Western USA and Canada Adventures – Part Ten: Calgary and the Rocky Mountains

The final weekend of my trip was spent visiting a friend who lives in the cowboy town of Calgary. During the weekend we headed off to Canmore at the base of the Rocky Mountains and did some hiking in the mountains immediately behind Canmore and then up to Big Beehive and on to The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House at Lake Louise.

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Western USA and Canada Adventures – Part Nine: Vancouver

I flew to Vancouver, Canada after a week and a half of visiting friends across the USA. Although I usually love time to myself it was quite a shock to be travelling alone in a city where I knew no one.

Many of my friends had told me great things about Vancouver, however, on arrival I was shocked at the number of beggars and those less well off. After walking along the waterfront, through Chinatown and Gaston I ended up traversing through a very rough few streets between Chinatown and Gaston. This was not the first impression I was expecting and suggested to me that although Canada is considered very progressive there is still work to be done to look after those in need.

The following day I walked through Yaletown, caught a ferry to Gainsville Island, where I had lunch and explored the markets, before hiring a bike to ride to Stanley park.

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North American Adventure: Part Five – Montreal

The train goes through that very narrow gap in the rock

The final city visited in my North American adventure was Montreal, Quebec, Canada. And this part of the adventure turned out to be most unexpectedly different from everywhere else.

The train from New York City to Montreal takes around 11 hours but is much cheaper and much more scenic than flying. And I deliberately caught it because of my love for trains. The train travels for a few hours out of Manhattan following the Hudson River and up to the state capital Albany. After being allowed to stretch the legs for about 10 minutes in Albany the train travels through farmland in Upstate New York until it reaches the Adirondack Mountains. Travelling through the Adirondack’s the train runs alongside Lake Champlain and finally up to the border of the USA and Canada. From the border it is another few hours through farmland and city outskirts to Montreal.

Old Montreal

Arriving in Montreal at 8pm on a Sunday night was an interesting experience. Before arriving I was aware that French was the primary language in Quebec, but my friend who lived there told me that you can survive fine without it. I knew once I got off the Amtrak that I needed to find my way to the metro and catch one train, then connect with another to make my way to my friend’s house. The first part of doing this was to find my way from the main train station to the metro station through the maze of underground tunnels that link up all the buildings in the CBD of Montreal. Once I found the metro station I then had to work out how to use a ticketing machine that was talking to me in French! Finally I made it to my friend’s house after getting a little lost trying to figure out where the street he lived on was in relation to the metro station – note: Google maps isn’t always 100% accurate.

One of many Montreal churches

My mate whom I was staying with is more of an outdoor junkie than I am. The next morning he hands me a bike and, despite having not ridden in a few years, I proceed to ride up the biggest (and only) hill in Montreal. The view of the city from Mont Royal is certainly worth the climb and afterwards we descended into the suburbs of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal and Mile End looking for bagel shops. In the afternoon I went into the city to explore, finding that Montreal is interesting in the number of large old churches and other buildings it has. More so than anywhere else on my adventure has the original settlers tried to emulate Europe.

That evening we went to a local park where an outdoor cinema was screening and ate “world famous in Quebec” Poutine – fries with cheese and gravy. The following day it was back on the bikes and for an even longer bike ride. This time out to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve where the annual Canadian Formula One race is held. When the circuit is not used for racing it is open to the public as a cycling track. After cycling around the circuit we headed to the Old Port area of Montreal where we had lunch. We then spent the remainder of the afternoon cycling around other suburbs of inner Montreal before returning home.

My final day in Montreal was spent tourist shopping for family and friends and sending many postcards to a variety of different countries around the world. In the late afternoon I caught the bus to the airport where I started the very long journey back to Sydney. In total I was away for 21 days. Over two full days of this was spent getting to and from Canada. I spent seven days in Toronto, four in New York City, two in Baltimore, two in Washington D.C. and three in Montreal and another day travelling from New York to Montreal. Writing this final blog seven weeks after returning to Australia the trip is already starting to feel like a dream. But it was truly one of the highlights of my life so far.

Cycling around the Canadian GP Circuit

North America Adventure: Part Two – Niagara Falls

North America Adventure: Part One – AAAI-12 in Toronto

Welcome to Canada

Last week I was in Toronto, Canada attending the 26th Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) Conference. Toronto was a great experience and is a rather interesting city.

I flew out of Sydney on Air Canada direct to Toronto with a very small layover in Vancouver. This is my first trip outside of Australia/New Zealand and I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect. It turns out a 13.5 hour flight, 1 hour layover, 4.5 hour flight is a very long time.

Downtown Toronto

I was a little disappointed by the service on Air Canada on the flight over. They are a part of the Star Alliance and based on my previous flights with fellow member Air New Zealand I was expecting a lot more. The flight was full and this meant I got stuck in the middle seat despite my request for a change. The crew onboard the aircraft were cold, blunt and to the point which is fine for short-haul but for a long-haul flight a smile wouldn’t go astray. The one positive was the food which was excellent.

The first leg of the flight to Vancouver went well for the first seven hours. Then we hit turbulence above Hawaii which made the next six hours, for a nervous flier like me, hell. Clearing customs in Vancouver was straightforward but the one hour layover was up before I even made it through to the gate for the second leg. The second leg of the flight was a lot quicker than I was expecting. Although by the time we were an hour away from Toronto I had hit the wall with fatigue and felt terrible.

CN Tower

Before I departed Australia, one of my friends told me that no matter how fatigued you are when you arrive you bounce wide awake. Naturally, this is exactly what happened to me. Despite it being 7pm at night and 9am in Australia I went for a walk around the city exploring until the sun went down at just after 9pm.

The accommodation for our stay in Toronto was at Pitman Hall, Ryerson University. On a number of occasions in the past I have stayed in university dorms for conferences. However, in this case, Pitman Hall was the worst student accommodation I have ever experienced. The bed was extremely poor quality and rock hard. Furthermore, there was no sound proofing at all. This meant that ever door open, close and slam, every footstep, and every conversation could be heard across the floor.

Massive Pizza

I spent the first day in Toronto exploring the Toronto Islands with some fellow PhD students from UNSW. The islands are a very short ferry ride from the downtown area and offer excellent views of the city. There are also beaches, beer cafes, and a small amusement park on the islands, all of which made for great fun. Once we were back in downtown Toronto we spent the evening up the CN Tower. Before finishing the day with the biggest pizza I have ever seen.

The next five days were spent attending the conference. Despite working in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics my mind has been absolutely blown with some of the advances that are being made. In all there were over 800 delegates from universities and industry based throughout the world. The Australian contingent was also very large with seven people presenters from UNSW, two from NICTA, and others from Macquarie University, ANU, Griffith University, and UTS.

Presenting at AAAI

Despite spending upwards of nine hours a day at the conference I managed to squeeze in a bit more sightseeing during the evenings. Early in the week I visited Casa Loma which is a castle that was built in the early 1900s, mid-week we visited the distillery district and got drenched in a sudden thunderstorm, and finally on the last night ended up going on an extremely long walk up a river to the east of the city.

Before leaving Toronto we also spent the final day at Niagara Falls. But that will be in the next post.