Thursday, November 29, 2007

St. John's to ... Siem Reap?

Well, it has been nearly a month since I last posted anything on the blog, let's just say that as the fall semester winds down, the work load has increased considerably. Reports and presentations all come due either this week or next week. Needless to say it has been a very busy November.

The fall semester officially ends on Friday November 30th... tomorrow, with exams following for the next two weeks. All of my exams are scheduled late in the second week, meaning plenty of study time but also a late start to the Christmas break. It's incredible to think that it is almost December and the semester is about to come to an end - where has the time gone? I am definetly looking forward to spending time over the Christmas break with everyone back in Ottawa and southwestern Ontario.

In other news, it has been difficult to keep focused on school work these past couple of weeks as I (along with Lucia and Jen) have decided to make a trip to Asia! What we've decided is that for the three week break that I have in between the winter and spring semesters at MUN, we will get together and spend some time backpacking throughout Hong Kong and Vietnam. 

Here is a quick breakdown of our trip... 

Leaving St. John's on Saturday April 19th, the day after exams end for the winter semester, I fly into Toronto and meet up with Lucia and Jen. From Toronto, we all fly non-stop from Toronto to Hong Kong. After the long 15 hour flight, we take a couple of days out to tour Hong Kong and area. Lucia's Cantonese will certainly help us during our stay in Hong Kong. After a couple of days in Hong Kong, and with our fill of dim sum, we fly into Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. We have a week and a half together in Vietnam, during which time we intend on making a visit to the Mekong Delta, Hue, Hoi An, Hanoi, and Halong Bay. Our travels together end after Halong Bay, as Jen and Lucia return to Ottawa via Hong Kong and Toronto - they are due back at work.

As for me, the MUN spring semester doesn't start until mid-May, so onwards from Halong Bay I continue. My intentions are to take an overnight sleeper car from Hanoi to Sapa, in the northern mountainous region of Vietnam, and spend a few days jungle trekking. Making my way back down into Hanoi, I fly into Siem Reap, Cambodia. I have 5 days in Siem Reap and will be spending a good amount of time touring the famous wats of the region. From Siem Reap I fly into Ho Chi Minh, and then onwards back to St. John's via Hong Kong and Toronto. The whirlwind vacation ends with me arriving back in St. John's on Sunday May 11th at 4:00am, with classes starting the next day!

Airline tickets have already been purchased (Air Canada, Cathay Pacific, and Vietnam Airlines), and now we are searching the many places to see, hostels to stay, and restaurants at which to eat (this of course being Lucia's passion). Besides taking in all of the amazing sites... one of my goals on this trip will be to get my fill of fresh fruit, this in an attempt to make up for the 8 months of a cod filled, vegetable absent diet in St. John's. It's all very exciting, with more details to come as the three of us plan the trip in greater detail over the Christmas break.

Courtesy of Wikipedia, here are some highlights of what we will see on our trip:

Amazing Hong Kong!

Sailing among limestone karsts by junk in Halong Bay.

The incredible Angkor Wat!

Monday, November 5, 2007

St. John Sea Dogs Vs. St. John's Fog Devils

As promised, here are the highlights from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game myself and many other MUN students attended this past Saturday evening. A bus left MUN at 6:00pm and dropped us off at Mile One Centre. The puck was set to drop at 7:00pm. We thought that if there was enough time after the game, we would swing on over to Ches's for some Newfoundland sui yah... fish n' chips. However, it turned out that the bus was going to pick us up immediately after the end of the third period, and so we were back at MUN by 9:30pm without the fish n' chips. There was the option of heading over to George Street after the game. Believe it or not, I had a fair amount of work to do, so instead of hitting the bar, I hit the books and spent a few hours in front of the computer researching for a report!

As for the game...

The game was between the St. John Sea Dogs (from New Brunswick) and the St. John's Fog Devils (from Newfoundland). Not only did I not know the name of the hockey league (I had to Google QMJHL), it was quite easy to confuse the two teams. Not only that, I had some ethical dilemma as I did not know who to root for - the team from the mainland (being from Ontario and all) or the team from the city in which I currently live. I sat on the fence, but decided to cheer a little louder for St. John's. Regardless, a majority of the players were from Québec. The game was not bad, although St. John's (the team with the 's) was outdone. Few shots on net and a lack of momentum right from the start of the first period resulted in St. John winning 5 to 2. Here are a couple of pictures from the evening...

