Off To Canada (Again)

Holidays in Canada


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The Ice Fields Parkway

The Ice Fields Parkway is one of the great drives. In summer you see cars pulling over at the side of the road to watch wildlife. Bears, Sheep, Goats, elk, you name it. Glorious blue skies stretch forever and huge mountains tower above you. In the winter it’s a scary place. It’s NOT EVEN WINTER YET and it’s a scary scary place. We had to drive back along it to get to Banff from Jasper and when we drove to Jasper a few days earlier it was tricky in places. In those few days, it had snowed and got colder. The surface which originally was good in places, dodgy in others, now was basically an ice rink which occasionally cars and trucks thundered along. If you’ve watched Ice Road Truckers you know what I mean. Amanda was a star and drove about 2/3rds of the journey and I drove the first little bit and the end bit into Banff,

The scenery was incredible but I have to admit I was glad to finally arrive in Banff. I’d love to do it again earlier in the season when the ice is nice and high on the mountains and not on the road surface.

The Fairmont Banff Springs hotel doesn’t disappoint. It’s magnificent, a castle in the Canadian Rockies, nestled amongst trees and alongside the Bow River. Our view is amazing (if a rather small window).

DSC04877-HDRThis morning I left Amanda to her coffee and oatmeal and went for a walk in -14C temperatures down to the Bow River Falls. I was all alone for about 30 mins before a single person turned up. It was like having your own personal paradise (if your idea of paradise is snow, ice and -14C temps). I loved it. So much so that I went back, ate my own oatmeal, had a coffee and went back for more, while Amanda went for a swim.

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As it’s our wedding anniversary today, we’re having a nice meal in the hotel but I might pop out again as the sun starts going down 🙂


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Lac Beauvert Loop

The last time we visited the Jasper Park Lodge was 7 years ago. A pause in the journey from Vancouver to Toronto by train. We didn’t have a wheelchair back then. Walks were slow and tended to be short. However we did manage the Lac Beauvert Loop. A trail around the lake that would probably take an able bodied person about 45 mins (approximately…I’m guessing) took us about 2.5 hours. Thankfully there are rest stops and even some toilets (although as anyone who has experienced Canada’s National Parks toilets in warmer times, they can be a bit of a ‘hold your nose moment’). The real downside was Amanda was pretty much unable to walk for the next day.

This time we have an electric wheelchair. We used the service road that goes behind the trail for part of the way and did a big chunk of the loop. We did try the actual path at one point but some tree roots prevented us from going very far, we need a 4wd wheelchair. We saw some mule deer and a pika which was seriously cute.

Once back, Amanda went for a swim and I edited some photos (and had a beer) before lunch. Have I mentioned CiN yet? CiN is ‘Christmas in November’ here at the JPL

Christmas in November at the Jasper Park LodgeIt’s incredibly popular. The lodge is decorated as though it’s Christmas Eve. We have a giant tree (photos to follow later), a life size gingerbread house and baubles and tinsel as far as the eye can see. Today, or perhaps tomorrow, hoardes of (mostly) women will descend on the JPL to take part in talks and demonstrations on things like tree and/or table decorating, present wrapping, and designing the perfect capsule wardrobe for the holidays (that was one that stuck in my mind from last time we were here). It’s crazy but it’s much loved here.

I went for a walk by myself in the afternoon around the other side of the loop while Amanda went for a manicure. It was pretty chilly I have to say. It’s getting colder. As I type this it’s -9C outside so I may have to put a long sleeved top on today. I saw those mule deer again, I think they’re following me. I also spotted a tiny red squirrel. I’ve never seen one in the wild before and I was amazed how small they are. Seriously cute.

We’re off the Lake Annette today as we’re reliably informed by one of the waitresses here that they have put a proper wheelchair friendly path around it. Hope that’s true.


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That drive

Once we arrived at Jasper, getting some drinks (and a bit of food) seemed more important than updating the blog, hence the photo-only piece yesterday, but let’s go back in time…… cue Scooby Doo music.

