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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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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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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