Sunday, October 31, 2010

More Transportation Thoughts

First blog entry in a month - as you may have guessed, I was on holidays. Then I was at a Citizens' Advisory Committee to the Penitentiary regional meeting in Calgary, then I was at a transportation conference in Saskatoon for three days. Finally made it back to my own bed this past Wednesday, four weeks after leaving it.

Our traditional holiday trip back to Ontario took a different format this year. Usually, we would drive (three days) - this time we tried the train. Andrea had taken the train to Toronto last year for a reunion with her sisters, and had loved it, claiming this to be the first time that she had come back from a trip to Ontario feeling rested. So I agreed that it might be worth trying. Our plan was that we would take the train from Saskatoon to Toronto, then to Guelph, which is close to where my family lives, and then rent a car for our travels about Ontario.

It didn't start well. The train was more than three hours late getting into Saskatoon, so not only did we not get breakfast on the train, but we got to know the Saskatoon train station (which is several miles out of town) really well. Once the train arrived things went better, although the hoped-for making up time never happened, and by the afternoon of day two, train staff had conceded that connections to be made in Toronto would be missed. Then, we found out that there had been a freight train derailment between Parry Sound and Sudbury, which meant that we had to take buses from Capreol (west of Sudbury) to Toronto, which certainly wasn't part of our plan. Once we got to Toronto there was some confusion, but eventually we found the appropriate line to stand in to get our new tickets to Guelph, as well as compensation and food vouchers to use while we waited several hours for the next train.

The rest of our vacation went much more smoothly - a few days visiting my family, a few days in Stratford, Thanksgiving weekend in Millbrook with Andrea's youngest sister and her family, the next week with another sister's family in Toronto, where we went to the Royal Ontario Museum to see the special exhibition of the Terra Cotta Army of the First Emperor of China, a weekend in Deerhurst (where the G8 summit was held last June) for a reunion with most of Andrea's sisters and their families, then back to the Guelph-Fergus area for a couple of days before catching the train to come back. Fortunately this train trip was mostly on schedule, and I'm thinking that train travel is not such a bad thing. The meals are great, it is restful just to read, nap and watch the country go by, and you meet interesting people from all over the world - in our case, people from England, the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, as well as from several places in the US. Unlike on a plane, socialization is encouraged, and people aren't in a rush.

We were able to see most of our Ontario-based relatives, and touch base with a few friends as well. There's never enough time to catch up with people, as well as spend time alone, but it was a good few weeks, and we're so lucky to have family and friends who provide us with beds, morning coffee, delicious meals, and the occasional bonus (like Nick Lowe concert tickets from Andrea's brother, who had to head to Ottawa for a conference - not something that we would have thought of doing on our own, but it was a fun night out with Andrea's sister and brother-in-law).

Now that we're back, we're enjoying the company of my nephew Steven, who is finishing a month-long practicum in Occupational Therapy here. Coincidentally, after my last post on encouraging the use of public transit, Steven has been using the bus to get to the hospital every day, and has pointed out that using public transit in this town isn't easy. To start with, he couldn't buy tickets at City Hall - its hours coincided with his time at the hospital. And there are only three other places to buy tickets - SIAST, Gray's Chemists, and a convenience store on the west flat - none of these places is within walking distance of our house. Andrea went to City Hall to buy him tickets last Monday, and was quite amused to find that the sign on the door saying that bus tickets were available had an outdated price list - it claimed that you could get 10 tickets for $18, rather than the actual current price of $20.25. Now, if we really wanted to encourage people to take the bus, tickets should be available all over the city - places like grocery stores, high schools, the malls, the soccer centre - it's a city-owned facility that's open 18 hours a day, unlike City Hall. And other cities have an information number that you can call to find out which bus you should take to get from here to there, and have route information posted at bus stops - we don't have these refinements to our system.

I'm getting caught up on council goings-on in my absence, although in these days of email and texting, I wasn't kept completely out of the loop. When I've caught up with meeting minutes, I'll be posting my thoughts on some of the decisions made in my absence. I was rather intrigued when a gentleman at Sarcan spoke to me on Friday, questioning some of the "bone-headed" things that had happened while I was away. That's the problem with taking vacations in the off-season - life goes on in your absence, and there aren't enough members of council who are willing to ask the questions that should be asked, or who support the brave individuals that try to ask these questions.

The good thing about holidays is that you come back rested and refreshed, ready to start back at it again. And I will.

"The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are." - Samuel Johnson