26 November 2012

Damn Vancouver!

Quite the milestone on my trip to report today guys. As of this moment I have crossed the border into an entirely new country... Canada! I know I am only like 1 hour from the America-Canada border so it isn't that much of a feat, but still, it is a little surreal for me to think about that I have now technically traveled to two countries.

And with the only thing you can predict about travel being that it is always going to be completely unpredictable, I took my first steps into Vancouver...

So my bus ride from my previous HelpX hosts in Bellingham, Washington state, America was uneventful. I managed to get through customs rather smoothly for the first time on this entire trip, and when I arrived in Vancouver I think I actually had a fair idea of where I needed to go for a change.

It was looking like it was going to be a great day! I was eager to sit down and relax.

I made my way to the sky-train station which was a convenient 100 meters away (win!), and determined which train and ticket I required. I put a $5 note into the ticket machine, but it spat it out. I put it in again, but out it came again. Sigh, what now? Already I was worried at what the day is going to bring me.

I recruit the help of a nearby lady, explaining that the machine won't seem to let me buy a ticket. She gives me a strange look and mumbles "This is not Canadian money, what is this?"

Oh.... ha! I had completely forgotten that Canada (obviously) has its own currency and here I was trying to put in a $5 American note into the machine, whoops! Thankfully she was kind enough to give me the $2.50 I needed for a ticket. Cool, all is good, I will simply withdraw money from my money card at a Canadian bank once I get into the city. 

If only my trip could be so easy...

Upon reaching the city I quickly track down an ATM, where my travel money debit card allows me to take money out in any currency (it's awesome,I highly recommend one for travel). A quick 30 seconds later I am now in possession of... a message on the screen informing me that an error has occurred and that I am unable to withdraw money from my card. Sigh. Moving onto an ATM of a different bank company I am annoyingly told the same thing.

Hmm... this could prove troublesome. I was somewhat berating myself for being so thoughtless, if I had remembered the fact that Canada obviously has their own currency in the first place, I wouldn't have to be lugging my very heavy backpack all over the cold and busy city.

But hey, times and situations like this really are what travel is all about, and when something goes wrong you must adapt and continue on no matter what. My next stop was logically a bank in the hope to talk to a real person who might be able to assist me.

Upon reaching the first bank I stumble across I notice a piece of paper stuck to the door of the bank. Oh, what's that? The bank (and all the others in the city) are closed because I just happened to have arrived on a public holiday?

Yep, that sounds like my luck.

Alright, fine, let's go into this nearby convenience store and try their ATM, maybe this one will be different. No luck... again I get the same error message. It has easily been over an hour by this stage, my legs and back are aching from carrying my bags, I am tired from being awake since 6am, and I am starting to stress a little at how I am going to get money to pay for my accommodation and food. Suddenly a great new idea springs to mind! How about I use my normal Australian debit card! It isn't meant for travel, and only has Australian dollars on it, but it should work with no problems.

I take it out of its hiding spot and place it into the machine, proud of myself for thinking outside the box on the fly so well. The familiar 'Please enter you PIN' request flashes on the screen.

I freeze for a moment, staring at the keyboard...

So it turns out that after being on the road for such a long time and that the last time I used this card was way back when I was still in Australia, it appears that I have completely forgotten my PIN haha!

I laughed quite hard at this to be honest as I stared down at the keyboard below not having the slightest clue which number to press first. The store clerk looked nervous.

Ok, scrap that idea, next! A new idea came to mind. I've got $70 USD on me (luckily!), I should hopefully, if they aren't closed, be able to exchange it for CAD. After asking for directions I find a currency exchange office nearby... they are open, yes! A while later I am now in the possession of $70 CAD... phew! That provides a little room to breath at least, however I am not in the clear yet. For instance, the hostel I have booked for the next two nights is $55 in total... which means that that would leave me with only $15 remaining for food and other expenses.

Hmm... that won't suffice. A new idea is needed.

Well I knew my travel money debit card has plenty of money on it, but it is in USD, although perhaps if the money was converted into CAD on the card I would be able to withdraw from Canadian ATMs for some strange reason? It was worth a shot.

I find a nearby McDonalds and commandeer their Wi-Fi connection from my iPhone, to then login to my back's webpage. Oh, what's this? My bank's webpage is down for maintenance and I have to return back later?



Ok, I'm tired, let's just go to the hostel, pay for my stay, and just use my remaining $15 for food for the day and deal with it tomorrow when the banks are open.

