Off To Canada (Again)

Holidays in Canada


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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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Hotels

Back in 1988 our hosts took us on a brilliant road trip through the Rockies in their Westfalia van. We stopped in Kamloops on the way to visit their friends and then stayed at a few cheap motels in both Jasper and Banff. While we were there they also took us to see Lake Louise and into Chateau Lake Louise and it’s there that my (our) love of those historic Fairmont hotels started. We’ve since stayed in quite a few of them (7) but have a few to go to get the full set. Chateau Frontenac is high on that list for me.

For this trip, as it’s a special occasion we’re returning to two of our favourite hotels and staying in one for the first time. I’m not including the first night as we’re just grabbing some sleep in an airport hotel and I picked basically the closest one to the airport. So on our first full day we’re driving up the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler and staying at the Four Seasons. We stayed there once before towards the end of our epic road trip  in 2013. We loved it so much that we said that if we ever got the chance we’d love to go back. As it’s our 30th wedding anniversary we thought this would be as good a time as any to make that happen.

The last time we arrived at the hotel, we did so after a very long muddy drive from Nimpo Lake and I have to say, we both felt embarrassed at the lumps of mud clinging to the side of the car when the valet parking guys took the keys. We loved the room, the staff, the cocktail bar and the amazing steak restaurant in the hotel and we’re really looking forward to returning.

After four nights in Whistler we’re taking the two hour drive (that timing will be checked before we depart) to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal to catch a boat over to Vancouver Island to spend four nights at the Brentwood Bay  Resort, about 30 minutes outside Victoria. We’ve actually stayed here twice before, once back in 2008 on our West Coast Adventure and again in 2013 at the start of our road trip. We love the location, the rooms, the food, the spa (ok Amanda loved the spa) and the pub (ok that was my favourite) and we can’t wait to visit again. This time we have longer so we intend to explore Victoria much more than we got the chance to do 31 years ago, not to mention it’s probably changed a lot since then. Back in 1988, I’m now ashamed to say, we went to the Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria to watch the orca show. The trainers told us (now it seemed ‘lied’ is the correct term) that the orcas could at any point easily jump over the barrier holding them in and they could return to the wild and they stay because they get fed and enjoy the activities. One of the beautiful creatures there was named Tilikum and if you have watched the documentary Blackfish you know all about Tilikum. I guess those were different times and looking back I’m horrified and saddened that we went there and paid money that perpetuated the captivity of these animals. I’m sorry. I truly am. Sealand closed in 1992 which is the only good bit of that sad tale.

Our last stop on this trip is in Vancouver itself and we have five nights in the centre of the city, staying at the Four Seasons. Although we’ve visited Vancouver a number of times, it’s usually only for a night or two, either at the start of at the end of a trip. The exception of course is 31 years ago when we travelled into the centre from Surrey quite a few times but the city has changed quite a bit since then. I’m hoping to get some tickets for the hockey while we’re there and as we have a car we can explore the parts that have been more difficult previously. We’re opposite the Vancouver Art Gallery and there happens to be an exhibition there that I really want to see. Other things on the list…Japadog, craft beers, poutine, Capilano and probably a whole lot more that we’ll try and squeeze in.

Should be fun.

 

 


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Some Canadian memories

I am often asked why we have been to Canada so many times and why we continue to visit. So here’s the short (ish) reason.

In September 1988 Amanda and I boarded a Wardair flight to Vancouver. This was only the third time I’d flown at this point and certainly the furthest. The flights were an early wedding present from Amanda’s mum. We were getting married the following year but had the chance to have an ‘early honeymoon’ in Canada and it turned out to be a very wise decision but that’s another story. We were going to spend the next 5 weeks staying with Amanda’s cousin and her husband in Vancouver and were really looking forward to this incredible opportunity and adventure.

