Off To Canada (Again)

Holidays in Canada


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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.

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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Bear country…finally

Yesterday seemed to last about 34 hours rather than the normal 24. When we went to sleep it was raining quite hard but by the morning the sky was fairly clear and it looked like the rain had gone away for a while, yay. It came back, boooo. By the time we left Port Hardy it had started to rain lightly and for the whole trip we had rain showers, sometimes torrential, sometimes light and occasionally it actually was a bit sunny. To be fair the ferry journey was really good. It was one of the sections of the holiday that we were concerned about. Thirteen hours on a smallish boat could have been a bit of a nightmare but it really wasn’t. The seats were comfortable regardless of what Amanda says (hers was broken but we didn’t notice for a while, and me being the gentleman that I am refused to switch because I had the window seat), the food was nice and the scenery was incredible. The captain pointed out when whales were visible and everyone (almost) ran to be able to catch a glimpse in the distance of humpback whales breaching or diving or just cruising past. We also saw dolphins….lots of dolphins. They started off just surfing alongside the ferry and then we noticed a huge pod ahead of us fishing. We got to stay with them quite a while although they’re really hard to photograph, they’re just too damned quick.

Dolphins

At 11pm we reached Bella Coola and when we got off the boat a line of traffic travelled along the (only) road  and we thought ‘wouldn’t it be strange if someone we saw on the ferry was staying at the same place as us’. It turned out that they were…5 cars turned off into the carpark and by the time we parked up we had to join a queue to check in. The BC Mountain Lodge is in an incredible location, but only found that out this morning when it was light. Last night it was raining so hard and it was so late that all we wanted to do was get inside our room and get to sleep. I’ll admit that I have become accustomed to nicer hotels and there’s something to be said for 5 star accommodation but it’s clean, I slept really well and breakfast is included. Not too bad. 

Raining much? NOT our room View from our room

 

This morning it had stopped raining (for about 15 mins) and we saw how beautiful the Bella Coola valley is. Surrounded on both sides by impossibly high mountains and shrouded in mist. It wouldn’t look out of place in Lord of the Rings although I can’t see Amanda dressing as a hobbit, as her feet aren’t hairy enough.

After breakfast we drove into town via the tourist information office and a small park where there is a beaver pond. Make all the jokes you want but we were on a beaver hunt, but sadly we saw none. It was a beaver-free zone. Perhaps it was too wet for them. On the way we also stopped at the shop. I say ‘the’ shop as it sold everything and I mean everything. It sold cat litter, shovels, crossbow bolts, flights for darts, fishing rods, ammunition, apples, 8 inch nails, sausages and lots more. I could have spent a long time just looking at all the shelves but we had to go. We had lunch in town at a local restaurant where, while we were sat there, one guy past the window that was chatting to us on the ferry the night before, two motorcyclists that caught the ferry were on another table and then the woman from tourist info came in for her lunch too. Sensible people. Lunch was really nice (Philly beef bun for me with dipping gravy and fries and salmon salad sandwich and chicken noodle soup for Amanda). Even the Sheriff sat with his family behind us so I made sure Amanda behaved herself.

After we ate, we drove down to the marina where all the fishing boats are tied up. The water is a beautiful opaque green/blue and reminds you of an opal. The rain was back with a vengeance by now so we didn’t stop long.

Bella Coola Marina

 

Before heading back to the lodge, we took a drive further up the road and saw three deer. One bounced off across the road and the other two warily kept an eye on us as we crept closer to try and take a pic. The one I photographed squeezed under a fence and stared at us just in case we fancied venison tonight.

Oh deer

 

Tonight we’re eating at the lodge and we have an early start tomorrow for our bear watching trip. Breakfast is at 7am and we leave at 7:45am on the dot. Hopefully I’ll have bear pics tomorrow or you’ll be reading about two British tourists eaten by very very hungry Grizzly bears.


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I finally drove

We had a short ferry journey from Brentwood Bay to Mill Bay which saved us about 20 mins or so driving  and was a lot more scenic, and then it was a four hour drive to our next Hotel in Ucluelet. I should point out that so far Amanda has done all the driving and was driving today also. If I’d been sensible I’d have packed beer or a hip flask as I was being passenger but I didn’t so finally after about 3 hours it was time for me  to take the wheel for the last 40 mins (it seemed a lot longer but Amanda made me put that in there).  In the previous 3 hours it was dull old wide highway driving and then  it got a little more interesting with mountains and lakes to look at. When we changed over and I drove FOR THE FIRST TIME ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD, it turned into some strange slalom route which seemed as wide as a goat herders track not the main road to the west coast of the Island. Thankfully, due to me being a man and having amazing driving skills <cough>, I triumphed and got us to the destination in one piece.

The Black Rock Oceanfront Resort is actually right on the ocean so we won’t be suing for mis-advertising. Our room has a great view of the water but with a slight downside in that it’s directly over the pool and hot tubs, so all we hear with the door open is voices/screaming/splashing. What on earth are they doing enjoying themselves like this? I think it’s disgusting. I simply wouldn’t be doing it.

The resort is proud to be quite eco friendly and as such it has no air conditioning. Thankfully they have the Pacific Ocean which has it’s own, so all we do is open the door to the balcony and enjoy the sound of the waves and the smell of the sea (and of course those annoying people).

In the book they leave in  hotel rooms giving you helpful info about the tv channels and the opening times of the restaurants, there is also advice on what to do if we have an earthquake or indeed a tsunami. Yes, we’re sort of in that part of the world and so I’m keeping that section by my bed and will read it if the room starts to shake. Also helpful is ‘what to do if you come across a bear’ and ‘what to do if you come across a cougar’ and no, that’s not an older woman looking for a toy boy, we’re talking wild critter here. Actually I already know what I’d do in those situations and it mostly consists of crying and screaming like a small child told to turn off CBeebies and wait for my impending death. I might read it though in case it has some pearls of wisdom I hadn’t thought about. I’m sure that they did this to add the illusion of danger and excitement but in the restaurant and at reception they have posters telling everyone to watch out for a bear that seems to be hanging around the area. I’ll send Amanda out to investigate with a picnic basket and a jar of honey. Either Yogi Bear or Winnie the Pooh will come running.

We have to be up quite early tomorrow to go on our whale watching trip and I forgot to buy sea sickness tablets. This’ll be fun because as calm as the ocean is right now, as soon as we set off it’ll get bouncy, I just know it.

Black Rock Oceanfront Resort View from our balcony of the Pacific