Thursday, July 31, 2008

Round PEI: Rocky Point and West River

Since I've been hanging around the Island, I figured I'd put up some photos of the place, and if you happen to not be from PEI then maybe it'll be of interest.

In the interest of viewing Charlottetown from afar (and because it was too hot midday to go for a walk), I drove out to Rocky Point, south west of Charlottetown and on Charlottetown Harbour.

Sailboat on the harbour and some neat clouds.

Blockhouse Point Lighthouse (this is near the first capital of the Island, Port-La-Joye, back when PEI was French territory called Ile-St-Jean. The site then became Fort Amherst when the British took over the Island)

View of Charlottetown from across the harbour (I need a better zoom on my camera for a shot like this). The tallest building is the Prince Edward Hotel; you can also see the two spires of St. Dunstan's Basilica.

Old wharf; I believe there might have been a ferry across the harbour before, possibly from here? I need some old folks to fill me in on that one.

West River bridge and a sign seen on most bridges around here: "Bridge freezes before road". Important to know in winter time, but not so much this time of year.

West River again and some more neat clouds. Some farms thrown in for good measure.

Monday, July 28, 2008

NB Highland Games

My friend Janie invited me to go to some Highland games with her and her friends, so on Friday I took the bus with her over to Fredericton, New Brunswick with a change of buses in Moncton. All buses leaving PEI go through Moncton; it seems to be the bus hub of the Maritimes. The coaches here don't have seat belts on them which I don't like. Anyway, Janie and I took advantage of the 6 hour trip to get caught up on what's happened in the 3 years since we last saw each other.

In Fredericton we met up with Janie's friends Dave and Lisa. We went to the Games for a bit that night (Friday), but because there had been heavy rain a lot of things weren't up and running yet. Saturday and Sunday, however, were hot and clear, and so we were able to spend the days watching the Heavy events and dancers, listening to music (bagpipe and non-bagpipe in the Ceilidh Tent), browsing the stalls and sampling whiskey. It got up into the 30-degrees with the humidity, so shade was my friend. Janie and Lisa had never been to a Highland Games before, whereas Dave was a veteran complete with kilt. We all had a good time and the girls have been converted to Highland Games attendance.

Mass pipe bands in front of Old Government House:
Caber tossing:
Stone throwing:
This is Fredericton at dusk as we walked back to our motel.
At the closing ceremony, we were told that Billy Connolly was in attendance and being filmed for ITV. I still have no idea what they were filming him for, or why he was in New Brunswick, but it was indeed him. I find it odd that I spent over a year-and-a-half in Scotland and that I end up sighting him in the Maritimes. I took this picture so that I could pick him out from a distance myself as my eyes are no good (using my camera zoom as a telescope, sort of). Play "spot Billy Connolly" with this photo.
Coming back Sunday evening, I arrived at the bus station on Belvedere Avenue and then walked the longest distance ever for me across Charlottetown to pick up my aunt's car from her work so I could drive home. It was only a 3km walk and I've certainly walked more than that in other cities, but not Charlottetown. You must remember I was a country kid - when I was little, I got to town generally no more than once a week with my parents, and then when I was older I was there for school and thus constrained to the schedule of classes and the school bus. I've rollerbladed all over Charlottetown, but I've not really walked a whole lot, other than in the downtown. If I was in town, I usually had the vehicle that got me there. So that was two firsts in one weekend, as I'd never taken a coach bus in the Maritimes before either.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Everyone wants dirt

Two posts all of a sudden in one day! Well, I was snooping through my blog hits in Google Analytics and was surprised to see a referral from

I was curious as to how my site was linked, so after some hunting I found a post in the forums where a fellow wrote this about my site (quoted from this post):

Re: Blogging traveler writes about his hostel stay
If anyone's interested in reading a blog about working in a hostel I found this one interesting:
Not really humorous as such or containing any inside dirt on the SYHA, but interesting to see how many places she's been to in the course of her work - they're usually short staffed so there is always the opportunity to see some of the country while getting paid. The pay isn't great, but when you don't have to pay for accommodation you can save if you want.

