Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Loon Lake

I came home from Vegas the day after the wedding. I then had Saturday to visit a friend and watch the Vancouver fireworks. Sunday morning, Bre, Donovin, Savannah, Kees, the parents and I all drove up to the family cottage on Loon Lake via the Whistler road, with stops at Shannon Falls, Brandywine Falls and Whistler. I used to drive the road to Whistler almost every weekend for work before with stops at those waterfalls and I was very curious to see the completed renovations that had been done for the Olympics. I could hardly recognize most of the road and the parking lots at the falls had all been changed too. Whistler has grown but was still recognizable.

Big happy family!

Brandywine Falls.

Looking out at Black Tusk from Brandywine Falls.

I love Loon Lake. Maybe it's my definition of “home” since it's been in my life longer than any other location and I was looking forward to returning for a visit much more than going back to Vancouver. Everyone loves the place and finds it very relaxing so we were excited to take Kees up for his first visit and show him some BC nature. He loved it of course and we had a good time fishing, boating, hanging around and harassing whatever wildlife we could find.

Canoeing on Loon Lake.

Love the pedalboat.

The men hard at work...


Can't forget the campfire.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Las Vegas

Of course the most important reason I'm home is for Sky's wedding in Las Vegas. He had roughly 50 people turn up for it (about half from either side) which isn't bad for a destination wedding. The wedding was on a Thursday but the first part of the group flew down on Monday, including us. The wedding (and most of the guests) stayed in the Mandalay Bay hotel, though a few, including us ("us" being Grandma, Bre and Donovin, Savannah and Kees and my parents), stayed next door in the Luxor. The weather was roasting as expected, just over 100F during the day. I didn't do much during the first day though the others split up to see various shows that they were interested in.
Tuesday was the official bachelor party day and we started off with a 3 hour ATV tour in the desert to get us all hot and dusty. It was fun and my first time on an ATV. I still think the desert is beautiful and I love the heat. I was probably the only person the whole trip down to Vegas that wasn't sweating like crazy when we went outside... After quick showers the boys,, continued the day at The Gun Store where it's possible to shoot off a huge range of firearms from pistols to fully automatic SAWs.

The remainder of the night was rounded off with dinner, drinks and dancing. Because people were still arriving all day Tuesday our group kept changing size as people joined when they could.
Tuesday was also special for us because Rhiis (our good friend that had done the videos in Egypt with us 4 years ago) drove over from California for a couple days to visit as well. He was not an invitee to the wedding but crashed on our floor and hung out all day Wednesday and Thurday morning to catch up after so many years apart. The others had seen him 2 years ago when he came up to Vancouver to visit. In the last few years he's had growing success with the death metal band he's created called Ana Kefr. If you're into death metal be sure to check them out.

With Rhiis.

The wedding itself was on Thursday afternoon with the reception on the 60th floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel after. I was one of the groomsmen. It was a nicer wedding than many of us had expected. The first thought that comes to many minds when a Vegas wedding is mentioned is something quick and tacky but this one was nicely done and the bride and groom beautiful and sappy. Overall it was great to have a chance to catch up with a lot of extended family all at once but I still haven't really spent much time at all getting to know my new sister Adriana. Something to look forward to in the years to come I guess. They are off to Europe for a month of honeymoon, a little ironic considering the rest of the family has just left Europe.

The whole family reunited again for the first time in 3 1/2 years to welcome a new addition.

We don't always look like scruffy travellers ;)

As for Las Vegas itself. It was my 5 time visiting but first in almost 10 years so I was curious to see how different things looked this time around. I was disappointed actually. Vegas used to be hot, busy and full of lights but after living in the tropics, Cairo and seeing places like Hong Kong at night, these 3 adjectives don't seem nearly as special anymore. It is still a crazy place of course but I think as it diversifies itself (the city was at one point the fastest growing in the US and there are now big stores on the strip and not just casinos) it feels even more like a tacky tourist trap city and less like something tackily specialized (and thus still a must see). I still think if you haven't been you need to go once, but I doubt I'd make a special effort to return. I do get a kick out of the architectural scale of the thing. 19 of the 25 largest hotels in the world are still found in Las Vegas so it is all a bit crazy. I just think the direction it's going with the newest editions is making it more mainstream and less fun for me.

