Monday, July 7, 2014

a survey of Canadian cities in seven days: Yellowknife

Last week, I went on a longish trip across Canada that involved flying to a bunch of Canadian communities in a short number of days. I didn't do this because I love airports; it's just the route that you need to take if you live in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and are visiting your home town Ottawa.

This week, I'll be sharing my impressions of each of the communities during my sprint across the country. Most of it will be about airports.

from the Yellowknife airport

It's interesting how the excitement of flying wears out fast. It's amazing how you get used to the idea of loading into a small propellor plane with only a handful of other passengers, a flight that costs thousands of dollars, the knowledge that more or less every major northern airline has had a crash at some point, and that this land is mostly nothing but empty spaces of wilderness.

Or really, just the idea that you are flying. In the clouds. Above the birds. You forget.

The flight attendant tells us about the on-board amenities which includes individual reading lights. This makes me laugh because nobody in the north has seen the night in weeks.  The amenities I like the most about northern airlines is the food, because it's kind of always a surprise. Sometimes they'll give you a bag of chips. Sometimes they'll serve you roast beef & monterey jack cheese with caramelized onions on whole wheat bread...what?

Finally I arrive in Yellowknife.  Yellowknife, this magical place in the "North" which has things like forest fires, which are caused by flaming ravens like out of a grisly Edgar Allan Poe, which happens so often that there is a Twitter account dedicated to YK power outages.

I met up with my friend who was wearing a refreshingly brightly coloured sun dress, and we enjoyed the warm summer air on the patio of the Wildcat Cafe. The cafe has communal seating, so we sat with a few older gentlemen from Vancouver who were having the exact opposite experience of me: while I was excited to be down south in a place so warm, they were amazed at being up north in a place that was cold.

It had been a long time since I was able to dine on a patio. We sipped beers and ate pulled pork pogos under the warm sun while sailboats and paddle boarders passed by on the lake. I got my first mosquito bite of the year.  Like I said, Yellowknife always seems like a magical place.

Stand up paddlboard with dog

pulled pork pogos

On my way back from Yellowknife, I had arrived three hours late and was sprinting to finish all the things I needed to get down while in town: mainly shopping.  I didn't have much time before the stores were going to close. I jumped into a cab and convinced him to take me to all the places I needed: McDonalds for a half dozen cheeseburgers and Big Macs (it is bad etiquette to return to Cambridge Bay empty-handed without gifts for your friends), cigarettes for my partner, alcohol and groceries.  Unfortunately I realized that leaving the latter three shopping trips to this part of my journey was not a good idea.  Cigarettes and booze are still pretty expensive in Yellowknife. And grocery stores, while still bigger than in Cambridge Bay, still have a limited selection compared to what you can get in Ottawa or Calgary.  It probably would have been better to do my grocery shopping further down south. 

Still, I managed to get what I needed to get done and enjoyed a late night dinner at the Trapline Lounge in the Explorer Hotel, where the bartender was playing the Pains of the Being Pure at Heart on her iPod, which was a great way to unwind after a long day of traveling and shopping. 

fun fact: the last fast food meal that people eat before going up north is often Quizno's, the only restaurant in the Yellowknife airport