Saturday, March 31, 2007

"My Last Day In Canada, Hopefully For Less Than 15 Years"

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By the time Friday, March 16th rolled around, we were done with Nova Scotia, but we still had half a day in Canada left. Here's a map of the Canadian portion of the Friday drive:

We had two goals in Canada on Friday: 1) Go to Fundy National Park. 2) Leave Canada between 100p Atlantic time and 100p Eastern time. (Confusing, eh?) I don't remember if we accomplished the second goal (I think we crossed customs at around 145p Eastern), but we definitely accomplished the first goal.

The Bay of Fundy is supposed to have the highest tides in the world. And while the bay wasn't iced over, one of the best places to witness the phenomenon (Hopewell Rocks, east of the national park) was closed for the season. Oh well - the park itself was still open:



That last picture was from a short nature trail that we walked. The trail had snow on it, but the short loop we took was mostly a boardwalk, so it was an easy walk. We only really made two stops in Fundy National Park - one at the park entrance (where the first picture was taken), and one at the aforementioned loop trail. (And, of course, I'll now remind you for the last time that Amber has posted more pictures here.)

Upon leaving the park, we decided we didn't really have time for any other excursions in Canada, so we hopped on NB-1 and headed towards Saint John and the St. Stephen/Calais border crossing. Getting through customs took a lot longer this time than it did the first time. Not only was it in the middle of the day (as opposed to early in the morning), but this is a busier border crossing than Woodstock/Houlton. And, the United States is a little more thorough than Canada (and less friendly). But we didn't have any problems getting through. And as mentioned in yesterday's post, the first thing we did back in the United States was stop at a gas station and get two king size Reese's Fast Breaks.

The rest of the day, we followed US-1 along coastal Maine:

This portion of US-1 isn't really anything special, but I enjoyed the drive nevertheless. We didn't have a specific stopping point, but we wanted to get as far as we could, given the snowstorm that was moving in at the time. It would have been nice to stop for the night in Bar Harbor and check out Acadia National Park for a little bit (a place I went to 15 years ago), but the weather forced our hand on that one. Oh well - we'll have other opportunites to check out Bar Harbor, I'm sure.

While I think of it, here's one thing that we did on the trip. When we originally left State College, I declared a competition between myself and Amber: the first person to spot another North Carolina license plate wins! As it turns out, we didn't see another North Carolina plate for the entire trip. I didn't expect to see any in Canada, but I expected to see at least one in Connecticut or Massachusetts or something. I do remember seeing plates from Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and even South Carolina, but none from North Carolina.

While the bulk of the trip posts have now been completed, I still have four trip-related posts lined up for next week. I'm going to milk this proverbial cow for all I can. But for the most part, that's it for the vacation posts, sadly. I miss Canada.

Today's random thought:

- Something else I haven't talked about in a while is the "people counting" from my office window. There isn't really much to talk about other than numbers, but I had my first "retiree" this week. I haven't seen "professional woman" for over eight weeks, so I've removed her from the list. (I'll bring her back if I see her again, but eight weeks would suggest a trend.) I wonder what happened to her. Maybe she just pulls around to the other side of the building now. Or, more likely, maybe she got promoted.

Friday, March 30, 2007

"Canadian Grocery Stores and Gas Stations"

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I didn't want to go to Canada and not make at least one trip to the grocery store. In fact, we made two - one to Sobeys, and one to Atlantic Superstore. Sobeys is your typical grocery store; the one we went to in Moncton was quite large. Atlantic Superstore is more like a Wal-Mart Supercenter. (Speaking of which, Wal-Mart does have a presence in Atlantic Canada, but I don't recall seeing any Wal-Mart Supercenters. Perhaps Atlantic Supercenter has that market cornered.) Some highlights of our Canadian grocery store experience:

- I'm not sure how the prices compare overall, but all I know is that I got a box of Life cereal on sale for $1. That's right - one dollar. (That's $0.85 American!) I saved the box, mostly because it has everything printed in English and French (just like most food products you buy in Canada).
- One thing I'm actually a little disappointed in is that neither Sobeys or Atlantic Superstore had a "customer discount card" that we had to get in order to achieve maximum savings. I would have loved to add a Canadian discount card to my keychain collection. But from what we were told by one Canadian, the keychain discount cards haven't quite caught on in Atlantic Canada yet. The grocery stores and other retail outlets that use them only give you a wallet-size card.
- As I mentioned last week, the cashier who checked us out in Sobeys was fluent in English and French, and actually spoke to us in French first. Once we got to Nova Scotia, French didn't seem to be quite as prominent. But from what I know, it doesn't matter where in Canada you are, your can of Diet Pepsi will have English and French nutrition facts on it.
- Speaking of soda, I found a variety of Fresca at Atlantic Superstore that I haven't seen before - cherry citrus. There is a black cherry citrus flavor that I have been consuming heavily as of late, but I've never seen regular cherry citrus. It was good - it was kind of like a diet version of Mountain Dew Code Red. Which makes sense, considering that soda is a cherry citrus soda and all. (The Atlantic Superstore was in Halifax, by the way.)
- Sales tax in Canada is much higher than it is in the United States, and it's split into "GST" and "HST" (or maybe PST - I don't remember). I think one is provincial and one is national. In all, it totals to about 16%.