The very nice Mile One Centre.

St. John scored their first goal 15 seconds into the first period!

Everyone likes a good fight, though very traumatic for the younger fans seated in the first row.

Into the second period we already knew that St. John was going to win the game. At this point in the game we thought we might leave now in order to give us enough time to swing over to Ches's for fish n' chips. We passed on the idea knowing how long a walk Ches's is from Mile One Centre. That and it was pretty cold out Saturday night!

Watching the game with the roommates.

Friday, November 2, 2007

St. John's Historic West End Walking Tour

Today was a a much needed day off from the constant onslaught of exams and multi page report writing. My initial plans were to take a hike along the East Coast Trail south of St. John's near Maddox Cove, but after consulting the map, I discovered that the trail would require an overnight stay! So, I decided to stay in St. John's and roam the downtown and west end.

The day started with a stop at the Starbucks located on Water Street. There are only two Starbucks on the entire island of Newfoundland - and they close by 5:30pm! So, today I indulged in a grandé caramel macchiato (thank you Kim!) while enjoying views of St. John's harbour. St. John's harbour is a working harbour - not one lined with walking promenades or flowers. Ships can be found docked while cranes unload their cargo - interesting to watch.

The working harbour of St. John's, with Signal Hill, Cabot Tower, and the Battery in view.

From Starbucks I made my way to the tourist information centre to pick up some information on upcoming events. I also found several walking guide brochures. With nothing really planned for the day, I decided to do the historic walk through the historic west end of St. John's. This is a part of the city I had not yet explored, in part because it is located some distance from the major attractions of downtown. The area also has a "rough" appearance.

The tour started at the railway station on Water Street. Newfoundland no longer has a railway but the station is still in use as a terminal for the trans provincial bus service. It also doubles as a museum - very nice! For those who have walked/biked/cross-country skied the Trans Canada trail, mile marker zero is in front of the railway museum.

The railway station located on Water Street.

The Trans Canada trail - it all starts here!

From the museum, I walked down Water Street and could see all of the cargo containers being unloaded off the many ships docked in the harbour. Everything from groceries bound for area Dominion stores to cars and trucks destined for car dealerships. It's something to stop and realize that almost everything that exists on this island has been brought in by air or ship! Of course, I am reminded of this every time I am grocery shopping for bananas as the prices are considerably higher than in the rest of Atlantic Canada. From Water Street I turned north onto Patrick Street and passed by St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church (consecrated in 1881).

Colourful houses along Patrick Street.

Patrick Street with St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in the background.

Turning right on Hamilton Avenue, there was a set of row houses with modest decoration and simple gable roofs - typical of the sort of housing built in St. John's in the 19th century. I later learned that the Hamilton Avenue houses are unique because they are the few houses to survive the Great Fire of 1892. After the fire, most houses were rebuilt in the more fashionable Second Empire style or the simpler bracketted Italianate style.

West end St. John's, Hamilton Street.

The walking tour followed Brine Street, Plank Road, and returned to the railway station. It was a great walk through one of St. John's unique neighbourhoods. On Brine Street is the Martin McNamara House. This is a special dwelling because of its pyramidal roof that has stood since at least 1849. It is unusual in the neighbourhood because it has a central chimney to allow for all of the rooms in the house to be heated from the same source. It appeared as though someone still lives in this house today.

After the walking tour, I made my way over to the zero mile marker of the Trans Canada highway. Although the Trans Canada highway has been extended further east to Quidi Vidi in recent years, the mile marker has remained in front of St. John's City Hall (near Mile One Centre).

Mile marker zero of the Trans Canada highway.

This coming Saturday, a bunch of us from MUN are off to watch some Quebec major junior hockey at Mile One Centre; St. John's Fog Devils versus Saint John Sea Dogs. This won't be confusing! Sounds like fun. I'll keep you posted...