So, this is Saskatchewan…

(Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada)

At the beginning of my travel year in 2014, I mentioned in this post that I had been to every Canadian province and territory…except Saskatchewan. I obviously hoped to see Saskatchewan at some point but it didn’t quite fit in with the theme of my travel year.

Well, after the craziness of 2014 subsided, I was left with a whole lot of Air Miles and frequent flier points. I noticed that I had a little bit of free time at the end of April and started looking into redeeming some of those points for a quick trip.  Alas, it is getting more and more difficult to take advantage of those reward programs and the only candidates ended up being Indianapolis, Minneapolis…and Regina! While I’m sure that the “-polis” places would be interesting, the increasing value of the U.S. dollar made me think that this was finally the time to see Saskatchewan.   And now, finally, here I am!

I'm staying at the Dragon's Nest B&B in the Cathedral Village part of Regina
I’m staying at the Dragon’s Nest B&B in the Cathedral Village part of Regina

Of course, as with my trips to the northern territories, it is impossible to say that I have experienced Saskatchewan just because I have been to Regina.  With that in mind, here’s what happened on my first day here…

Entrance to the Saskatchewan Legislative Building
Entrance to the Saskatchewan Legislative Building

I started by exploring Cathedral Village, the neighbourhood where my B&B is located.  From there, it was an easy walk to the Saskatchewan Legislature.  It’s located on the shores of Wascana Lake (part of which is shown in the photo at the top of this post) and is part of the largest urban park in North America….bigger even than New Yor City’s Central Park, apparently.  I went on a rather brief tour of the Legislature building and was able to sit in on Question Period.

Stairway to the legislature chamber
Stairway to the legislature chamber

Unlike the rather subdued House of Commons I saw in London, England last autumn, Saskatchewan’s provincial parliament was a madhouse.   It was clear that the government and the opposition are not terribly fond of each other right now…it looked  (and sounded) like a classroom of unruly students.  If I have spare time later in the trip, I might return to the Legislature to see some more of the spectacle.

The legendary Milky Way on Victoria Avenue in Regina
The legendary Milky Way on Victoria Avenue in Regina

Next up was some exploration of downtown – despite a significant number of federal and provincial government offices, it wasn’t quite as busy as I had expected.  I did some restaurant scoping and, given the surprisingly warm weather, I decided to make the pilgrimage to the “Milky Way”, a legendary ice cream  vendor with a long and illustrious history in Regina.  I opted to go local and have a “Saskatoon Sundae”:  logically enough, it features saskatoon berries (also known as juneberries).   I’ve never had them before but they were quite good with the vanilla soft-serve ice cream.   There’s nothing wrong with having dessert before dinner!

The first time I have eaten at a place called "La Cucaracha" (13th Avenue, Cathedral Village, Regina)
The first time I have eaten at a place called “La Cucaracha” (13th Avenue, Cathedral Village, Regina)

Speaking of dinner, I kept the “go local” theme and went to a newly-established Mexican take-out place in Cathedral Village called “La Cucaracha”.  It’s not a name I like to associate with food but the ingredients were top quality and they even had imported Mexican soft drinks.   It’s been a very long time since I had strawberry soda…it might even have been back in the days of the Pop Shoppe!

For my second day in Regina, I’m hoping to make it out to the RCMP Visitor Centre and (of course) explore the vinyl record offerings in Saskatchewan’s capital city.

Records on the Road

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

Last Saturday was “Record Store Day” and we drove to Ottawa to see what was available in the record stores of our nation’s capital.  It reminded me of the interesting music I’ve picked up in my travels: each record has its own story, above and beyond the actual music.

The photo at the top of this post is one of my favourite finds.   For some unknown reason, the Soviet record label Melodiya decided to release a 4-track EP (7″, 33 rpm) containing seemingly random tracks from Paul and Linda McCartney’s 1971 “Ram” album.  When I was “crate-digging” in a Tallinn, Estonia used record store, I found this pressing from Riga (now in Latvia, but then part of the U.S.S.R.).  While I can’t speak Russian, I know the sounds of the Cyrillic alphabet and was able to phonetically confirm that this was in fact a release from the former Beatle.  I picked up some fascinating Soviet LPs there too…but I’ll keep the focus on 7″ records today, as they are easier to pick up while traveling.

A Czechoslovakian 7" single from Dean Reed, the "Red Elvis"
A Czechoslovakian 7″ single from Dean Reed, the “Red Elvis”

Speaking of the Soviet era, I picked up some fascinating 45s in Prague last September.  Some were just Czechoslovakian pressings of hits by Western artists but the Dean Reed 45 pictured above was something I would never find in Canada.