Now, about gas stations. I was looking forward to seeing gas posted for less than $1, since Canada uses the metric system, and there are 3.785 liters per gallon. (Incorporating the exchange rate as well: CN$1.00/L = US$3.24/gal.) Unfortunately, the cheapest gas price we saw was 100.7 c/L in New Brunswick. Most New Brunswick gas was around 101.5 c/L. PEI gas was closer to 108 c/L, while Nova Scotia gas was the most expensive at over 110 c/L, sometimes as high as 114 c/L (which converts to an absurd US$3.69/gal).

There were four primary gas stations in Atlantic Canada - Esso, Irving, Petro-Canada, and Ultramar. Here's a picture of a Petro-Canada sign in PEI:

Notice that unlike the Americans, the Canadians do not always use 9/10 as the fraction. (I think it's always at least 5/10, though.)

A tradition of mine is to get a Reese's Fast Break at a gas station when I'm on a road trip. So...do they sell Reese's Fast Breaks in Canada? Well, yes and no. They do not sell anything called a Reese's Fast Break in Canada. Instead, they sell something called a Hershey's Sidekick, which is the same thing, only with a different wrapper. Unfortunately, we never found them in "king size", and they weren't available at every convenience store. Other naming differences: Milky Way bars are simply called "Mars" bars, and Hershey's "Take 5" is called "Max 5". My question is this: Why? I don't understand why "Sidekick" would have better appeal in Canada while "Fast Break" would have better appeal in the United States. It all seems completely arbitrary to me. Maybe next time I go to Hershey Park, I'll ask someone. All I know is that upon re-entering the United States, we went to the first gas station we saw and each had a king size Reese's Fast Break.

One more word about various establishments in Canada. Some American establishments such as Wendy's and McDonald's that have crossed the border have artifically inserted a Canadian maple leaf into their logo. I mean, please. It's like they're patronizing Canadians by saying, "Look at us! We have a maple leaf in our logo! We're Canadian!" Umm, no you're not. If I were Canadian, I'd be insulted.

This post doesn't really have a point, just so you know. These are just some of the thoughts that go through my head from time to time.

Today's random thought:

- Nearly five months ago, I talked about my afternoon commute competition. (Just to summarize, I chose 10 different ways to get home from work, took each one 5 times, and the fastest 5 moved on to the next round.) Well, I recently finished Round 2. Instead of devoting an entire post to this (which most of you can't relate to anyway), I'll just summarize the results. Of the five routes that advanced out of Round 1, four also advanced out of Round 2. The only new route to advance was the route that cuts through the Crossroads shopping plaza. I was surprised this route was as fast as it was, but in any event, I think I've found the best ways to get home from work.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

"The Rest of Nova Scotia"

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Today, I'm going to combine the remaining two days of Nova Scotia into one post, because I'm not sure if either classifies as a "full day". First, the obligatory map: (I've left out the drives on local Halifax streets, because all that would do is clutter the map. Also, we took Route 2 instead of the Route 102 expressway, but it was hard to get that to show up on the map.)

Tuesday and Wednesday night were both spent in Halifax. It was nice being able to leave our stuff in the hotel, for once.

Wednesday, we went two places of note - something called the "Citadel", and Peggy's Cove. The Citadel is a fortress on a hill in the middle of Halifax. It looked quite out of place, but it did give us a nice view of the city. Here's a picture of a picture of the Citadel from above: (Yeah, I know it's lame to take a picture of a picture, but I'm just trying to give you an overview.)

Personally, I'm surprised the thing was open at all, considering it's mostly an outdoor attraction. I was also surprised to see several people there. I think a decent portion of it was closed, however. Maybe I should have read up on the history of this thing while we were there, because after going there, I really don't know anything about it. That's about it for the Citadel.

Now, Peggy's Cove, which is apparently one of the most-visited attractions in Nova Scotia. First, a shot of the neighboring town from inside the car:
(I think that's a reflection of the official Nova Scotia Travel Guide in the windshield, by the way.)

Now, a view from the nearby ocean shore:

(Again, Amber has several more pictures here.) Peggy's Cove also had a gift shop (open!) and - you guessed it - a lighthouse. It looked like it was right out of a postcard, and it was a nice place to just sit and relax. (Except for that 30 mph wind.)

On Thursday, we took the scenic route from Halifax back to Sackville, NB, where we were spending the night. We originally planned on going to the western portion of the province either Wednesday or Thursday, but once we realized how long it would take to go all the way around the western side of the province (about 400 miles), we skipped it and decided to try our luck with portions of the Glooscap Trail and Fundy Shore Ecotour. Along the way, we stopped in the town of Stewiacke and saw a giant statue of a mastodon:

The mastodon was fenced off next to an adjacent mini-golf course (which was closed). Maybe you have to play mini-golf in order to see the mastodon up close? Seems like a fair trade to me.

Stewiacke claims to be halfway between the North Pole and the Equator:

Stewiacke is not located along the 45th parallel, but is just north of it at 45.14°N. However, the earth is not a perfect sphere, and thus the 45th parallel is not exactly halfway between the north pole and the equator on the earth's surface. The folks at Stewiacke's Mastodon Ridge claim that at just north of the 45th parallel, they are, in fact, halfway. I haven't been able to verify this myself, but I am pretty sure that the halfway point is truly north of 45°N (as opposed to south of 45°N).

