Winnipeg.....Of All Places (Pt I)

Trip Start Jun 05, 2006
Trip End May 03, 2007

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Flag of Canada  , Manitoba,
Saturday, April 21, 2007

Wednesday 18 April

These days I'm probably the world's best flyer. I've racked up enough air miles to leave a BFG-sized carbon footprint. Put me on a plane going anywhere and I am fearless. Not bad for a girl whose first proper flight anywhere was to New York in 2004 at the grand old age of 23. But put all the bravado aside and I still have a thing about small planes. I know they work in the same way as larger planes and have pilots who are just as qualified, but what the hell. They give me the heebie jeebies. And how did I find myself facing my small plane fear once again? To catch a Northwest Airline 'link' from Minneapolis to Winnipeg. And why Winnipeg? Because I was there to be re-united with Team Canada from Tasmania. Since I set out on this year away I'd found myself becoming more and more spontaneous and open to new experiences, so going to visit Glynnis, Corey, Scott and Drew seemed like the right thing to do after we clicked - well, I hope we did - in Tassie. And I believe pretty strongly in fate - maybe, just maybe, I was meant to meet them all those thousands of miles away back in January in the southern hemisphere. And of course I did ask if I could come visit...and either Canadians are the world's politest people or they actually wanted me to off I went. And journeying thousands of miles from the other direction was Scottie #1 from the Tassie tour, who was back in England by that stage. I was looking forward to being reunited with my tour hubby. Together the two of us were extremely reminiscent of great showbiz couples from recent times. Think Liza Minnelli and David Gest.....Paul McCartney and Heather Mills...I could go on and on.

So, Canada, eh? (For the uninitiated, there'll be a least a couple of paragraphs devoted to the 'eh' concept in Part II. Yes, there's enough material for a Pt II!) Anyway, I confess - it really did come as a surprise to me to end up there as part of my global odyssey. And to be perfectly honest, I'd never really even thought about Canada before. Obviously I was aware it existed (unlike Belarus, which kind of passed me by completely until about the age of 21, when I 'discovered' it), but to me, Canada had never really registered on my radar. I had no idea who the prime minister was, what the capital was, and what poutine was. But in recent weeks as I was readying myself to leave Australia, I'd been thinking about the place and the Canucks a lot. In fact, I couldn't get Canada out of my head. I just hadn't done my research on it quite as thoroughly as my fellow Brit, Mr Brown - *cough* nerd(!). But maybe he was in the right. Because if I'd at least found out about the existence of a certain Stephen Harper (PM), then I'd have certainly asked for a direct line to his office when I landed at Winnipeg airport.

Never in a million years did I think I'd come close to being deported back to the US as an illegal immigrant. I don't know if there's some kind of Canadian version of Guantanemo Bay up in the Yukon Territory or some place, but I came this close to finding out.

I landed in Winnipeg and was merrily chatting away to this Canadian woman in the queue about Chicago (I love Canadians, they're so friendly!) when I was ordered over to a booth by a cuddly little man named Tom with a moustache. He could have been my granddad, he was so cute. Anyway, sadly for me, Grandpa Tom didn't start dishing out the Werther's Originals. Instead, he gave my passport an officious look and ordered me to the office for an immigration interview. It's a lovely burgundy British passport with a royal crest on it! What more does he need?!

So there I was, absolutely cacking myself - and not because I might be deported back to LA (shudder) but because I could just picture Glynnis at the airport waiting and waiting and waiting...and waiting for me. I think part of the problem may have been that I didn't have Corey's address, as Scottie #1 and I were both staying with him. But that's just a finer detail that never crossed Spontaneous Jo Davis's mind (she's kerrrazzzy!) So into illegal immigrant purgatory - the interview office - I went. Every 30 seconds I looked at my watch. And every 30 seconds felt like 30 hours. Eventually a man and a woman came to join me. They were both from the States. And coincidentally both black. This part actually made me feel happy to be there. They'd thrown a white person into the mix. They weren't racist after all!

Grandpa Tom and his helper finished admitting the poor, tired, huddled (but fortuitous) masses through immigration control about 10 minutes later and ambled over to start shining lights into our eyes. By this time I'd struck up a conversation with the guy next to me and he told me that he was due to make a connection to Edmonton in 20 minutes. One thing I'd learnt about myself over the course of the last 10 months was that even in situations of extreme stress I am still a calm, relaxed and nice person. And as Grandpa Tom called me over for the third degree, I found myself asking if the gentleman next to me could go first as he had a connection to make. I really need to become nastier....

Once that guy had been deemed worthy enough to set foot onto Canadian territory, it was my turn. All this time I was focusing on sending psychic messages through the ether to Glynnis to wait for me. But I didn't really need to because I knew she'd wait. That's the type of person she is. Once I was called up I was out of that office within seconds. All I had to do was show my kindly Grandpa my return ticket and he finally believed that I didn't intend to be the very first British asylum seeker in Canada. I was even sent on my merry way with a special badge! It had a little maple leaf on it. See, that's what all good grandpas do - they shower you with sweets and badges and affection. And they stamp your passport.

