WT2010 – CANADA – Day 27/28 – Vancouver, BC

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on April 10, 2010

Day 27/28 – Vancouver, BC
[On the iPOD] The Undertones / The Go-Betweens / Johnny Foreigner / The Hives

Vancouver is only 2.5hrs drive from Seattle (or less even) Its like Sydney to Newcastle. Crossing my first border was Interesting. It doesn’t feel like your in a different country at all at first. But then you start hearing French on the radio. I was wondering where the hell the mountains were, I couldn’t see anything in the distance at all and then the freeway obviously changes direction and your staring at these Mordor-esque HUGE mountains in the distance, they literally cut out of the flat landscape like giant city-wide pyramids the top half of which just completely disappears into fog/clouds.

Soon you cross a bridge and your driving through suburbia and then downtown Vancouver jumps out at you with mountains visible in the background like some fake backdrop on a stage performing a Shakespearian play. Snowboarding snowboarding where for art thou snowboarding. It’s quite an amazing site, the freeway/overpass gives you this oversight towards the mountain and the cityscape buildings build themselves up either side of the road you enter on.

Vancouver looks modern and ‘internationale’ no immediate visibility of any history but it seems so cutting edge you don’t care. My initial plan was to go snowboarding right away but it was a tad late and I was pretty tired from the night before. So instead I was on a walkabout around downtown Vancouver. The main strip Granville St is home to many bars, restaurants and shops of all description. It’s a long street though so I ended up walking awhile. I came across some cars tipped over in the middle of the road?! As it turns out they were shooting scenes from the series “The Fringe” and a host of series crew members were making the scene look like some sort of explosion had occurred, they were piling car parks and junk out of the back of pickup trucks and randomly throwing them on the road.

My goal was a much talked about record store on W Hastings St. It was vinyl only but the prices were kind of ridiculous, exactly what you’d find back home. Used albums for $50? No thanks. I’m regretting not buying a heap more in Japan, am yet to come across those sort of bargains. I’m hoping maybe the UK will have some bargain basements.

I found an amazing Sushi place and spotted some amazing backstreet graffiti. Further down W Hastings the neighbourhood gets distinctly dodgier. The street is littered with homeless people all congregating around one block really. Offered bud and shrooms twice whilst walking past. It’s probably only a matter of time before the gentrification of the city turns this area into brand new apartments and all these people are shoed away somewhere out of site, it seems like Vancouver is aiming to be that kind of city. But the area near the water has that old-historic vibe to it (called Gas Town) I unfortunately didn’t get to explore any further as the weather started to get pretty bad. Headed back to the hotel and whilst out looking for dinner I found a place called Morrissey’s. Of course I headed straight in, it does seem to be named after the singer with one of his albums displayed proudly near the stereo. They play really good music at this trendy bar/restaurant (when I say trendy, I mean modern but not wanky) you can even make requests. I had probably the best Steak/Salad I’ve ever eaten and then headed back to my hotel for an early night (up early for snowboarding!)

I somehow woke up late with my head feeling not so-great. Too many drinks at the pub the night before perhaps? I was worried about Cypress Mountain. There was the debacle at the recently held olympics (it was an official venue for several of the events) and apparently they had to ‘cart in’ snow because there was such a lack of it up there. Everyone I’d spoken to said I have to go to Whistler (a real resort with big mountains about 2hours drive North) I’d already driven 3hours from Seattle the day before however and it’d be a 4hour round trip, add to that the fact I’ll be driving a total of about 19hours over 3days after I leave Vancouver and I’d decided against it. I’m not an all-mountain pro boarder anyhow and besides I’d already experienced big stuff in Japan.

