranormal activity… so we were shuffled onto a bright pink, old fashioned double decker HOHO bus, that was only in need of a shrunken head with a thick Jamaican accent, to pass as the Night Bus from Harry Potter, and thereafter driven up to the top of town.

 We started up at the Halifax Citadel (aka Fort George), which is the highest strategic point in Halifax and boasts a beautiful pentagonal fort built starting in 1749s and finished in the mid 1800s by a bunch of British military types with big hats, led by one Lieutenant General Edward Cornwallis. There are a couple of ghost stories associated with the old Citadel. The first of which relates the tale of a poor piper who went missing during the construction – the Citadel was built in several stages. The piper was supposedly on duty when a section of the Citadel wall collapsed on him, but it was not until some weeks later when they went to repair the section of wall, that his cold dead body was found… and now for many years people have claimed they can still hear him roaming the ramparts and playing his pipes, haunting the walls where he was killed.

The second story here, tells of a soldier whose daughter would happily run up to the citadel each day to bring her Daddy his lunch. One day however, she fell into one of the dozen or so, long drop wells that serviced the fort which were normally covered, but on this occasion was not. As the local legend has it, the poor girl drowned, crying for her father as they desperately tried to get her out… apparently people have reported hearing her, crying for her Daddy as her ghost haunts the citadel, even though the wells have long since been filled in.

After this we walked down to the get a view of the Citadel’s four faced clock tour built in 1803. The clock tower was built by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and eventual father to Queen Victoria, who apparently had a strong dislike unpunctuality… so he commissioned the clock tower to show four faces such that all soldiers, in every direction, would be able to see the time and never be late. He apparently also had a superstitious bent and a fear of the devil, that for reasons not explained by our guide Colleen, led him to dislike square rooms – so there were plenty of round and octagonal rooms in his buildings. Perhaps he thought the dust bunnies in the corners were really the detritus of the devil, who knows? The clock tower too, is believed to be haunted, I can’t remember the details of who or why… but someone is allegedly haunting the clocktower and the presence of the apparition is so strongly felt, that many workmen who were bought in to work on the clocktower to restore it barely 50 years ago were so afeared that they down tools and walked off the job! Further, there is apparently a roster take it in turns to wind the clocks now, and no one ever goes in by themselves.

 A little closer towards town, we found the famous Five Fisherman’s Restaurant, a gorgeous old building from the 1800s that, as the name implies, is now a well known restaurant, but was once the largest funeral home in the city. The mortuary has the ignominious distinction of having handled the many bodies after the Titanic disaster, as well as the victims of the Halifax explosion (more on that tomorrow). Even in death, the victims of the Titanic disaster were treated according to class – the first class were taken to the Funeral Home in quick makeshift coffins, the second class were taken to a makeshift morgue in canvas body bags, and the third class and crew were taken to the town square on open stretchers. The owners of the funeral home might have come to perhaps to regret this, as it is said, that John Jacob Astor – of Waldorf Astoria fame, and considered the wealthiest man in the world at that time – was bought to the funeral home along with the rest of the first class passengers. Apparently J.J. Astor’s body was eventually taken to New York to be buried in the family plot (where ever that may be), but people in the funeral home have been reporting sightings of him ever since… walking in his top hat through walls, knocking things over, chucking cutlery, turning sinks on and off, swinging doors open, turning on stoves, scaring the staff, tapping people on the shoulder and generally making a nuisance of himself. Glasses have even been known to apparently fly off shelves on a regular basis. As J.J. Astor was notorious in life for treating servants poorly, so he apparently continues to do so in the afterlife. In the past, these phenomena were primarily reported by staff working after hours, but now apparently have been experienced by restaurant patrons too, who also report unusually cold patches in the restaurant as well. Woooooo! 😛