Dean Reed went nowhere in the U.S.A. as a singer and traveled the world in search of fame and revolution.  He ended up based in East Germany, where he was proudly paraded by the authorities as a genuine American rock star and revolutionary.  He did, in fact, enjoy immense popularity in the Eastern Bloc…at least for a while.  His ersatz-Elvis recordings sound rather hokey now but there wasn’t much else available.  Alas, he drowned under mysterious circumstances outside of East Berlin in the mid-1980s.  If you’re interested in his bizarre story, there is a book (“Comrade Rockstar”, by Reggie Nadelson) about Reed and it has long been rumoured that Tom Hanks would make a movie about this forgotten musician.

Karel Gott's "Beatles" single
Karel Gott’s “Beatles” single

Karel Gott also found success in the Eastern Bloc during the 1970s but, unlike Dean Reed, still enjoys some popularity today.  Like many people who lived during that difficult time, he made certain compromises in order to  preserve his career in a totalitarian state.  The above single does not feature the Beatles, but the A-side is a Czech-language tribute to the Fab Four (although it sounds nothing like them).   I found this single in the same grim record store that yielded the Dean Reed record.  Both were very cheap: I suspect it is because they come from a time that many people would like to forget.

Johnny Clegg's 1987 "Asimbonanga" single was not attracting attention in Helsinki
Johnny Clegg’s 1987 “Asimbonanga” single was not attracting attention in Helsinki

Johnny Clegg is one of my favourite musicians.  Best known in North America for contributing “Scatterlings of Africa” to the Rain Man soundtrack, he bravely led racially-integrated bands during the Apartheid era in South Africa and continues to release genre-crossing and thought-provoking records today.   I wrote about Johnny last year in this post.  Alas, it doesn’t appear that he is very popular in Finland:  I found the above French pressing of his “Asimbonanga” single in the bargain bin of a Helsinki record store.

Reality is stranger than fiction:  the Rutles "I Must Be In Love" single
Reality is stranger than fiction: the Rutles “I Must Be In Love” single

I never imagined that the above single could exist.  The Rutles were a Beatles parody band created by some Monty Python alumni and eventually were the subject of the brilliant rockumentary “All You Need is Cash”.  The soundtrack is also outstanding and highly recommended for Beatles fans.  The parody was so well-received in England that I found this single in a London record shop last November.  It was an unexpected souvenir of the same trip that took me to Abbey Road and various other Beatles landmarks.

Coming up next week:  I’m on the road again!  Using some accumulated Air Miles, I’m visiting a place that I somehow overlooked during my year of extended travel.  Stay tuned for the big reveal!

Who Reads This Blog?

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

Have you ever wondered who else reads this blog?  While the blog software doesn’t tell me who specifically is reading the blog, it does tell me in which countries the blog’s readers are located.  So don’t worry – I don’t know who you are…unless you post something!

Incredibly, there have been visitors from 97 countries so far!  Many of these countries have very few views (it would not be reasonable to expect thousands of hits from Vatican City or Réunion) but the numbers are significant for the first 30 or 40 countries.  It should come as no surprise that, by far, the most readers are in Canada.

The Matterhorn, as seen from a small alpine village in the Gornergrat/Sunnegga area
The Matterhorn, as seen from the small alpine hamlet of Findeln in the Sunnegga area

It also probably isn’t surprising that the U.S.A. and the U.K. occupy the second and third positions.  Rounding out the all-time Top 20 are Brazil, Germany, Croatia, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Switzerland, France, Italy, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Czech Republic, the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Sweden, Peru, Ireland, Poland and Australia.

The rankings definitely change over time.  Croatia really spiked during my visit there last spring but has been falling ever since.  For 2015, I’ve noticed increases in France, Australia, Thailand and Russia…but decreases in the U.K., Costa Rica and the Czech Republic.

My friends will do anything to take the perfect photo of the Matterhorn
My friends will try any angle to take the perfect photo of the Matterhorn

Most notable, however, is where there are *no* hits at all. Given its large population, it is interesting that not a single person from China has visited my site (other than people in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, which are tracked separately)…yet I have  numerous hits from nearby Vietnam, Taiwan, Mongolia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  Despite significant numbers across Northern Europe, I also haven’t connected with Latvia yet.

The other side of the Matterhorn (as seen from Italy)
The other side of the Matterhorn (as seen from Italy)

One does have to be careful with interpreting the data.  There is an apparently benign but also persistent automated “webcrawler” based in Brazil that is, I believe, exaggerating the numbers in that country.