We knew that the drive from Lake Louise to Jasper takes around 3hrs, so allowing for multiple stops we gave ourselves a few hours spare and set off around 10am. As we left, it started snowing. Only light flakes, blowing in the wind but it set the tone for most of the journey. Previously Amanda asked me if I’d be ok taking over the driving if needed and, of course, I said yes. The main reason Amanda does the driving is so I can jump out and take photos while she tends to stay in the car and read her book. It’s a well used system. I only found out later that she was nervous about driving in the snow, or more accurately, in a blizzard.

The drive is spectacular. There are no other words needed. You need to see it for yourself.

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Icefields Parkway and all that commuter traffic

There was little traffic on the road, which is just as well because the conditions became worse and the traffic that was there seemed to be used to the conditions more than us. They overtook us, and I’m sure they were shaking their heads as they did so. We stopped at Bow Lake and I felt a little like Jack Torrence, for you Stephen King fans, at the end of the movie in the maze. Very cold. Like really cold. Very beautiful stop though. The wind coming off the lake was bitter and the snow blowing around made it feel very remote, even though you could see the road and people passing.

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Bow Lake

As we moved on the snow started coming down more and the road surface got worse.

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Who needs to see the road markings? Not us.

We did have one moment where Amanda was going a tiny bit fast to turn a corner into a parking lot (to be fair she was going about 10mph) and we skidded a tiny bit but I think that made her rethink her cornering speed and from that point on we went a little slower but made each turn a little less scary. We have to go up some pretty big hills and were surprised to see ‘normal’ cars zipping around either going up or down. I mean, no 4wd? Crazy canucks. Our country would shut down for 2 weeks if the roads were like the above picture.

The conditions got better, for driving at least, and the snow went and the rain came. it was expected and it made the last bit of the journey a little more secure if not as pretty. As we arrived at the Jasper Park Lodge however it started snowing

We’re due for more before we leave so I hope the drive back down to Banff in a few days time is …..umm…fun?

Oh, we added an elk to our wildlife list after that huge Grizzly. Right outside our room.

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The elk visiting


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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.


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Lake Louise

Phew that was a long day. The flight was good and we collected the car at the airport. The issue was that my original plan was to stay in Calgary for the first night but The Boss insisted that she’d rather drive to Lake Louise straight away. After a few miles she was wishing she’d stuck to the original (we shall call this ‘better’ from now on) plan. It was just over 2 hours but seemed a lot longer on unfamiliar roads after a long flight, and even longer when someone needs a ‘comfort break’ <cough>. Regardless, we got here around 10pm, dropped the car off at valet parking and went straight to the room and slept.

Jetlag being what it is, meant I woke around midnight, 2am, 4am and finally I gave up around 5:30am and made coffee. The went to the 24hr deli for more coffee.

Today is a day of relaxing and recharging batteries (ours, camera and wheelchair). Amanda is off for a swim and I’m checking the photos I took this morning (see below)

DSC04067This is such a gorgeous location and hopefully I’ll be out to catch the sunset tonight. That depends on a couple of things

  1. If I have a beer or three later
  2. If the weather plays ball
  3. If I’m awake

Tomorrow we’ll hit the road and explore some, but there’s enough to keep us occupied today right here.

This is Fairmont hotel number 7 for us and, apart from the Savoy (which is just managed by Fairmont), it’s my favourite so far.


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Packed and ready to go…almost

Dropped the kids off at the babysitter’s last night…..ok we took the cats to the cattery but you get the point. The house felt really weird later with no cats in and I didn’t like it. Not normal. How do people with no cats live like that? Crazy people.

Finally got round to packing around 7:30pm (Amanda did hers earlier in the day) and I swear I get later every time. Next time I’ll be packing the morning we depart. A few more things to sort and then, in a couple of hours, we can hit the road to the airport.

  • My camera bag weighs almost as much as my actual luggage
  • I have more USB/charging cables than socks
  • The weather is getting even colder at our destinations so had to rethink on-the-fly my choices of footwear/jumpers. The plus point is there is snow on the mountains so hopefully some pretty pictures 🙂

Next post will probably be in Canada

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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.