Off To Canada (Again)

Holidays in Canada


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Finally home

Friday was our last full day in Vancouver but she saved the worst weather for the end of the week so we hunkered down in the hotel for a few hours before deciding that an indoor activity would be best. Nearby is a cinema so we checked what was on and went to watch Dr Sleep. It always feel naughty going to watch a film midday. Like you’re playing hooky from school or pulling a sick from work. Also, obviously, this makes it even better. Really enjoyed the film, not as good as the book but then they never are. A good version though for sure and Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson were both great but I have to give a special shoutout to Alexandra Essoe playing Wendy Torrance. She looked close enough to  Shelley Duvall but absolutely nailed her mannerisms (in The Shining), that it was an excellent choice and a brilliant bit of acting.

Later on we decided to eat in the hotel as we hadn’t eaten anything other than breakfast there (and a couple of small plates while having a drink). The Four Seasons in Vancouver is a relatively old building and apparently is shutting next year (I think it’s next year). The age shows in the rooms but the public areas are very nice. The bar and restaurant in particular are lovely. It turns out that the food is very nice too but you pay for it. The second most expensive meal of the holiday and we both left hungry…..we didn’t even have a bottle of wine. The service is excellent too, they certainly hire good people.

guess what the weather was like on our last half day before flying home? Yep. Stair rods. We got up, went down for our last breakfast and then returned to our room to pack. Once that was done we had to decide what to do for the next 6 hours. From previous experience (i.e. the day before) we knew of a place around the corner where you could hide away in darkness in a comfy seat for a few hours. Off we went to the movies again. We saw Ford vs Ferrari and we both loved it. Matt Damon and Christian Bale were brilliant and Amanda was almost sobbing at the end, which is apparently a seal of approval. I sort of knew the story of how Ford took on Ferrari to win Le Mans in the 1960’s but obviously I only knew part of it. It’s a great tale and anyone who enjoys motor racing will love it I think.

By the time the movie had ended it was time to eat as as our meal the previous night was so expensive we went cheap. Off to the food court at the mall. Delicious wraps consumed, we headed back to the hotel. We had decided that we might as well go to the airport early, drop the hire car off and wait there rather than tramp around in the rain. The traffic was pretty busy but we found the car hire return place pretty easily and then settled in for a wait until we could drop our bags off. When we checked in online earlier I noticed that even though I had paid £160 in total to reserve our seats, we had been allocated different ones. This happened on the outward bound flight too but I didn’t make a fuss because they’d put us one row closer to the door which makes it easier for Amanda. The homeward flight however put us an extra row back which  was a pain, not to mention instead of an aisle and window seat we had centre row seats. not a happy bunny I complained and was told basically, tough, sometimes this happens but you can have your money back. When we got to the airport bag drop off however we met a very nice lady who was actually waiting for us in order to help us with the wheelchair etc. We explained about the seat malarky and she said she’d try and sort something. We dropped off the bags and went to the BA lounge, which is very well hidden to keep out the riff riff like us obviously. As we went in, the lady behind the desk was also expecting us and took our boarding passes off us to get new ones with reallocated seats. At this point we had no idea where we would be seated but were promised it would be closer.

The lounge is excellent and a free beer (Crown Royal and ginger for her), some food, a coffee and cookie later and we got our new boarding passes. EXACTLY THE SAME SEATS AS WE HAD COMING TO CANADA. Result! This raises a question though. When I originally tried to reserve the seats these were not available either flying to or from Canada and yet we sat in them both legs. Am I stupid or is it just a huge con to reserve your seats? As it turns out, when I complained, I was told in future not to pay and to contact the special assistance group at BA and they will reserve our seats for free because we need to be near to the toilet and the entry/exit point.

British Airways’ Club World flight home was a bit sad. The plane was old. The screen was about 6 inch square and looked less than SD. Compare that to many airlines huge screens  and other facilities as you can see why it has a less than stellar reputation. The reason we keep using them is the staff. They are, without fail, excellent. Every time we’ve flown. We love them dearly and will continue to book with BA because of it.

Home now. Jet lagged, Tired one minute, Wide awake the next.

Where shall we go next time?