I decided that Winnipeg Airport wasn't bad at all as I saw that Grandpa Tom's helper had very kindly loaded my luggage onto a trolley and I was good to go. I was about 30 minutes late, but I had made it. And this marked a seminal moment in my travels. It was the first time someone had actually come to the airport to pick me up. After all that time away, at last I was seeing a familiar face. I was so used to strolling past happy people - travellers who were delirious with happiness to be reunited with someone at the airport. Especially after getting off a tiny plane. And now, this time, at last, I was one of those happy people. Understatement: it was good to see her.

But as we walked to the car park I felt like I'd been set up. All that talk from the Canucks in Tassie about how blooming cold it was over there and there was Glynnie looking like she'd just stepped straight out of summer. What was going on? This was the northern hemisphere - it was supposed to be cold. Turns out the British invasion had triggered something of a heatwave in the Peg. As time went by, it would even coax Scottie #1 into his shorts. But more on this later!

Speaking of Scottie #1, there he was when we arrived at Corey's condo (still haven't really figured out exactly what makes it a condominium yet) looking like the personification of jet lag. He appeared to be hypnotised by a very large television that seemed to be stuck on the Gameshow Network. It was a television that had quite possibly swallowed every other television in Canada and had become one very large TV. I think Scottie #1 had arrived in his own personal heaven. The lucky git had also managed to waltz straight on through immigration at Toronto. No kindly grandpas waiting to stop him and jiggle him up and down on their knee (That's a disturbing image). And of course, there was the lovely Corey who was looking ultra-dapper with a new haircut. I also met Kurt, Corey's gorgeous partner and was introduced to quite possibly the most important member of the household. Princess Punkin, a beautiful cat who - I was told - loves ladies with long hair. (This theory was put to the test later). And then, completing the family was Kurt's pet Sam - a gorgeous cat who came from a rescue home and just said to you 'love me! Love me!'

Despite having an early start from LAX that day, I didn't feel too bad. (I am of the personal opinion that LAX is easier to handle when you're still sleep-addled from a 5.30am airport shuttle pick-up. But it doesn't half help when you stay in a nice Beverly Hills hotel...) But I digress. After being used to sharing dorm rooms with lots of other people, I finally had my own room!! It even had an en suite with it. It was just a hunch, but I could sense we were going to be very happy in Corey's guest wing.

After a lovely shower and a little session of pinching myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming, Team Canada arrived for 'supper' (dinner to us common folk) in dribs and drabs. It was beyond great to see them all again. Drew arrived, Scottie #2 arrived too and Glynnis returned. And we were all re-united!! I also met Malcolm, Scottie #2's partner, and was delighted to discover I was no longer the baby of the group. Just 24, Malcolm is a hard-working med student who is going to make the best doctor ever. That bedside manner is going to play host to a long line of hypochondriacs. And just in case I was missing Australia, Corey was barbecuing some burgers from his parents' farm. Hell, it was even barbecue weather!

There was lots of catching up to do, and I hope my jet lag didn't mask my unmitigated delight at being somewhere I was made to feel so welcome. We even had welcome this stage I was seriously worried at how nice they were being and almost fearful they were all going to turn into serial killers..... I was also shocked and amazed to discover that it was light on the Manitoba prairies until 8.50pm. I was used to Sydney plunging into darkness at 6.45pm by this stage and it finally felt like the northern hemisphere summer was on its way and it wouldn't be so bad going home after all.

At risk of becoming similarly hypnotised by Corey's giant TV and having my limp, lifeless body discovered in the morning (nothing to do with them being serial killers), I hit the hay. At this stage Scottie #1 needed matchsticks to keep his eyes open. We decided to re-gain our strengths for the delights of The Peg the following morning.

Thursday 18 April

I must have still been on LA time as I was woken the next morning at 10.25am by a boxer-clad Scottie #1 cheerfully announcing that 'Jeopardy' was on. If ever I needed an incentive to get up...

Corey's guest wing also has this wonderful power shower that just blasts you with cold - and then, thankfully, hot water to wake you up. It took me about two days to tame that beast of a shower and develop the 'testing the temperature through the bath taps before proceeding with the 'on' button technique'.

We checked the weather on what was to become our favourite channel out of Corey's plethora of televisual pleasure. (Just a hunch, but I think he may have had cable). And grabbing Corey's map and trying not to look like complete tourists, we headed off in the direction of The Forks, which is where Winnipeg began, at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, with native settlements dating back 6,000 years. Ha! History. Take that, Australia!

We sauntered onto the streets of Osborne Village into the perfect Spring day. Crisp, clear and cool (but with the potential to get much warmer) it was as though we had hit the jackpot. Especially as we had been pre-warned by the others (through some interesting email conversations) that it could be a crapshoot as to what the weather would be doing in April. Torrential snow blizzards had been known to occur, as had blazing sunshine. Did I mention I was the Mayor of Luckville at this stage?