 Further on down the hill from the Citadel, we came to a beautiful town square between the Anglican Church of St Paul’s (the oldest and original church in Halifax that was originally multi-denominational, but became Anglican when Halifax grew larger and built more places of worship), and the impressive City Hall building. Many years ago, this square was a drill parade, and a story has it that one particularly egomaniacal Admiral (a French guy, perhaps? I missed his name) had summarily executed a random Lieutenant to demonstrate his particular brand of cruel leadership was not to be challenged… according to the story, he literally stood everyone at parade, said ‘Hang that one.’, pointing to a random officer, and his no doubt confused soldiers, duly did. The story claims that this particular Lieutenant was immediately hung and has ever since wandered the square disturbing passers by, asking ‘Why? Why?’… As you would. As my old friend Lt Col Dazzles used to say, “Shoot one, educate a thousand”. Not sure it’s good for morale, but in a macabre and decidedly Machiavellian, ‘if you can’t be loved; be feared’ kinda way, no doubt it’s very effective. :/

 Across the square stands St Paul’s church, which has a silhouette of either a reverend or an organist (accounts vary) etched into one of the windows after the blast from the Halifax explosion of 1917, had literally vaporised the poor reverend/organist leaving the outline of his form forever stamped into the window – it probably doesn’t hurt that they outlined the silhouette in lead to protect the anomaly, and have double glazed the window so it doesn’t deteriorate, but given we were wandering through at night we couldn’t see the outline at all, as it was not lit up. Not really a ghost story per se, but an interesting little historical weirdness, nonetheless.

 Further up the street, we came to a lively row of restaurants that were once all boarding houses. Legend has it that there was once a young man who established his fiancé in the boarding house leading up to their wedding. It seems to have been quite common practice for the young men of Halifax to send to England and Ireland for brides when they were in need of them. Anyway, when she came to Halifax, she needed somewhere to live before they were to be married and he found her a place in this boarding house. However, things went pear-shaped for this young couple, when the young man’s friends decided to tell him that his fiancé was stepping out on him – as a joke. He came to the boarding house to check on her, and found her leaning out the top story window of her room, waving farewell to a young man in the street and calling out her affections to him, and the man in the street waving and returning her addresses in turn. The young man saw ‘the red mist’ and ran upstairs, accusing his beloved of being unfaithful and he refused to believe her protestations that the young man in the street was her cousin, Billy. He picked up a knife and stabbed her to death, and in his fury, hacked off her finger to retrieve his engagement ring, afterwards throwing her finger out the window into the street. Ever since, locals claim to have seen her… wandering the street in a wedding dress… searching for her missing finger.

 I have relayed only a few of the stories here – the ones that I could actually remember, because quite frankly Colleen, was talking a hundred miles an hour at every corner we stopped – but it seemed to me that this was perhaps the third of the jilted jessies or wronged fiancés to be roaming the town in their tattered wedding dresses? I could be wrong, but there’s a tragic theme here for the soon-to-be-wed-but-never-quite-made-it-to-the-alter, young women of Halifax. Even Charles Dickens resided in Halifax at one point and was connected to a house alleged to have been haunted by a woman dressed in a bedraggled grey wedding dress for some time, a la Miss Haversham perhaps? As a general rule, I think it is probably best, that one should avoid getting affianced or plan on being married in Halifax, just to be on the safe side…

 Further down towards the waterfront, we were told the story of a French Admiral – D’Anbridge I think was his name – who was tragically killed in an engagement where he was extraordinarily outnumbered at sea (apologies the salient details escape me as it was now quite late and we had walked about 8-9kms). The Admiral was buried in Halifax, but in order to assuage the grief of his family back home, apparently in a particularly grisly affair, his heart was cut out of his chest and sent back to France. The poor, and now-heartless Admiral is reported to be seen haunting the waterfront, and his apparition is identified by the sound of the wind, as it whistles through the hole in his body where his heart used to be.

We heard lots of colourful stories, most of which were probably based in fact, but had been lent a fanciful and superstitious bit of local colour over the years. The haunted walking tour of Halifax was really good fun and not a little bit spooky, so those who came expecting to see actual ghosts were (in a huge surprise to all) somewhat disappointed.

After that, it was back to the ship and we still had a whole day to explore Halifax to come. Shame we didn’t have an overnight stay in Reykjavik, I would have loved to have done the Golden Circle scenery one day and all the museums the next. Never mind, but with so many places to go back and visit again… the list is getting longer.