For the rest of the day's drive, we had the good fortune of having a cloudy, foggy day where you couldn't really see much of anything. Hooray! But we did see some cool stuff. Amber has several foggy pictures from Thursday's drive, but I'll just show you some interesting-looking rocks:

That's it for Nova Scotia - four days, three nights, and a lifetime of memories. (Seriously, how lame was that sentence?) But we still had one more day in Canada, and I'll talk about that on Saturday. Tomorrow, another trip-related sidebar. You didn't think I would go through all of these posts without talking about Canadian grocery stores, did you?

Today's random thought:

- It's been a while since I talked about Bojangles'. I recently went four full weeks between visits (February 23rd through March 23rd), which might be the longest I've gone since I moved here. Most notably, the Bojangles' I went to (Western Blvd, just west of the NC State campus) had the most expensive 3-piece dinner I've recorded thus far, at $5.93 (including tax). I'm surprised it was more expensive there than in more upscale Apex. Maybe they're just trying to price gouge all of the college students. On the other hand, their drive-thru was really fast!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"Candlepin Bowling"

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Like in many places, Halifax has several bowling alleys. But walk inside, and you'll notice something is different. The pins are smaller. The balls are smaller. What is this, some kind of sick joke? Nope - it's "candlepin bowling". Well, we had to give this a try, of course.

First thing's first. We had to figure out how to play. So, we watched a bunch of league bowlers. Apparently, you get three rolls per frame, not two. Well, good thing - this already looks hard enough as it is, at least they give us an extra roll. Also, they don't clear the knocked-down pins between rolls. That's also good, because you can use knocked-down pins to help knock down the remaining pins. Now all we need to do is figure out the scoring. We asked the clerk at the bowling alley, and he actually didn't know. But somehow we found out that "strikes" and "spares" are scored the same as in regular bowling, and that if you knock down all 10 pins on the 3rd roll, you don't get any bonus from that. It turns out that we had it right. Woo!

Now...generally, when I go bowling, the goal is to break 100. I feel I should be able to break 100 every time I go out there. But in candlepin bowling? No way. 100 is a great score in candlepin. In 6 games that we played between Tuesday, March 13th and Wednesday, March 14th, I think my best score was in the high 80s or low 90s. I'm very happy with that. (My worst score: 47. Better luck next time, eh?) But the best part about my bowling experience: my very first throw was a strike. Yeah! This isn't so hard. Well, it turns out that in 6 games, that was the only strike I was able to get. I think I was able to pick up an average of one spare per game in the rest of the games. Most spares were picked up by knocking down 7 or 8 pins on the first throw, leaving some pins on their side in front of the remaining pins, and then just hitting that pin to knock down the remaining pins. But strikes are really hard to get. In fact, according to the Wikipedia page, the best ever recorded score in a game of candlepin bowling is only 245. That's still higher than my best-ever score in regular bowling (201).

Now, the frustrating things about candlepin bowling. The ball is smaller and lighter, so it's harder to control than a big 16 pounder. Good luck hitting that first pin. And even if you do hit that first pin, there's a chance you'll only knock down 4 or 5 pins. Miss the center pin, and you might still knock down a decent number, but there's also a chance you'll get what the Wikipedia page calls a "Half Worcester" - that's when you hit either the 2 or 3 pin head-on, and only knock down the 8 or 9 pin besides that, for a roll score of 2. I definitely remember getting some of those. But hey, at least that's better than the near-gutter balls that get 1 or 0, which were even more common.

Towards the end of the last two games, I decided to try the "curvy bowling" approach. The balls are light enough where it wasn't that hard to put some spin on the ball. The balls don't have fingerholes, but you can easily hold one with the palm of your hand, so the ball was easy to spin. I didn't do any better with curvy candlepin bowling. In fact, I probably did worse. But it was more fun. And if I ever got good at it and could hit that front pin time and time again, I think I could be a very good candlepin bowler. Then again, of the league bowlers we watched, none of them used the curvy approach - they were all straight bowlers. So maybe that's not the way to go. Oh well - it's not like I'm going to be candlepin bowling any time soon. According to Wikipedia, the only places you can go candlepin bowling are in New England and Atlantic Canada...and one bowling alley in Ohio. Hey, maybe a trip to the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming is in order some day.

Today's random thoughts on "24": (Spoilers!)

- Seems like they were trying to show Jack's compassionate side in this episode. Is he not the most complete character on television?
- That was a boring resolution to the Nadia "treason" story, wasn't it? I was hoping that either she was guilty, or somebody else in CTU set her up. But hey, here's an idea. Maybe that guy who found the chip (or whatever it was) is actually working together with Nadia, with the terrorists. Is that so far-fetched? (Yeah, probably.)
- Does saying "I owe you an apology" actually count as an apology? That's kind of like saying "I owe you 5 bucks", and then not paying.
- Wayne Palmer woke up fast, didn't he? Sitting up in bed and all. He looked great. I'm assuming he isn't married, because if he was, his wife would be there. Maybe he learned from his brother's marital mistakes.
- It's time to try and remove President Palmer from office again! It's like Season 2 all over again.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"Nova Scotia Has A Lot Of Lighthouses"

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Here's the map of the drive from Tuesday, March 13th:

The only time we were even sort of lost the whole trip was in Glace Bay near the beginning of this day's drive. We thought there was a direct route south of Glace Bay to the rest of the southern shore of Cape Breton Island, but...nope. It was just a little hard to find our way out of that place. That's all. But this was a picture from one of the dead-end roads in Glace Bay:

As it turns out, we took more than one picture of the lobster the rest of the vacation. Wahoo!