Osborne Village is my kind of place. Within walking distance of downtown, it gives off a grungy, slightly edgy but still homely vibe. As Corey said, it's a weird mish-mash of old people and students. And plus it has Starbucks and Safeway, which I really should be all anti-capitalist and denounce, but have you tried their passion tea?! I rest my case. And of course, it's safe to say my ode to that wonderful Safeway store will feature later.

And just when we thought the cheery onslaught of American capitalism couldn't be bettered in 'the Village', then what did we come across but our very own outpost of the British Empire. Just a few steps away from Corey's front door. And we weren't even pre-warned. There it was, illuminated by the Manitoban sunshine and beckoning to us like a golden beacon. The Toad Inn. We pressed our noses up against the window and pondered whether 11.30am was a slightly ungodly hour to enter a boozer. After all, it was open! We nudged the door open and ye Gods, it was perfect! Dingy, stinking of mouldy beer and stale cigarette smoke, it was done out in the kind of décor that made me feel homesick for the first time in a long while. A real(ish) British pub! Think stripy wallpaper and burgundy carpets. We even fitted in a quick menu perusal to see what kind of 'British cuisine' (a slight misnomer there) was on offer. They did toad in the hole! That got me a little excited. Before we left we interviewed the bar staff about their British credentials and were upset to discover that 'the help' were as Canadian as maple syrup. But, thankfully, the guy in charge was Scottish and had winded up there because he married a girl from Winnipeg. Couldn't really understand anything else he said, but we had found a compatriot who at least we could have done the Oops Upside Your Head thing with at closing time. That involves little communication. Just fake rowing on the floor.

Once we were able to tear ourselves away from The Toad, we headed away from Osborne Village and took our first look at the Legislative Building. Home to Manitoba's governing body, the building is beautiful from any angle. It's next to the River Assiniboine and is surrounded by multi-coloured polar bears which symbolise different facets of Manitoban life. We also spotted what looked like a lovely riverside walk, but were gutted to see that most of it was flooded and it was somewhat inaccessible.

And so began a series of regular updates on the state of the river walk. Who needs a good old soap opera when you've got Floodwatch? Ahem. Yeah, well...Scottie #1 found it fascinating.

We thought we should probably go and check out The Forks seeing as the others banged on about it so much. #1 could probably fill in the blanks about its historical importance etc, interesting markets, one of the oldest areas, etc, etc, etc, but...goddamnit - the sun was shining and I wanted to sit outside! So Scottie and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Branigans (one 'n', unlike our pub chain in the UK) and were beginning to revel in the reaction we could provoke by telling people we were Winnipeg tourists. Our waitress practically had to scoop her jaw off the floor. We were also hanging out in the sunshine with some entertaining Hells Angel types. I was beginning to glean that Winnipeg was awash with diversity.

Yes, diversity. That was confirmed when Scottie and I scaled the heady heights of The Forks viewpoint (six floors up or something?) to discover that some crazy old man had followed us up there and proceeded to terrorise us for about 10 minutes, 40 feet above Winnipeg. I don't think either Scottie or I would have survived a jump from the platform if we had made a bid for freedom. So we were stuck there while he rabbited on about Mrs Coffin Dodger who lives two blocks away from him and got her mobility vehicle stuck while she was crossing the train tracks(!) and was rescued in the nick of time before a train came. I think we practically had to turn our backs to him and ignore him before he left us alone. As he left and began descending the steps, he broke wind very loudly - almost like a parting shot. Nice!

Anyway, me and my travelling husband moseyed on down to the downtown area singing a bit of Petula Clark as we went. Scottie #1 - having done his research (did I mention that already?) - was delighted to happen upon the windiest intersection in North America at the corner of Portage and Main. We stood there and waited to be blown away, both literally and metaphorically speaking. Not one gust. And so happened the inauguration of WindWatch. Not quite as exciting as FloodWatch, but nearly there(!).

Next we had a bit of fun getting lost in Winnipeg Square: a place we thought sounded like a little charming cobbled area likely to be occupied by roaming musicians and lovely pavement cafes.....but it turned out to be an underground series of banks, shops and escalators where you could get lost forever. See it's all underground because of the winter temperatures. When your skin will freeze in two minutes. Or something like that. (We probably spent way too much time watching the weather - and so the obsession with Sylvia Kuzak began) Winnipeg Square proved to be a small disappointment. But lo and behold what did we come across next? A sign pointing the way to 'SKY WALK!' Now I might be dressing it up a little with the exclamation mark and the capital letters, but SKY WALK! sounded like something I wanted to be a part of. As a disclaimer here I should mention that my past experience of SKYWALKs! comes from multiple Australian cities where it's usually something cool to do up the top of a big tower. But we were in Winnipeg Toto, and here the SKYWALK! was, rather disappointingly, a low level bridge over a busy intersection. But really, I think that views from 15 feet up are vastly underrated and should be enjoyed much more. Honest guv!