I can also get information on which “searches” have led to visits to my site.  The most popular search that does not include my name has been “London Oxford Street”.  But multiple views have also resulted from “Megadisco Machu Picchu”, “schöne bilder von Paul Young 2014”, “van der ley cheese Groningen” and “place d’erlon Reims night”.

Arrival at the Valtournenche ski area above Breuil-Cervinia, Italy (just after crossing over from Zermatt, Switzerland)
Arrival at the Cime Bianche ski area above Valtournenche, Italy (just after crossing over from Zermatt, Switzerland)

There are also many searches that resulted in a solitary visit.  Some of my favourites include “abandoned wood bobsled”, “context of the movie Invictus South Africa in 1992-1995”, “gray research sound effects console”, “Inus Mor and rabbits sea lions”, “Budapest hockey and soccer teams jerseys”, and “casado con carne en salsa” (as well as plain old “casado con carne”).  If I ever start up another band, I am going to seriously consider calling it “Abandoned Wood Bobsled”.   I am really curious about the story behind that search but it will probably remain a mystery forever.

Another view of the Italian side of the Matterhorn (with lots of tiny skiers below)
Another view of the Italian side of the Matterhorn (with lots of tiny skiers below)

Today’s photos are from my 2011 visit to Zermatt.  I don’t think it would make a lot of sense to do a separate travel flashback for my second visit there…but I did want to share some of these pictures.  If you like them, take a look at my previous post for more words and pictures about skiing in the shadow of the Matterhorn.

Travel Flashback: Skiing the Matterhorn 2010

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

The Matterhorn isn’t like all the other mountains.  I had heard that the Matterhorn was special but I didn’t truly appreciate it until I saw the Matterhorn on a cloudless day.  This is what the picture above shows – it was taken from above the village of Zermatt and shows just how distinctive the Matterhorn really is.

Straddling the border between Italy and Switzerland, the Matterhorn rises to an elevation of 4,478 meters (14,692 feet).  This is very, very high but it is all the more remarkable because none of the neighbouring peaks are anywhere close to that elevation.

This picture was taken just after we skied the closest piste to the Matterhorn.  One feels very small when skiing there!
This picture was taken just after we skied the closest piste to the Matterhorn. One feels very small when skiing there!

Wherever you go in the village of Zermatt, or wherever you ski in the Sunnegga-Gornergrat-Klein Matterhorn ski region, you constantly find yourself looking up at the Matterhorn.   Of all the mountains I’ve seen up close, only Grindelwald’s Eiger (with its sheer rock face of nearly 2 uninterrupted vertical kilometers!) comes remotely close to having such a magnetic effect.   I think we all took at least 100 photos of just this one mountain.

It's very cold and desolate as you near the top of the Klein Matterhorn ski area (and the Italian border)
It’s very cold and desolate as you near the top of the Klein Matterhorn ski area (and the Italian border)

Even without the Matterhorn, however, skiing in Zermatt is quite spectacular.  The pistes on the Swiss side are extensive and there is an impressive vertical drop of about 2,200 meters (about 7,218 feet).   From top to bottom, it can be a 20 km ride!   There isn’t much in the way of easy terrain here and it has a reputation of being a real skiers’ resort.   But even if you can manage the terrain, you still have to conquer the altitude:  the top of the Klein Matterhorn area is a (literally) breathtaking 3,883 meters (12,736 feet) above sea level.

At the top of Klein Matterhorn, just before altitude sickness kicked in!
At the top of Klein Matterhorn, just before altitude sickness kicked in!

I was OK with the altitude when I just skied down from the top of the Klein Matterhorn.  This is glacial skiing and you don’t have to work too hard.  However, on another occasion, we climbed up to the top of a viewing platform for an even higher view.  This extra exertion left me feeling listless for the rest of the day:  I suspect that I had a minor case of altitude sickness…something I’ve never before had while skiing.

The "Hennu Stall"...we stopped here for not quite apres-ski apres-ski on our way down to Zermatt
The “Hennu Stall”…we stopped here for “après-ski” shortly before finishing our descent to Zermatt

There is another reward for going to the top of Klein Matterhorn:  Italy!   Yes, the Italian resort of Cervinia is connected at this high alpine saddle and it is possible to ski on the Italian slopes if you bought the “all areas” ski pass in Zermatt.  The slopes on the Italian side are sunnier and easier…and the food is a nice change too!   The resort of Cervinia has some architectural missteps, to be fair, but it was really fun to end up in another country for a few hours.