Thirty minutes from my hotel to the carpark! Like a quick scoot to your friends place and your in the Cypress Mountain lodge carpark. That is fricken awesome! No fees to park and all day lift tickets are $47. The lodge is at the base of two mountains (Black Mountain and Mount Strachan which literally go in opposite directions like a valley) You only have to walk about 100m to either lifts. I opted for Strachan first up. Canadians have an interesting idea of “no snow” Snow depth was at 4metres and nice and soft and utterly better than anything you’d find in Australia. The only lack of snow was on the road on the drive up the mountain (which I was happy with having no snow tyres) It’s probably people being picky, sure Cypress doesn’t have 10minute lifts and dozens of trails but it’s perfect for beginner/intermediates like myself. I don’t think a 4hour roundtrip to Whistler is worth it frankly, though it probably would be if your pedantic and an experienced boarder. This is only my 9th day on a board after all. My head wasn’t all there so I had lunch before I headed up. I’d hired a 2009 Burton Custom so for the first time ever I’d be on a really good Burton board.

The thing turns on a dime, it took me the first part of the day to get used to my new settings, switching from 0 at the rear to 6-out. It’s effortless to turn but takes some getting used to, as your mostly always turning too much but I eventually settled in. The green run is nice and long and doesn’t really have to be green, you can cut in down trails that are blue halfway down and the run itself had a nice ‘ditch’ area near the end where you could drop in/down and then get some good air off jumping back out (like a mini-halfpipe/gutter run) I ended up staying on this run all day practicing trying to get air and mostly falling on my ass. Still have a long way to go.

I ended up meeting some cool people and even though I’d had an allday pass (which runs to 7pm) I had to call it a day at 5 because I was ready to fall asleep. No more beers the night before! I was looking forward to the next day though. Also on the way down the mountain there is a viewing point which overlooks Vancouver and the ocean. Stunning views! Of course I didn’t have my camera! :s The storm clouds brewing on the horizon wasn’t a good sign though and that night it started raining heavily, which meant no getting out and taking photos of Vancouver at night unfortunately. I again headed to Morrissey’s for good food and some tips on where to go in Vancouver at night. Roll on the next few days!



WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 9/10 – Nozawa Onsen

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on March 19, 2010

WT2010 – JAPAN
Day 9/10 – Nozawa Onsen
[On the iPOD] Arctic Monkeys / M83

Waking up sore and tired is never a good sign before a big day of snow boarding. The word around the lodge was it was snowing up top and it was sunny, an awesome combo. I kitted up and set out early to find rock hard ice on the first slope without warming up I went straight up the cross lift to get to the centre mountain gondola only to find yet more Ice.

I’m still only a beginner/Intermediate and Ice seriously psyches me out, especially when you have to go down a 4m wide pass with a sheer drop off with no barrier. I had a few stacks and got in a grumpy mood from the on-set. Perhaps it was because I’d skipped breakky but I headed to the top only to find a nice small covering of snow covering a frozen solid ice underneath. Crappy crappy conditions. I struggled around for a bit but it was just no fun on this hired board, which is a little short hence not wide enough for my boots which causes your boots to catch the snow if u try and get a sharp edge for grip on ice.

I went for a long lunch and rest and was cheered up by one of the chefs at the station at mid-mountain Japanese courtesy and service wins again. After chilling out for a bit with some beer and ice cream. I lulled myself into confidence again and went for a few more runs down the right side of the mountain. It was a little lighter here and things started to pickup. I didn’t have much energy though perhaps due to getting up 5am the day before and traveling + boarding and getting to bed at 1230am.

I decided to stop on a nice bend in the middle of nowhere and build myself a little “kicker” jump into some soft powder off the track. It took me a good 15minutes of effort and I was buggered afterwards but It worked pretty well. I’d built it off a slight drop so I could practice landing off some good air. I did this about 4times and had enough, legs were giving out and it was near the end of the day.

So I decided to head back with one goal; walk as little as possible to my lodge. There was a pass I’d traveled the day before but I took a wrong turn near the end and had to walk a little. I was certain if I carried enough speed I could reach the lodge (there were a lot of flattening out areas where you’d stop if you weren’t going fast enough leading up to them)

So I went down the rest of the home run and made it to within 30metres of the lift to centre-right mountain. Technically you can get to here from the top of the mountain. It’s about a 3km run. I got off at the lift and gunned it, down and across and then across a the downhill centre slope at top speed aiming for a gap in the trees to a connecting path. The track connected to another and another and then finally the final turn which looked like it was out of bounds or something. I didn’t know I couldn’t read the sign. I didn’t care and gunned it and the track wound steep and narrow through some trees (tight s bends) and then opened up towards a carpark.

