Travel is Half the Fun

Trip Start May 14, 2010
Trip End Jun 08, 2010

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Where I stayed
Thomas and Linda's House

Flag of Norway  , Oslo,
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I had organised with Neil that I would take my dirty laundry to his place after checking out in the morning to get it washed before we went and did some final Vancouver sightseeing ahead of my departure on Amtrak at 5:45pm.

I took advantage of what was to be my last sleep in opportunity for many days and woke just in time to get packed and be out by the 11am check-out time. It wasn't long before the extremely frequent (even on Sundays!) SkyTrain had whisked me to Commercial and Broadway and I was walking down to Neil's place with all my bags. I decided not to gamble and wait for the trolleybus down the road but it turns out that even on Sunday it runs every 15 minutes so one overtook me on my walk.

Clothes were put into the washing machine and in turn the dryer so that Neil and I were then free to head back into town for further exploration of Central Vancouver. We opted to visit Stanley Park, which is a large park at the north-western end of the central area that I suppose is their equivalent of Kings Park. We walked there from Waterfront Station, again passing Canada Place and Coal Harbour floatplane docks. The waterfront area extends all the way to Stanley Park, covering the entire northern side of central Vancouver with recreational boating docks, walking areas, mini-parks and apartments.

Our walk through the park took us to the western side, to where Neil apparently always see raccoons when he visits. Unfortunately for me there were no such animals to be found, but there were squirrels and birds a plenty. I'm not sure what it is but all the gulls here are massive. I assume it would be a bit harder to keep these monsters from stealing your chips come summer picnic time.

With an explore of the newer, trendy area of Yaletown still on the list we did not have time to do one of the walks around the Park to see all the different things that it has to offer. Instead we walked back to the main road through the park and took the next bus heading downtown. On our bus trip we were joined by an older man who kept on telling us about how easy it was to steal from the houses in well-off West Vancouver, insinuating that the contents of his bag were stolen goods. When he disembarked from the bus (at the same stop as us) he got his bike from the racks at the front of the bus (in front of the windscreen) and shouted “get out of my way – I'm going to get some hookers!”

Yaletown was a short walk to the south, a walk that took us through the architecturally interesting curved municipal library. The final scene of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (when Doctor Parnassus looks through the window at the people in the restaurant) was filmed here. Yaletown itself was nice and the main shopping and entertainment streets have potential. It looked deliberate rather than a coincidence but these 2 predominantly pedestrian thoroughfares were the only streets with overhead power lines. They were conspicuous structures that matched the character of the former warehousing and light industrial area so I'm thinking that it's a very deliberate thing that these lines are there.

We concluded the walking tour by heading up the main entertainment street past many shops, eateries, theatres and cinemas to Granville Station. Again it was a short trip on the SkyTrain back to Commercial and Broadway, where there was a very quick connection to the trolleybus for the stretch to Neil's. I had a bit of time to run my second load of washing in the dryer but the machine is not particularly effective, so my clothes didn't dry that much.

Before I knew it I was back on the trolleybus, back on the SkyTrain and back at Pacific Central Station, getting my seating assignment, clearing US passport control, luggage X-ray and checking my bag into the luggage van of another Amtrak Cascades service. The service was operated by the same set (Mt Hood) that I took up to Vancouver, but the locos (there's 1 at either end) had changed. Also changed was the side of the train that I was seated on so now I had a view of the towns that we passed rather than the water. Again I was disappointed by the state of things, especially on the Canadian part of the trip.

The US had us stop the train at the border (I gather that this is normal) so that their Customs staff could come through the train, collecting our Customs forms and asking us the usual questions. This process took about 10 minutes and its weird that they could manage to do the passport control in Vancouver but this had to occur at the border, even though the train does not stop anywhere else in Canada.

The sun had set by the time we rolled into Seattle. The station here is undergoing refurbishment and it looks as though this is focussing on uncovering the station's original detail and design from it's current 1960/70s incarnation. The State of Washington looks as though they're spending quite a bit on regional rail services including the Cascades and Seattle's Sounder commuter service. There are great new stations along the line like the on at Everett that would help in making commuting by rail in these parts an enjoyable experience. The Pacific Northwest is the place to be in North America.

It was easy to find the nearby bus/light rail tunnel station to buy my ticket and board the Link Light Rail service to SeaTac Airport. This relatively new service runs through the pre-existing bus tunnel and continues south along a bit of dedicated alignment, raised and underground sections and in road medians. I was a bit disappointed by how this infrastructure has been delivered. Firstly it's not fast enough. Even when on its own alignment it never really picked up a lot of speed, the train always felt like it had a lot more to give. I can understand restricted speeds at the on road median sections but when in a dedicated area the train should fly. Perhaps part of this restriction was due to the bad ride of the vehicles. It was as if they were always trying to find the flange, with lots of hard lateral motion, especially on soft corners. I'm guessing it's the vehicles and not the track – their design should be reinvestigated.

Public art features pretty heavily at the stations along the line, as was the case at the airport stop. I'm glad that I arrived after dark to see the projections and lighting on the station structures. It took about 3 minutes to walk to the Rodeway Inn so I was soon checked in and preparing for another early departure the next day.

I was checking-out in the foyer just before one of the free shuttles to the airport was to leave so I opted to utilise this service. I think it took longer that it would've for me to walk because it had to stop in traffic, most of which was shuttles from the other nearby hotels, and snake around an indirect road network.