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Go Canucks, Oh

The weather held for us today and after yesterday’s mammoth hike, today was always going to be a little closer to home, or the hotel at least. We booked tickets for one of the most touristy things we could, Fly Over Canada. It’s an immersive ‘ride’ located at the end of Canada Place. I think it’s where the IMAX used to be. I bought tickets online and booked our ‘flight’ for 11:30am. The good thing is it’s fully accessible so nice to find stuff like that as you almost always find some small print somewhere that says it’s not suitable for some reason or another. After a short film about something…I still haven’t a clue to be honest, I think they just want to stretch out the experience so you feel you get your moneys worth, they then escorted us to our seats. They’re very similar to chairlift seats except that a bar doesn’t come over you and you have a seatbelt instead. The lights go off, the barrier in front folds away and you’re lifted into the air slightly. Your peripheral vision is completely taken up by the screen and a combination of wind effects, fine water mist, and smells as well as the seats tilting you forward or back makes you feel like you’re flying. The film lasts for about 8. minutes and takes you from coast to coast, high in the mountains, across the prairies, along rivers and through cities. It was incredibly effective and fun, more so than we expected. If you get chance to go on one then you should. One is coming to Toronto and another to Vegas.

After enjoying our flight, we strolled around Canada Place which was another place we visited 31 years ago. We went there to wave off Aunty Bet (Amanda’s great aunt) who was going on an Alaskan cruise and also to visit the IMAX for the first time…oh it was also the first time we saw people smoking dope in public. Reminiscing over, we went for some retail therapy and as it’s our 30th anniversary Amanda managed to come away with pearl earrings. The woman who sold them chatted to us for what seemed like an hour. She went to school in the U.K. before coming to Canada 43 years ago. We knew her life story by the time we’d finished. A late lunch back at the hotel and we went back to the room to rest up a bit and get ready for the hockey.

Our seats were on the opposite side of the tunnel from the game on Tuesday night but still right behind the goalie. Amazing seats but sadly the Canucks didn’t win and totally spoiled the day for us. How dare they. Holiday ruined. Amanda got talking to two women next to her who were incredulous that we’d come so far to watch hockey and Amanda helpfully pointed out that I was more a Leafs fan than Canucks. She told me quite pointedly that she doesn’t like the Maple Leafs. Another Christmas card list I’m off. There is so much help around at the stadium that it puts our sports events to shame. We had people escort us everywhere, and everyone was incredibly helpful and kind. They even have seat service so you can order drinks and food and it gets delivered to your seat (thanks Quincy you were great). We also had free toques courtesy of one of the teams sponsors.

I know the video looks upside down it’s weird but it plays fine. It was Canadian Armed Forces appreciation day at the game so Fin the mascot got in on that.

One thing I noticed again as we walked back to the hotel was how many Teslas I’ve seen since we’ve been here. Not just in Vancouver, but in Whistler and over on the island too. You can count on one hand how many you might see in a week in the UK unless you live by a dealership and you’re counting the test drives. Here you see one every 15 mins or so. Model X and Model 3 mostly but a couple of Model S too. The weird thing is I haven’t seen a single Tesla Supercharger anywhere. It’s a mystery.


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Vancity

I have been very bad in ignoring my blogging for the past two days. Mea culpa. We arrived in Vancouver on Monday afternoon after an enjoyable ferry ride from the island and an equally enjoyable drive from Tsawwassen…ok I didn’t drive so it was enjoyable for me anyway. Amanda not so much. Driving in any city isn’t fun (in my opinion) but we got to the hotel in one piece and without drama. This is the biggest difference between driving using Apple maps via Apple CarPlay and using a ‘standard’ sat nav which loses signal when in amongst tall buildings. At first glance the Four Seasons in Vancouver isn’t as nice as the one in Whistler. OK second glance too but it’s an older building and it’s city centre. The location is excellent, the staff amazing and that counts for a lot. We dropped off our bags and went out for a stroll finding ourselves by the water and near enough that it would have been rude not to eat at the Cactus Club Cafe. Great food, good cocktails and that was enough to send us back to the hotel to watch the Raptors on tv in our room.

Our first full day was spent in dreary, drizzly weather so we went to the art gallery. I missed the Cindy Sherman exhibition in London earlier this year so was going to make sure that I caught it here. It was worth the wait. An excellent exhibition but what also made the visit worthwhile was the other exhibition of Vikky Alexanders work. Really good and someone I wasn’t aware of before now. Also I need to mention Emily Carr, someone (again) who I wasn’t aware of but which the Vancouver Art gallery holds the largest collection of (I believe) and we both loved every piece.