Buffet time!

Bellagio's Fountain.

Where we stayed, Luxor.


Monday, August 01, 2011

Home a Little Late.

Sorry Shean, I hadn't finished the blog but I guess the title got posted up a little early...

I didn't think it could happen but my mind and attitude were completely changed during my flight back to Vancouver. The hard way...
My planned called for a direct flight from Frankfurt to Vancouver on an early morning flight so I had left Nuremburg on the last train of the day to Frankfurt with the intention of sitting at the airport all night (which I did) and then flying home in a general state of blah. I can honestly state that I didn't want to get on the plane. I was definitely leaning towards the "I'd rather stay in Germany" state of mind.
But I did get on and our completely full Air Transat A330 (~350 people) was happily cruising along home until we were forced to turn back and land at Iqaluit, Nunavut (aka really the middle of nowhere) for a medical emergency. 2 hours later we were all set to leave and sitting on the runway revving up the engines when the pilot cut the power and taxied back to the terminal. Now we had a technical problem with the plane...
4 hours after that we finally had things fixed and were ready to try again. Sitting for 6 hours in Nunavut probably sounds like hell and it mostly was but the weather was good and the passengers were all surprisingly good humoured about everything. Possibly because we had no idea how long we'd have to wait and so were hoping to leave any minute. We were forced to stay on the plane the entire time because Iqaluit airport has no facilities for 350 people let along immigration to allow us into the Canada officially. So we had the doors propped open, nothing to see and a long time to wait. They more or less ran out of snacks and water onboard also and apparently we raided all that they had at the airport and had the airport staff run to the store to raid them too. If Iqaluit is currently suffering from starvation then I'm afraid we had something to do with it...I was also sitting in the middle seat of the middle row of the plane beside the front toilets so had no window at all and didn't get to see anything as we flew in and out.
So after 6 hours of delay we finally took off and were immediately told we'd be headed to Montreal because the flight crew had officially gone over their daily work hours limit so we needed to change to a new crew. It wasn't until we got to Montreal that we were finally allowed off the plane for about 45 minutes while they re-catered and cleaned that people could finally call home and make other arrangements. I don't even remember the flight back from Montreal as I was so wrecked by then. When we landed, 13 hours late, I had been awake for about 48 hours and on the plane for almost 24 of them. And I can honestly say at that point that I was quite happy to finally be in Vancouver again!
Since then I have been battling jet lag and running around prepping last minute details for the wedding, like getting my suit tailored to size, etc.
There have been definite culture shocks though I doubt I'd call them "shocks". It's more that I come back and see things now as a different culture like any other different culture and not my own. But it's more little differences that you don't think about or you notice when you go abroad but not home. In ways it's almost like the scale of things changes. The mountains here are smaller, the cars bigger, the houses huge. It was normal before and now it seems like something alien. I did a double take when I saw how much water is in the toilet bowl, and then was surprised when I was counting change in my head and given a quarter instead of a 20 cent coin. Those are simple changes in perception while other changes are more obvious, like all the construction that has been completed (and new stuff started) in the time I've been away. Seeing snow on the mountains for the first time in years was also something new. Driving was something new again. After only 100 km of driving in the last 4+ years (and that in the Aussie outback) I was a little nervous to get behind the wheel again. I'm happy to announce that I can still drive safely, though the thought of commuting and city driving makes me want to give it up altogether.
The best part of the first couple days was going into the storage unit and finding out I had saved more clothes than I thought. It's like Christmas! I didn't get a whole lot done before it was time for us all to take off to Las Vegas for the wedding.