Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Myra Canyon (or An encounter with the Void)

I've arrived at View of the Lake B&B in West Kelowna again.  Gracious host Steve gave me directions to and a 10%-Off coupon for a restaurant operated by a friend of his.  Blu Saffron Bistro.  The food is VERY good and the view ain't too shabby either.

The mussels are SOO good that I even decide to order dessert, which I usually don't do (I am determined to re-aquire my waist before I die ;-)

After all that food, I sleep like a baby and this is the view that awaits me from my bed VERY early the next morning;

After another fabulous 3 course breakfast (a specialty of A View of the Lake B&B), I head up to Myra Canyon to complete my 24 km bike ride (back & forth) over 24 trestles and 4 tunnels (twice over/through every one of 12 trestles / 2 tunnels on the route back and forth).

On a very conscious level I am dreading this bike ride, because I remember the time exactly one year ago, when I was up here riding bikes with George.  It's been 4 months now, but the void pops up persistently.

And there is the spot.  And there hovers the Void.

last year

The Void also hovers over a few trestles

Last year

On the way back I pass all these spots again; only this time there is a chipmunk sitting on George's rock ;-)

last year


While the encounters with the void are painful, they do seem to serve a positive purpose in the long term.  Somewhere in the back of one's head there is always the thought that if one could just figure out what that one elusive action is, whose performance causes miracles, things would magically go back to normal.  There is no such thing, of course, and after a while that does sink in.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Abandon Hope (or Holiday or Holy Crap?)

I am in Hope.  On my way to Kelowna, to ride the trestles in Myra Canyon again, and hoping that this trip, which I did exactly a year ago with a happy George, will bring some peace in some way or other.

Last year Hope was very different from Vancouver. Less traffic and the air smelled of the things one expects to smell.
Today it smells like exhaust. That strange haze that has characterized Vancouver air in the last few days is present here as well.  It looks like morning fog/haze but it doesn't burn off through even the hottesty of days.  Oh well, as long as Vancouverits still believe that their city is the 3rd most livable city in the world ;-(

My road rager was even scarier looking (not my pic)
I check out of my hotel at 10:40 and since I didn’t eat breakfast, I hope to visit Kimchi Restaurant (I had fabulous Korean spicy squid there last night) again for lunch. They open at 11 am so I decide to kill the remaining time by filling up at a gas station, which I have to do anyway.  At this time the gas stations are already packed with people who left Vancouver in the morning.  So I wait a short distance from a pump with the lights on and with enough room for other cars (there are LOTS of them) to manoeuvre around me.  After about a 10 minute wait, the person at the pump finally leaves and I drive into the spot, only to be greeted by HONKS and a face distorted by rage and hate glaring at me through the front window of a blue pickup truck. The man keeps making faces and gesturing at me even when he violently backs up his truck to try another gas bay. A roaring pick-up engine makes me look that way and I discover that his new bay has an OUT OF ORDER sign at the pump.  Then I see a woman and her daughter trying to open the truck’s passenger door. The nutcase is married!  No luck for his wife either, he doesn’t unlock the passenger door and keeps driving around the gas station.  When he finally finds a working gas bay  and his truck stops moving, his wife and daughter catch up with him and open the passenger door, releasing a terrified and crying ~4 year old into the arms of his mother, while Mr. Anger Management glares at me through the side windows of his truck while he fills his tank.

People aren’t born that way.   Something makes them that way.   I am reminded of what I told a friend only three days ago. After spending 2 weeks in hotel room inundated with horrific car noise and exhaust all day and driving through nightmarish traffic, I said “I’m ready to bite someone”. 

But that’s old research news. Put too many rats in a cage and they start biting each other.  Stress, it’s called and the only thing that helps is finding a cage with fewer rats or a bottle of Prozac.  You think the number of people in Vancouver on anti-depressants is a coincidence?

 It’s amazing what one night of sleep without constant car noise has done to my mood. I am relaxed.  Even Mr. Hate In Your Face creates only small temporary ripples on the calm surface of my mood lake.  I drive about 100 km/hour even though the Coquihalla Highway’s posted speed limit is 120 km/hour and I am continuously noisily and pushily passed by other cars (and thundering 18 Wheelers) going at least 130 km/hour.  What was that again?  It’s not the destination that is important, it is the journey?  Then why the rush, people?