Personally I was incredibly excited about flying with Wardair. This mythical company offered higher quality service at pretty much economy prices, one of the reasons it went out of operation the following year maybe? Fillet steak served on proper china with metal cutlery and wine in real glasses. After only flying on a package holiday charter to Tunisia perviously this felt like we were flying first class believe me.

On arriving at Vancouver airport, after a brief stop in Edmonton, we disembarked feeling like we hadn’t slept in 2 days….. it was more like 26 hours at this point. Honestly I don’t remember much about the journey to Surrey from the airport but I do remember arriving at the house and I remember our hosts. A more welcoming and lovely couple I don’t think I’ve ever met. They opened up their home to us, shared their friends with us and introduced us to the most amazing country. This is something we’ve never forgotten and why we have returned 9 times. We’ve visited Vancouver, Victoria, Halifax, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa and Toronto. We’ve taken a 13 hour ferry journey north up the BC coast and caught a train right across the country. I’ve been in a helicopter over Niagara Falls and driven roads so quiet that we didn’t see another car for over 3 hours. We’ve seen bald eagles, coyote, a BIG Grizzly bear, black bears, mountain sheep and elk, we’ve seen humpback whales and dolphins and orca and grey whales and sea otters. We’ve watched hockey in Vancouver, Toronto (Go Leafs Go), Montreal and Ottawa, Basketball and baseball in Toronto. We’ve stayed in lakeside lodges and five star hotels and historic chateau – like hotels and cheap motels. We’ve sweated in spring in Toronto and summer in Vancouver and frozen in Alberta in November. We’ve driven on highways and unpaved roads and frozen roads and through rain so hard you could barely SEE the road.

We are enchanted by Canada and hope that we will be able to continue to visit for many years to come. I still have ideas of trips I want to do and places I want to see. I want to visit the Northwest Territories and Yukon, I want to drive across country, coast to coast, I want to see more of Nova Scotia and visit, Newfoundland and New Brunswick, as well as explore Quebec and Ontario more, and we would still love to see polar bears in Churchill.

Canada and us still have unfinished business.


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Hey. We’re off to Canada again

This year (2019) marks the 31st anniversary of our first trip to Canada. We spent 5 amazing weeks in BC staying with Amanda’s cousin in Surrey. While we were there we travelled around in a Volkswagen Westfalia and visited friends in Kamloops, went to Banff and Jasper, stayed in Whistler and popped over to Victoria. This was the start of a long standing love affair with Canada.

This year is also our 30th wedding anniversay and so where else would we go to celebrate it?

At the beginning of November, we fly to Vancouver for 2 weeks. We’ll spend our actual anniversary in Whistler before driving down to Tsawassen to get the ferry to Victoria and chill out at a spa resort in Brentwood Bay. Finally we’ll get the ferry back and have 5 whole days to spend in Vancouver itself before flying back home.

It’s been 6 years since we last visited Vancouver and even then it was a short visit at the end of a long road trip so we’re looking forward to exploring. In fact, although we’ve visited all three places before, we plan on exploring a lot more in general …. ok apart from Whistler….that’s just going to completely chill out luxury. As it’s a special occasion we’ve pushed the boat out a little for this trip and that starts with the flights.

Originally I booked with British Airways (we always fly BA because of the amazing service we’ve always had flying with a wheelchair) back in December 2018, choosing Premium Economy. We find the extra space, having only two seats instead of the usual three, makes a huge difference for Amanda. Then…well….I got an email from BA with a special offer to upgrade to business class and I took it. So our flights went from being not cheap to definitely not cheap. On the flip side we get to use the lounge at Heathrow so I’ll be filling my pockets with food while I’m there and getting drunk on champagne….. they do have champagne right?

Last time we were in Canada, flying back from Calgary, we were given a free upgrade to business class. Airlines know what they’re doing when they give you a free upgrade. It’s like drug dealers giving you a free hit. Once you’ve tasted the good life and a reclining bed on a long flight it’s hard to go back, so when the email came through with the offer (suggestion?) that I should upgrade, of course I did. Damn them.

