Dave's not here, man!


If you're old enough, you might remember a famous Cheech and Chong sketch called Dave's Not Here. I think of it every time the phone rings in the afternoon or evening, because a large number of calls we get are from telemarketers trying to sell stuff, and I think of that sketch each time they call and I get to say "Dave's not here!"

The point is that I've never had so many darn telemarketing calls as what we get living here. I thought the telemarketers in Australia were bad, but they've got nothing on Canadians! They peddle new rooves, new windows and doors, holiday and timeshare accomodation, new alarm systems, new flooring... the list goes on. I kid you not, we would get at least a couple of these calls a day.

The neat thing is that as soon as they ask to speak to Dave or Heidi, we just say "Sorry mate, they've moved to Australia and won't be back for a year", then the caller has absolutely no interest in talking to us since we aren't the home owner. It's a great way to get rid of telemarketers quickly and easily! Dave's not here, man!
It's something I plan to remember for when we get back home. "Oh sorry eh. Chris and Donna have moved to Canada and won't be back for a year".

The Game in the Fridge


First off, this is Alex writing this and I’m only writing this blog entry because I’m being forced to. Just thought I’d get that out of the way. Anyway, nothing much has happened to me of late, so I’ll write about the most interesting thing that HAS happened in the last few days… I went to the ice hockey. It wasn’t a professional hockey match, it was a couple of school teams that my friends were playing in but it was still pretty intense to watch.

Ice hockey, for all those who don’t know, (ie. non Canadians) is essentially taking big sticks (hockey sticks) and hitting a small, round rubber block (the puck) into the net, all on ice. This is easier said than done. My friend was playing on one team, and I had another friend on another team. Like I said, although it was just a kids’ game, it was still pretty intense. It was like sitting in a big fridge, watching a cross between soccer and golf while everyone around you is shouting themselves hoarse. The final score was 3-2.

When the last point was scored with 12 seconds remaining on the clock, you could have cut the tension in the air with a knife. Or maybe that was because all the water vapour in the air was freezing. It was very cold sitting on these cold metal seats! Very cold. Since it was the final match of the season, there were a lot of parents standing around, watching and yelling.
After the match, I went back to Jon’s house and played X-box and watched TV. The End.

Just Different, Part 3


Here ya go... a few more of those intruiging little differences I've noticed between Canada and Australia...

Speed Limits. In Australia, 60 means 60 (as some of us have found out the hard way, eh Dave?) Not only that but 80 means 80, 100 means 100, and 110 means 110. With an inordinate number of fixed speed cameras dotted around Sydney, you exceed these speed limits at your peril...

Not so in Canada it seems. From what we've seen, the equivalent police presence to our Highway Patrols here has been minimal at best. When we first arrived I was quite used to driving exactly to the speed limit as my current Australian , ahem, "licence situation" had conditioned me to do so.

The speed limit on the freeways here is supposed to be 100km/h, but if you do that speed, even in the slow lane, you will be continually overtaken by the other traffic. Oh, and try doing 100k in the fast lane and you'll get run over! The real speed limit seems to be somewhere between 115 and 120 km/h. We caught a cab into downtown Toronto a while back and the driver was sitting just under 130k... Donna was quietly freaking out in the back seat so I casually asked the cabbie what the speed limit was. "100", he replied. He went on to explain that police rarely bother anyone doing under 120, since it's just not worth their while... they only pursue drivers who are speeding dangerously. Driving along the 401 the other night doing about 115 in a 100 zone , I was unexpectedly passed by a Police car as he came up behind me and cruised past, so the cabbie's advice seems to be consistent.

What I like about this Canadian approach is that it focuses on nabbing people who actually do dangerous stuff, and not, as is the case with Australian approach to speeding, simply to raise revenue by fining people for exceeding some arbitrarily low speed limit but who are otherwise driving quite safely. What a concept!

Paying Bills. I've been a bit spoilt back home with the many options we have for paying bills. By far the best method, in my opinion, is BPay. From what I can see here in Canada from the bills we've received so far, there is no real equivalent to BPay. For anyone unfamiliar, most organisations in Australia have a BPay Biller Code number printed on their bills so that you can log onto your internet backing service, type in the Biller Code, type the account number, choose a payment type (usually a credit card), and click, the bill is instantly paid.