American Airlines' check-in machines wouldn't process my check in fully, presumably because I was travelling on a Finnair ticket and even on the Finnair codeshare flight number for this leg. I had already checked in online on Finnair's website but this only covered the Finnair flights so I had no idea about my first leg. The manual/problem check in queue didn't take too long and I was impressed that AA picked up my Finnair check in seats without hassle. Security moved well so I had a bit of time for a small breakfast and to use the airport's free WiFi prior to boarding.

Our flight to New York JFK was operated by a 757, my first such experience. The plane is basically a stretched 737 and indeed this plane reminded me of Qantas' 737-400s, except with bad seats and after-market winglets. The flight was as good as I could expect – no food, but free drinks and a movie that I didn't want to watch – Tooth Fairy, at least it wasn't Invictus again. I was feeling quite tired so I slept most of the way which helped to kill the time. Descent dragged on since JFK is a busy airport and I ended up busting to go to the loo wishing they would land the plane already! When we did land it was clear that we were in an international airport with a wider variety of airlines and a queue for the runway that was 15 planes long.

AA's JFK Terminal 8 looks pretty new but it isn't anything lavish. Think of a new budget airline terminal but with air-conditioning (that doesn't work too well). Amongst AA's shortcomings I was cheered up by the sight of a single Finnair tail in the sea of AA (and one Jet Airways) planes at the terminal. Soon enough I was onboard the shiny new Finnair A330-300, being greeted in Finnish and seated in a comfortable seat with a massive widescreen touch screen monitor showing the plane's map and external cameras. I had managed to get myself seated in row 24 so I had a great view of the jet and back down along the long wing of the A330.

Although Finnair managed to get us out of the gate on time ground congestion at JFK was severe so we had to sit on the tarmac for about half an hour before we could finally taxi and then take off. I was seated next to an older man who was Finnish but lived in the US and was very friendly so we spent all the waiting time having a good chat about life, the differences between Europe and the rest of the world, flying and Australia, ending with us even exchanging cards. The rest of the flight was taken up with watching some of the entertainment, eating but this time no sleeping. I tried to watch the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but after I paused the movie the control bar wouldn't disappear from the bottom of the screen so half the subtitles were lost. I'll have to try again on my return flight.

Our descent into Helsinki was a “green” one so we glided the whole way down from cruising altitude without levelling out or using the jets except for the last little bit when the flaps were extended and the gear down (below 3000 feet). Helsinki Vantaa Airport has grown since I was last there with a whole new section for new Schengen travel. As these gates have come online some of the older gates are now undergoing work so the airport is still a bit confused. My relatively long connection to Oslo came in handy as some people missed their flights, or severely delayed others, due to the late arrival of our flight from New York.

Helsinki Airport has free WiFi but not many accessible power points. As such I had to sit where there was a power point for a while but the WiFi reception in this area was almost non-existent. Once the laptop was sufficiently charged I could move to my gate lounge where the WiFi worked. My laptop battery died a few minutes before the Oslo flight boarded so it all timed in pretty well.

In another aircraft first for this trip the flight to Oslo was operated by an Embraer 190. The flight was about half full and I was lucky enough to have the exit row with nobody sitting next to me. The leg room was plentiful (more than on the Amtrak Cascades train in business class) and my window view was good. I like the Embraer – the windows were wide and relatively high in the wall so I didn't need to crane my next so much to look out. However, the windows are spaced further apart than on other aircraft so there is only one per row. For the rows ahead of the exit row the windows are a bit too far forward of the seats, making them uncomfortable to look out of. Looks like exit row or further back is best for windows. Additionally seating is 2 seats either side of the aisle and they're wider seats with a wider row so points for comfort. The only draw back is a lack of entertainment, but this is not a problem on a flight that is a little over an hour long – we took off, ate and landed.

Like landing in Helsinki, landing in Oslo for me is a great feeling. This was actually my first time arriving or departing from Oslo Airport and I was impressed by the terminal facilities and design. The place was also pimped out in advertising celebrating the Eurovision Song Contest 2010, which kicked off with the first semi-final that night. The duty free shop in the arrivals hall was massive, but this makes sense as Norway takes advantage of it's non-Eurozone status. My bag arrived in a timely manner (thanks Charles for your Finnair Priority tag) and my friends Thomas and Linda were waiting for me just past Customs control. It was great to see them and catch up as we drove to their place in the east of Oslo.

Thomas and Linda's apartment is on the top (4th) floor of the building, on the corner so they have windows on 3 sides. The location is nice, adjacent a school and a few minutes walk from the “senter” which hosts some shops, a T-bane station and bus stop. It's amusing that they're on the wait list for a parking permit for the car park so they have to find street parking all the time.

We had a nice omelette lunch prepared by Linda as we continued to chat and I ruminated about how green Oslo was. As all my previous visits have been during winter, seeing Oslo in another season is a start contrast. The dark green hues and new life everywhere combined with the extra detail of being able to see what was hiding under the snow is crazy. As the day progressed I helped Thomas to take some rubbish to the sorting/transfer station and buy supplies for their wedding on Saturday. At the supermarket we saw a player from the local soccer team that Thomas supports, who he pointed out to me so it's interesting that he presumably lives in the same area.

Before we knew it dinner time was approaching and we were chatting and watching a bit of the Eurovision Semi Final on TV. If I thought the sun went down late in Canada, Oslo pips it as the sun stayed up until about 10:30pm. Linda prepared us a delicious Salmon dinner before the day came to a close and was running out of energy, still needing to prepare for yet another early start. I farewelled Thomas and Linda before going to bed, and am excited to see them at the wedding on Saturday.
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