While still using the Wi-Fi connection I search for the location for of my hostel on Google Maps. It tells me it is about 20 blocks away from my current location, which means I'll need to take a bus. Although catching a bus is $2.50 for a ticket... which is money coming out of my food fund mind you! Damn. Reluctantly I had no choice. I get on the bus and take a seat... about 40 seconds later I look out the window as we were stopped at a red traffic light... only to see my hostel right there across the street! What the!?

My hostel was only like 2 blocks away, not 20! What the hell Google Maps! I just paid $2.50 for nothing!!!

I got off the bus, and couldn't help but laugh because when I looked down the street I could literally see the spot that I had jumped onto the bus it was that close... haha!

I'm now down to $12.50. Sigh.

I enter the hostel, thankful to be able to put my bags down, and explain my situation to the staff member. She laughs, and informed me that for future reference, the sky-train and the buses use the same tickets, so I could have used the sky-train ticket that I bought when I first arrived for the bus instead of buying a new one.

... brilliant.

She then suggests that we try the travel money debit card to see if it works anyway, as she has seen them before and has never had a problem with one.

It. Freaking. Worked...

I was both immensely relieved and annoyed at the same time. Turns out that while I can't for some reason take money off the card via an ATM, I can in fact pay for things with it for some reason, thus making the entirety of the last 3 hours completely unneeded.

Hello to you to Vancouver...

After the... eventful first day, my following day is when the adventure began. Although it was a completely solo affair as I had no friends what so ever here, and my attempts to make friends over breakfast failed. Fine by me!

The city is extremely beautiful and modern, already I felt at ease and jumped at the chance to just wander around aimlessly.

Shortly later I stumbled across the Vancouver Museum of Art. I find museums are a great way to spend a solid few hours, and I try to attend one in every single city I go to.

Sadly however... this one sucked. I was in and out within the hour, and considering that my ticket was $14 it was not a great investment what so ever. Sigh. I am no artist, not by a long shot, and by far the majority of the time I miss the 'message' an artist is trying to portray, but I cannot get onboard, nor understand in the slightest, the style of 'modern contemporary art', which is what the museum just happened to be showcasing upon my arrival.

For instance: A piece of wood painted white lying diagonally on the floor in the middle of a room, in my humble although strong opinion... is not art! It is a waste of time and money. The whole exhibition just flew right over my head.

After that I decided to head to a nearby park, known as Stanley Park, that I had heard about from quite a lot of people. It was awesome.

I got lost in this forest for 20 minutes...
And that was my day really.

The following day was to be science day! I am a huge nerd I gladly admit, and relish at the chance to spend at least a couple of hours at any kind of exhibition that involves science, computers, the Universe, dinosaurs, nature etc, and luckily Vancouver has their World of Science building, sweet.

I suspected by the time I emerge from this building, the sun would be down.

Dinosaurs are awesome
So how was it? Well damn expensive for starters despite my student ID card ($25!), and I found it catered towards kids way to much to the point where nearly every piece of information you read is in the form of a comic, game, or involves cartoon characters of some sort. Which would be fine if I didn't feel that they were summarizing the information too much. So that was a shame.

Although I did see a pretty amazing IMAX movie about polar bears! Their habitat is disappearing guys... the rate at which the ice caps are melting is increasing dramatically and noticeably every year, and if things don't change it will disappear all together. Global warming is real people!..

The next day I decided to try and attempt to figure out this travel money debit card situation that was still plaguing me. While I had now determined that paying for things with my card thankfully works without a problem, I still could not get cash out of the ATM, and a big rule I have when traveling is to always carry at least a little bit of cash on you.

After two hours and five banks later, I still had no answer.

Although upon my travel throughout the city I stumbled across the sight which piked my interests.

Is that an awesome looking snow capped mountain off in the distance? I must get a better view of that I think.

My quest objective was set for the next foreseeable hours. Along the way I stumbled across some true hidden gems of the city, specifically this amazing bookstore that I would of loved to have spent the entire day in really. They had a huge variety and the entire store had great character.

Wow! Now this is a bookstore.
Further along my quest I nearly tripped over my own feet when I glanced upon the picture below! My Australian friends and readers will definitely appreciate these next pictures ha.

Does that say... Koala Kebabs!? I don't even think we have those in Australia, so why on Earth would they be here in Canada haha! I went inside to investigate further, hoping to talk to someone who works there in the hope to clarify if it is indeed kebabs made of Koala meat or just some kind of marketing play. Annoyingly there was no one at the counter, and after 10 minutes still no one came to the counter, so I didn't get an answer...