So we may have faced a small amount of disappointment, but while hunting for a caffeine fix, Scottie #1 and I rapidly had our faith restored in Canada once again. All hail the legendary Tim Horton's. When I was in Hawaii I had been briefed by Amber, my lovely friend from Regina, about the wonder of 'Tim' and his coffee.

If Starbucks is unashamedly American, then Tim Horton's is most definitely Canadian. The coffee shop chain is named after the ice hockey player Tim Horton. Apparently he didn't have enough money to fund all the plastic surgery required for a nose broken in 90 places by a puck, so decided to become a coffee entrepreneur. Or something like that. I like my version of events best. Tim Horton's kind of reminds me of the inside of a Little Chef - not always a bad thing - and has a homely feel that says 'come drink good coffee at a reasonable price, none of this whipped frappa skinny cino malarkey'. And like the good citizens it keeps dosed up on caffeine, it's so much more humble than Starbucks and its bratty American customers.

Anyway, the coffee was good...or as Mr Brown the Englishman would testify with a doff of his bowler was the tea. We sat there for a while and people-watched (one of my favourite activities). Sure, Winnipeg has the hustle and bustle of any city, but there's just something about it that makes you never forget its inhabitants are really rather lovely and polite. For example, Scottie #1 and I discovered our secret magical powers whilst there - we could stop traffic just by walking to the edge of the pavement. Lovely, lovely kind drivers. But there's the rub - when everyone is so nice to you it makes you never want to leave.

We eventually made our way home (it didn't take me long to start referring to the Quintaine/Kowalke residence as home!). And after a bite to eat we all headed out to the Manitoba Concert Hall to meet Glynnis for the opera.

We were lucky enough to get knock-down $10 tickets for 'student night'. That's £4.65 for three and a half hours of someone dying. Pretty bloody amazing. It was pretty much like a full dress rehearsal for the Manitoba Opera's production of Otello. Why has the 'h' been removed? No idea. It was of a very high standard and I was very impressed. Knowing the story obviously helped and some of the arias were pretty amazing to hear right there in the dark in that concert hall, I love those moments when you forget everyone else is there and it's just you and the stage. It was Scottie #1's first time at the opera and he was very attentive and patient, despite the fact that it went on until 11.30pm. I felt for Glynnis - she of the 5am starts was practically falling asleep on my shoulder.

She wasn't the only one though - at one stage we were on a particularly long Otello lamentation (as I remember it, the part where he's procrastinating over whether to kill Desdemona or not) when we heard this middle-aged woman in the row behind stage whisper (very loud stage whisper) to presumably, her mother: 'ARE YOU STILL AWAKE??' The poor woman, who had to be wheeled in I might add, must have been in her 80s or 90s and was probably up about five hours after her regular bed time, bless her. If she wanted to sleep she should have been allowed to bloody sleep, goddamnit!

Friday 19 April

Another tres beau jour. Scottie and I bade each other bon matin, donned our berets, stripy jumpers, strung onions round our neck and headed out of le porte to do more Winnipeg exploration. Is a French theme apparent here? Good, then that's because we were off to 'the other side of the river' - Winnipeg's French quarter St Boniface.

Believe it or not we actually had a conversation as we approached St Boniface over the bridge about whether or not we might need to ask for directions en francais. I think we were concerned by the 'warnings' Scottie's guidebook was heeding about St Boniface being the largest French community in western Canada. We were in western Canada?! Geez, I was learning stuff by the second. Of course, going for a stroll on the continental side of town gave us an excellent excuse to unleash our GCSE level French on each other and practise asking the way to various 'crucial' places like la tabac. Needless to say, we didn't encounter a single tabac on our Gallic adventure or have any particular need or desire to visit a tabac. Still, somehow this paved the way for us to get onto one of our favourite topics - 'why are the French so bloody rude?' Between the two of us we managed to come up with a few theories. Good times!

It takes a lot to shut us up but the breath-taking sight of St Boniface Cathedral just about did the job. Although just part of the original 1908 building remains, the front is completely intact and completely beautiful. Also in the cathedral grounds is the grave of Louis Riel, who was kind of like the Canadian version of William Wallace, because he led the Metis rebellion on behalf of the good people of St Boniface. Just when we thought Winnipeggers thought a fair bit of the guy (by way of the prominent gravestone kept spick and span and still commemorated with fresh flowers), Scottie's guidebook pointed us in the direction of the other Riel memorial.

Do you remember that episode of The Simpsons where Marge paints Mr Burns naked? Well, the follow-up to that they didn't show was that she probably did a sculpture too. A bizarre, naked 30ft statue of Louis Riel (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Burns) is now housed at the college in St Boniface. Formerly given pride of place at Winnipeg's Legislative Building, the Riel/Burns piece became an embarrassment to the city and was 'donated' to the college. That's right, the memorial to the man who gave his all for St Boniface is now at the mercy of student hi-jinks. He's been consigned to a lifetime of road cones propped on the head and toilet roll strewn over his private parts. Or at least he would be if there wasn't a bloody big security camera trained onto Riel's buttocks, ready to zoom in on anyone about to shinny up the thigh and deface the 'art work'. Bet the camera is worth at least 50 times the statue, I thought.