If you're planning a trip , you could certainly do worse than hostel work if you want some interesting experiences - more interesting than office work in London anyway.

It's interesting that he mentions the lack of "inside dirt on the SYHA" in my blog, because that's one thing I was always very careful to keep out of my writings about my work - after all, people have gotten fired from jobs over what was written on their blogs.

Anyway, I often kept my opinions out of my posts whilst working because I wanted to keep that job at the time. Now I don't work for them anymore, but I just can't be bothered writing about what I think because it wouldn't change anything in the end anyway. Let's just sum it up this way: I worked with some good folks and I worked with some that were terrible. I won't work for the SYHA again because I happen to disagree with many aspects of the management of the organization, but that's just my opinion and I did have some good times in my hostel working days.

As a correction on what the forum poster wrote: you don't get free accommodation as a staff member with the SYHA. I had to pay 24 pounds per week for my room - cheap, but not free. The pay for me was hourly at minimum wage with no compensation for overtime (and I was assigned more hours per week than my contract unless I argued about it). I managed to save money, but I manage to do that at any job (and if you're wanting to save money, DO NOT become a seasonal/summer manager, as from what I've seen they get paid a low salary per month and end up working way more than the estimated 40 hours per week - even I wouldn't take that job as a holiday one).

It was more interesting than an office job in London to me, and I did get to a few different places in the country by working with the SYHA and I got to chat with loads of different people, and that's where I took the most out of the experience.

Flying as cargo out West

Drove my dad over to Moncton (map link for non-Canadians) this morning to fly out West for work (my brother came along for the ride, I should mention). The company Dad's going to work for flies you to and fro every five weeks for a week home and thus does company flights so many times a week to different parts of Canada.

The Moncton flight leaves from what is the old Moncton airport, normally reserved for cargo. In fact, the terminal for the flight, if you can call it that, is a warehouse building labelled "Air Cargo" as shown here:
(That's the nose of my wee truck sticking in on the left, by the way)

But the sign on the little blue door does say that it's passenger check-in, if you can read it (we had to ask for directions there from the airport Shell office as the place isn't well sign-posted.)

I didn't think they'd like me taking pictures inside the building what with security reasons and all, but I probably could have, as the inside consisted of two ladies at a folding table who checked names, asked if luggage was labelled with the name of the camp (accommodation is provided in camps - big buildings sort of like university dormitories except each room has its own bathroom and TV and there's housekeeping staff to do the cleaning), and then the carry-on bag was given to the guy at the security folding table who took a look through it. No metal detectors or X-ray machines.

Then since we had about 1.5 hours until my dad's flight actually left, we just left his bags there, went for a drive, then stood around in the parking lot and watched everyone else stand around in the parking lot. The flight from the west came in, passengers left it through the gate in the chain link fence as here (crappy photo I know, but was being lazy. Shows big Chevy truck better than plane):
Then within 15 minutes of that plane landing we saw men getting on the plane so Dad headed off for his 6-and-some hour flight (stopping in Thunder Bay and Winnipeg). He told me that the plane holds 120 people, they've been pretty much full any time he's been on them, and it barely gets off the ground as it's so loaded with people and luggage (most of these fellas are taking tools in their luggage as they're tradesmen).

And with that another Islander headed off for the big money of Alberta.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cell/mobile phones in Canada are a rip-off, and yet I still have one

I got a pre-paid (or "pay and talk/pay as you go" if you prefer) cell phone set up here the other week, and after having had the same in the UK I must say that phones are a gip over here.

I went with the provider Rogers because I have a GSM phone, i.e. one that takes a SIM card. I learned only while hunting around for a provider that the two other major ones around here, Aliant (owned by Bell) and Telus, don't do GSM phones but use CDMA instead, not that I really know much what that's about. Apparently the sales people don't either - when I asked the girl at Telus on the price for a SIM card, she thought I meant a phone card, and then said "oh, you mean like a Rogers phone?"