Coquihalla pass or summit or something
 When I’m about 15 minutes away from Merrit, I see smoke along the highway on the other side of a valley.  Forest fire or just a Diesel smoke column of a truck hitting the gas too hard?  Something sinister in my mind whispers ‘car fire’ and just in case I grab the camera out of my backpack on the passenger seat.
False Alarm?

hang on ...

Gut feeling well calibrated. The passenger cabin is almost burned out, while the victim’s belongings are still uncharred. There is a tow truck for trucks present but not a single firefighting vehicle. Everyone is waiting for the fire to consume the rest of the UHaul from a safe distance.  Too many exploding gas tanks in the movies.

FIRE !!!

The cabin is gone; now Mom's attic is on fire

Thursday, 14 August 2014

On riding tandem biycles

Screw work; I need a break!  And what better way to interrupt work than with a bicycle ride.

My friend Yiman always wanted to ride a tandem around Standey Park, but never completed this objective with her husband due apparently to differences about who gets to sit in front and steer.  So far I have no problem with being the backseat rider, but then I have never been on a tandem ;-)
The Opel brothers and their bike

It definitely looks easy enough!

We rent a tandem at one of the stores around Denman & West Georgia streets.  Despite the advice of the cute rental employee that the heavier person should ride in the front, we insisted that Yiman should take the helm and I would ride in the back.  After a while he found a seat extension long enough, so I would not suffer from skidmarks from the back wheel and off we went.

The pilot pushing the bike down the steepish hill
Already when we both got on the bike for the first time, we had a premonition that the rental guy probably knew what he was talking about.  That was only re-inforced when we tried to take the first corner and with four feet on the ground failed miserably.

Then we decided to let Yiman ride the bike on her own to get used to the handling and turning characteristics.   She's having fun going straight, but turning wasn't quite her thing on this big frame. When I tried it, I also felt the long frame's resistance to turning in tight circles. It's a very strange feeling leaning into a corner and the bike just doesn't seem to follow.  

Since my turning circles seemed to be more consistent than Yiman's, I took the front from here on and we managed to circumnavigate Stanely Park without hitting anyone or anything! (Quite a feat considering the HUGE number of SLOW tourists on rental bikes squeezing themselves through the often NARROW bike lane).

Monday, 11 August 2014

A story of numbers and a lost bag (to be continued)

Aug. 10, Amsterdam Schiphol. 10:00 hours local time
The nice Air Transat check-in clerk requests that both (2) panniers (saddle bags) be strapped together with packing tape to make one (1) piece of luggage.  I comply and she attaches one (1) luggage ticket to the handle of one (1) of the bags.
Le velo in Schiphol Airport

Side comment: I would bet some of the people STARING unbelievingly at the bicycle BOX on my buggy became so emotionally disturbed that they probably walked into metal poles within 10 seconds of the encounter. NO, it is not a clandestinely hidden bomb!

Aug. 10, Vancouver International Airport; 13:30 hours PST

One (1) bag arrives on the conveyor belt with one (1) luggage ticket attached.

15:30 hours PST

One (1) slightly inconvenienced and exhausted (0) Air Transat passenger finally leaves the airport with one (1) bag after having spent two (2) hours with four (4) very charming and sweet but slightly incompetent (three out of four (3/4) were in training) Air Transat lost luggage clerks (at some point ALL staring at one (1) computer screen, giggling).  I had to explain four (4) times (once to each clerk) the reason for my complaint, namely that one (1) bag is presently caught in Limbo somewhere between Amsterdam and Vancouver. Many (infinity symbol) obstacles had to be overcome, one of them being that none (0) of the clerks knew before what a bicycle pannier bag was. Now that number ranges between none to four ( 0 - 4), hopefully being closer to four (4).  After one (1) hour, all four (4) clerks had finally understood after repeated questioning about the size and colour of the second (#2) bag, that bicycle pannier bags usually are employed in matched sets, so that yes, the second (#2) and missing bag would indeed be the same colour as the one (1) I was holding under their noses, and that indeed it would be of the same size (Really?  YES!  10/10! )

August 11, Vancouver, 05:50 hours

Problem. In addition to my electric toothbrush, said one (1) saddle bag contains one (1) lithium battery for the electric bicycle and one (1) charger for said battery.  Good thing the bike is broken already, otherwise the inconvenience level would be a bit higher (infinity symbol), and I would be much less calm (@#^#$$&*T&*&!).