Next we genuinely had the chance to practise our French on an unsuspecting passer-by when we did actually get lost. I personally blame Scottie. Wimping out of le challenge, Scottie left it to me to save the day. And I did. Just in English. The woman we asked for directions looked distinctly un-French. So for a change I avoided making a fool of myself and just went with the standard 'how the hell do you get out of here' line. Thankfully, we understood every word of her very straight-forward Anglo response. We made a quick pit stop at a Catholic church with an interesting shaped roof and a scary memorial to all foetuses 'murdered' by abortion and made our way back across the 'Winnipeg Channel' to the city.

Corey and Kurt had a special treat in store for us that night. They were going to take us to the North End, Winnipeg's somewhat seedier side of town. I just love the way they did the warts and all tour guide experience! Corey informed us that we were off to a restaurant called the Red Lobster. To me, that sounded like an extremely fancy place with at least three Michelin stars. Erm, no. It was a chain place, kind of like the Harvester, I was told. I speedily stepped out of my cocktail dress and whipped out my jeans.

My enduring memory of the Red Lobster was Bob. Bob was a legend. I should really explain here that we were gatecrashing the birthday party of Jason, a friend of Corey and Kurt. I hope he didn't mind. He didn't appear to though, even more so as his 'drinking the bar dry' plan unfolded that evening. But back to Bob. Scottie and I decided that everyone needs a Bob on their table. He was this random guy, who was a little older than the rest of us and practised the fine art of making conversation with himself. Put it this way, he held me spellbound most of the evening.

We all retired to Jason's house in some deepest darkest Winnipeg suburb and drank beer while he unwrapped a fastidiously wrapped present with about 70 layers to it. Two hours later he got to the actual gift and I can't for the life of me remember what it actually was.

Later that night Kurt and Corey headed off to Gio's and Scott and I sat up in the lounge talking. And then I fell asleep in the chair. It wasn't the standard of conversation, honestly.

Saturday 20 April

The next day I was very excited because we were being taken to see bison. Actually, that's bizzzzzon. Why the weird pronunciation? I have no idea. But when in Rome.... And when you're in Rome/Manitoba, what else do you do? Well, you admire the bizzzzon from afar at the Fort Whyte Centre for Environmental Education and then enjoy their minced-up entrails in a bison burger! That's an environmental education: all prairie animals = food.

I've got to say though, that was my first time seeing/eating bison and it was all kinds of good. Drew was the driving force behind this excursion to Fort Whyte, because, quite frankly, it gave us a good chance to get to grips with lots of Canadian creatures all in one place. We saw some cute little muskrats too, but sadly they weren't on the menu that particular day. Fort Whyte is a 200 acre centre that re-creates the natural habits of Manitoba's lakes and rivers in a load of disused cement quarries. There was even a scary bridge for Scottie #1 to negotiate in the same fearless way he conquered the rope bridge in Tasmania, Indiana Jones-style. This one was probably about 80 feet lower, but oh yes, equally as scary.

It was great wandering around Fort Whyte. It really captures the general feel of the prairies. Going back to when I arrived, about to touch down in Winnipeg, I was just completely overwhelmed. Mostly by the whole reality of the situation, but in part by the overall flatness of Manitoba. It reminded me of this game I used to play with the little boy whose mum would babysit Bek and I in the school holidays, where we had this big plastic map with a city and massive, massive fields stretching for miles around it. Paul (the little boy) and I would fly his toy planes above it and land them while making those customary annoying aeroplane noises. And of course, you grow up and realise rather rapidly that the landscape is actually nothing like that. But Manitoba is. I love everything about it, how empty and barren everything is. There's almost an other-worldly quality to it out there on those prairies. And those big, big skies. You can just get lost in them. There's just this feeling of space...that I don't think even Australia does as well.

Before going back, we stopped at this rather lovely delicatessen place, where, somehow, I found myself blurting out that dinner was in the hands of Scottie and I that night. It was, of course, game night! And as we were being initiated into that great North American ritual - the hockey game - we felt it was only fair that the Canucks were initiated into the considerably less great ritual of Brit food cooked by two gen-u-ine British cooks. (That'd be Scottie and I.) I felt the others were getting the somewhat rawer part of the deal. No cooking pun intended of course.