After finally finding our way out of Glace Bay, we made it to Louisbourg, where they have a lighthouse. Nova Scotia has lots of lighthouses. After seeing a few of them, I've decided they all look the same. So here's the only picture of a Nova Scotia lighthouse that will make its way to this blog:

The rocky shoreline surrounding the lighthouse was the highlight of this particular venture. This was the first time on the trip were we actually saw some waves crashing the shoreline (as opposed to just being iced over):




The lobster was pretty dirty by the end of the trip. I washed him when I got back to Raleigh (Cary). The lobster really blends in, doesn't he?

The rest of the day, we took Route 7 along the southern shore towards Halifax. Route 7 looked like a fun road on the map. And, it was a fun road. But it wasn't labeled as a scenic road on the map (I don't think). And as it turns out, it must not have been very scenic, because we don't have any pictures of it. Oh well.

The day ended in Halifax, which is the largest city in the Atlantic Provinces at between 300,000 and 400,000 people. I thought it looked a lot like Pittsburgh, personally. Maybe it was just cloudy.

What did we do on our first evening in Halifax? And what did we do again the next day because it was so much fun? Check in tomorrow and find out.

Today's random thought:

- This is a grammar lesson for NASCAR announcers everywhere. The sentence "That car is running good" does not demonstrate proper grammar. The word "good" is an adjective, and that sentence requires an adverb such as "well". "That car is running well" demonstrates proper grammar, and it actually sounds intelligent. A car can be good, but it can not do anything "good". So, in short, the following sentences are correct: "That car is good." "That car is running well." I'd appreciate it if you'd get this right, because it makes you sound like a bunch of uneducated hillbillies.

Monday, March 26, 2007

"How Not To Put Together An NCAA Tournament Bracket"

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A few of the hotels that we stayed at had a computer with internet access in the lobby for its guests to use. Our hotel in North Sydney on the night of Monday, March 12th was one of these. So, I thought it was a good opportunity to put together my picks for this year's NCAA tournament. I tried not to think too hard about my picks since I didn't want to spend more than a few minutes at the computer during our vacation, but I already knew what I had in mind. 1) VCU and Winthrop will win at least one game, possibly more. 2) Ohio State, Kansas, and North Carolina are overrated and will flame out early. 3) Texas and Virginia are underrated and will go far. 4) Either Georgetown or Texas A&M will win the tournament.

"So, Chris...how'd those work out for you?" Well...at least I got one thing right. But the problem was, I also picked VCU to win two games, and Winthrop to win three games. That didn't happen. There's almost always at least one double-digit seed to win a couple of games. In the past, I've done a decent job spotting them. (For example, one year, I picked four double-digit seeds to make the Sweet 16, and three of them actually made it. This was back when nobody really knew anything about Southern Illinois.) But this year's tournament has been almost completely devoid of upsets. Boring! I guess it's never going to be as good as it was last year with George Mason.

As for those other predictions...I had Ohio State losing in the second round to BYU. Oops. Ohio State has flamed out against every good non-conference team they've played, so I thought they would flame out against an underrated team from the Mountain West. Turns out I picked the wrong team from the Mountain West to beat the a team from the Big Ten. But I had no business making this pick. Even if a #1 seed loses in the second round, for you to get any credit for it in your bracket pool, you have to hope the winning team gets by that 8/9 game first. So it just isn't worth it. From now on, I'm always picking the #1 seeds to make it to the Sweet 16, no matter what. As for Kansas...I never forgot that they lost at home to Oral Roberts earlier in the season. And North Carolina is just another mediocre ACC team. If North Carolina was really one of the best four teams in the country, they wouldn't have gone 11-5 in the ACC. Really, it just comes down to the fact that I don't know what I'm talking about.

More proof: Texas and Virginia were two of my Elite 8 teams, and neither made it out of the second round. I admit it - Virginia was a stupid pick. They were just another mediocre ACC team. But Texas? What happened there? Kevin Durant was supposed to have a Carmelo Anthony-like tournament. Or so I thought.

As for my pick to win it all, I couldn't decide between Georgetown and Texas A&M. I looked up Ken Pomeroy's computer rankings, and Texas A&M's rating was just a little bit higher - hence my pick of Texas A&M to win it all. I didn't want to pick the "name team" to win it all - that's what I've done the last two years, and it didn't work out. I was looking for this year's "Florida". Swing and a miss!

So...in short, I really don't know what I'm doing with these bracket picks. Am I making excuses? Perhaps? Am I complaining? I don't think so - I'm just saying how much my picks sucked. I could complain about all those near-misses, but that's the way basketball is. Unfortunately, I don't know where to go with next year's picks. I seemed to do much better with the picks before I started watching a lot of basketball. Should I just go with the favorites? No - that's boring. There will always be upsets, and picking the favorites is never going to win you a bracket pool. It's a good way to get in the top 50%, but that's it. I'm never going to stop picking upsets, because that's half the fun of making these picks. It was very rewarding to see VCU and Winthrop win their first game. It's just too bad that all the favorites won after that. Maybe next year...

