Friday, November 14, 2008

Day 7: Safe arrival back in Vancouver and fun with Pocketwizards!

We arrived safely back in Vancouver. I had been anticipating this moment for a while: not so much because I had been dying to come home but because I had been gearing up to take an interesting photograph of Erich and Karen with the train. Hey - Photographers think of crazy ideas when they have nothing better to do on a 16 hour train ride!

Now first some background: This was the first major trip I had taken without taking an SLR with me. On almost all previous trips, I had always brought along an SLR, and a sometimes with dizzying array of lenses. But when you're trying to travel light (read: married with kids), this doesn't work so well.

So this time, I brought along a Canon G9 point-and-shoot, a flash, two pocketwizards, and a compact light stand. Comparatively speaking, this was very light gear inspired by this Strobist article. The great thing about this setup was that it allowed me to take both interesting lit or available light photographs without the overhead of a lot of equipment. The very configurable G9 combined with the relatively fast f2.8 lens work well to suit any serious amateur or professional photographer wanting to travel light. Combine this with the power of a 580EX and the range of pocketwizard remote triggers and you have a great setup.

I digress. Back to what I had been dying to do. I had been anticipating that we would have decent morning light when we arrived back - a necessary requirement to making this photo work. (I had actually tried this same photo the night we left, but did not have sufficient available light to balance properly.)

With the train safely back at the station, I asked one of the train attendants whether it would be okay if we stayed an extra minute while I took a photo. I quickly handed Karen a slaved flash on pocketwizard mounted on a light stand. She placed it at the same position as one of the overhead reading lights inside the train. I guessed at the power setting, figuring I would adjust it by asking Karen to vary the distance via walkie-talkie. I went outside the train and took a photo. The result was this photo where you have dark window upon dark window with the exception of one lit (as if by reading light). It's simple, but illustrates the power of what one can do with a light setup like this.

Strobist Info: Canon G9 @ f/5.6, 1/30, ISO 400, Flash set to 1/8th power.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Day 6: The trip back and the rowdies

We spent our last day in Jasper exploring some of the attractions frequented by local town folk. We rented skates and skated at the local ice rink. This is where we met some local high school students (on lunch break) who seemed to have nothing better to do than to make rude noises of flatulence in the public address system. This unfortunately made Erich very uncomfortable to the point of crying. Karen eventually gave them a piece of her mind, as I skated menacingly toward them (remember I have toe-picks on my skates!) and just as quickly as they had appeared, they fled. At last, we got some good quality skating time!

After lunch, we made our way back to the train station where Erich eagerly watched as the train readied itself for the journey home.

Once on the train, we were once again treated to beautiful views of the Rockies as the train weaved slowly along the tracks. At dinner time, we ate in the dining cart where we enjoyed a nice three course meal. (Erich's favourite course was the desert of course!) We also enjoyed chatting with some fellow travellers from Canada, the U.S., and Austria.

Then things began to get interesting. Being on a cross Canada train means you get to meet people from all over the country. Although there were many many nice people on the train, it's the obnoxious ones that we tend to remember unfortunately. Allow me to relate some examples:

  • One (who obviously had a bit too much to drink in Jasper) chatted angrily on the phone with his "buddy" (think: yo! whassup!) about how he had backstabbed him. He proceeded to pace up and down the car yelling obsenities until finally the attendants threatened to thrown him off at the next stop where police would be waiting.
  • Another talked about how he had just gotten a call from his parole officer. Boy! Just the kind of thing you want to hear as parents of a two year old... Actually he was mostly ok, except that he unilaterally served as alarm clock when he decided to make a 5am phone call. (I suppose the years of living in jail meant that you lose a sense of mutual politeness.)
  • One older fellow whom we had chatted with on the dining car also had a bit too much to drink and spent most of the night walking up and down the length of the train hitting on all the older women.
Despite the few obnoxious people, most others were very pleasant. I must say that all things considered, we really did have a very good ride back. At least we have good stories to tell! The attendants were extremely helpful, and it was comforting to see that they dealt with the rowdier people swiftly.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Day 5: Surreal Beauty

Here are some more photos of the scenery in Jasper National Park. November is a very interesting time of year to visit the park because the weather can be so unpredictable (sunshine, rain and snow). The unpredictability makes for some rather unbelievable contrasts of light and darkness. These photos taken on Maligne Road illustrate my point.

Day 4 & 5: Jasper National Park

Come Monday, we had arranged to rent a car. We spent most of Monday and Tuesday sightseeing through the National Park. We explored the Athabasca falls (photo left), looked at the Columbia icefields, walked through Maligne Canyon, and stood speechless at the magnificent beauty of Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake in the winter time. (Yes, I took lots of photos...)

We also came across lots of wildlife. (I had expected some, but not quite this many!) We saw big horn sheep, mountain goats, cariboo, white-tailed deer, and even a pair of wolves. About the only thing we didn't see were bears. But that was expected as most bears are likely getting ready or already in hibernation this time of year.