Driving in America Sucks Arse. Period.

Since leaving Australia on June 8th, I have travelled far, though perhaps not so wide really, across the US. And one thing that seems to drive most of Aussies absolutely nuts when travelling over here is, driving in the States.

Approximate kilometres driven…

Canada: 2,430 kms
Alaska: 1,280 kms
Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California: 3,260 kms
Pennsylvania: about 240 kms

Anyway, with that little summary, I think I can safely say I am able to comment with some vague authority (or at least with excessively biased opinion based on personal experience) on Aussies driving in the US. 🙂 There are so many things that make driving here difficult for someone coming from Australia – the big obvious ones of course, are that you are sitting on the opposite side of the vehicle from that which you are accustomed to, and you are driving on the wrong side of the road! In all honesty, it didn’t take me that long to get used to driving on the righthand side of the road, well no longer than learning the quirks of a different vehicle. And after a few days the only time I had to even think about which side of the road I should be on was when exiting car parks, and occasionally when turning left at large intersections.

No, there were far more annoying things about driving here than just being on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car! For example there is the complete lack of indicator lights on most vehicles. For some reason they do not have orange/amber indicator, or signal lights, on their cars. Instead, they just have the red brake lights flash when the indicator is put on. It wouldn’t be so bad, but if someone has their indicators on while they are braking… it is often really fucking hard to tell that the person in front of you is actually indicating and is therefore intending to turn. It makes no sense to me. So many of the vehicles here are similar in make and model to those at home (monster trucks excepted) so either we are altering the design of them to make the indicators orange and more obvious, or they are altering them to be red on red with a red motif and therefore, less noticeable?! Dunno. But it totally sucks depending on the scenario and it makes no sense whatsoever. Such a tiny little thing like amber indicator lamps would probably save countless lives.

Another thing I severely dislike here was the lack of signs telling you how far it was to your destination. This was pretty much anywhere. In Australia I leave Brisbane and head to the Gold Coast, and some where along the way will be a big sign telling me which highway I am on and distances to extended destinations… so literally on the way to the coast there is a sign that says ‘SYDNEY… 978kms’ along with distances to smaller stops on the way. Here? You’re lucky to ever get a sign that tells you how far it is to the next town, let alone how far it is to the one after that or the next major metropolis on the road you’re on. Without the GPS telling us how far things were, we would have been all at sea and never knowing how far we had left on our trips.

And speaking of fucking signage… what is with the ‘Last fuel for 157 miles’ signs being placed on the road either AT the fuel station in question, or worse still, AFTER you’ve passed the fuel station! No shit, we kept seeing signs saying that there was x miles until the next opportunity for fuel AFTER we had passed said opportunity. Stupid bloody nonsensical lack of system if you asked me.

Another pet hate I have discovered over here is the 4-Way or All Way Stop sign. These are usually found at the sort of intersection that doesn’t have enough traffic to warrant a traffic light, but more than enough to just leave it with a couple of give way signs – the sort of place we would put a roundabout and all be giving way to the right as a rule. Now the problem with these intersections is that NO ONE seems to know who has right of way. I have asked at least a dozen different people from Canada, Alaska, California, Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Virginia, you fucking name it. None of them were entirely sure who has right of way at a 4-Way Stop sign. Some people told me that who ever arrived at the Stop signs first had right of way, some people told me it was people going straight on had right of way, followed by people turning right and then finally anyone turning left. One guy even told me who ever had the damn biggest truck had right of way at these intersections! Every single time I approached them I’d be entering the intersection with my hands metaphorically thrown in the air going ‘I dunno who gets to go!?!’, and that pretty much remained the way of it for traversing these particular traffic control cluster fucks for the entire duration of my trip.

