Back on my feet

Well, I’m in Toronto. I came to the conclusion that the seats on the train were designed to be comfortable for 72 hours. I came to that conclusion at about hour 74 of the trip, with the destination definitely coming up but still achingly out of reach, an unfortunate side effect of such a big country. I don’t want to give the impression that I was just sitting around while I was on the train. We had chances to get off and stretch our legs at several stops, including extensive stops at Jasper and Winnipeg, but for the most part, physical activity was limited to a trip to the dining car or the observation bubble (the rest of the train being off limits to third-class passengers such as myself), so I was very glad to get a chance to move around again.

The train came in at 11 and I was able to check into my hotel room a little before three, so I did get some time to walk around and explore. I found restaurants in the “Entertainment District” offering any number of culinary options and eventually picked a place mainly because they had a gentleman outside happy to discuss the menu with passersby. After lunch, I continued exploring. It was pretty hazy and foggy, so I didn’t get very many pictures, but this view did present itself:

toronto

Days on the train 

When I first planned this trip, it was in the broad-brush way of thinking about it. I would somehow get to Toronto for a Blue Jays game. “Now, how to get to Toronto? Well, wasn’t I seeing all those ads a few years ago to see Canada by rail? Vancouver to Toronto, that sounds like fun.” I saw the 3 1/2 day duration of the trip without really thinking of the implications of that. And actually, a more accurate way of thinking about it is three days and four nights, we left Vancouver Sunday night and arrive Thursday morning.
Now, I find train travel to be extremely relaxing and have enjoyed many long trips in the past. But almost four days? The only thing I’ve done comparable to that would be that Baltimore-Albuquerque trip I took (and blogged about) back in 2011. And for that trip, I made stops in Washington, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Chicago. Aside from a few hour-long stops where we can get off and stretch our legs, this whole journey will be on the train. I spent some time wondering about whether that would be too much, but by then the pieces were in place (and paid for), I had a plane ticket to Vancouver and Blue Jays tickets five days later.

In all, I am still glad I chose this particular route, but some things—most notably the fact that it’s very difficult to get more than three or four hours of continuous sleep makes me think I should spring for a sleeping car or break up the trip in some way if I plan something similar in the future.

Something I’ve noticed about the three days so far. I don’t know how the Canadians have gotten their country so nicely organized, but we had all mountains on Monday, prairie and farmlands from sunrise to sunset yesterday, and so far today has been entirely lakes and forests:

   

 

The Canadian 

I want to say a little more about the train I’m on. I could tell simply from the VIA Rail website that it’s the crown jewel of their fleet (for lack of a better word). However, it wasn’t until the numismatist in me got curious before I discovered that it is a National icon. Check out what’s on the ten dollar bill: 
And that’s not any old train, it is specifically the one I’m on: The Canadian/Le Canadien (I feel like I’m picking up a lot of French because the farther east you go, the more of it you hear and see) I’m sure there’s a rich history and tradition behind the train and the line—I don’t imagine the passage through the Rockies we made yesterday was a small feat—but I don’t pretend to know that history, so I won’t claim to be an expert.

Here’s what I do know: this train is a monster. At one of the station stop we were given fifteen minutes to walk around. From the coach car in the very front where I am to the last sleeper and back took the entire time. As I’ve indicated, I’m used to traveling coach on Amtrak. Naturally, there are a few differences, but here’s the one I appreciate the most. Look at the size of this window:


Today I saw a lot of farmland out that window as we went across the prairies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Here’s a sight I saw so many times I’ve completely lost track of exactly where this particular farm was:  


 

From the mountains 

Today is the most mountain-oriented day of the trip as we make our way across the Rockies to Edmonton. We’ve been picking our way up the Thompson River since before sunrise, and the view for most of the morning has been the river off to one side, meadows or trees to the other and mountains everywhere.

