Off To Canada (Again)

Holidays in Canada


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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.


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Lost Lake Found

We had breakfast delivered today so I could watch another dismal display by the (not so) Mighty (these days) Arsenal on my laptop. 8 hour time difference gives you morning football which is great if you’re on holiday but not so much if you’re working. Our server from yesterday (Matthew) was telling us earlier of the travails of being a Boro fan in Canada and how much he has to pay each month just to be disappointed on a regular basis. Why do we do it to ourselves?

Anyhoo, once that was out of the way we got ready and decided to go for a nice walk. Close to the hotel is a trail called the Lost Lake Loop which …gasps… goes around a lake called Lost Lake. No idea why. It’s really easy to find. There are bloody signposts everywhere. Walked around it (approx 7000 steps if you’re interested), took some nice photos and got some lovely fresh mountain air.

The plan was that we were going to do another walk but then we decided to get lunch which ended up meaning two beers and a huge Montreal smoked brisket sandwich for me. You’d have to roll me round the trail instead of walking it. I edited some photos, we played Zombie Fluxx, chatted to Matthew and then went to the room. Amanda repacked a bag and I watched some pre game show before the basketball started (Raptors v Kings).

Tomorrow we’re driving to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal to catch the ferry to the Island where we’ll stay for the next 4 nights. The weather is still being really nice to us. We expected rain and so far nothing. Not complaining, just saying. If it comes down stair rods while we’re in Brentwood Bay I may drink more and maybe make some more stuff up…. I mean impart useful knowledge to you.

Useful Fact #2*

Bald eagles, the symbol of the USA are held hostage each year and can be found in huge numbers in Brackendale BC over the winter. The US must pay vast amounts of money to get the eagles back. Ha. Go Canada, Did you know they used to be called bored eagles because basically they just hang around on the top of trees. Someone obviously though this didn’t sound regal enough so they pretended that they looked bald instead because that’s better. Let me tell IT’S NOT. You have to wear a toque when it’s cold when you’re bald because you’re head gets freezing, Anyway…where was I?

*May or not be partly true

Butterfinger. Best thing EVER

These are trees

Canadian fish are busy bees….. or fish

Lost Lake. Not well hidden is it?

Lots of trails. Watch out for bears though k?


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Squamish….or not

Today was the day that Canadians were advised to vacate the roads as I was about to drive. The plan was to go to Squamish, take some photos, grab some lunch and visit a brew pub. Obviously I wasn’t intending to drive back to Whistler. The first bit worked well. I am pleased to say that no vehicles, pedestrians or animals were harmed by my driving. We went to Newport Beach (apt I thought) in Squamish and watched a small tug moving some massive logs in the water and took some photos. Then we TRIED to visit a cider bar….couldn’t find it…. wasn’t easily accessible….I don’t know it just didn’t work out ok? Let’s go to the brew pub instead. Roadworks/bad directions/had enough….we decided to give up and go somewhere else.

Amanda had mentioned previously that she thought she might have the start of a UTI (yay). Today it was worse and she was feeling bad. We spotted a strip mall with a London Drug and decided to pop in. I bought M&Ms and Amanda spoke to the pharmacist, I got Nutella filled M&Ms and Peanut butter M&Ms and Amanda got nothing except advice to visit a walk in surgery not far away,

We managed to get an appointment straight away which was pretty good considering I witnessed people coming in after us being sent away with appointment hours later. The doctor came out to chat to me while Amanda was trying to provide a urine sample. We agreed she probably shouldn’t have used the facilities in London Drug minutes before but there you go. The doctor was a character. Newly retired but hanging on for a while until he moves to Calgary to take up full time grandfather duties. He asked where we were from and I said Wales. He said he loved the Welsh accent and I politely reminded him that I didn’t have an accent but he did. We passed the time while he tried to remember all of the British accents that he’d heard over the years, complained about Whistler thinking it was the centre of the universe and Squamish not being the same place that he moved to 40 years ago. Eventually Amanda provided and the doctor agreed it was a UTI and gave us two prescriptions, the first to try now and the second to get filled if the first didn’t work. Ka-ching C$125 please. Actually I’m not complaining. We can claim it back if we want to and we were dealt with quickly and with no drama. Then we go back to London Drug to fill the prescription. C$17 for a week of antibiotics and blow me if they didn’t have Butterfingers which happens to be one of our favourites. Two of those happen to find their way into our sweaty paws and we decide that by now it was too late to go anywhere else and we’d go back to the hotel, have a late lunch/early dinner and watch the hockey on tv.

Late lunch/early dinner consisted of cocktails and a MASSIVE plate of nachos with chilli on top and a side of guacamole. Oh and a couple of delicious cocktails. Then a couple more cocktails. Our server came from Middlesbrough and we chatted for a while and I explained why we were there, wedding anniversary and all that. He blew smoke up my ass about not looking old enough (obviously true) and then he went to serve someone else. He appeared a little later with a little personailsed dessert for us. Classy touch Four Seasons.

Now Amanda is asleep and I’m watch the hockey and writing this. That Butterfinger may not last the evening.

She doesn’t look impressed but she was

Cocktail delivered in a smoke filled chrome case

Oh you wanted a photo BEFORE we ate the nachos

Cute anniversary dessert

Our barman’s signature cocktail. That man knows his shit I tell you


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Arrival

Wow that was a long long day. Our flight was unfortunately delayed  so we had to stay in the lounge longer than originally planned (yeah I know, boo hoo all that free food and drink). It was about an hour and twenty mins before the gate finally appeared so we trundled as fast as we could and then had to wait until someone could escort us the 30 yds to the aircraft door. This is always the stressful bit where Amanda goes to the seat and leaves me to sort out the wheelchair. I folded it up and put it in the bag and put in the hands of the airport staff (gulp) and hoped that we’d see at the other end.