But worse than non existent indicators and 4-Way Stop signs, were the speed limits. Up in Alaska, you could go 40 miles without seeing a speed limit sign, so if you were over taking a truck, taking in the scenery or just plain missed it… you never knew what the damn speed limit was! Not that it really mattered anyway, because NO ONE is EVER doing the speed limit – having NO SPEED CAMERAS will kinda do that. Whether there is one lane or eight moving in your direction, I don’t think I saw a single person actually moving at the speed limit through any of the states or provinces I drove – British Columbia and Alberta in Canada; Nevada, Arizona, Utah, California and Pennsylvania in the US. There would be the occasional truck doing the speed limit, but everyone else it seems to be doing a minimum of 5-10mph to a maximum of 20-30mph OVER the posted speed limits. No shit. Everyone speeds here and everyone is in a hurry. And if you are driving here, you sure as hell better keep up with the traffic or you’ll find someone doing 75mph tailgating you pretty darn quickly, and they think nothing of riding your arse until you find a way to get out of their path… that or start honking their horns at you. So impatient it’s unbelievable. The most discourteous drivers I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter were in the South-West, primarily in California. In hindsight, I’m a little surprised we made it out of that area unscathed.

Another extra special fucking fun piece of shit traffic rules that no one tells you about is the turning right at red lights. It seems you may be able to turn right when the lights are red… I think… well most of the time you can sort of. Occasionally you would see a sign that says no turning right on red signals, but for the most part it seemed okay. But I was never quite sure as we went from state to state, so… erring on the side of caution, I got in the habit of stopping and waiting no matter what. Sometimes I was obviously doing the right thing as the people behind me were quite happy to wait too, but then there were times I was obviously supposed to go, at which point some impatient bastard behind me would start honking his horn and inching closer to my bumper to make me go right on the red anyway. But I could never tell the fucking difference. By the end of it, I just adopted a kinda ‘approach, stop and see if someone honks’ method that seemed to mostly work for us… mostly. :S

Oh and even more driving fun – in Alaska, there are many major roads that are pretty much closed for the vast majority of the year due to severe weather, and only opened back up in the summer with the tourist season. It seems to be a yearly ritual… the snow melts, the roads get trashed, the Powers That Be decide which bits need to be rebuilt, renovated, worked on or whatever. Anyway, they get fixed, tourists come, then winter comes and then repeat renovation of destroyed roads again every spring. Or at least that’s the theory. Driving along some of these hideously shoddy, almost makeshift, roads in Alaska was down right dangerous. The speed limits were mostly 55mph or 65mph, and the roads were not level or remotely even and shoulder-less and poorly banked, but the worst of it was the overtaking lane markings were dodgy as all hell. I think they kinda sorta remarked the overtaking lines each spring roughly where they might have been the year before rather than surveying the current state of the road. The result of which was, so many times I went to pull out to over take a truck or RV, when the line markings indicated it was safe to do so, only to discover that the line markings were full of shit! And that visibility towards the oncoming traffic was either very poor to non-existent! You’d pull out, realise you couldn’t see around the bloody obvious looming corner, or that there was a huge dip ahead and couldn’t see didley, and would have to swiftly pull back in behind the slow moving vehicle to avoid potentially making a very, very bad decision. If I had used and trusted the line markings on some on some of the roads in Alaska, I strongly believe they would have eventually gotten us killed. It was no surprise that people up there told us most motor vehicle accidents from Anchorage to Denali occur due to speeding and when people are overtaking slower vehicles… next most common cause of motor vehicle accidents – moose strike. 😉

Oh and another thing I totally won’t miss is paying for your fuel BEFORE you can use the pump. Most of the servos we went to wouldn’t accept my international Visa card so I ended up having to go into the kiosk and either LEAVING my Visa with the questionable peoples behind the counter or telling them an arbitrary dollar amount to put in the car that would potentially be over or under what I needed, estimating the right amount being particularly tedious given the whole miles and gallons thing was doing my head it… so much harder than just ‘filling her up’. It was either that or they put a ‘hold’ on your account which they return the unused portion of, when they damn well feel like it, which could be literally days later. On the odd occasion the pump would take my card (PetroCanada in BC, Shell in Nevada and Arizona and 76 in California were okay), it all worked well and after weeks of this, I’m probably now far more likely to pay at the pump at home and skip going into the shop. You know, come to think about it, the little petrol station convenience stores are really shooting themselves in the foot by not forcing their customers to come in to pay for their petrol and impulse buy snacks and drinks….? Oh, in another major pain in the arse move of fucktardery, down in California, many petrol stations would get you to swipe your card and then ask for your zip code. No doubt people think this is some sort of verification process against their card akin to entering the CCV number to check that it matches – but several times I tried entering random zip codes to try and avoid going into the store. The zip code for my hotel worked fine once. My own postcode with a zero chucked on for good measure was also fine on occasion. The zip code of the guy at the next pumped worked fine for me too… so definitely not verifying against information held on file that relates to the card! Most of the time however, it just rejected my bogus zip code entries and I had to trudge into the shop anyway. Grrrr…