We decided to produce something resembling bangers and mash for the Canucks, but oh man, was it an ordeal! (An enjoyable ordeal though, as I love shouting at Scottie in the kitchen(!)) Scottie, bless him, doesn't generally have to cook on those days of the week that end with a 'y'. He's got a one-in-a-million mum who does all that for him. But, alas, mum was thousands of miles away the other side of the Atlantic, so I forced him into the kitchen and made him cook, meanie that I am. I mean, this is the guy who spent three months in Australia without cooking a single thing for himself in the hostels. How is that even possible?!! But I gave him one job in the end - he was in charge of the bangers. The opportunity for things to go slightly pear-shaped may have somewhat increased when we chose Italian sausages for our British feast. And I will never forget the look of intense concentration on Scottie's face as he fussed over those sausages while they took about 45 minutes to cook. Still, we persevered though and cooked together in harmony producing something vaguely resembling food for everyone. They were very polite and appeared to be smiling and enjoying it, but I did mention that Canadians might just be the world's politest race?! They may have even edged the Japanese out by this stage.

So, to the MBS stadium and the ice hockey game. Scotty Sage had come back from Brandon (from memory, his granddad's birthday, I think - bless!) and had very kindly got us tickets for the game. And he's gotten us bloody good seats to see those Manitoba Moose in all their glory. I was very excited about seeing some fights, just like on TV and was going to try and understand the rules while of course clocking some nice-looking hockey players. But it was really all about the atmosphere, which was fantastically game-night esque when we got there. But for some strange reason I can't possibly fathom, all the Canucks went rushing off to the fast food stalls when we got there. They were hungry? What was all that about?!

I decided I needed caffeine, and of course there was a Tim Horton's there so thought I'd make a quick pit stop for coffee. On my way round I saw Glynnis buying up a job lot of imitation pucks for us to chuck onto the ice at half-time (quarter-time?) to try and win ourselves a truck. Cos that's what you need to navigate the mean streets of Winnipeg - a big-arse truck. Seriously, they do actually need monster vehicles because of all the snow they get in winter. Any car I've ever owned would be completely submerged by snow if I drove it in there in winter. My hopes of winning a truck held high, (I always think I'm going to win something when I enter competitions) we surveyed the queue for 'Tim's' and saw that it snaked at least twice round the entire stadium perimeter. (I may be exaggerating a little here.) But all was not lost as Glynnie assured me there'd be a break after 20 minutes when we could duck out for Tim's.

And so - the ritual of Saturday night, GAME NIGHT! Among the hoopla is a mascot, a mentally handicapped man called Dancing Gabe who has his own platform to dance on and big screens and loud music. Oh, and there's a bit of sport going on as well. The Moose were playing some team from the States (were they from Illinois?) for some kind of cup (the name escapes me). And the most amusing thing was that this wasn't the only game they had to play against the Yankee team. It was something crazy like a series of seven, just to determine who would get through to the next round. Is ice hockey driven by commercialism and the lusty pursuit of gate receipts I ask myself? Maybe....just maybe.

It was enjoyable though, really enjoyable. There was lots of shouting and excitement and I think the other team scored a goal at one stage. But, more importantly, coffee time soon rolled around and Glynnis and I did a runner to Tim's. Within seconds of the whistle blowing though, the queue was rapidly approaching the one mile mark. That's how wonderful Tim's is! I even bumped into one of my long lost friends while we were waiting in line there (or so he would have me believe). We were just waiting there, chatting away, when this man - who must have been in his fifties - came striding up to us and exclaimed (very loudly) - 'Hey! You made it! Good to see you here!' I looked to Glyn for direction, semi-suspecting that she may actually know this crazy character. But she has much more discerning taste, and it turns out she had no idea who this strange man was either. At this stage the guy was still advancing towards me and I seriously felt that he was about to fling his arms around me and spirit me away so we could walk off arm in arm and start reminiscing about the time we met at the ice hockey stadium. So I did what I always do in situations like this; I smiled, nodded politely, made minimal eye contact and hoped he would go away. And he did. In retrospect, it appeared that what attracted the crazy stalker's attention was that the fact that there we were - two girls - at the game with no men around (little did he know about our male harem) and he was merely extending the hand of sporting friendship to us members of the fairer sex for coming to the game. I looked around and saw that there really was a dearth of women at the game. Compared to attendance at UK football games, which is close to 60/40 these days, there appeared to be little female interest in ice hockey. Either that or all the good women of Manitoba were at home darning socks by the fireplace. Still, I was glad that Glynnie and I let the side down completely by spending what turned out to about 30 minutes in the queue having a conversation and not really noticing what the score was. It was worth it for Tim's though! But when we got back to our seats, there was a faux-worried muttering from Scottie #1 that we'd been abducted. Yeah right, he was so worried that it was only the super glue welding him to his seat that got in the way of him coming to search for us...

After the final whistle and the succumbing of the mighty Moose to the nobodies from the US of A, it was time to go get toasted! And at a British pub! Not the Toad this time, but another one with some other pseudo-Brit name. Glynnis' friend Kim was actually in there celebrating her 30th, so it was time for Scottie and I to chalk up another memorable gatecrash. We enjoyed ourselves immensely though just getting into the boozer as - befitting of all good British pubs - it was free entry for all British people. (And, I believe, all international travellers!) We even had to play a little quiz on the door to check we weren't doing a Dick Van Dyke. And your starter for 10 is 'And which part of England are you from?' I was tempted to say Walford or Midsomer just to see if I could get away with it. But I did really want to get into that pub. Alas though, the Canucks had to pay $5 to get in. We will have to spend more time coaching them on that accent and the art of diving through pavements to enter magical worlds with singing nannies.