   
    
 There has been an exception, though, and a rather frequent one. Freight trains, and lots of ’em. Due to unexplained “mechanical difficulties,” we were going—quite literally—five miles per hour the first hour and a half after pulling out of the station. The slow start, combined with the fact that we are regularly being pushed onto a siding to let freight go by—usually on trains sixty, eighty or even a hundred cars long—means we are now two hours behind schedule.

I couldn’t care less. First of all, I don’t have anywhere I need to be until Friday (that’s the Blue Jays game) and I am just here to take it all in. Besides, by Amtrak standards, that counts as being on time. But I guess that’s not the norm here, folks around me who aren’t familiar with Amtrak’s standard operating procedure are grousing.

A day in Vancouver 

I knew I’d be getting in late last night (and in fact, according to my internal clock, which is still on New Mexico time, it was really this morning), so I wasn’t really looking for more than four walls and a bed from my lodging. And that means I wasn’t disappointed:

  
I’ve been told many times by many people to take lots of pictures, but part of my upbringing with film cameras has given me an intuitive sense of when the lighting is unfavorable and I know I won’t get a good shot. Typically, I don’t even try to take a picture if it’s cloudy, and guess what the weather is like here. Nevertheless, there were a few breaks in the clouds, which allowed me to get these:

 

The dome of Science World

  

A panorama of downtown Vancouver


And I tried several times to get a picture that really captured the essence of those mountains off in the distance that are mostly shrouded in clouds but peeking out just enough for me to believe they must be truly spectacular on a clear day. Here’s the best picture I could get:

 

The science museum was near my room, but I decided I went to science museums in Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Phoenix and Baltimore already on the tour, and it seemed a bit pricey—even in Canadian currency—so I decided to do something else.

I think of a recent physics lecture I listened to recently where the speaker talks about the phenomenon of photons in the sun scattering every which way before escaping to potentially reach the earth, and gives a fairly weak example of a well-defined physical principle known as the “random walk.” A much better example would be my day in Vancouver. I went a little way in one direction, then I’d see something interesting somewhere else and scatter off that way for a while, not really looking for anything in particular, just taking it all in.

27,000 steps later (at least that’s what my pedometer tells me), I was pooped, but still had time and wanted to see more. Vancouver has this thing called SkyTrain, and I thought that would be an ideal way to see a lot. Well, I know for next time the idea was good, but two stops after I got on, the thing went into a tunnel and didn’t come out before I got to a stop where I’d have had to add to my fare. Oh well.

Taking off 

Today I leave for my grand Canadian adventure. For purposes of the ballpark tour, I’m “only” knocking one ballpark off my list—I will still need to make other plans, as yet undetermined—to get to Detroit and Cincinnati to finally finish this little obsession of mine.

But the importance of this trip is so much more than that, it’s the first time I’ve been at a job long enough to really need a vacation (and I cannot under-emphasize how badly I need this vacation). More than that, it’s the first time I’ve gotten to travel somewhere new since my weekend in Atlanta, over three years ago. I’ve been to San Francisco several times since then, but it almost feels like that doesn’t count. I’ve got family there and have been to visit so many times that it almost feels like a second home. So this is my first chance to cover completely new ground in quite some time.

I will keep the travelogue going with daily updates—as best I can. If you missed the details of the plan, I am flying to Vancouver and then spending the better part of four days on a train to Toronto where I will see a Blue Jays game before heading home to put nose back to grindstone. It seems coverage in western Ontario is rather spotty, and I might just be having too much fun to bother with the blog, but I will try to get a post every day.

Making lemonade 

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve had anything to share as I continue my quest to see a game at every Major League Baseball city. I’ve been stuck at 27 for nearly three years now without much of a plan in place to knock those last three out of the park. This year, with the first job I’ve ever had that I began work without the expectation that the job would end in a matter of months, I decided to check out the schedules of the Blue Jays, Tigers and Reds and see if I couldn’t work out some three-city trip like the ones I’ve written about before. And I was able to get the conceptual framework put together for the first week in September.