After that we decided to take a soggy stroll to Gastown and ended up having lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory which was a lot better than I expected (sorry Old Spaghetti Factory) and we left with full bellies and a happy disposition.

We had tickets for the hockey at the Rogers arena to watch the Canucks vs Nashville Predators in the evening so we walked with the crowds to the arena and eventually was shown to our seats and OH MY GOD we were sat right behind the goalie, right by the tunnel where the players come out to start the game and where the zambonis enter the rink. In case this hasn’t been mentioned before, the zamboni driver is Amanda’s dream job and we got the see it close up…closer than ever before and this was out 6th NHL game. Canucks won so we left happy and headed for cocktails in the hotel bar to finish off the night. <cough> my old fashioned cost C$48 because I opted for a ‘premium’ bourbon…not happening again….although it was bloody lovely. I had two.

Wednesday was a totally different day. Blue skies for starters. We decided to use the good weather to go to Stanley Park. Shall we drive? Nah. Shall we catch the bus? Nope. Let’s walk. Over 20,000 steps later we made less than half of it and only just made it back before Amanda’s batteries ran out…in her chair, she’s not an android. Its was a great day though. We (I) walked for over 4 hours, saw seals (including one eating something huge and sharing it unwillingly with some gulls), squirrels and that’s about it. We did see some hipsters, does that count as wildlife? The weather was glorious and I took a lot of pictures.

We got back very hungry and knackered. We went to the hotel so we could grab a cuppa and charge the chair batteries a bit before going out for an early(ish) dinner.

The Keg holds a special place in both our hearts. We first visited a Keg 31 years ago. It was the first place we had whipped butter (don’t laugh) and the first place I had béarnaise sauce. Since then we’ve tried to visit one when. we’re in Canada and I have to say this was one of the best. Great steaks, lovely wine and superb hosting. Not cheap but always good value IMHO…..YMMV.

Tomorrow? Who knows…apart from more hockey 🙂

 


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Driving in Canada

As we’ve travelled around a bit since we’ve been here we thought we should share some tidbits of info regarding driving in Canada.

The roads are less busy than back home. Mostly. Apart from Vancouver which is just as busy as most bigger cities. Get outside the city and it’s a breath of fresh air. However there are a few oddities.

  • The lanes. Choose wisely padawan. Pick the lane furthest right and let people pass you BUT beware of people parking in this lane in towns a cities AND it may suddenly turn into a right turn only lane. Pick the lane furthest to the left and make sure you’re going fast enough for the locals. They’ll happily pass you on the inside but you may get some looks AND it may turn into a left turn only lane. If you have three lanes to choose from and, unless advised otherwise, mooch along in the middle lane. Everyone is happy,
  • Don’t be scared by flashing traffic lights. You get flashing red, flashing amber and flashing green, as well as the usual solid red, amber, green. Basically if it’s flashing, proceed with caution. If you approach an intersection with flashing red lights whoever arrives first, stops then proceeds, the other cars then take it in turns to go depending on who arrived next. Flashing amber means you need to slow down but unless there’s a stop sign you can go ahead. Flashing green seems to mean put your foot down but I’m pretty sure that’s not official. This system only works because Canadians are nice and polite. It wouldn’t work in the UK. BMW drivers would ignore any protocols and Audi drivers would do the same but try and do it faster.
  • ‘Prepare To Stop’. OMG we need this at home. About 100m from traffic lights about to change lights start flashing above the road advising you PREPARE TO STOP. It’s brilliant. It’s so simple and it works. You see the lights starting to flash and start to slow. Saves on brakes and probably fuel and it’s more economical than slamming on your brakes ,or worse ignoring the lights (ahh but it was a soft red officer).

On the whole driving here is not as scary as you may think…ok ok as I thought. I still hate driving on the wrong side of the road.


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Off to Vancouver

Yesterday (Sunday) we finally made it to Victoria. I say finally, we came here 31 years ago but that doesn’t really count as we only remember bits of what was a rainy, brief visit. We both agreed that Victoria is absolutely lovely and well worth future visits. Maybe next time we’ll stay in the centre and tick off another Fairmont Hotel in our list. We also got all day parking for only C$10 which if you compare it to many cities/large towns is really good. The inner harbour is a lovely place where you can book whale watching trips (when in season), or even seaplane rides. Also it’s a nice place for an amble. The buildings surrounding it are magnificent and we decided that after a bit more exploration we’d go to the Royal BC Museum. We walked to Chinatown, the oldest in Canada, and Amanda bought some Christmas decorations…of course she did. I took a bunch of pictures and then we strolled back towards the museum. We happened upon a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and it’s basically against (our) rules to not go in. About C$25 later we went to the museum.