It was dark, loud and busy inside and there was some kind of band playing. They seemed to be perhaps on the grungy/emo side? They were probably the type of musical act for which classification is too uncool. Somehow though that night passed me by without recalling specific details of happenings. But this - in a nutshell - was it for me: there was wine (rather big glasses as I remember), the band, Glynnis' school chums and British artefacts on the wall. I think there was also a man who was English/Scottish/Irish? At the bar and Scottie and I spent a bit of time chatting to him as he was dishing out the big measures in that generous British way. And I think the rest of the time we spent chatting.. Why am I always in some sort of time vortex when I start chatting to those lot? It was a good night, but I suspect the others were slightly higher in the sober league than myself when we left. We got back to Corey's and drank more beer, and then, despite my best efforts, the party had to split up.

Sunday 21 April

And lo and behold the next morning dawned - bright and sunny and hell for those with a hangover. This was probably the oddest day I spent in Winnipeg because it was one of those woozy really long yet really short days that generally come hand-in-hand with the morning after the night before. We arranged to meet for brunch at a pretty reasonable time, 12ish or so, at this great little brunch place called Buccacinos. As soon as I sat down and looked at Scottie #1's shirt I knew I was in a bad way. His snazzy checked shirt incarceration was actually dancing across the restaurant. The goddamn thing was so lively it was actually getting up on tables, smashing plates around and having its very own Big Fat Greek Wedding. Never mind me and my big fat hangover. Oh no. I couldn't even bring myself to walk over to survey the food selection, it would have all been too much. So, as everyone chirpily went about their business dashing back and forth for mountains of food, I sat there and prayed for the orange juice to revive me. And if anyone else was in a bad way then they were certainly doing a good job of disguising it. Particularly annoyingly perky was the waitress, who merrily slapped down a bill for brunch in front of me because I ate half a croissant from Glynnis's plate (probably because she was worried about me dying in that restaurant). Trying my utmost to do my assertive thing, I just about summoned up the strength to call her back and re-issue me with a bill for one OJ. Then, she seemed to insist that I owed her an extra 50c or something for an inane invisible taxation they appear to have in Canada, also known as GST. I'm convinced, however, that she was just targeting me as the most vulnerable member of the group. And probably because she was equally hungover but had to spend her recuperation serving black coffee to the likes of me. Evil cow. Did I tip? Did I heck!

The rest of the day passed by in somewhat of a blur. It was very nice and relaxing though and Corey's place is certainly a nice place to recuperate. I blamed my fragile state upon the fact that everything happening to me was huge. Not to be too dramatic, but I was in a funny kind of place where I was faced with the imminent prospect of returning home after abandoning my previous existence to become the type of person who travels thousands of miles on a whim and also because this end to the trip - the final leg - in a funny way felt just like the beginning. I'd lost touch with who I was before I left and wasn't quite sure how I would exist in a world where I couldn't just buy a plane ticket to get away from a situation. I was feeling more attached to the travelling existence than ever before (probably because of where and whom I was with) and further away from where I needed to be to resume my 'normal' existence again. Oh, and I drank too much ropey house wine, lest I forget.

Corey and Kurt, God love 'em, did the honourable thing and went visiting small people at a birthday party. See, I would have gone (because there is just a tiny bit of Mary Poppins in me) but I wasn't quite sure if I wouldn't have pulled out a sharp instrument from my handbag in lieu of a spoonful of sugar, just because I had a wee bit of a headache. And child noises may have just tipped me over the edge. Bless!

And of course Scottie#1 had to stay and look after me because I am but a mere damsel in distress. I was in such dire need of his attentiveness that I stalked off to my room to read for most of the afternoon until succumbing to the lure of the latest edition of America's/Britain's/Australia's/Canada's/Botswana's Next Top Model. Did I mention that Corey liked that show? And managed to stay on top of who everyone was in every version. That had to take some doing. But it was all proving a bit complex for me and I was just falling asleep on the couch when...salvation arrived.

An addendum is needed here about the more modest sector of society. Those who excel at the art of the underplay. They're just average at things in the same way that Pele was an Okay footballer and Einstein was almost brainy. I think you could safely say that Glynnis is one of those. I'd just gotten over her timidly putting up her hand to tackle the bloody big mountain in Tassie, thinking 'I hope they'll be OK', only to discover minutes later that she and Drew were freakin' marathon runners who probably would have put Sherpas to shame. And then, she pulls off the whole 'my turn to supply dinner routine', only to arrive with some spectacular three course dinner for about seven of us. And
you know where this is going....she used to cook in a restaurant. Scottie and I and our lame attempts to embarrassing. And just in case I wasn't recovered by then, that dinner did the job. And the chocolate mousse. I can't wax lyrical enough about that. That alone made me feel human again.