August 12, Vancouver 07:30 hours

Consulting the reference card that the lovely ladies at YVR gave me reveals ythat I can check the status of my luggage search on the Air Transat web site.  Easy, eh?
NO.   lost luggage is not on the menu and a search of the web site reveals no hits.
Then I call the 877 number.  Some bla about call another number and it will be $5 to call.
Then I call the 514 number (another number of the lost luggage department). A person answers only to forward me into a waiting line. "All our agents are busy". Great!
After 10 minutes of waiting, a recorded messages says "Please record your name, number, and file reference and we will call you back".  
I've waited 10 minutes for that?  
How much luggage are these people loosing every day?

August 13, Vancouver 09:30 hours

No one has called me back yet.    Good job, Air Transat !

August 26, Hope 10:10 hours

Air Transat never called me back.  Today I call again but actually get someone on the phone.  As I had half expected, and as was confirmed by the clerk, they are not even looking for the bag.  But now they are sending me an e-mail with information how to start a claim.  Oh Joy.

September 1-4, Roberts Creek & Vancouver

Since Air Transat is not looking for my bag and I now own an e-bike with one (1) battery and zero (0) chargers for said battery, I have made inquiries on how to get that state changed to approach a 1 to 1 or even a 2 to 1 ratio.  The helpful guy at Evolution Bikes in North Vancouver already knows how things are in the world and advises me to buy a charger directly in Germany because Bosch would just give him the run-around.  So I contact e-motion technologies in Cologne. Not only do I understand their accent but their store is also within driving range of a trusted friend of mine, who could aquire the merchandise in person, if they would be unwilling to mail it.  
The e-motion staff is SUPER friendly!  They listen to my problem with compassion on Monday.  I ask them to look up the cost of charger + postage for me so that I can give them my credit card number on Tuesday and the charger will start flying.

I call back on Tuesday and nothing has happend yet. But they tell me that there is no chance that they can mail me a battery, because it is classified as 'Dangerous goods'.  At the same time they tell me if my friend would pick it up, then my friend could mail it because it is 'completely harmless'.  Fine.  Let's deal with the charger first.

They are closed on Wednesday.

I call back on Thursday. Nothing has happened yet. But they take my phone number and assure me that they will calculate a price and call me 'right back'.  That was ten (10) minutes ago. Memories of Air Transat start invading my consciousness ;-(

They still haven't called after one (1) hour.

September 5, 2014, Vancouver 07:18

They never called back.  Turns out, they lost the number with my phone number. Do I need to comment on that?
The charger will cost me 170 Euros and shipping will be 50 Euros. That's $300 CDN for a friggin charger. This is Germany of course, so paying by credit card would have been MUCH too simple.  I am to send them ANOTHER e-mail (they can't find the original one anymore), so they can send me an invoice, which then must be paid by WIRE TRANSFER.  
I should be very very skinny by now considering all the hoops I have been jumping through lately ;-)

September 6, 2014, Roberts Creek 10:50 

They did not send me an invoice. They are closed now and the earliest I can call them is Monday, exactly 7 days after my first phone call.  What is wrong with these people?

September 10, 2014 Roberts Creek 10:55 

I give up.  The E-bike competence centre in Cologne is not so much characterized by a slight lack of competence, but rather by an utter and complete absence of competence.  No contact, no message, no invoice, no battery charger.  That's what you get when you have employees being the only customer contact in a store.  It's 4:50 pm?  I'm off in 10 minutes; no point dealing with that now. That is the mentality.  

At Evolution Bikes in North Vancouver, one at least has a chance of dealing with the owner, and since he actually cares what happens in his business, he offered to order a charger for me.