Although we have a Canadian bank account which offers Internet banking, the bills that arrive at the house don't have a similar system to BPay so there's no real mecahnism in place to easily pay them online. If you flip over an Australian bill, there is generally a list of options on the back for various ways you can pay that bill - phone banking, internet banking, direct credit, BPay, mail a cheque, etc. All the bills that we received here in Canada so far basically say "go to the bank and pay this". Which is a bit annoying since we have been trying to put all our financials on our Visa debit card. Not being able to do something as seemingly obvious as paying a bill using Visa means we have had to rethink our money strategy a little...

I found out today that you CAN in fact pay bills via Internet banking here, but you have to first go to the bank and individually register each biller onto your account. I guess that kind of resolves the problem; I just thought it was unusual that you can't do it directly from the bill itself, nor have any other options as to how you pay it, like Visa.

Mind you, the customer service levels are 1000% better in Canadian banks! Our banks back home could certainly learn a few lessons from them on that score!

Waffles. So much more than just a breakfast food! I was expecting that a traditional Canadian breakfast would entail a large stack of pancakes, drowned in maple syrup. So far I don't think I've even seen a pancake! Instead, the breaky of choice seems to be waffles. Buy 'em in the supermarket, pop 'em in the toaster, drown 'em in syrup. Yum.
Of course, we have waffles in Australia too, but we tended to eat them as a desert, or even a snack. We never ate waffles very often back home, but we did have them occasionally. And when there were in the fridge the kids would woof into them pretty much any time, including after school. But in Canada, they are pretty much just breakfast food.

So it was pretty amusing the other day when Kate had a few friends over after school and Donna enthusiastically asked them, "Who'd like waffles?", only to be met with a bunch of quizzical stares. Waffles? For an afternoon snack?! No thanks...
Mind you, I can still have an appetite for waffles anytime. Matter of fact, I got it now.

A solution looking for a problem


Most people who know me know that I enjoy playing with technology stuff. I admit it, it's true... and I've been keen to have a go at podcasting for a while, especially now that I've finally figured out all the technical stuff for it.

Did I hear you say "what's a podcast?"... A podcast is a form of audio recording - a bit like a radio show or an audio diary - which is saved into a format that can be broadcast over the web. It's common to then download and listen to these recordings using a portable audio player such as an iPod, (hence the name Podcasting) but you can just listen online as well. Basically, I'm interested in trying to do a couple of diary-style blog entires that would be best done using audio recording rather than just words.

The audio recording part is easy enough to do. Trouble is, I'm a bit stuck for an idea... what would make a good subject for an audio podcast? So I'm throwing it open to you. If I were to do a couple of podcasts from Canada, (and I'm thinking specifically about topics that would be enhanced by the use of audio) what would make an interesting topic?

There seems to be quite a few people who read this blog these days, so I'm keen to hear some suggestions! Drop me an email to podcast@betcher.org and let me know what you reckon!

A little piece of History


Outside the Oakville Museum Inside the Oakville Museum
A view from the Outside Kate in front of the Museum
Part of the story The view of downtown Toronto from Oakville

Last Sunday, we visited the Oakville Museum which is down on the lake shore of Lake Ontario. This museum was a house that turned into a museum. It was the first house in Oakville. This two story house had 6 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and 1 huge dining room. The tour guide showed us the nursery, with all the games and toys in it, the kitchen, with an old fashioned toaster and icecream maker, and the type of clothing they would wear in that time period, which was big, frilly and puffy.

I really enjoyed my trip to Oakville Museum.

Spring has Sprung


Yes, as of 1:26pm today Winter is now officially over. Spring has sprung and we are now out of our first Canadian Winter. (Mind you, I just looked at the thermometer and it's still -6 outside, so don't get too excited about it just yet.)

But what's the deal with this 1:26pm on the 20th March business? Perhaps because I come from Australia (where the seasons seem to come and go when and if they feel like it) that I've never paid attention to these things before but I was always been led to believe that Spring was simply the months of September/October/November. Likewise, Summer was always just considered to be December/January/February, Autumn was March/April/May, and Winter was June/July/August. Notwithstanding the fact that our seasonal timings are reversed to those of the Northern hemisphere, I have still always understood our seasons to simply come and go in plain old three month chunks.

Not so in Canada (and the US too). Here the start of Spring is timed to coincide exactly with the vernal equinox, which this year apparently occurred today, March 20, at 1:26pm. Perhaps us laid-back Aussies just consider that three month chunks are "close enough mate!", or perhaps we are just far less committed to the need for such specific timings... after all, what point is there in worrying about when exactly spring is here if the property is still in drought anyway?

