Monday, February 2, 2009

Banff and Calgary - Day 4 (Part 2)

After rolling into the Calgary Greyhound Station, we piled into a cab that took us to Hostelling International Calgary, where the Kiwis had their beds booked. It was a complex of two story green buildings with green wood sidings and slanted roofs. The complex gave off a rather "community in a wilderness" feel to it, but the illusion was shattered by the glass skyscrapers of downtown Calgary in the background and having the the complex being situated in a rather dodgy part of town.

After spending some time on the phones tracking down the Couchsurfer who was to host me, and and unsuccessful search for hostels to stay at by Kim, we decided to head out to the Calgary Stampede Grounds to look for some hockey tickets. The Kiwis decided that of course, their trip to Canada would be incomplete without attending a hockey game! After arriving at the Stampede Grounds, we wandered through the maze of hallways and corridors of this vast compound. We saw some kind of trade fair going on in some buildings, and many eclectic historical displays including a long hallway where each year's advertising poster for the Calgary Stampede was displayed. A few were missing from the collection, but I guess you can't blame them for not being able to find a copy of a poster from over a century ago.

Not having any success finding hockey tickets, Smitty and Kim decided to head off to spend some time alone. Darryl, Mark, and I continued the search through the rest of the compound. It was now early evening, and in the northern winter sun, everything was bathed in a soft golden glow. We travelled aimlessly from building to building, stumbling onto a gift shop, another trade show, and a dog show where we sat behind a window to watch while we rested with cup of hot chocolate. Eventually, we made our way to the Saddledome, where we were told the tickets for tonight's game were sold out, but if we come back an hour later, some tickets may be freed up.

Luckily, we didn't have to wait around for long as we stumbled upon a Chinese man standing outside the stadium with some tickets to sell. He claimed that he had driven to Calgary from Red Deer, but that his friend was not going to make it. He had some tickets that seemed too good to be true, and asked for a very reasonable price, still expensive, at over $100 each, but a good price for those seats. Although we were suspicious, we decided to play along. When we mentioned that we didn't have enough cash, he offered to drive us to an ATM, but wait! He just remembered that he had a baby seat in his car, so only one of us can go with him! Well, seeing that I wasn't planning on attending the game as I had to go meet my Couchsurfer soon, I watched as Darryl followed him and disappeared.

As we waited at a nearby Casino, I arranged for the Couchsurfer to pick us up. Although he had offered to host Kim as well, Kim declined, because of what I assume was her apprehension for staying at a stranger's place and her wanting to spend more time with Cameron. Just as we were starting to get worried, Darryl returned, and after getting lost and bumbling around for a bit, we met up with the Couchsurfer, Kevin. After driving in the wrong direction due to bad instructions caused by a mix-up of the streets in Calgary being divided up into different quadrant directions, we arrived at the hostel just as the evening was becoming night. I picked up my bag, gave the Kiwis $30 to give to Kim for the car, and left with Kevin, knowing that as with nearly all the other travellers I meet, I will never see or hear from them again.

Kevin was a Chinese Canadian about my age who had also lived in the Greater Toronto Area. He currently works as a pipeline risk consultant, and told me about his adventures a a kid travelling along with a family that worked on oil projects around the world, including in some relatively dangerous countries. At his apartment, he made me a wonderful steak dinner with some high quality Alberta beef. He even bought a steak for Kim, but unfortunately she decided not to come with me to Keven's place. It was still too early to head over to the Couchsurfing party, so we lounged around a bit. I tried playing Little Big Planet, which I found to be so unbearably cute so that I can't stop thinking about it. We also watched Kung Fu Panda.

When it was late enough, we walked down the street to an old, mysterious-looking house with a lawn surrounded by a thin decorative metal fence with a gate. We walked into the house, and met the resident Couchsurfers. They had plans of turning their house into a dedicated Couchsurfing house to give the Calgary community a place they can call home. The house itself was very interesting. It was very old and had strange and embellished decorative elements. The sinks in the washrooms were shaped like shells and reminded me of public washroom in the lobbies of very old and somewhat run-down theatres. As with most older houses, it had mysterious doors, passages, and small storage spaces and cubbyholes in the walls all over. Some of the walls and doors had lively drawings on them by some previous artist with a thick marker. There was a makeshift bedroom downstairs with a mattress on the floor, currently in use by a Couchsurfer who had been there for a month and a half. There were candles all over, a fireplace which we lit, and seating available in the form of pads on the floor, folding chairs, and a few sofas.

Only about half of the people were in pyjamas, but I met many interesting people throughout the night. One of the Couchsurfers that lived in the house showed us her pet lizard, which we took turns holding. She also showed us a collection of jewellery she made and claimed that we can purchase these from the Guggenheim museum for up to $400 a piece. There was a French Canadian living at the house who made us spiced hot chocolate with brandy from scratch, which he served out of an antique round long-necked glass jug which sitting in a frilly black metal holder over a lit caldle. He also made us vegan crêpes with a maple syrup and butter sauce. A guy from Montpelier made us some croissants from scratch, and there was beer, wine, and other delicious snacks such as chocolate covered rice crispie treats and banana bread. We talked throughout the night, and at one point a group of French Canadians broke out into traditional French Canadian songs and were teaching us to play the spoons. I also met a few of the Couchsurfers that I had requested a couch from but were unable to host me. It turns out that the Calgary Couchsurfing crowd was very tight-knit and quite political, as different people had differeing views on what Couchsurfing should be.

When the night was over, we walked back. I got some pointers from Keven as to where to go and what to see for the full day that I am in Clagary. I set up my sleeping bag and got ready for bed. I'm planning on waking up at a reasonable hour and talking an all-day walking tour of Calgary. I was looking forward to actually getting a good amount of sleep for the night so I am fully awake to enjoy my only day alone on this trip. As it was also my last day before flying back and going directly to work early in the morning, I decided to take it easy and just relax the next day.

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