Today's random thought:

- I don't know how the time system was developed, but I think they could have done a better job. 86,400 seconds per day? Why didn't they just define the second so that there were 100,000 seconds per day? Then they could define a minute to be 100 seconds, and an hour to be 100 minutes. Then there would be 10 hours per day. That would be the metric way. Why didn't they do that? Maybe 10 hours isn't enough to distinguish different parts of the day. Alright, then make it 40 minutes per hour, and then it would be 25 hours per day. But then having an odd number of hours in the day would prevent the use of "A.M" and "P.M" distinctions. Actually...if you're going to waver away from the powers of 10, then you're no better off with that system than we are with the current system. But at least there would be 100,000 seconds in a day.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

"Welcome To Nova Scotia"

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New Brunswick was nice, PEI was...okay, but it was finally time to make our way into Nova Scotia. The hotel in Sackville wasn't far from the border, so it was a quick hop in the Trans-Canada Highway, and there we were:

Here's the map of the route we took on Monday, March 12th:

The drive can be separated into two parts - the Sunrise Trail, and the Cabot Trail. Nova Scotia has several scenic highways very well marked on maps and on the roads themselves. It's really nice. The Sunrise Trail and Cabot Trail were just two of these routes.

The Sunrise Trail went along the north shore of Nova Scotia, mostly along Route 6. We didn't follow the entire Sunrise Trail, but we did follow almost all of it from Amherst to New Glasgow. Along the way, we stopped at the Jost Vineyards (rhymes with "most", I think) so Amber could buy her favorite wine, because they won't ship it outside of Nova Scotia. You have to go there and get it yourself. Well, that's what we did.

Again, I remind you that Amber's site has many more pictures from the trip than I am posting here. Here's one picture from the Sunrise Trail:

One word about the roads of Nova Scotia. There are three main categories of Nova Scotia provincial highways. One of these refers to the routes with numbers less than 100 - these are called "trunk routes", and Route 6 is one of these. Probably the biggest problem I had with the trunk routes is that the symbols used to mark them are the same as for US highways. Boring! Give me something different. At least the arterial highway markers were a little more distinctive.

Now, on to the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island (the island at the eastern end of Nova Scotia). The Cabot Trail is often considered one of the most scenic roads in North America. And, I'd have to agree. This road had it all - it was a fun road to drive, and it had beautiful scenery. I'll just let the pictures do the talking. (It looked a lot different than it does in the summer, of course.)












In hindsight, I think we should have spent more time in this area. Next time we go back here, we'll be sure to do that. I don't know when we'll be back - it may not be for 30 years - but it's going to happen.

Just to warn you, Monday's post won't really have anything to do with the trip.

Today's random thought:

- Most of the names of sports talk radio stations are really generic. "The Team". "The Ball". "The Fan". "The Ticket". "The Score". "The Franchise". I mean, come on guys. I think every station with one of those names should ditch it and try to come up with something a little more creative.

Friday, March 23, 2007

"The Tim Hortons Brier"

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At the end of yesterday's post, I said I was glad to be in front of a television on the evening of Sunday, March 11th. Why? Because of something called the Tim Hortons Brier. What's that? Well...in short, the Tim Hortons Brier is Canada's national championship of - what else? - curling.

Curling is on television far more frequently in Canada than it is in the United States. But I wasn't going to be disappointed if I didn't get to find it on the Canadian airwaves during my visit. Then, while watching the equivalent of the TV Guide channel looking for something to watch on Sunday night, we found it. And it wasn't on just any old channel. It was on CBC in a Sunday prime time slot. Curling is a big deal in Canada. And if you didn't think so, all you had to do is tune in and watch. The crowd, packed to capacity in a large arena in Hamilton, Ontario. And with every big shot...the crowd goes wild! It was just like watching a popular American sport on television in terms of the atmosphere. I was in heaven. (And just so you know, Amber was just as excited about it as I was.)

When we tuned in, the match was already at halftime. The team from Newfoundland and Labrador was beating the team from Ontario, 5 to 3. ("Newfoundland and Labrador" is the full name of the province, by the way, not just "Newfoundland". And the Canadians pronounce it "NEW-fin-LAND", not "NEW-fin-lind".) Then, the match resumed. Unlike with most of the Olympic curling coverage from Torino, CBC showed the entire match live and in full. They didn't skip the first few ends, and they didn't skip the first couple of throws in each end. They showed the whole thing. It was really nice to see, because in a lot of the American Olympic coverage, I was always curious what teams usually do on the first couple of throws. Although I can see why the Olympic coverage trimmed down the coverage some - the entire championship match took three or four hours.