I mentioned this on Facebook yesterday but we forget in the UK how lucky we are that we get free entry into world class museums and art galleries. I remember being taken aback how expensive it was to get into the Art Museum in Toronto and the Royal BC Museum was the same. For two adults (no concessions) it cost almost C$54 which is almost £32. We get this FOR FREE at home with a suggested donation of £5 per person. Click here for a list in London alone. The Labour government introduced the current scheme in 2001 and long may it continue.

The museum is excellent however and well worth a visit and great coffee and salads too (Amanda had a Moroccan chick pea soup which also smelled delicious). They currently have a special exhibit on the Maya people of Central America which was very cool.

On the way home we decided we needed petrol/gas (whatever floats your boat) so pulled into a petrol station and it was FULL SERVICE. There were two young men running around clean ing windows and filling tanks. When we came here 31 years ago, George, who we were staying with, would always and only ever go to full service stations. His reasoning was that when he was young it was a good job for people his age and he wanted to carry that on. He point blank refused to go to self service stations so we were happy to do the same. I think I over tipped him by his reaction but what was the cost of two coffees in the hotel for us gave him a huge smile. Win win.

I’m writing this as we pack to leave Brentwood Bay and head to the ferry that will take us to Vancouver. It’ll be nice to stay downtown, opposite the art gallery and on top of an Apple Store <cough>. We have a few plans but nothing set in stone so we’ll see what happens. We do have hockey tickets on Tuesday and Thursday nights so we’re really looking forward to that and it’s only about 15mins walk from the hotel.

Better finish my packing.

Special bonus fact

All lumberjacks are actually called Jack and have to leave behind all of their previous identities behind as they venture into the great northern forests where they stay forever. I may be mixing this up with the Nights Watch I’m not sure.

 

Plaques of all of the Canadian provinces

Beautiful colours in the leaves still falling

The inner harbour

Not the beaver I was hoping to see

Chinatown

Fan Tan Alley. Very famous apparently

The inner harbour and the Fairmont Empress Hotel


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Lazy days

On Friday morning we were having breakfast in the hotel (house made granola and sourdough toast for me, oatmeal and fruit for her) and the waitress asked what plans we had for the day. We said we intended to go into Victoria and mooch around there as we had visited this hotel twice before and never spent any time in BCs capital. She said that if we hadn’t done so before we really should visit Goldstream provincial park because this time of year was the salmon run. We’d witnessed one of these previously in Bella Coola but much earlier in the year so we changed our  plans.

Being as I’m a man of a certain age within 15 mins of getting on the road I needed a wee. I can wait, I thought. I was wrong. We hit road works…twice, slowing us down and after about 30 mins I REALLY needed to stop. We found a service station and I jumped, out asked to use their bathroom and came out within huge smile on my face. Not sure what the person behind the counter thought but needs must. Point is, DON’T take advantage of the bottomless coffee at breakfast if you’re going out straight afterwards.

We arrived at the entrance to the park and saw a lot of cars. I mean a lot. As we drove in I thought we’d be turning around and going to Victoria after all but as luck would have it there was one disabled parking space at the end (or handicapped as it’s still called here. No idea why. Although Amanda and I call them spazzy spaces so we shouldn’t judge really). There were school buses lined up having disgorged their mini people, and families and couples there. Everyone had come to see the circle of life in operation. This was where the salmon had fought so hard to get to. Up from the sea. Over rapids and past hydro-electric dams, all the way to where the rivers become streams. Looking for the place they came from originally. They spawn and they die. In this particular place they didn’t have to fight far as the estuary was about half a mile away from this point, but this scene is replicated wherever salmon exist. The fish look like they’re literally falling apart by now. The seagulls wait, and sometimes they don’t, for the fish to finish what they’ve come to do before diving in and getting their fill of food. Bald eagles and bears also use this to fill up before winter. You can see some fish still battling to get upstream, you see some spawning and you see some dying. You also see the gulls tearing them apart. The smell wasn’t as bad here as it was in Bella Coola at least. There the stench was almost overpowering and there were no people just gulls, and so many fish you could almost walk across the river without getting your feet wet.