I skipped off to the left and continued to the home straight with enough speed. Making the final turn I was headed down a ‘driveway’ towards the road where cars fly past and pulled up right on the edge of the snow, sitting down, my board hitting the tarmac. Unbound and walked 100m to my lodge. Utterly amazing really. Technically you can ride the length of the mountain down the opposite side of the lodge and catch ONE lift and get to your door. A good 6km+ of winding awesomeness!

I decided to stop playing hermit at the lodge and the Australians who run it had it smelling like home in no time; a BBQ out front with Japanese beer, cool. I got to know a lot of cool people with some eye-opening stories. Everything from traveling around the world on a surf adventure in the 1970’s! to working 4months a year on a farm and then spending it all on holidaying around the world snowboarding the rest of the year. These people have their priorities in order!

After dinner we all headed to the main foreigner bar in town; next door and downstairs is a little bar called ‘STAY’ the vibe of this place is everything I dream about what a local pub should be. It’s about 10metres long by about 5metres wide, has a drum kit and guitar/bass/amps/pa in the corner, a bar and two tables and is covered wall to roof in a variety of local and international music regalia. We don’t a few local beers and then headed to karaoke joint up the hill. Some old locals were already in there but the 6 of us or so ordered yet more drinks and destroyed some classic songs. A bunch of 80’s tragics mostly but the Karaoke system was two touch screen wireless pads with a huge selection of modern songs across all categories, this is Japan after all.

Headed back to the lodge nice and early; walking through the pin-drop quiet winter cold town; the only sound was of running water; the village has a big system of under-road covered gutters which let the melting ice flow through it. I got in just before 2am. Had to be up early to hit the slopes and was hoping for a better day.

Up nice and early but intent on not rushing things on the Thursday morning incase conditions were like yesterday; a nice big breakfast this time which sent me jogging and skipping towards the first lift. I decided to do a warm up run on the first lift slope rather than take the cross mountain lift. It was mildly soft and was utterly brilliant down low. I did one run and then decided I’d do another upon which I decided I’d do a few more runs practicing riding goofy.

Up and down, rinse and repeat until i felt an entire level more confident riding that way, the odd stack had me looking sideways down the run. I somehow had completely missed a seperate track built that morning down the side of the mountain; it was a bunch of mini slopes leading into a set of kickers down 3/4 of the slope! So I decided to practice some jumps. Starting slowly and landing only one and aborting the last two “big” ones.

By the end of the day I was utterly buggered and had landed 7 consecutive airs including the last one; which has a lot of dug out snow after the kick; you probably get a good 2metres off the lip of the jump. Later; lodge-mate Arwin said one of the guys he runs with lands back-flips with a twist off it! I wasn’t going to try that just yet.

Somehow I was having way too much fun just trying to get better on this simple course on the first slope of the mountain and just like that it was all over, approaching 5pm.

But before I left there was one thing to try for the first time; A local Onsen (that’s a natural hot-spring public bath for those unawares) I’m all for public nudity, just as long as it doesn’t involve me. At least that was my view before I went in. It was full of locales and dads bathing with their sons. Once you get your kit off it just kinda feels right, you get the vibe of it and relax. When in Rome!

Funnily enough though a few minutes later one of the other lodgers turned up; also an Onsen virgin like myself. I think the locales where either totally amused or bemused at our faces when we got into the boiling water. Unknown to me was I got in the hot-end of the spring where there was only one older dood and most of the people were in the other end. They either thought I was crazy getting in that end or thought I was a wimp making ‘ouch’ faces as the water burns every part of you.