As I watched, I realized that I recognized some of the players on the Newfoundland team. Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Jamie Korab...where have I heard these names before? Oh yeah, they were on Canada's curling team in the 2006 Olympics, the team that won the gold medal. Brad Gushue was the skip (i.e. captain), Jamie Korab was the funny-looking guy with discolored hair, and Mark Nichols was simply "the man" - his throws in the Olympics were amazing. So, I thought these guys had the advantage for sure and were surely going to close the deal and win this match. But, nope - Team Ontario dominated the second half and won 10-6. And they celebrated as if they had won an Olympic gold medal. (I don't think I've stated this enough. The Tim Hortons Brier is a big deal.) I'm very disappointed in Brad Gushue. He had his opportunities, but he just didn't make the throws when he needed to. You really let me down, Brad. But give the other team credit, they made some great throws to win. It was a very exciting match to watch. I think I'd rather watch two Canadian teams curling against each other than an Olympic match. I think Canada could take a dozen different teams to the Olympics with them and they could all win the gold medal. It's probably like the United States used to be in sports like basketball. Now, of course, the United States doesn't always win in basketball - in fact, they usually don't. Is curling headed in a similar direction? In 20 years, will Canada be relegated to bronze medals? Hey, maybe the United States can catch up. The existence of the Triangle Curling Club isn't likely to help the United States win a curling gold medal (at least right now), but hey, let's be honest. Curling is probably my best chance at winning an Olympic gold medal. But slightly more realistically, maybe if I start my kids out young with curling...hey, you never know.

One word about the title sponsor, Tim Hortons. Tim Hortons is a Canadian chain specializing in coffee and breakfast food. And, they're everywhere in Canada. I'd call them the Starbucks of Canada. I must say, it was a refreshing change to see a Tim Hortons on every other street corner instead of Starbucks. We went there a couple of times for a donut or two. I don't think they're anything special, and I would probably get tired of them if I was Canadian, just like I'm tired of seeing Starbucks. Then again, maybe Tim Hortons is part of "Canadian Pride". (By the way, since I'm a stickler for this sort of thing: Tim Hortons is plural, but it is not possessive.)

Oh yeah...one more thing. For the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the Royal Canadian Mint has recently started issuing commemorative quarters. The first commemorative quarter? Curling. Guess who got one? Me, of course - I wasn't leaving Canada without one. It's now proudly displayed in the same folder that I've been keeping my United States state quarters.

Tomorrow, it's back to the trip. Nova Scotia, here we come!

Today's random thought:

- I've had a Sacagawea dollar coin in my wallet for a while now. I got it as change from the post office. Well, this week, I decided it was finally time to use it, and I was going to use it at the place I received it - the post office stamp machine. The machine said it accepts dollar coins. But I put mine in, and...nothing. It didn't give me credit for a dollar, and I couldn't return it. Ugh. What a waste. Dollar coins are useless in this country.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Prince Edward Island Looks A Lot Like Pennsylvania"

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I think I was looking forward to the drive over the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island more than Prince Edward Island itself. As we soon discovered, there isn't a whole lot there. So let's start with a picture just before the bridge: (I've decided to use smaller pictures in today's post since I'll be including several pictures today.)

I really enjoyed the bridge; I just wish I had a better view of the surroundings. The walls on either side of the bridge were high enough so that you couldn't see a whole lot. However, Amber was able to get this picture of ice on the Northumberand Strait separating New Brunswick from PEI:

And now, the welcome sign:

The message on the welcome sign confuses me. Our vacation would only start here if we happened to live on the other side of the bridge. Our vacation started back in Pennsylvania 36 hours ago.

So, that was Saturday. Sunday, March 11th, was the day we actually spent touring the island. If memory serves me right, here's the route we took on Sunday:

Now...the reason I say PEI looks like Pennsylvania is because, well, it does. The interior sections do, at least. Rural towns separated by rolling hills and farmland. It wasn't anything special. We didn't take any pictures of the interior of PEI, only some from the shorelines we ventured upon. (The shorelines do not look like Pennsylvania, by the way.) Amber has several pictures on her site from the shorelines (including a few of a dog that followed us down a gravel road - I did not endorse those pictures), but I think this one pretty much sums it up:

That picture was from the PEI Provincial Park, which was just about the only tourist destination on the island. It's really nothing more than a beach, and needless to say, this wasn't really the season to go to the beach. But that's okay. We saw stuff you can't see in the summer months.

It doesn't sound like I'm being very complimentary of PEI, but I'm glad we went. I mean, we pretty much had to stop by and check it out. PEI doesn't have the scenery that New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have, and it's kind of isolated from the rest of the region. But the isolation is their own fault - I mean, they charge you $40.75 (Canadian) just to leave the island. That's definitely the most expensive toll bridge I've ever taken. Are they trying to drive away all of the tourists and keep the island isolated? I don't know, but next time we go back to Atlantic Canada, I think we'll skip PEI. Even this time, we didn't stay on the island as long as we had originally planned. The original plan was to go all the way around the island, but by 100p or 200p, we decided we had enough of PEI and went back to New Brunswick. Some of the pictures from the New Brunswick shore on Amber's site are really neat, by the way. Here are my two favorites:


(I think those pictures are actually from the day before. Oh well.)

The day ended at the Marshlands Inn in Sackville, NB. Our room that night was certainly the most interesting-looking hotel room of the trip:

A few words about this hotel. First off, as is often the case at many of these privately-owned hotels, they served dinner at the hotel. The person who checked us in politely asked us, "Will you be joining us for dinner?" We said "maybe", which, of course, meant "no". For one thing, we didn't really like being pressured into eating dinner there. It would have been better for them to say something like, "In case you're hungry, we serve dinner here." And, it looked rather expensive. We were better off eating chicken fingers and burgers at the Patterson's Family Restaurant, rather than eating some random meat in some random sauce with some random vegetables for more money. Who wants that?