Next time I’ll go through the hotels we’re staying in.


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A big bear and emerald lakes

Sunset was a bit of a washout last night. What seems like a beautiful evening to most people is totally rubbish when you want colour in the sky…..no clouds. I stood out there in -11C temperatures waiting….waiting…freezing…waiting. Nothing. Pah! Ended up having an early night to catch up on some sleep.

Today we ventured out in the car and as we went down the hill towards the main road a rather large bear crossed in front of us. Of course being the photographer, I had no camera to hand so grabbed a few with my iPhone. Not perfect but hey. This was easily the biggest bear we’ve seen in the wild.

We checked beforehand with the concierge and found that several places we otherwise would have liked to stop at were shut for the season…of course. We drove over the border into BC and into Yoho National Park heading towards Emerald Lake…definitely open. Emerald Lake was open…but the lovely tearoom/cafe was definitely not. We also encountered tickboxers. We first came across this species in New Zealand. They move around the countryside in coaches, stopping at places of interest, disembark and literally swarm around taking photos before running back to the coach having ‘ticked that box’. I’m assuming that the Chinese tickboxers had trouble reading english signs as they ignored ‘closed’ signs, jumping over barriers and standing having their photos taken next to a sign saying ‘DO NOT STAND HERE. DANGER’, not to mention walking across the bridge on the wrong side and causing a small coach to come to standstill while they took selfies. Once they appeared where I was, I retreated quietly and took some photos elsewhere. On the way back, they were also leaving and desperately trying to find a loo as they were being called back to the coach. Sadly for them several of the toilets were closed for the season leaving a single loo. One lady decided that wasn’t good enough so had a pee behind it instead. Charming.

We stopped at another location and guess who pulled up right behind us? Arghhhh. This time I loitered and waited until they’d gone before taking photos, except this one. The herd had thinned out by this point but it captures the scene.

DSCF1458Anyway, I got some nice shots and then we headed back for lazy lunch.

Yesterday, Amanda and I had lunch in the Hotel. I had a club sandwich and Amanda had a chorizo burger. Mine was delicious, hers was cold. Amanda sent it back and although I’d finished mine by the time her new one had arrived, it seemed to be pretty nice. However, because of the inconvenience the food was removed from the bill and all we were charged for was the drinks.

Today, I had a salad with a salmon fillet and Amanda had a chicken Caesar salad. Hers looked awesome but mine was sans salmon. Many apologies later and within 5 mins a salmon fillet appeared. Also someone came over and apologised once again about problems happening twice in a row. Desserts and coffee was on then. Nice. When the bill arrived, once again we weren’t charged for the food, just the wine. If anyone asks about good service, this is the standard to which we base everything on 🙂

Wanna see some pics?

Tomorrow we hit the road and head towards Jasper. Lake Louise has been wonderful.

Brentwood Bay


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Yep, we’re off to Canada again…..not just yet though

Insomnia doesn’t strike me very often (thankfully) but at least when it does I do something useful….sort of….like write a blog post about something that’s almost 2 years away.

2017 is a big year for one member of this family…. and it’s not me or Elmo. Amanda will hit the big 50 and to celebrate I said we could go anywhere in the world for a big holiday. It’s no surprise that we’re going back to our favourite place and we’re hopeful that we can go for 3 weeks rather than 2. Things are bit up in the air at the moment as ideally we’d love our best friends to come with us. We’ve yet to discuss the practicalities of such a trip, such as the amount of time, the amount of money, whether they could stand being with us for 3 whole weeks anyway, but we’ll sort something out. It’d just be nice to share the places we love with the people we love.

So, in the interest of this not being just me writing, I wish, I wish, here is what I propose…..