(I'll let someone who knows what they're talking about explain the difference between GSM and CDMA)

CDMA does seem to make it easier for providers to keep you stuck with them, as you can't just pull your SIM card out of your phone and stick in a new one. I had a CDMA phone when I was in Alberta with Bell on a contract, and then when I moved down to the Maritimes I got it switched to Aliant since they're same company but it took the fellas in the store one hell of a long time to get it so the phone could work on Aliant.

GSM phones can of course come locked in the UK, but you can buy them unlocked (both phones I bought were unlocked from the get-go) and you can unlock locked ones. When I just searched "GSM phones" on Google, I got hits for Canadian sites selling unlocked phones. I didn't get any hits for that when I searched "CDMA phones", although I did find this CBC article talking about it not really being worthwhile to unlock them.

Then there's the expiration of phone credit. In the UK, I could top up my phone with any amount of credit I wanted (I usually did it 10 pounds at at time, but really if I wanted to just put on a few pounds I could) and it never expired as far as I knew (maybe if you don't use your phone for ages, I don't know). Here, you have to buy vouchers for certain amounts, often the lowest is $10. And the credit will expire, generally after a month, unless you put more credit on your account. For example, I bought $10 credit to start with, and it expires on August 11. If I haven't used all that 10 bucks up by then, I will lose it unless I top up my account, and the minimum top-up is $10. Buddy at Rogers did tell me that if you put $100 on, it won't expire for a year so there is a partial way around that but it requires a big expenditure up front.

Not only does credit expire, but the amount of credit you buy determines the rate plan you're on. The bigger the top-up you buy, the cheaper the per-minute rate is. In the UK, my rate plan was the same no matter how much credit I bought.

Then there's the fact that many providers charge people to receive text messages, not just to send them. That's just ridiculous in my mind, because you can't control if you're sent a text message by someone else. It might even be someone you don't know sending it, there are such things as wrong numbers.

With Canadian cell phones you also pay for incoming calls, so if you're talking on your phone you're paying for the airtime even if you didn't make the call. In the UK you only pay for your outgoing calls on mobile phones, but then the billing system is also different for land-line phones over there so that's all intertwined (if you call a mobile on a land-line, you pay a different rate than calling a land-line).

Then there's the neat feature of UK mobile phones that there's no such thing as being on roaming while you're in the country, because mobile phones have their own area codes. Canadian cell phones are tied to a regional area code, my cell phone's area code is 902 just the same as land-lines in PEI (and Nova Scotia), but I wouldn't even get away with travelling everywhere in the area code without ending up roaming - I'm tied the Charlottetown and surrounding region (Of course, Canada is a lot larger than the UK, so having some roaming within the country could be sensible. However, PEI and the Maritimes are not larger than the UK, and yet you can be roaming on your phone within the same area code.)

I was writing this last night and a pertinent report was on Compass (the CBC PEI supper-hour TV news) about how Canadians lag behind the rest of the developped world in cell/mobile phone use. Only about 66-69% (depends on which article you read) of adult Canadians have cell phones, with many saying they do not plan to get one, whereas 90% of Yanks the same age have cells and 97% of people in the UK have mobile phones. The CBC reporter attributed the difference to the expense of cell phones in Canada and the low cost of land-lines compared to other countries. The Globe and Mail wrote about the same survey, as did many other papers with links to articles here.

Anyway, the short of it is the only way to protest the high cost of cell phones is to not have one. Of course, given I don't talk on my phone a whole lot, it's actually cheaper for me to have a cell phone compared to the cost of a land-line phone here. But I don't like it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Adjusting to the Island

Well, I've been back on the Island for a bit over a week now. Getting used to cars driving on the right and all that sort of stuff. Still saying "hi-ya" as a greeting but people don't find that too odd; "cheers" or "ta" for thank-you they do however. Slowly changing the rest of my vocabulary over back to Canadian speak. I'm still having trouble saying "pants" for what you wear as outerwear on your legs. I keep leaning toward saying "trousers" but I know people here will find that funny-sounding, so I've just been avoiding using the word.