Although upon turning to leave the store I saw this gem too haha!

I am very confused right now
Is that a polar bear!?  Hahaha! I couldn't figure out what was going on. I truly hope they don't think that that is what a koala looks like... if so, the story of 'drop bears' would take on a whole different level of horror.

After thoroughly enjoying being lost and exploring the streets for a while more, eventually I reached my intended destination. I think you will agree it was worth the effort to reach.


I had to walk through an expensive looking hotel, pretending I was a guest, to get access to their balcony to get these shots too, but it was worth it.

Often times getting lost in a new city can be quite remarkable and is one of the best ways to experience what it truly has to offer. The trick to make the experience even more memorable however is to get lost in a great city, and Vancouver truly is just that. The natural beauty is world class, matched only by the beauty of the city itself. The streets are alive, clean, friendly, full of atmosphere and hold many secrets that I am sure that I missed (although I was lucky enough to find the bookstore at least).

I had been in Vancouver for three days by this stage yet had still not managed to make friends, which is extremely uncharacteristic of me and my travels, so my best bet was to enroll in the hostel pub crawl planned for that night.

And what a blast that turned out to be!

Our first pub we went to was holding a trivia night so our band of 7 or so fellow travelers from all parts of the world formed a team and tried our best. Being completely different people from different countries and backgrounds paid off immensely, it seemed that there was always at least one person in the team who knew the answer to the question whether it was science, music, movies or whatever.

Some of the team thinking hard! Beers in hand of course.
During the 'guess the artist and the song title' quiz round, the announcer had this to say:

"Now this next song is actually a cover, so it isn't the original artist singing. In addition, it has been remixed, which makes it even trickier. I highly doubt that anyone knows who the singer is, although they are one of my favourites, so I'll make the bet the if any team gets this particular question right I'll buy the entire team a round of shots"

We had a listen. No one had a clue. I had an inkling that it was a singer called Tori Amos (who I have been a fan of for years) but wasn't sure, but hey, it was the best guess we had.

Turned out I was right! Win! Haha! The team thought it was absolutely brilliant, and we all got a free round of shots! Great times.

Then, to add to the night even further... our team won the trivia night!

On. Fire!

We won a heap of 'Canada' branded stuff like t-shirts, hats and the like. We thought it was the funniest thing to end up winning a pub trivia on a pub crawl so randomly like that. With my newly won 'Canada' t-shirt the remaining night was spent at a few more bars, concluding with crazy dance moves with an 80's rock band! It was epic.

Come the following day however I was not thinking it was a great night at all... I had easily the worst hang over I have ever had in my life. Simply brushing my teeth in the morning took immense concentration, and I spent the entire day in a haze and spin. The day was a complete write off to be honest ha.

And that about sums up my time in Vancouver, Canada. It was an awesome yet short 6 days all up, complete with huge challenges but memorable rewards, and it is always nice to have some surprises thrown your way so in that regard Vancouver certainly did not disappoint. There were times whilst lost and just roaming aimlessly around the city where I could easily picture myself living here some day, it really had everything I would want in a city; natural beauty, structural beauty, a great atmosphere, plenty of diversity, and a feeling of security.

Who knows, maybe I will return some day? For now I am content to say I have at least experienced it.

Now it's time to move onto my next destination, and what an amazing destination it is too!


Tom said...

Hah. Bloody hell, sounds like you had a whirlwind introduction to Canada. Canada has always been a place the British seem to emigrate to (that and Australia) and I've always been curious as to why. I'm definitely going to have to check it out one day. I had more than one currency scare when traversing through Europe! You'd be amazed at how many different local currencies there are, and how many places don't actually accept the Euro!

Tania said...

Haha, I know so many Aussies, mostly in Vancouver and Whistler, but also in Victoria. They tend to be the hippie surfer/snowboarder types who are here for the mountains and surf. It's too bad you didn't like Science World, maybe they've dumbed it down since last I was there. And you didn't go to the Aquarium!

Azz said...

Tom - Haha, bloody hell indeed my friend. It was insane. Yeah there were plenty of British and Australians around, at times it seemed to outnumber the locals! Haha I am surprised to hear you at currency trouble in Europe, that's funny.

Tania - Haha I felt like I was back home most of the time! The amount of Aussies was incredible, but yes you are right, they were all waiting around until their bus to take them to the mountains. Science World was awesome in its interactivity, and it did have a lot to offer. Yeah I ran out of time for the Aquarium I am afraid! But I felt like I got a good amount done at least, and I did leave with a very fond memory of my time there =)

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