We passed the evening watching TV and relaxing. It was nice, just very uneventful and comfortable. I slept like a log that night.

Monday 22nd April

Monday mornings are supposed to be crap aren't they? But far from it when you've got Scotty #2 showing up on your doorstep ready to whisk you off to gaze longingly at lots of money. That's right - we had an extra special tour guide for our tour-de-financial-force, and who better than an accountant? We were headed to the Royal Mint, which is the only one in Canada outside of Toronto. The building itself is an interesting piece of architecture - it's a glass pyramid-type structure a few miles out of the city. As we hung around waiting for our tour we got chatting to this security guard chappy who watched over us like a hawk as we lifted up a gold bullion worth more money I'll ever earn in my lifetime. It had a chain attached to it and I have the strength of a fruit fly; more on this irritating security guy later.

We did our tour with a few others.....fellow Winnipeg tourists? Nup, our hopes were dashed when we discovered they were locals. But it was very interesting, seeing how money was made and all that malarkey. We got back down to the gift shop and I had a good old browse while sweet hubby of mine conversed about curling with the security guard. I was just in the midst of making that all-important decision between the Manitoba fridge magnets and the moose key rings when I was summoned over to be asked whether I would make a good sweeper in a curling team. As my ex-colleague Steve would probably testify, put some bait out and it's guaranteed that I'll nibble. So, of course I got on my high horse and started huffing and puffing about why I should be nominated for sweeper just because I'm a bloody woman! See, I'm still mad about it! Our friend the security guard shot Scottie one of those sympathetic looks that kind of said 'dunno how you cope, mate'. And I stalked off back to the happier environs of the gift shop. I consoled myself by buying more crap in there.

The three of us headed into town and met Glynnis for lunch at Salisbury House. That'd be Sal-is-bury House in these parts. This phonetically perfect restaurant (part of a chain) is sited on the bridge overlooking the Assiniboine. It was (another) lovely day, and it was just perfect looking out on the river and catching up on everything that had happened since we last saw each other, like, a whole 12 hours ago.

After lunch we were off to the fabled University of Manitoba to enjoy the academic aura of Winnipeg's finest cerebral institution. We took off in separate vehicles, boys vs girls. Somehow the boys won, but that was because we took the scenic route. The university itself is pretty huge, with lots of different buildings dotted round the campus. I love soaking up the atmosphere at any university because it just feels so wonderfully academic. You can almost sniff learning in the air.

The university is where Glynnis goes to teach psychology classes when she isn't at work, looking after dogs, running or bashing holes in her wall. She kind of bucks the trend about professors being old, unattractive and scatty, as she is neither of those things. But, on the way to her office, we got to see a professor pretty much as I remember them from my uni days. Phew! His name was Professor Pear and he was about 180 and had a beard that almost flowed all the way down to the carpet. (And it was him, in the ballroom, with the candlestick.) I just loved the way he addressed Glynnis as 'Glynnis', while he was always 'Professor'. Still, I imagined his first name was probably Cornelius, or something equally as embarrassing. And, he was 150 years older. He commanded respect, otherwise he'd just get out his wand and zap you.

After checking out some fossils (non-human ones, this time), we headed back home and got ready for our big Monday night at the casino!!

I have to say, I'd never even been in a casino before until I started out on these travels. I had brief flirtations with many of the casinos in Australia, but rapidly lost interest and migrated to the bar instead. But then again, I wasn't in the company of some serious gamblers.

The Club Regent casino is like Winnipeg's own little piece of Disneyland. It's got waterfalls, animatronics and people sporting a glazed-over look that says they've heard the 'It's A Small World' tune one too many times. After sizing up the joint and deciding what looked profitable, Corey (professional) and Scottie #1 (wannabe), played a bit of roulette. Turns out Corey had a very special talent for this game. I don't know exactly what it was, he just had a knack for artfully arranging his chips on certain numbers and getting more back in return. I just looked on while repeating the 'gambling is for fools' mantra to myself. But Corey ably proved that muttering mantras to oneself is actually for fools - he made about $40 that night. Scottie #1 also won money, as did Glynnis. Scotty #2 was saving himself for bingo at the other casino. But that bit's to come in part 2.

It didn't take me long to drag them to the bar for a drink. It proved a good place for people watching and was good for, of course, more putting the world to rights and more deep and meaningfuls. I felt very wired that night, almost like things were making sense for the first time in a long while. But Scottie #1 and I were beginning to suffer from separation anxiety from the Canucks, because - gasp, shock horror - we were off to Vancouver the next day. And we didn't know anyone out there. Plus, we were going to be gone a long time - two whole days. Now, some may subscribe to the idea that going to British Columbia from Manitoba for a mere 48 hours is a screw ball concept, but we just wanted to whet our appetites for another little part of a country that was rapidly becoming rather endearing to us both. And, my spontaneous influence must have rubbing off on Mr Brown. We were heading out West! Funded by his humongous wodge of winnings from the casino, of course...
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