Theres a strict method to entering and a system you have to go through before you get in; first you take off your shoes to get onto the wooden slatted area with ‘lockers’ and take your clothes off, put them in the lockers. Take a small wash towel and bucket and soap over to the wash area. You have to sit cause splashing people is rude. You soap up and wash down making sure you have no soap on you at all before getting into the water.

I eventually caught on and moved over to the cool end where it was bearable, I was convinced my knees had sustained 3rd degree burns… but if the old guy could take it I thought whack the heck. Whilst ‘chilling out’ in the ‘cool’ (which was still burning me) I got splashed on purpose by a little 5 yr old kid, I thought it was pretty funny actually but the kids dad promptly hit him on the head with a bucket and told him how rude it was. Respect is primary here; even to silly foreigners like myself. I’ll definitely be doing it any chance I get now. In a town with natural hot-spring water, why waste energy heating water (taking a shower) when you can get it for free? It’s a way of life.

I was already thinking about boarding the next morning after checking out of the lodge! But it wasn’t to be out of cash for a lift pass which means I’m headed back to Tokyo as I write this on a Friday morning.

I’m actually really peeved about leaving here; the lodgers are all great and some have been here for months or are here on second and third visits; so they know all the jaunts in town and all the local characters. Even more worried about leaving the snow and all the cool people, in the back of my mind is leaving Japan in four days. I’m starting to regret I haven’t stayed longer.

I’m thinking this won’t be the last I’ll see of Nozawa Onsen. Farewell!

*Unfortunately no more photos the last two days, I have a lot taken from the LOMO which is Film, so no uploading them. Conditions were just too harsh to use the DSLR (Snowing both nights and freezing!) I will try and get out this morning to take some final shots of the town in full light. Don’t think I can get up the mountain without a pass though! 😦

Stay tuned for an update of photos perhaps.

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WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 7/8 – Shibuya & Nozawa Onsen

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on March 18, 2010

WT2010 – JAPAN
Day 7/8 – Shibuya & Togari-NozawaOnsen
[On the iPOD] Johnny Cash / The Jam

Unfortunately I was checking out of my hotel on Tuesday. So it couldn’t be avoided the inevitable had finally arrived and there was no way around it; a day running laundry. It’s funny how you can never escape the menial tasks no matter where you are. I also then had to send a package of a whole bunch of crap I’ve bought in only six days. It weighed 10kg! I did actually get into Shibuya to do some last minute shopping before leaving for the snow the next day.

Shibuya just never sleeps, picture thursday night shopping in Australia; that’s what its like every night in Shibuya people everywhere and shops open. Discunion is one such store. A music store with heaps of different actual shop fronts which cater to different styles except one in Shibuya has 4 stories and each level separates the styles and upon entering a level you’ll find catagorisation that could only have been done by an uber music nerd. In other words, my kind of music store.

I bought yet more vinyl as well as got some tips for new music listening to Japanese electro shoe-gaze bands whilst digging through boxes of vinyl. Heres a point of Interest; I didnt have to rush home from Monday night shopping, why? because The main post office is open 24HOURS!!! I love this country. I also stumbled into Tokyu Hands an uber department store with like 7 levels and a/b sub-levels. Shopping sorted.

Hows this for punctuality; even though I got to bed 1am after uploading photos and packing. I was up at 5:32am to checkout and cab to the station, train to tokyo station, hookup with Shinkansen (bullet train) which I got with 3minutes to spare! (90min trip) and then a transfer to a local line and train (a two carriage local) which took another hour, not even. And then finally a short bus trip and the snow awaits.

I took a bunch of photos on the trains; It’s Interesting to see The Urban sprawl of Tokyo for dissipate into a concrete-esque suburbia and then eventually intermittent cottage-esque properties on farm land, although still with modern surroundings, traffic lights and main strip in the city. This fades off even more as you start climbing the hills. Eventually theres river torrents and patches of snow on large blocks of farm land.

When I was two stops from my station I began to worry; Snow was pretty old and thin. Would there be anything to ride on? The Bus trip featured random commentary in Japanese. I ran into a cool Japanese dood who studied in Sydney and turns out him and his friends were staying just up the road form my lodge. Funny.