  • We fly to Vancouver and collect the hire cars
  • Catch the ferry to Vancouver Island and stay in Brentwood Bay for 2 nights
  • Drive over to the West Coast and stay in the Tofino area for a few nights
  • Drive to Port Hardy in the North
  • Catch the ferry to Bella Coola
  • Go Grizzly watching
  • Drive to Williams Lake…..

I know, I know….this sounds a lot like our last trip doesn’t it? Well clever clogs, it’s so not…read on…..

  • Drive to Jasper and stay for a couple of nights
  • Drive to Lake Louise and stay for a couple of nights
  • Drive to Kamloops and stay for a night
  • Drive to Whistler and stay for a few nights
  • Finally onto to Vancouver for a few nights before flying home

How does that sound? Pretty nifty eh? Now this will probably change (a lot or slightly, who knows?) before the main event. After all it’s quite some distance away yet but things have to be planned so we can save up the money to go.

If (and we hope this is the case) they are coming with us and can only do 2 weeks then we can do a cut down version, but otherwise this is my ideal trip. I’ll do all the arranging and booking, all they have to do is agree and pay me some money along the way as things like flights, ferries and the like get paid in advance.

We’ve had some amazing holidays and this one could be the best of the lot.


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Bears….finally but not in the wild.

Yesterday we visited Grouse Mountain for the first time, Amanda was not impressed by the SkyRide cable car or the chair lift. The cable car was so full you could hardly move and each time it went over the pylons the whole car swung back and fourth, not good when you don’t like the things in the first place. We reached the top in one piece, just, then we saw a sign for a bear trail. They have two rescued Grizzly’s in a woodland area and we managed to see both of them, Coola rescued from Bella Coola as a cub weighing just 5 Kg’s and Grinder from B.C also weighing just 5 Kg’s. They were hiding in the  trees cwtched up trying to sleep. We were very happy to finally see bears but also a little sad that they weren’t wild, it’s a dilemma with wild animals but at least they are safe.

Whilst up the mountain we also decided to take in the lumber jack tourist show, we don’t usually do that sort of thing but Amanda needed to rest and this gave us the opportunity to do that. I have to say I would recommend it, the show was a bit cheesy in parts but those guys were amazing at climbing the 60ft tree trunk. Then it was time to take the chair lift up to the highest part of the mountain, a task Amanda couldn’t  hide her enthusiasm for. They kindly stopped the chair for us to get on and then the journey began. I wasn’t allowed to move a muscle but did manage to sneak a few pictures in, I’ll post them when we get home as I’ve packed all the camera kit away. To say Amanda didn’t enjoy it would be an under statement but she did it there and back which I am impressed at, she even managed to look out on the way down.

The views from the top were spectacular you can see all over Vancouver, there was one blight on the afternoon though bloody little midges, they were everywhere and we both got bit.

We did make a little miscalculation on our timing coming back from Grouse Mountain and we experienced proper rush hour traffic coming back into the city. It seemed to take ages to cross the Lions Gate Bridge, something I guess Vancouver dwellers have to do all the time

Rather than eat in the hotel again we went across the road on the waters edge to the Cactus Club Cafe. People were queuing outside when we arrived so we knew it was going to be decent food. We had about a 30 min wait before we were seated and had a local beer (for me) and watermelon margarita (for Amanda) while we chose our food. We had szechuan chicken lettuce wraps to start and we were both glad we chose to share as it was pretty big but delicious. Chicken in a sweet and spicy szechuan glaze, peanuts, wontons, korean chili sauce and spicy yogurt all wrapped in crispy iceberg lettuce leaves. For main course I had szechuan salmon, which was steelhead salmon, miso mustard, broccoli, edamame, red peppers, snap peas, daikon and pea shoot salad with sticky rice. Amanda went for thai red curry pacific lingcod – seared pacific lingcod in a thai red curry sauce, coconut almond rice, crispy wontons and micro coriander. All delicious and worth the wait and a perfect way to finish off our stay.

Now we’re heading home. Sad but happy that we had a great time and can’t wait to come back again.