Also...at this hotel, we had the option of getting two different types of rooms. One type had a TV, while the other did not. We ended up in one of the rooms with a TV, and because of what we found on TV that night, I'm glad we did. More on that tomorrow.

Today's random thought:

- 102.9 FM ("Carolina's Greatest Hits!") has changed their station identification music. Their jingles used to be distinctive, but now they sound like every other station out there. They must have the same group of "singers" that do the jingles for all the oldies-type stations around the country. Do they have to keep slightly changing the jingles every now and then just to give the singers something to do?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"My First Day In Canada In 15 Years"

Skip to the random thoughts on "24" (Spoilers!)

On to Canada! Here was the approximate route we took on Saturday, March 10th:

We weren't far from Canada at the start of the day, so it was a quick hop onto the last 3 miles of I-95 and through Canadian customs. It was early in the morning (around 800a Eastern, I think), so there was no line, and after a quick chat with the Canadian customs guy, we went right through. We only had two for-sure destinations that day - Crystal Palace (the indoor amusement park), and the Super 8 Motel just west of Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. Until then, let's see what we can find!

Contrary to what is indicated on the map, TCH-2 is an expressway all the way from Woodstock (the first town in New Brunswick) to Moncton. (TCH = Trans Canada Highway, by the way. TCHs don't have specific numbers; there are just certain provincial highways that are designated as Trans Canada Highways. TCH-2 was one of these.) We didn't really find anything interesting along TCH-2, but we did take a picture of this visitor center: (Another reminder - for the complete book of pictures, go here.)

I just like it because of the giant question mark. What's inside? We don't know! It's a mystery. (I found the same humor in all of the "question mark" signs which led to visitor information sites. It's as if they're saying, "If you turn right, you'll find...we're not telling you. You'll have to find out for yourself. It'll be a surprise!") As it turns out, we don't know what's inside that visitor center, because it was closed. Just about every tourist destination we saw between Woodstock and Moncton was closed for the season.

Before we went amusement parking, we stopped at an ATM to get some Canadian money. I took out $80, and since you can pay for almost everything with plastic these days, that was more than enough cash to get me through the week. Despite the monetary differences, paying with plastic in Canada with my American was no problem whatsoever. The bank did the conversion automatically. I did get a bunch of miniscule "international exchange fees" on my bank statement, but those only totaled to $5 or $6 or so for the whole trip. (The exchange rate is currently $1.00 USA = $1.17 CAN, by the way.)

The Crystal Palace indoor amusement park in Moncton seemed like a good place to go. This place had full-day passes with unlimited rides for $16.95, as well as tickets you could buy on a pay-per-ride basis. We got the full-day passes, but in hindsight, we could have saved a dollar or two by paying per ride. Oh well. There was one roller coaster (which surpassed expectations, mostly because each ride went three laps around the track), a mini-golf course, and we rode some other carnival-type ride. Personally, I think there were too many little kids there. But I'm glad we went. It was fun, even though we got tired of it fairly quickly.

Unbeknownst to me prior to this trip, Moncton (pronounced MUNK-ton) is the largest metro area in New Brunswick. Saint John used to be the largest, but in the most recent Canadian census, Moncton passed Saint John for first place in the province. We got to see a decent portion of Moncton, and it looks like a nice town. It's not exactly "up and coming", but neither is any other city north of the 40th parallel.

Before too long, we left Crystal Palace and tried to find some other cool stuff in New Brunswick. After a nice drive along the eastern shore, we found our way here:

Amber has several pictures from "La Dune de Bouctouche" on her site, but here are a couple:

(In case you can't tell, using HTML to align pictures properly isn't one of my strengths.)

It was a long, windy, cold walk out on that boardwalk. We didn't make it all the way to the end. But I was impressed. You won't see ice-covered seas in summer. Personally, I think that adds to the scenery. I think the Bouctouche Dune was the best "accidental find" of the whole trip, if nothing else because it gave us an opportunity to get out of the car and go for a nice walk outside. The best thing about this was that we saw a picture of it on a bus earlier in the day, and said "Hey, I wonder where that is". Found it!

One more word about this area of New Brunswick. It's very French-oriented. All road signs in New Brunswick are bilingual, as are the license plates, and many services. The cashier at the grocery store in Moncton actually spoke to us in French first. That kind of caught me off guard. It may have been a designated French-speaking cash register, I don't know, but the cashier's name tag specified that she was fluent in both English and Fran├žais. (Yes, I am going to talk about Canadian grocery stores in a future post. Don't worry.)

The rest of the day, we made our way over the Confederation Bridge and onto Prince Edward Island, which will both be featured in tomorrow's post. Wahoo!

Today's random thoughts on "24": (Spoilers!)