A not so common sighting of a pair of wolves (that's what
we think they were anyway!) on the way to Maligne Lake.

Maligne Canyon. This waterfall actually freezes over in a few
weeks allowing hikers to walk through the canyon on foot. People
with higher risk tolerance actually ice-climb the waterfall.

Medicine Lake: A beautiful scene as the sun highlighted parts of this
seemingly all enclosed lake with no exit point. Water in fact flows out
of this lake through several underground rivers / streams to Maligne Lake.

Maligne Lake. Incredibly beautiful and pristine views of the
Rocky Mountains were visible from the lake.

On the road between Maligne Lake and Jasper. It had just snowed a few
hours ago, and the trees were still sprinkled with snow, creating beautiful
contrasts in the trees. Notice the layering of trees in this valley.

It was so pretty outside, we decided to stop the car on the
highway and take a picture. (Not to worry - there was not
high traffic whatsoever!)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Day 3: Jasper Town

Sunday was spent mostly exploring the town of Jasper itself. We began the morning by attending worship service at a local baptist church. Apart from having the opportunity to worship God in such a beautiful town where the beauty of God's creation was so abundant, we also noted the incredible sense of community in the church.

For example, we were greeted by Paul, a brother in Christ who also happened to be the Parks Canada tour guide at the train station. We also recognized other familiar faces from around town. Indeed Paul remembered us from the day before, and was delighted to see that we had come to worship with them as well. (It turns out Paul had also heard of the Bridge church -- spotting a recent advertisment for worship leaders at Regent College last time he was in Vancouver! God works in mysterious ways.) The tight knit community reminded us a bit of the ficticious "Stars Hollow" in the Gilmore Girls.

Much like the ficticious "Stars Hollow", much of the commerce and industry in Jasper revolves around tourism. During the peak seasons of the year, Jasper is bustling with people interested in skiing, seeing wildlife and generally having a good time. However, during the non-peak seasons (November is definitely one of those times), the town seems to settle into a more local mode. Some restaurants even close altogether during this month either for renovations or to enjoy some vacation time of their own.

Photo Right Caption: This one shown in the photo to the right was an example of a restaurant that had closed. Of course the sign caught my attention -- I guess changing times and demographics had this previously "Chinese Canadian Food" restaurant rebranding itself as purely "Chinese" food.... though a quick glance at their menu has me questioning that a bit.

Visiting Jasper in November thus gave us a bit of an insider's look at Jasper - which we appreciated. We even had the chance of visiting the local arena and community centre.

Here are some of the places we discovered:

Cafe Mondo seemed to be a local hangout. This italian themed cafe (I mean with the flag draped at the back - what was your first clue?) was buzzling with music, TV with the latest sports, local town folk and a wonderful variety of coffees, hot chocolates and cookies. Karen and I visited this cafe a few times during our trip to chat and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Other Paw Bakery and Cafe was also another place where locals and passing train engineers seemed to hang out. Though the atmosphere was more of a darker theme than Cafe Mondo's, we enjoyed their freshly baked pastries.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Day 1 & 2: All Aboard the train to Jasper!

The Ng's climbed aboard the Canadian VIA Rail train enroute to Jasper in the early part of November for our annual "vacation in the winter time". (Vancouver is typically grey, rainy and wet this time of year, so it's a perfect time to get away.)

Though some may think we were crazy to bring a two year old on yet another 16 hour journey, the train turned out to be a remakably fun mode of transport for Erich:

  • The coach class had wide open seats facing seats (similar to sitting business class on an airplane)
  • The washrooms, though not huge were certainly bigger than airplane washrooms and were cleaned regularly.
  • The train afforded us the luxury of being able to walk up and down through cars.
  • Included in the train of cars was an observation deck, a games/activity area, a cafeteria, and a dining car - all of which meant that two year olds can have lots of fun exploring while we all took in the breathtaking view of the Canadian Rockies.
Shown here is a picture (right) of Erich assembling a paper VIA train after finishing a Thomas the tank engine puzzle in the activity car.

When we arrived in Jasper, we checked into a suite at the Jasper Inn. The Jasper Inn was a reasonable hotel. Our one bedroom suite included a small kitchen and a wood fireplace; we made use of both extensively. With the kitchen, we were able to prepare all of our own meals. This meant of course cost savings, guaranteed healthy meals and additional family time. The fireplace afforded me and Erich male bonding time as I dutifully passed on how to start a wood fire, the proper way!

After settling in, buying groceries at the local supermarket (photo left), and exploring the quaint (albeit partly closed due to off-season) town we settled in for a good night's rest. Unlike Erich, who could actually fit across two seats on the train to sleep, Karen and I had not gotten as much sleep as we would have liked. We traded positions throughout most of the night while we tried to get some sleep.