Sunday, July 25, 2004

One Word: Exhausted!

I've heard it many times from co-workers (usually Upper Management, truth be told), but I never really understood it until this last week. It goes something like:

I just got back from holidays and, boy, do I need a vacation!

My week away from work was, in a word, spectacular. We rose at 3am to begin our journey from Calgary to Vancouver, a trip of nearly 1000km through the magnificent Rocky Mountains and the lush interior of British Columbia. Not wanting to miss a single moment of this holiday, I insisted that we drive the entire distance in one day. Thanks to some very nice highways, lots of coffee, and the unwritten rule that 10 or 20km/hr over the speed limit is okay (as if 110km/hr wasn't fast enough), we managed to make fairly good time. In fact, we would have done it in about 12 hours had we not stopped a couple hours short of our destination to visit with my Mom in a city called Chilliwack. But we did, and had a very nice visit at that. So, we dragged our exhausted bodies into a hotel in Vancouver (technically, we were in Burnaby, but it's all Vancouver to me) around 9pm and fell fast asleep. Step One of our mission was accomplished.

The next day was spent trying to figure out a city the size of which I had never had to deal with before. I think that my hometown of Calgary actually covers more area, but I wasn't prepared for the incredible congestion of such a highly-populated city as Vancouver! But, with much cursing and doubling-back to get the exit I missed, we were eventually able to make it to the world famous Stanley Park and the Vancouver Marine Aquarium. To ease the stress of finding the place, we took a leisurely one-hour horse and carriage ride around the Park with a dozen or so other tourist-types, after which we made our way to the Aquarium.

There were so many things to take in, and so many people to push through to see them. I wanted desperately to take a thousand pictures, but most wouldn't or didn't turn out due to the darkness of the undersea exhibits, not to mention the fact that I couldn't possibly have gotten a shot without someone posing for their boyfriend stealing the scene... I did, however, manage to get a few good shots of some coral and a sea otter. I also captured the entire Beluga Whale Live Demonstration on video, which was pretty cool.

After that busy day, we had just enough energy to grab a couple burgers and stumble back to our hotel.

The next day we took a ferry over to Vancouver Island. There, we spent our first 2 days in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. It wasn't nearly as busy as Vancouver had been, but still a little on the confusing side. It took us so long to find a decent hotel (somehow, we kept ending up in the "questionable" areas of town) that we very nearly decided to leave and travel further up the island. Fortunately, my girlfriend persuaded me to try a hotel that I was sure was outside our price range. As it turned out, the kind woman at the front desk took pity on us and gave us a great deal on a huge, luxurious room. So we stayed 2 days, as I said.

On our first day, we visited the Undersea Gardens, a touristy little get-up in Victoria Harbour where you can go beneath the water and view a variety of creatures. There was even a live show, where a diver went down to point out the different types of crabs, starfish, and their resident octopus. After that we went Whale Watching. As we were traveling out to the spot where we were to see the whales, I was sure it would be like fishing... We might see one or two in the distance, if we were lucky. Boy, was I wrong! We saw about 60 Killer Whales (Orcas) all around us, jumping, spouting, popping their heads up to look at us! . I was amazed and my girlfriend couldn't stop saying how beautiful they were. To see such incredible creatures swim past our small boat is an experience we will both treasure for the rest of our lives. After that 3 1/2 trip, we were beat again and had to retreat to the comfort of our hotel.

The next day, we went to the Royal British Columbia Museum to see "Eternal Egypt", a collection of Egyptian artifacts on loan from the British Museum in London. My girlfriend and I have been fascinated by Ancient Egypt for years, so this was an opportunity we couldn't pass up. To walk amongst statues, jewelry, and writings from a time up to 5000 years in the past was indescribable. It's one thing to see them on TV or in books, but quite another to have them right in front of you. All in all, what with the Egyptian exhibit, an Imax on the Mysteries of Egypt, and touring the rest of the museum (which is one of the nicest I have ever had the pleasure to visit), we spent a good 4 1/2 hours there, after which we bid farewell to Victoria and continued our journey northward.

After only 45 minutes of driving, we came to the town of Duncan and decided to find a place for the night. I don't want to tell you too much about this stop, because it is worthy of a blog all its own... But I will tell you that we spent an incredible night in the most unlikely of places.

The next day, we were off to Nanaimo (pronounced Na-Nigh-Mo, with the accent on the Nigh). I had lived in a small town just outside Nanaimo when I was 14, so I was eager to go back to some old stomping grounds for pictures. I found my old house had been radically renovated, to the point where it was all but unrecognizable. But the view of the ocean hadn't changed and was as beautiful as ever. I also located a couple of the schools I attended and preserved digitally for all time. We finished off our stay with a walk along the Nanaimo Harbour front, looking at all the boats, visiting the shops, and buying souvenirs. Then, it was back in the van and on to Parksville.

Parksville is a tourist town, through and through. From its long stretch of beachfront hotels, to its miniature golf courses, to its annual Sand Castle Building Competition, it definitely caters to the visitors. We only spent one night there, but we managed to play 2 rounds of minigolf, walk along the beach as the sun went down, and collect shells the next day when the tide went out. All in all, a nice little visit.

We had to return to Nanaimo to catch the ferry back to the Mainland. Once there, we decided to take a little "Picnic Cruise" around the Harbour and out to one of the nearby islands. It was a quite, 2 hour affair, but worth every penny of the $60 it cost us. In fact, it was the perfect way to cap off our trip to the island. After that, we boarded the ferry and began the first leg of our trip home.

We went straight through Vancouver and all the way to Chilliwack, where we stopped in one more time to visit Mom. We stayed and chatted rather late, considering we wanted to travel through a good portion of the night, and didn't really get back on the road until almost midnight. My girlfriend wasn't too happy about that (the late drive, not the visit), but we forged on and made it to the City of Kamloops (about 1/3 of the way home) by 4am. Here, she insisted that we stop and get a room... I was too exhausted to argue!

After about 6 hours rest, we were set to go again and get home to our kids. But, you know what they say about the best laid plans... Before we could even pull out of the parking lot, thick smoke began to pour out from under the hood of the van! And so, we spent another night in the fine City of Kamloops while our transportation was being repaired...

Shortly after the crack of dawn on Sunday morning, we were finally on the road to home. Despite how eager we both were to get the trip over with, the 7 or so hours seemed to fly by. Before we knew it, we could see the outskirts of Calgary on the horizon and our holiday was officially over. It was a bittersweet moment, but we were both too excited about seeing our kids to let it get us down.

Once at home, I had to quickly get some laundry done for work the next day, and then I collapsed into our bed.

I don't think we stopped, or even slowed down, throughout the entire week! There was always somewhere to go, something to see... It really took a lot out of us! That's why I finally understand and wholeheartedly agree: "I need a vacation!"

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