Off To Canada (Again)

Holidays in Canada


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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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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.

 


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Thursday

It was cold today. I mean properly cold. We went to Annette Lake and it was cold. We tried to go to Medicine Lake but the road was awful so we turned back. We went into town (Jasper) and it was bloody freezing so we went back to the hotel and warmed up. Now I’m in the bar, 5 beers down, listening to Arsenal Player and actually in my happy place. My texts have been read out on Arsenal Player and the beer is cold and tasty. If only it didn’t make you so drunk …..

Tomorrow we drive to Banff. I hope the roads are ok.