Togari-Nozawa Onsen Villiage is a small town of around 4000 people. Theres a great vibe up here. It has the kind of serenity people pay millions for and yet theres an A-Class mountain to be had that isn’t corrupted and PACKED with tourists. It’s utterly amazing actually. Theres a fair number of Australian’s up here however.

They run a few lodges (like the one I’m at) I was kind of worried I’d be shielded from what this place has to offer. But the people who run it seem to be totally in-tune with it rather than wanting to impose some sort of kitch-tourist resort. The Villiage has many natural Onsen (hot spring baths) and a brilliant self contained recycling system. Theres like 7 different bins at my lodge, it runs like clockwork. I didn’t try the Onsen today but will report back tomorrow (yes it involves getting neked)

So tell us about the snow already! Well I started off with a 100m walk after kitting up in my lodge right onto the first ski lift which took me to the top of a beginner run. Even though It was dead bottom of the mountain and slowly starting to get sloshy (hadn’t snowed in 2days) it was still soft and a dream to stack on (though I didn’t) I guess I’m not an expert on conditions though; I only have Perisher for comparisons sake, as soon as it stops snowing down-low there you get rock-hard ICE and falling is like hitting concrete. None of that here.

After warming up I took a connecting lift to the central gondola; 10minutes later and I was close to the summit. I got out and it was a total white out. Not in a bad way; no wind and no rain, just fog. Nice and warm too. So the goggles came off and I tried to get to a lift directly across to take me up the last stretch to the top. Visibility was LESS than 10metres; I’ve never experienced this before its quite eerie. You have to virtually LISTEN for a signal of where you want to go. I tried to find that lift but didn’t and instead ended up under a different set of lifts so I decided the safest bet was to use them as a marker and follow them down.

Eventually bumped into some other boarders who seemed to know the mountain; next thing I knew I was on the ‘home run’ on the map; a winding beginners run down the right side of the mountain. You’d probably consider it almost Intermediate back home; A break in my concentration and I noticed the STRAIGHT drop off a 5metre wide winding track; A good sheer 15metres. Not to matter; I was having too much fun. The track was basically like a winding mountain road like you’d find in a WRC track complete with an area with 4 consecutive 180degree steep hairpins which you could cut a little to grab some air.

On and on it went until eventually there was an area with a treeline on oneside and literally an almost half-pipe like slope you could ride like 5metres up on the other side; and it wound left and right. And this was the beginner run! Awesome. The flat spots on the bottom aren’t really significant. You don’t need a huge amount of speed to get you 80% to the next life and if u crank it you can get there. Not much time spent in flat spots on my first day. Which is pretty good since I’m still getting my bearings on the mountain.

I had a good 5hours+ out there today. The fog was the only downside. I’m still waiting to experience ‘true powder’ that I’ll hopefully find at the top tomorrow (its snowing as I type this) After boarding I went out with the camera before I started to lose all light. The villiage is quiet yet has a heap of bars and restaurants of all types. I had some Katsu Don for dinner (fried egg on a cut pork schnitzel served on rice; amazing) and was caught hearing in on a table of 50 somethings (Australian’s) conversation. They noticed my trying to stop myself from laughing (they’d been out for drinks before dinner and were entertaining talking about karaoke / sharing ‘share onsens as a group’ and seemed like they were having a great time.

The town is apparently a lot busier during peak season; I guess Im here near the end of it so that’s why it has this innocent feel to it. I’m guessing it does draw a lot of people by the cool shops on the main strip in town; they sell all types of souvenirs and trinkets but of a really high quality and not in any way kitch. I was thinking shopping spree again but I’ve imposed myself a no more spending limit in Japan. Oh wells.

No photos from up the mountain just yet, a bit weary about the DSLR in snow; but I did take the LOMO so I’ll post those oneday; or maybe I’ll take the DSLR up on the last day. The views up there are mind blowing; until then ya’ll have to deal with the views from the bottom!

More on Days 2+3 later.