September 11, 2014 North Vancouver 7:35
I have to swallow my tongue. I received an offer for a charger from the bike store in Germany.   They offer to ship the charger to me as soon as they receive a wire transfer.

September 27, 2014, Burnaby
I finally have all the documentation requested by Air Transat. I e-mail them scanned invoices and the offer for the replacement charger.  I receive a reply e-mail 2 days later.  "Please allow 8 (eight) to 10 (ten) weeks for review and settlement of your claim."  By now I am used to the rest of the world grinding very slowly and at least I can look forward to receiving a cheque from Air Transat around the time of my birthday.

October 6, 2014, North Vancouver 6:24 am
I am eating a Burger at Denny's.  What is wrong with me?
The Wire Transfer to the E-Motion bikes in Cologne has been completed last week, but an e-mail requesting a confirmation of payment and shipment has not received an answer.  I call them, and am informed that the store clerk sent an e-mail to his boss in the matter and that I will receive an e-mail from them once they officially have received the money.
tic toc, tic toc.

October 16, 2014, North Vancouver
After e-mailing E-Motion, I am informed that they did mail the charger and just forgot to send me an e-mail confirmation. 

November 1, 2014, North Vancouver
A parcel from Germany has arrived.  After initial confusion on my part, I am relieved that they did send me the correct charger for Le Velo after all.  Life Lesson: It pays to double and triple check one's facts before complaining.  While I erroneously and  regrettably told a lot of people that the German bike store had sent me the wrong charger, at least I had the sense to double check before confronting the senders.  So my complaining was more a reflection of the state of the world, or my estimate thereof, than the incompetence of a German bicycle store.  Mea Culpa. Mea maxima culpa!
to be continued ....

Sunday, 10 August 2014

going home

Talk about feeling awkward:

As if seeing an Air Malaysia jet parked on the runway right in front of the window of my hotel room with runway view wasn't enough, here I am 1 hour later sitting in a restaurant of Schiphol airport with a bleeding knife wound in my ring finger suffered when getting my cell phone out of my backpack, not remembering that this is where i had kept a razor-sharp kitchen knife, originally bought for gutting anything from bread over cheese to butter for my hotel room dinners, and kept on to pierce the PACKING TAPE TO TAPE THE BICYCLE BOX. the schiphol bike shipping box did not need taping so now i am sitting here in one of Europe's busiest airports with a knife wound and a dangerous knife i am trying to get rid of without drawing attention to myself.  What percentage of those automatic-rifle-armed-soldiers would open fire on a harmless cyclist carrying a 6 inch blade openly on his way to drop it in a garbage bin?

What has the world come to?  Why do we accept that people we have never met in our lives go through our undies at an airport security check?
When Emilia Erhart did not return from a flight, people wondered what happened, but did not try to hide their kitchen knifes.
When Roald Amundsen did not return, regular people did not have to be about approaching persons in uniforms.
When Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint ExupĂ©ry did not return from a flight, people did not feel afraid of the state just because they are carrying a kitchen knife in an airport.

Is it just me, or have we become a society where it would be not all that surprising if a new version of the men in long black leather coats come knocking on doors at 5 am?

Total BS !!!!
A note on my psychedelic CitizenM hotel.  
1) They DO NOT ACCEPT cash. You MUST  pay by credit card. 
2) They charge a 2 Euro Credit Card administration fee.  

What do we call that?  
That's right :-)

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Amsterdam to Schiphol. And back. And back again.

The captain of that tourist canal boat had mentioned an astonishingly HUGE number of bicycles that get fished out of the canals of Amsterdam every year.  I only get to see two, but that's enough.

I sleep like a log. I think the 'stress' of this trip is finally showing because I can barely keep my eyes open during my morning cigarettes in front of the hotel.                                 NO, I did NOT visit any of the ~80 Coffee Houses, where you can buy and smoke anything but coffee, and I did NOT stay up all night like the hordes of teenagers visiting this city, probably just to get utterly and completely stoned under legal conditions.