The first time I drove in the US, was a sort of baptism of fire – picking up a car at LAX after a long haul flight from London. Far out what a nightmare… no GPS back then. But this time was seriously, no fucking better at all.

JeysusTittieFuckingKrist!!!! I’m home! Which is awesome because I’m looking and feeling as bad as the person in my passport photo, so it was well and truly time to come home. However, I jumped into my car this afternoon to pick up a parcel that I had sent myself and that was a complete disaster. Oh yeah, btw, USPS International Priority Post can go get fracked with a rake… I sent a 13lb flat rate box from Healy Alaska on July 5th and it was supposed to be here in 3-5 business days. Only arrived today: 30th July. Bastards… but I digress.

I drove to the post office after spending exactly 32 hours, 18 minutes and 34 seconds in transit (yeah chucked on the stopwatch on my phone for shits and giggles). I had trouble staying on the left side of the road. I switched the wipers on at least four times to indicate I was turning the corner. I jerked us all over the place as I seem to have forgotten how to drive a manual vehicle. I almost turned us out of the car park and into the oncoming traffic… Not to mention that every bastard on the road was pissing me off. I couldn’t figure out while everyone was going so slow! And then I realized that everyone was doing the speed limit.

So it seems I’ve spent the last two months in training for driving like a Californian and it might take a while to dial it down to drive all proper li again! 😀

PS – Roundabouts rock! No more 4Way Stop signs!


Cool Things and No So Cool Things About Canada

Cool Things About Canada

  • The people are lovely, so friendly and helpful, only met one surly Canadian and I can hardly blame her she was stuck in a toll booth taking money from reluctant travellers going into the National Parks
  • The Rocky Mountains are amazing! Never seen anything like it in my life, so beautiful (except maybe New Zealand, looked a lot like NZ on steroids and without any sheep).
  • Vancouver is a really pretty city, very clean and modern and so many green zones and tree lined avenues.
  • Polite traffic… four lanes merging into one – no problems.
  • Nice classy beggars… dude chalking a Caravaggio painting onto the sidewalk (much classier than the gypsies waving heather at you in London!)
  • Polishing up on my French… not speaking with anyone, but reading plenty of it. 🙂
  • Cute little ground critters… squirrels, chipmunks and gopher type things that would come right up and play around you.

Not so Cool Things About Canada

  • Couldn’t work out half the road rules… flashing green lights, four way stop signs? Who has right of way?
  • The pollen from the pine trees… it’s everywhere, a fine yellow dust that gets in your eyes, and puts a fine layer of yellow dust on everything, so glad I am not allergic to it.
  • Tax. Everything you buy is the price on the shelf, plus tax… and tax rates vary depending on what you are buying. Just include the damn tax in the shelf price and itemize it on the receipt – we all know it’s there.
  • Really, really bad road signs, even on the Icefields Parkway, a highway known for its amazing stops and lookouts… never a sign at the actually turn, it’s usually back a few kms, if at all. And hardly ever do you see distances on road signs, so you’re never quite sure how far you have left to go until a point of interest.

All up though, I loved Canada and reckon I could live here… now if I could just convince my in-laws to spend one Christmas in Canada so we could come and visit and I could see whether or not I could cope with the weather in winter!


Wet, wet, wet…

Well, we are heading out of Canada after only a too short sixteen days here. I absolutely love the place and can’t believe it has taken me so long to come visit… especially seeing I have been married to a Canadian for the last, how many years now?