The flight was pretty good and we made up some time so we ended up landing only about 30 mins after we were meant to. As this is a special occasion we bought Club World tickets. This entitles you to Fast Track security clearance, priority boarding and priority tags on the wheelchair so in theory it should be there post haste when we disembark, Actually in this case it meant….oops the Fast Track security was shut so queue up with everyone else. Ooops the flight was delayed so everyone went together to the gate and boarded at the same time. This is great when you’re trying to fold up a wheelchair and package it up with a line of people behind you. You can feel their stares in the back of  your head as you hold them up. Then of course we have to be last off the plane as we have to wait for them to return the wheelchair to the air craft door. Thirty minutes. That’s how long we had to wait before it appeared. So we make our way through an empty airport to get to immigration. Here, someone spotted us and we actually jump a massive queue and get to the front, making up the time we spent waiting for the wheelchair. We get called to the immigration officer and she sends us back because we hadn’t used the fancy electronic terminal to scan our passports first. Back we go. The terminal is too tall to take Amanda’s photo and and for some reason I had to squat down for it to take mine, not brilliantly designed, unless I missed something blindingly obvious (not beyond the realms of possibility to be fair). We returned to the front of the line and get called again by the same officer. I swear if looks could kill we’d be dead but you know what? Screw ’em. If they want to swap, I’m sure Amanda would do it in a heartbeat. Suck it up buttercup and be grateful you’re able to stand in a line for a while.

Finally, we’re officially in Canada 🇨🇦  yay. Let’s go get our car. We find Budget quite easily and we complicate matters by asking about winter tyres. So, we’re driving to Whistler, we tell the young man, and I saw that we’re required to have winter tyres from 1st October onwards to drive that road. “Oh you want winter tyres?” he says. The he proceeds to tell us that locals drive on regular tyres and if they get stopped by police and turned around, they go and get a coffee somewhere wait about 30 mins or and hour then try again, hopefully the police will have moved on. Ummmmm. No. We’d like winter tyres. He locates an SUV with winter trees yay. C$20 per day extra…boooo. Then the entire system goes down because of some updates done back east so he has to WRITE IT OUT. ON A FORM. LIKE WRITE, USING A PEN. I was worried he might ask me to write it for him but we got there in the end.

The drive to the motel was interesting. The sat nav wasn’t updating fast enough so we missed at least two turnings and ended up going behind the motel through a really sketchy area with abandoned cars and boarded up buildings but we survived. The room was clean and really comfortable. We finally got to bed at 10:45pm. At this point we’d been up about 22 hours I think. Body clocks being the pain in the arse that they are we both woke up after sleeping for about 2 hours or so. I managed to get back to sleep for a few more hours but Amanda didn’t. Breakfast was a nice surprise as I didn’t realise it was included.  We ate and we left.

When in another country it’s always wise to stick to speed limits. We noticed this is a good rule of thumb today as we had a long line of traffic behind us most of the way but then passed at least one of them after they passed us at speed but now getting a ticket from the police. The cops over here hide in bushes with their speed guns or just behind road signs, the sneaky things. People in the U.K. moan about speed cameras when they’re signposted. They’d riot if they had to put up with this.

This is a really long way to say we didn’t do much today other than drive to Whistler, check in, drink a beer, eat some food, go for a short walk and now crashing in front of the tv considering ordering room service later before we hopefully catch up on some zzzz’s.

Tomorrow we plan on exploring a little so I’ll update then.

Special fun fact*

Canadian beavers shed their tails each winter and grow a new one in the spring. These tails are collected, dried and finally deep fried, topped with delicious things like cinnamon, Nutella or just sugar and sold as a sweet treat. You’ll see Beaver Tails for sale all over Canada.

*May or not be true


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Almost there

According to my countdown it’s 12 days to go. It seems like a long long time ago that we booked the flights, decided on the route and the hotels. Actually it was a long long time ago so that sort of fits.

I found out by accident that the hotel we booked in for the first night was having a refurb and the dining facilities would be out of operation so we decided to change that and go for somewhere slightly cheaper and get breakfast on the fly before heading to Whistler. Somehow…ok it was me… we’re now booked in a motel, slightly closer to the airport and also about £3 more expensive for the night. I guess £3 isn’t much and in my defence C$186 sounds a lot more that £111…. spoiler…it isn’t.

Apparently there is snow on the mountains in Whistler so hopefully we get some pretty photos but frankly my entire photo reel in Whistler may be images of us in a bar, or eating, or eating in a bar. Maybe a restaurant thrown in for good measure. Perhaps I should pack trousers with an elasticated waist? Can you get charged excess baggage if your arse has grown while there?

I got tickets for two hockey games while we’re in Vancouver. Thankfully we’re staying close enough to walk to the Rogers Arena so we don’t have to suffer the wait for a taxi back to the hotel like the last time we did this. This will be the second and third time we’ve gone to see the Canucks play, one more than the Leafs, Sens and Habs. Does that make them ‘our team’? Not sure. I still love the Leafs, sorry. Must try and get to Edmonton one day to watch the Oilers play and then Calgary to watch the Flames. Maybe next time.