Regardless, it's just another of those little things that I've learned from living in another country. Thanks Canada!

Peu un plus Tremblant!


Just a couple more images from Tremblant, courtesy of the Smiths. Thanks guys!

Most of these were taken from the gondola car... what a great view back down the mountain towards Lac Tremblant! Also, the VW cabriolet lift was wonderful for quickly getting from one end of the village to the other.

The Seat of Power


Canada's Parliament House The view of the Ottawa River, overloking the roof Parliamentary Library
The Lower House The Upper House
They're not pigtails, it's a tuque, eh! Kate and Laura outside the Prime Minister's residence
The Smetchers and the Tuque Man... all betuqued! Kate loves Olde Worlde charm!
The Betchers The Smiths
Kate, Laura and the Totem Pole Spot the Gargoyle!

One the way back from our time in Tremblant we decided to stop in at Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. Kate's class had been studying Canadian government, so her and Laura were keen to go see many of the things they had been learning about. Not only that, we took our kids to Canberra last April and did the tour through Australia's Parliament House, so I thought it would be a good thing to let them see the Canadian equivalent.

The political systems in our two countries are very closely aligned; both are Constitutional Monarchies, effectively acting independently of Britain and the Queen although remaining as members of the Commonwealth. Both are based on the Westminster system of government, with a Lower House of elected representatives and an Upper House, or Senate. The structure of the Australian and Canadian government systems is virtually identical, with a Prime Minister and a Governor General, so it was good, especially for the kids, to be able to learn about these similarities.

We stayed in a nice hotel on the Quebec side of the river, going out into the centre of the city for dinner. Both our families added new meaning to the term "all you can eat", but it was a good feed!

In the morning, we went back into the city and drove around to get oriented. We found the Prime Minister's residence at 24 Sussex Street, as well as the French, British, American, Japanese and Kuwaiti embassies. After parking the car we walked up to Parliament Hill. On the way we checked out the Rideau Canal (offically the world's longest outdoor public skating rink, although unfortunately closed for the season), and the Ottawa Locks (a system of gates in the canal through which boats may pass).

As we approached the Houses of Parliament, Kate got quite excited about seeing the Eternal Flame and Peace Tower... learning about these things in a classroom is one thing, but seeing them in the flesh is quite another. She told us all about them and explained everything she knew. The kids had their photos taken in front of the Flame, and we proceeded up to the main Parliament building. After a lineup to get through security, we went up to the top of Peace Tower to see a bird's eye view of the city.

You can certainly see the influence of the British here. Peace Tower is modelled closely on London's Big Ben, in fact the architecture of the Parliament buildings is very similar to that of the London equivalent. However, at nearly 14 stories tall, Peace Tower is much larger than Big Ben. At the base of the tower is a memorial room to those lost in wars, and an interesting fact is that the elevator shaft runs at a 9 degree angle to enable the elevator to rise up the tower while leaving space below for the memorial room.

We joined a tour of the Parliament building with an excellent guide named Cam, who took us through the lower house, the upper house and other parts of the building. Unfortunately the Parliamentary Library was being refurbished at the time, so we didn't see that, but it looks a remarkable building.

Kim said to me at one point, "Is this anything like the Parliament House in Australia?" For those of you that know our national building, you'll realise just how hard it is to explain the nature of Australia's Parliment House, and just how architecturally unique it is. I guess the Smiths will just have to see it for themselves when they visit Australia... ;-)

By this stage it was late in the day so we headed back to the city centre for a late lunch, but not before buying some great tuques (thats a beanie for you Aussie readers!) from a street vendor. We all got a tuque, and even got our photo taken with Mr Tuque Seller.

It was a long but relatively uneventful drive back to Oakville, where we waved goodbye to our travelling buddies after a great couple of days.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Couponed


Overview of the village.  Our room is the fourth window from the left, on the second floor The Smetchers at Place St Bernard
Just the Betchers Alex looks happy!
Outside La Forge Walking through the Village
It's not quite Mickey Mouse Looking up the mountain
The baloon guy... ...and his handiwork!

Ah, Tremblant Village! Full of European charm and quant cobbled streets, small boutiques and eateries, pubs and bars, all just oozing with gemütlich. It was, I suspect, the closest thing to being in Europe without actually being in Europe.