goldstream-1goldstream-1-2We did get to see a bald eagle sitting in the tree. Amanda saw a second flying around but I missed it. I’m guessing they’re waiting for the visitors to leave before they fill their bellies, the bears also.

goldstream-1-4One thing I have to say about the park is how brilliantly accessible it is. Wide, well kept paths, and disabled parking and toilets available. We can learn something here. It’s all very well nimbys getting on their high horse saying changing something will alter it to the detriment of the place itself but if it’s a ‘national’ park, for instance, isn’t that something to be enjoyed by the nation? This includes disabled people. Give us paths and ramps and step free access to places. Let’s all enjoy these places. So many times we’ve been somewhere and the paths are deep gravel so unsuitable for wheelchairs or the path goes so far and there 2 steps or even 1 step making it out of bounds. Truly it makes you feel second class.

Once we got back we dropped off our stuff, and took a walk to the nearest supermarket to get some milk. Canadians, like Americans, seem to think that if you drink either tea or coffee then a cream substitute is perfectly adequate. Let me tell you IT IS NOT. As a confirmed tea pot, cream (or non dairy whitener which is even worse) is shit. We got a litre of actual organic milk and returned with our precious cargo. Then went to the pub.

Saturday, Amanda wasn’t feeling too good so we made the decision to have a lazy day in the hotel. After breakfast, I watched Arsenal magnificently losing against the mighty Leicester and then I went for a walk to contemplate changing sports to follow. I did take  some photos (check Instagram) and then came back and we watched Strictly on my laptop…and then Dublin Murders. Then we hit the pub. I should say that the pub is part of the hotel and is excellent. Great local beers and local food for local people. I’ve heard something similar before somewhere.

It’s now Sunday morning and we have 1 full day left here before we catch the ferry tomorrow to go back to Vancouver. We might go to Victoria or it could be Nanaimo, who knows? We just make it up as we go.


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Bye bye Whistler, Hello Brentwood Bay

Driving on the wrong side of the road is weird. I’ll admit that I usually, if at all possible, leave the driving to Amanda when we’re abroad. It’s not only that it’s plain weird to drive on the wrong side of the road but also that it gives me the opportunity to impart my immense wisdom of where she’s going wrong. OK sometimes this doesn’t go down well but I’m sure deep down Amanda understands that I’m providing a huge benefit.

This morning we (I) drove from Whistler to Tsawwassen to catch the ferry over to the Island. I drove really well, I just want to put that out there. Didn’t crash once. Wasn’t even a near miss…ok one but I don’t want to split hairs. I’m really enjoying this car. It’s a Hyundai (no, Canada/America it’s not called HUNDAY. I promise) Santa Fe. It doesn’t have Apple Car Play which I was disappointed about but it does have this strange semi auto lane guidance thing which follows the lines on the road and will steer around bends for you. It freaked us out at first but once you get used to it it’s pretty good. Once you set adaptive cruise control and this lane guidance you can almost take your hands off and relax. DO NOT DO THIS. Also, driving on the wrong side of the road is weird. Did I say that already? Cars come at you and look like their going to hit you. They don’t but they could easily. I was glad, and I’m sure Amanda was, that I’m a great driver and nobody hit us. Why don’t you drive on the right side of the road Canada?

I got us to Tsawwassen in one piece and skilfully drove onto the  ferry. We ate ferry food on there too. Strangely enough it was decent, and not too crazily priced considering they had a captive audience. Soon enough it was time to disembark, which I did really well. I could tell Amanda was impressed as she didn’t say anything. Speechless I think. I may have got a speeding ticket driving to the hotel. In my defence I was going too fast. Wait. That’s not how it works is it? Anyway he was probably admiring my road position to take notice of me going a couple of kmh over the limit.

We’ve stayed at Brentwood Bay Resort and Spa twice before. If you ever get the chance to come here you’ll understand why we come back when we can. It’s right on the water, the rooms have great views, you can sit in the jacuzzi bath in your room, open the shutters and see straight out to the bay beyond. It’s beautiful. Also they have a pub attached to it which sells local beers, great cocktails and amazing food. Also sushi. Really good sushi. Tonight we just had beer, cocktails, chicken wings and fish tacos. Best fish tacos we’ve ever eaten. Fish was silky smooth and fresh, tortilla was chewy and the hot sauce was spicy. Delicious.

Tomorrow…… oh I don’t know we’ll decide tomorrow. Maybe Nanaimo, maybe Victoria.