Skiing above the clouds!  View from the top of Klein Matterhorn
Skiing above the clouds! Looking towards Italy from the top of Klein Matterhorn

The only problem with crossing over to Italy is that you really need to time your return properly.  If you don’t make it back to the Klein Matterhorn by the time the upper Italian lifts close, you are stuck on the Italian side.  It is a very expensive (hundreds of dollars) taxi ride back to Zermatt, as there is no direct road connection between the two resorts.  Somebody said that it would take “a few hours” by road.

One of the creatures we encountered while skiing down to Zermatt
One of the creatures we encountered while skiing down to Zermatt

For an intense week of skiing in the Alps, I would certainly put Zermatt at the top of my list.  Grindelwald/Wengen/Schilthorn would be close but the presence of other tourist activities (such as the Jungfraujoch cog railway) dilutes the ski atmosphere just a little bit…so it might be a good choice if you have non-skiers in your travel group.   Like most Swiss resorts, Zermatt is not cheap but it is possible to find deals if you don’t insist on a private bathroom.  After all, you’re there for the skiing!  We liked skiing in Zermatt so much that we went back in 2011.

Travel Flashback: Northwest Territories 2013

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

After visiting the remote northern Canadian territory of Nunavut in August of 2013, it only made sense to also visit the almost-as-remote Northwest Territories.  Unlike Nunavut, it is *theoretically* possible to drive to the Northwest Territories…but we chose to fly from Edmonton.

As time was limited, we only visited the capital city of Yellowknife and its immediate surroundings.  While we cannot pretend to have experienced the Northwest Territories by visiting its only true city, our visit was nonetheless extremely enlightening.

View of our B&B on the shores of Great Slave Lake
View of our B&B on the shores of Great Slave Lake

We stayed in a somewhat rustic B&B on the peninsula where the original settlement was located.  Much of that peninsula is occupied by Ndilo, a Dene First Nations community; the modern downtown is located to the west.  From our B&B, we could see floating houses (see photo at the top of this post) and floatplanes taxiing, taking off and landing on Great Slave Lake.  Many of the planes were carrying wealthy travelers to remote hunting, fishing or recreation camps.

One of the historic restaurants in the Old Town of Yellowknife
One of the historic restaurants in the Old Town of Yellowknife

Our first substantial meal in Yellowknife was wholly unexpected.  We found a restaurant specializing in Somalian and Ethiopian food.  As it turns out, Yellowknife is home to a large Somalian community and some of them had recently established this restaurant.

On our second day in Yellowknife, we went for an extended walk around Frame Lake.  While the city remained in view for about one-half of the walk, we eventually found ourselves in the barren rocky landscape that I imagined made up so much of the Northwest Territories.

Hiking around Frame Lake in Yellowknife, N.W.T.
Hiking around Frame Lake in Yellowknife, N.W.T.

Our third day in Yellowknife was dedicated to more walking, a bicycle trek, and a tour of the territorial legislature building.   The bike trek took us to Yellowknife’s suburbs – we could just as easily have been in a small Alberta city as the Northwest Territories.

We saw several signs of affluence in Yellowknife.  Canada’s diamond mining industry is based here and demand is high for ethical, high quality diamonds.  However, that prosperity was tempered by evidence of despair:  it was clear that not everybody was sharing in the economic miracle.  Some efforts have been made to ensure that local residents are also sharing in the proceeds of the diamond industry but there were still some signs of culture clash.

Inside the legislature building of the Northwest Territories
Inside the legislature building of the Northwest Territories

There also seemed to be more of an “edge” to the city in the evenings, as one often finds in resource-based boom towns.  Yellowknife is still a young place:  it was first settled in the late 1930s and substantial growth didn’t start until a few decades later.   However, there were some interesting quirks to Yellowknife:  one of the streets was named “Lois Lane”, in apparent homage to actress Margot Kidder (who was born in Yellowknife and played Lois Lane in “Superman” movies).

I met this very docile wolf in a Yellowknife shop
I met this very docile wolf in a Yellowknife shop

As with our visit to Iqaluit in Nunavut, we left Yellowknife feeling that we needed to travel outside of the capital to truly connect with the territory.  While not as large as Nunavut, the Northwest Territories still has an area of 1,346,106 km2 despite only having about 41,000 residents (although it does have 11 official languages).  The vast size of the territory means that a long weekend is not enough…one day, I am sure we will visit other parts of the Northwest Territories and have a completely different experience.