On arrival in the Village we checked into our hotel, the Carlson Country Inn, and then went for a walk to soak up the atmosphere. Despite the fact that the rainy weather was not in our favour, the village was a thriving hub of activity with the main centre, Place St Bernard, literally being at the foot of the ski slope. People were wandering about, shops were busy and street entertainers amused the kids with some very clever baloon sculptures. The group eventually wandered back to the hotel to change for dinner, while I went out to try and capture some dusk photos with my camera. Dinner was had at Caseys; a bustling, noisy, pub-style restaurant which was conveniently located directly across the main thoroughfare from our hotel.

Many years ago, I wrote a "dream list" - a list of 100 things I wanted to do in life. Somewhere towards the top of that list it said "Skiing in Canada". So the next morning was especially meaningful to me as I buckled into my boots, grabbed my skis and headed out to catch the gondola to the top of the mountain, as it was quite literally one of my dreams coming true. The weather was still not being kind, and the snow was not as perfect as I had imagined due to the warmer than usual weather patterns, but none of that was going to spoil my dream. Tremblant is a great mountain, with 94 runs of varying grades from easy green runs all the way up to double-diamonds. Because the warmer weather had been exposing the mountain to some rain, which had then frozen in places, the harder runs were unfortunately a bit too icy to be skied safely. Nonetheless, the Smiths and us had a wonderful morning going up and down the mountain with the kids. The snow on the main trails was quite good, and even when it was a bit lumpy it was still good just being there. Alex and Kate really improved their skiing and by the end of their day were skiing quite confidently from the gondola station at the top of the mountian to the village at the very bottom - a total distance of about 6km which they did over and over!

The next day was not too great weatherwise, so the girls and the kids decided that a day of shopping sounded like more fun than skiing. Never ones to knock back a day on the snow, Sean and I went up the hill and had a great day of skiing the North side of Tremblant - apart from the very top of the mountain it was much more protected from the wind than the South side, and the threat of rain instead turned to beautiful falling snow which provided a new carpet of white to carve through. We skied our "last run for the day" about twenty times... each time we said we were going to call it quits for the day we had to squeeze in "just one more run". By the time we eventually went back down the South side of the hill back to the village, our legs were like jelly and we could hardly walk! A few beers at La Forge was just the ticket while we waited for the girls to turn up.

Our last day at Tremblant was great for skiing, although bloody cold! The temperature at the top of the mountain was about -13C, but the howling windchill lowered that considerably! Donna, Kim and the kids only lasted a run or two before going back to the village to sit in a warm cafe! Sean accompanied them to the bottom, so I skied on my own for a while doing a few top to bottom runs under the gondola track. It was great skiing, with fresh snow falling and really nice conditions once you got out of the wind. Luckily I found Sean after my fourth run and we spent the rest of the afternoon just going up and down the mountain until again we could hardly walk!

A word of advice to anyone else coming to Canada and wanting to ski... Skiing is not a cheap sport, not in any country, so anything you can do to reduce the cost is a good thing. We discovered that Grade 5 students in Canada are entitled to apply for a Snowpass, available from the Canada Ski Council, which enables them to ski for free at nearly every Canadian ski resort. Kate and Laura are both in Grade 5, so we applied for their Snowpass in advance and so they got free lift tickets. We also discovered that there were websites you could go to and print off 2-for-1 coupons, effectively halving the cost of lift tickets for adults. These two things made a huge difference to the cost of skiing here in Tremblant!
Finally, it was time to say goodbye to Mont Tremblant, so we packed up our cars and took a very scenic drive through the back roads and small Quebecois villages on the way to our next stop, the Canadian captial of Ottawa.

The Village by Night


Not much to say about these photos... I felt like playing photographer, so went out into the village around dusk to see what I could capture with long exposure times and an open F-stop. I think the European feel of the village comes through nicely. It's a pity we didn't have a bit more snow, but I loved the way the lights burnt in and the sky became a rich blue colour. I have more of these if you're interested.

Tremblant Village is just beautiful! I'd love to see it at the height of the season.

Life at the Chateau


The Chateau Beauvallon The main accomodation block
Our table by the fire Kids Corner
The Jacuzzi courtyard by night Kim, Donna & Alex
Kate and Laura in the pool Hot spa, cold snow!
Departure Time! Kate after her spa... lady of leisure!

When the Smiths invited us to join them for a trip to Tremblant we decided to book into the same places they did, and their choice of accomodation was excellent! We spent the first night at an absolutely charming place called Chateau Beauvallon. It was a very cosy place to stay, very european, very quaint, very charming.