After checking out at 11 am I find I'm too early again because official check-in time at the Schiphol hotel is not until 2 pm and it's only a 15 minute train ride. 
So after a bit of walking I find myself on a canal boat again. This time it is a hop-on-hop-off type and I am promised a 2 hour trip that gets me back to the same location.
The boat is pleasantly empty and I can even do some work on my laptop in the back ;-)

This 700 seat floating restaurant is a copy of a 5000 seat restaurant in Hong Kong 
That abruptly ends when the boat calls at the two stops at the train station.  Now I realize that at least half of the 2 hour trip I was promised would be spent at a boarding point, where the captain would cram as many more of the waiting passengers onto this boat as possible without stacking us vertically.

After this overloaded sardine can crosses a major waterway (see above), I've had it and abandon ship at the next stop.

Overloaded sardine can without me
The stop I abandoned the ship apparently called EYE (a modern movie cinema) and I have my eye on another mode of transportation:  A ferry!  Connecting South and North Amsterdam with very frequent FREE trips for cyclists and pedestrians.

A true RORO (Roll on roll off) ferry !

EYE (left) and another ferry

When having a small snack (+ Rose) close to the train station and trying to find free Wifi, I am again told that Jesus loves me.  Must not be unconditional love since he requires a password.

On the rrain station tower. A wind direction dial. Makes sense in a city that developed from ocean going trading!

CitizenM is what this hotel is called. Normally not my choice, but if one has a bicycle that one can't pedal but has to push a hotel very close to the airport becomes a necessity. I walk into my room.
The layout is unusual to put it mildly ;-)  I maneuver between the clear pastic tubular enclosure of the toilet and the clear plastic tubular enclosure of the shower towards desk, bed, and window.  The bed is 6.5 feet square. 5 people could sleep on this.  There is a remote control on my desk:

view towards the window

looking back towards the door

The view

The loo enclosure is frosted while the shower glass is transparent

You can choose a colour scheme for these or have them cycle through the colour wheel

I make use of my newly and properly charged ov-chipkaart and take the 15 minute train ride back to Amsterdam.  No point in hanging out in my nice psychedelic hotel room at the airport and I feel like getting some food too.  All my travelling aside, having dinner at the airport on a day that I’m not flying, is still out of the question.
Schiphol train station RIGHT BELOW the terminal (Eat THAT, Frankfurt Airport)

Arriving back in Amsterdam Centraal

Today I head out into a different direction from the one I took yesterday to the hotel in the hope of finding more dining places. Dining places I find, but the dishes are not what I was looking for.  Let’s just say that there are still prostitutes sitting behind glass entrance doors in their main floor cubicles.

Not that is a ‘clean’ blog, but all the windows had a ‘no picture taking’ pictograph on the window. Poor girls would be flashed until the cows come home otherwise ;-).   I don’t know during which part of my youth I first encountered the sign ‘Real F***ing Live Show’, but I KNOW I have seen signs advertising identical visual delights before.  For the life of me I can’t remember where it was. Barcelona?  I’m pretty sure I have never been in Amsterdam before. Somewhere else in Holland? Oh Oh! Memory loss. My age is showing. If I had gone in and seen the show at the time I probably would remember ;-)

This being Amsterdam, Germans are everywhere. I end up in a Mexican restaurant eating Calamares a la Romana with a glass of Rose (;-), when a family of hefty heffers sits down at the table next to me. Just imagine the elephants that I did not encounter in Bruges. They're here!  I hear the head heffer (female) behind me going through the menu, looking at all the prices and the weight of meat portion of the dish, and calculating the best meat/Euro ratio for each.  Does she realize that in Ribs she is including the weight of the bones in her calculations? I guess if that much weight has to be maintained, every gram and every cent count.

Anyway, being on the subject of languages, the menu had listed the Rose as Rosado and the calamari as Calamares a la Romana, and when I want to pay, I inadvertently request “La cuenta, por favor”.  Brain switched again ;-)  Fun part of that is when I catch the waiters and the owner talking to each other, there is just too many sshh sounds.  Portuguese or Brazilians. But in a city where every waiter has to know at least Dutch, English, French, and German, what difference does it make which language one requests the bill in?

Another train trip (ov-chipkaart performing flawlessly!) and it's time for bed in Schiphol. Tomorrow it's time to fly!