- In case you were wondering, I did get to watch "24" and "Lost" while I was in Canada. More on that when I get to my "Canadian Television" post. This discussion is entirely about this week's episode, however.
- Maybe it's just me, but the background music seemed really overdramatic in this episode.
- So...who set Nadia up? Doyle? Milo? Nobody? The show is trying to make Doyle look like the bad guy, but because of the show's deliberate attempts to deceive, all that means is he's probably not the leak.
- Is Wayne Palmer married? If so, where the hell is his wife? If not, would the United States ever elect an unmarried man as president?
- The vice president's stubbornness seems rather unrealistic and over-the-top. But hey, maybe not. You never know what those closed-door meetings with President Bush are like.
- This is something Amber pointed out to me. People don't commonly use the phrase "within the hour" in real life - instead, they usually give a static time. (Examples: "I'll get there around 9." "I'll be done by this afternoon.") But on this show..."within the hour" is used quite frequently, because it means "you better tune in next week". The characters often don't reference the actual time, but instead how many hours it is until the next event. I guess they don't trust the viewer to always know what time it is during the show, even though it is frequently flashed up on-screen. I'll be honest...when I first started watching the show, I paid attention to what time it was in the show, but now I really don't pay any attention to it. Speaking of which...it's 800p now, right?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"The Drive From State College To Houlton"

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I'm going to try to tackle this trip in some kind of chronological order. There are a lot of "side topics" that will come up as we venture through Canada, so it may not seem chronological, but at least there's no debating that this was first. The route we took was the same route as provided in the preview, but with a couple of minor differences. Here's the updated map (Microsoft S&T 2007):

The first noteworthy thing on this drive (I think) is the I-84 bridge over the Hudson River. I mentioned in the preview that on the return drive, we were going to take the Tappan Zee Bridge, because the Tappan Zee only has a toll in the eastbound direction. We fooled them! Or...did we? It turns out that the I-84 bridge over the Hudson also has a toll, and like the Tappan Zee, it's also only in the eastbound direction. So we had to pay anyway. However, this toll was only $1, compared to $4 for the Tappan Zee. So we did beat the system!

A few words about I-84 in Connecticut. I've heard bad things about it, and although we did take it on a previous family vacation, it was 15 years ago, and I don't remember much about it other than the existence of a carpool lane. But now that I've driven through it, here are my two lasting impressions: 1) West of Hartford, there are too many abrupt lane endings (most of which are "exit only" lanes). It's kind of a mess. 2) I-84 east of Hartford was really nice, especially the afore mentioned carpool lane, which I was able to use. I was impressed. So...I-84 in Connecticut isn't all that bad. We drove through in the middle of a weekday and encountered no traffic problems, so I'll take it.

The first real decision we had to make was which route to take from "Point A" to "Point B":

The options were I-90 all the way to I-495, or I-290 through Worcester. I-90/I-495 is longer mileage and more expensive (60 cents more or something), but might be faster because I-290 goes straight through downtown Worcester and has lower speed limits. We ended up taking I-290 - less mileage and slower driving both help fuel economy. What's our hurry, anyway?

We stopped at multiple state welcome centers, primarily so I could pick up an official transportation map from each state. In the end, I was able to acquire official maps from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. The Connecticut map is actually a map of farms, not an official transporation map. They were out of the transportation maps. But hey, it was free, and it has all of the roads on it. I didn't know they had farms in Connecticut. My impression of the state has always been wall-to-wall urban sprawl. Apparently that's not entirely accurate. That's what I get for taking the interstates.

Now...during my trip recollection, I will be showing you multiple pictures. The pictures were taken using Amber's digital camera. She's uploaded the pictures here, so you can head there and look at all of our vacation pictures without waiting for me to talk about them here. I'm going to be including some of my favorites in my blog entries just to provide a "visual aid". First up, we have a picture from the Maine welcome center:

The lobster was a souvenir from my 1992 trip to Maine, so I thought it was appropriate to bring him along. The original intent was to put the lobster in a majority of our pictures as sort of a running gag, and also as proof that we actually went to these places (aside from pictures of us, which we tried to keep to a minimum). Unfortunately, we got lazy and stopped including the lobster in all but one of the remaining pictures.

Here's another picture from the welcome center:

I'd love to tell you that we actually went and saw the chocolate moose in person. However, this is merely a picture of an advertisement at the welcome center. Personally, I just admire the word play. Get it? Chocolate moose?

We stopped for dinner at a Smokey Bones in Bangor. Smokey Bones is a national barbeque chain, and this was the first time I had ever been to one. (I think it's ironic that my first Smokey Bones experience was in Maine, of all places.) And like most barbeque places, it was fast!

As described in the preview, we made a couple of detours in Maine to visit two of my previously unvisited counties. I-95 via Lewiston took care of Androscoggin County, and while that route was more expensive and slightly longer, it had far less traffic on it than I-295, so maybe it was worth it. Then, we took this detour for Piscataquis County:

ME-16 wasn't exactly a fun road - it was in bad shape. And, it was at night, so I didn't have any scenery to work with. Oh well - I felt I had to take this opportunity. I haven't tallied up the counties yet, but I'm pretty sure that with the return trip along coastal US-1, I have visited every county in Maine. The counties of northern Maine are rather large, so while there are lots of areas in northern Maine that I have not visited, I have still visited each county.

I-95 in northern Maine is labeled as "scenic" on our TripTik, but it was at night, so we couldn't see anything. That's too bad. I-95 north of Bangor is delightfully sparse. Houlton is the northernmost town along I-95, so we thought it was a good place to spend the night. Tomorrow...Canada!

Today's random thought:

- I don't know if every car does this, but in my car, the needle on my gas meter goes beyond the marks for "empty" and "full" on both side. Why don't they align the marks so that the needle is actually pointing to the "F" mark when the tank is full? This means you can't really rely on the intermediate marks, either - the 3/4 mark doesn't mean you have 3/4 of a tank. This all seems very silly to me.