But … Oh. My. God. I can’t get over how much water gets wasted here. Apparently Americans and Canadians use more water per capita than any other country in the world and from what I’ve seen so far, I can well believe it. We have seen council/province workers washing down the roads along the alpine passes and I mean literally washing down the walls of tunnels with a high pressure hoses even though they don’t look too grubby with soot or mud or anything, and also using water trucks at road works to wash down freshly laid asphalt, presumably to cool it down quicker… though I am not sure why, because given this weather surely it would cool down and harden soon enough of its own accord.

I haven’t seen a single toilet with a half flush option and depending on the cistern, they have 6L or 9L going down the gurgler every flush (and yep, the water goes in the opposite direction to the Southern Hemisphere). Many toilets I’ve seen have a ‘Flush and Hold Down Handle for 5 Seconds’ sign to make sure everything flushes away properly. It’s not that there isn’t enough water in the cistern to take away the waste, it’s just that the bowl is so large that there’s at least 2L or more sitting in the bowl so you need to hold down the handle to make sure all that swirls away first. Largest one I saw was at our hotel in Banff – the Banff International Hotel – actually had a cistern that had marked on it that it was a ‘3.5G pf /13L pf… yes, you read that right THIRTEEN LITRES PER FLUSH whereas in Australia most of our toilets are about 3L to 6L to flush!


I mean for crying out loud, I saw a sprinkler turned on in a campground, even though it had been raining half the day! Figure that one out?!?

One guy I spoke to about water, said recently it became financially viable for them to ship water to the Middle East by tanker, and bottle it over there, to sell Canadian mountain spring water in fricken Dubai or somewhere. They have so much water here they are literally shipping it overseas and have been sending it down by pipeline to California for donkeys years now. Which is fine, I guess – some entrepreneur/mogul is shipping it off somewhere to hopefully be used by people who appreciate it and need it, but it’s the waste that bugs me.

Taking the cake in the water wasting stakes, has to be the cabin we had at the Canyon Hot Springs near Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks. When we first got there I wanted to wash my hands and face so I ran the hot tap in the basin… no hot water. Checked the shower… no hot water… checked the kitchen sink… no hot water. Now, our accommodations weren’t exactly a backpackers hovel because I didn’t want to be sharing a room or a bed for the duration, so I was kinda at least expecting hot water!

Off to the Reception we went to inform them that we had no hot water… the message came back, ‘Oh, it’s okay. You just have to run it for about five minutes and the hot water will come up.’ O_o Five fucking minutes? I thought, surely you exaggerate, lady. So back in the cabin, I turned on the tap in the bathroom basin and waited. Went into the kitchen and boiled the kettle. Came back to the bathroom and checked the water – still cold. Pfaffed around making myself a cup of tea. Came back to the bathroom and checked the water – still cold! WTF. Went into the bedroom and sorted some things in my suitcase. Came back to the bathroom and checked the water – finally warming up. Yep… took about five minutes. Five minutes of a tap running on full bore to get to the hot water. Must have wasted about 80 plus litres of water, (if not more!), just to get the hot water running into the bathroom. Well, after that I decided to boil water to use in the basin and do dishes in, running the tap only to get the hot water ‘up’ to have showers and then making sure to shower one after the other so as not to have to wait for the heat again and not waste yet another bunch* of water every time someone wants to have a shower!

As an Australian who has recently lived through more than a decade of drought and has worked hard to get our entire household’s water consumption down to about 350L of water per day, with everyone having only three minute showers, and until a short while ago, having a bucket in the shower to collect the 6-7L of water before from the hot water came from the other end of the house so I could throw it out on my garden instead of going down the drain; I am absolutely appalled! Just because they have so much fresh water NOW surely doesn’t mean that attitudes towards use of fresh drinking water should be like this. :S

Oh and to put the icing on the cake… in down town Revelstoke was a huge banner hanging across the Main Street congratulating everyone for their water conservation efforts. *scoff*

(*everything in Canada comes in bunches… I’ve been trying to get used to it since we got here so I can fit in! 😛 )