The coins here seem light and flimsy after UK money. I nearly threw a dime out when it was sitting on a scrap piece of paper because I didn't notice the weight of it. I don't know the coins by feel anymore - going through Tim Horton's drive-thru I was trying to pick out quarters but kept thinking I was getting nickels. Somehow imagined a quarter would feel bigger.

Money seems to fly away here, like things are more expensive. Not sure if it would be if one sat down and calculated out prices in reference to typical wage, but it feels like it. 20 bucks doesnae last long.

I've been bitten by mosquitoes for the first time in almost two years. If I had to choose a blood-sucking insect, I'd go with mosquitoes over midges though.

The main adjustment has been the heat. I haven't been able to go outside in short-sleeves for ages, usually I had two layers on plus a jacket. Here it's been above 20 degrees every day, going down to about 15 degrees at night (warmer than it was in Scotland by day). My jacket's been hanging in the closet and it's been sandals instead of shoes. It was 30 degrees, feeling like 39 degrees with the humidity one day. You can have no clothes on in that heat and still feel too warm.

It's funny how memories of a place can be buried deep in one's brain. If I don't really think about where I'm driving when I go into town, I end up at the university. That's the route I drove the most, so that's my auto-pilot.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Banking like a spy

We could subtitle this "Banking in Canada versus banking in the UK".

From my experiences, it seems that banking in the UK tries to be much more secure than in Canada.

Opening a new account
Canada: Went into the supermarket (since it's PC Financial), told the guy working there I wanted an account. We filled out all the forms, he gave me a temporary card and I set the PIN on it using the bank machine. He told me that I'd get my new card, with my name printed on it, in the mail and that the PIN would be the one I'd just selected. I walked out with a working bank card.

UK: I went to the bank and filled out the forms. Was then told that they would send me a bank card in the post.

When I got the bank card, the letter attached said I had to go into the bank to activate it. I did that when I could get to town, and was told by the people at the bank that now I would have to wait for them to send me a PIN for the card in the mail.

Some days later I received the letter containing the pin, the numbers being written as words instead of numeric characters. With that, I went to a bank machine, entered the pin and then changed it to one of my own choosing. Only then did I have a working bank card.

I thought all the rigmarole that I went through might have been due to me being foreign, but having seen other banking procedures in the UK now, I think they put everyone through that. Like with online banking...

Setting up online banking
Canada: While setting up my new account, the guy asked me if I wanted online banking. I said yes, he did something in his computer, and told me to go to the website within so many days. I think I was probably given a temporary password. Logged in with my bank card number and that, changed the password, and that's what I still use to log in today.

So I went into the bank, told the lady there the story, and she did a few things on her computer. Then she gave me a piece of paper with my "customer number" on it and told me that I would get information on how to go about setting everything up in the mail. I thought she meant e-mail (this being an online thing and all), but she meant regular mail. It was weeks before I actually got the letter what with my travelling. The letter instructed me on where to go online, etc. but first I had to get an activation code. This code was in the letter but not just printed there. There was a little plastic rectangle covering up a grey box. My instructions (should I choose to accept them) were to turn the letter over, use the perforations to tear the paper behind the plastic, scratch away the metallic dust stuff (like with a prize scratch ticket), then turn the letter over and place it on a white surface in order to view the code. Then I could enter this information on the website and - lo and behold! - internet banking.

I just logged into my online banking services for the first time since I set it up. I have to use the customer number I was initially given. Then I was presented with six questions, along the lines of "Enter the 4th character of your password" and "Enter the 2nd digit of your personal identification number" (I had two set up the password and PIN the first time).

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Western Isles photos

Photos are here. If you think there's lots of photos of sheep, trust me, there were more sheep than I've shown. Posts about the isles are back a few posts from this one.

Flying to Halifax this Thursday. Bags are packed, not weighing too much, so I should be good to go!