That was before the lemon dealers extraordinaire (better known as “workforce management”) stuck their collective foot in. To cut a long and extraordinarily tedious story short, the days I would have needed off  to make my planned trip work and be relaxed enough for me to still consider it a vacation. It took some effort and some creative thought, but I eventually hit on the notion of just going to one game and making more of that trip. I don’t know exactly how the thought of the Vancouver-Toronto train came to mind, but once it did, a little wheeling and dealing got me some time the week before, which turned out to be perfect to work the train into my plans. But what about Detroit and Cincinnati? Well, I can always wait till next year.

On family, memory and 49-year-old peanuts

Hello again. It’s beginning to look like for the second year in a row I’m not going to get the chance to visit any new ballparks (although I will certainly keep you informed if anything changes), but I still feel compelled to post something every now and again. I was looking through the baseball stats and standings this morning and happened to notice that it was on this day in 1965 that Sandy Koufax pitched his perfect game, and the fourth overall no-hitter of his career. And that reminded me of a minor family mystery. Continue reading

Unlucky Thirteen?

It might appear that I’ve been neglecting this blog, as the entire 2013 baseball season has come and gone with nary a post. Well, I haven’t posted anything for the simple reason that I didn’t have anything to post. A summer job kept me from any travel for the first half of the season, and difficulty replacing that job made me unwilling to undertake any significant travel since it ended. Therefore, this has been the first year since 2001 that I have not been to at least one Major League Baseball game and knocked at least one team off my list

This little setback does not mean that I’ve abandoned my goal. Either goal, really. I still intend to see a game at every Major League team’s home park and I still intend to write about the experience. I am still only three ballparks away from the first goal, and I must be approaching 10,000 words towards the second on this blog alone.

Take me out to… the Opera?!

The baseball season may be over, but I’ve been neglecting something I’ve been meaning to write about since September. I’ve mentioned that I have family in the Bay Area. One thing I picked up on a recent visit out there was a new favorite radio station which—thanks to the wonders of the internet—I am able to listen to from anywhere. Why it’s my favorite station is a story for another blog, but one consequence of constantly listening to a San Francisco area station was that I got to hear quite a bit about a big musical event of the season: Opera at the Ballpark.

The idea is that once a year, San Francisco Opera picks a performance on a date the Giants are out of town and sends a live feed to be simulcast on the giant screen at the ballpark. It’s typically a well known and fairly “accessible” opera, and it is always free. This year’s event was Verdi’s Rigoletto on what I was told was a beautiful though slightly chilly evening in September.

That particular corporate-named stadium has always been one of my favorites, and San Francisco is one of the world’s most vibrant and colorful cities, so I could imagine that people could have a lot of fun with it, and was actually quite sorry I wouldn’t have a chance to attend. (And I don’t even like opera!) However, I recently had a chance to sit down and have a chat with my aunt Nan, who was able to attend.

We did speak briefly about the opera itself, which Nan felt was an impressive performance, but because I was far more interested in the overall experience, that was what I focused on. Here is a little of what she reported. She enjoyed the juxtaposition of opera with the regular ballpark fare. She went with a friend and sat right behind home plate, fairly close to the main concessions area, “and wafting out was the overwhelming smell of pickle relish.” There were nearly as many people there as a typical Giants game, and the crowd was all of “life’s rich pageant,” from the very elderly to “babes in arms.” Many who came staked out a seat somewhere in the outfield, and kids were running the bases all night long.

The evening started with a screening of the classic animation “What’s Opera, Doc?” featuring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Before the simulcast started, a gay men’s barbershop quartet—winners of an online poll—performed the Star Spangled Banner from the pitcher’s mound. But my favorite little detail, and something that is just so San Francisco, between the second and third acts, a performer from Beach Blanket Babylon, renowned for their magnificently over-the-top hats, lead the crowd in singing a ballpark staple, with some slight adjustments to the lyrics, “Take me out to the opera…”