The photos don't really do it justice, as the place had a really pleasant feel, a certain ambiance as the French would say. And the French say rather a lot around here, since the provence of Quebec is entirely French-speaking. The menus, signs and notices are all in French, the staff speak to you in French (although most are comfortably bi-lingual forunately... continually having to ask Parlez-vous Anglais? can become embarrasing after a while!) The Gallic influence of the local Quebecois probably played a large part in the charm of the place. We had a few drinks by the fireplace, and then, because the dining room was booked out, we managed to also have our dinner delivered to our fireside location as well... so we sat, ate, drank and enjoyed each others company well into the evening. The Smiths are great travelling buddies!
Before we retired for the evening Donna and I decided to have a quick dip in the outdoor jacuzzi. It was steaming hot, but probably felt even moreso because it was surrounded with snow. The hot water steamed an eerie vapour into the freezing night air, and the wonderful lighting of the outdoor area really set it off.

There was little to fault our stay at Beauvallon, in fact we were rather sad to leave it the next day. It was a wonderful little boutique hotel, and one that we would have loved to have stayed longer at. However, the ski hills of Mont Tremblant beckoned and we were off to the Village itself to stay in the ski resort itself, so we reluctantly waved goodbye to Beauvallon and headed further up the hill.

Now I'm just looking for an excuse to come back here sometime...



It had to happen. I thought I'd adapted really well to the whole driving-on-the-other-side-of-the-road thing. It was weird at first, but with a bit of concentration it was pretty easy to adjust to the new arrangement. I mentioned in a previous post that the really weird thing was having all the insides of the car on the opposite side - doors, mirrors, seatbelts, etc - but the actual driving thing was working out ok.

The worst times seem to be when you pull out of a driveway or carpark... for some reason, those are the times when it's easy to forget where you're supposed to be. This morning we went to McDonalds, came out of the drive-thru and absentmindedly turned left onto the main road. About 100 metres down the road I wondered why there were 3 cars coming towards me on the "wrong" side of the road! Yikes! We quickly pulled over, to some fairly bewildered looks from the other drivers. I think I needed a big sign on the car saying Dumb Aussie on Board. :-)

Tremblant here we come!


March Break starts today, so we are on our first official holiday break. It was nice to not have to wake up to an alarm clock this morning!

Today will be spent packing and getting organised for our trip to Mont Tremblant tomorrow. Tremblant is Quebec's number one ski resort, in fact it's rated as the number one ski resort in northeastern North America. I'm not sure where that places it, because as we all know the majority of ski resorts around here are over on the western side of the continent where the Rocky Mountains are, so I'm not sure how meaningful their claim really is... Regardless, it still looks like a great place to go skiing. There are nearly 100 runs, lots of lifts (including gondolas), nightclubs, restaurants and bars, and since we are staying in the village itself we're going to have a great time I'm sure.

We think we'll drop in to Ottawa on the way home and take a look at the capital city of Canada. Stay tuned! If I can update the blog from Tremblant I will, otherwise I'll see you next week! :-)

Not just any Monday


Wendy, Donna, Kim and Sandy The ski bunnies
Kim on the slopes Donna shows her style!

For as long as I can remember, Mondays have simply been the beginning to another week of going off to work. Now, although I love teaching and I love working at Bethany College, this Monday was something entirely different for me.

This Monday involved blue skies, powdery soft spring snow, almost non-existent lift queues and the company of three lovely friends on the slopes of Mt St Louie about 1.5 hours drive from Oakville. The four of us played hooky from what we might otherwise be doing and under the guidance of Wendy and in the capable hands of Kim behind the wheel, we set off for our ‘girls day’ of skiing.

Living about 7 hours from the nearest ski slopes in Australia, the concept of skiing for just a day is a real novelty and so I savoured every minute of it. The four of us skied together all day, stopping for a break only at lunch time before heading back onto the slopes for the afternoon. The runs at Mt St Louie are quite long, with several quad chairs and hex chairs (if that is what they are called - they carried 6 people) which meant we were able to move quickly back up the mountain each time. We even found ourselves skiing on a black diamond run by the end of the day, although we were dubious about how they classified the level of difficulty of this run, as we seemed to be skiing it with way too much ease. Maybe the combined wisdom of the four of us took us to new heights of ability or maybe the run was just marked incorrectly. That’s our secret!

Thanks to Wendy, Kim and Sandy for an amazing day and memories I will cherish for a long time.

Email: chris@betcher.org
Skype: betchaboy

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