Off To Canada (Again)

Holidays in Canada


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Finally home

Friday was our last full day in Vancouver but she saved the worst weather for the end of the week so we hunkered down in the hotel for a few hours before deciding that an indoor activity would be best. Nearby is a cinema so we checked what was on and went to watch Dr Sleep. It always feel naughty going to watch a film midday. Like you’re playing hooky from school or pulling a sick from work. Also, obviously, this makes it even better. Really enjoyed the film, not as good as the book but then they never are. A good version though for sure and Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson were both great but I have to give a special shoutout to Alexandra Essoe playing Wendy Torrance. She looked close enough to  Shelley Duvall but absolutely nailed her mannerisms (in The Shining), that it was an excellent choice and a brilliant bit of acting.

Later on we decided to eat in the hotel as we hadn’t eaten anything other than breakfast there (and a couple of small plates while having a drink). The Four Seasons in Vancouver is a relatively old building and apparently is shutting next year (I think it’s next year). The age shows in the rooms but the public areas are very nice. The bar and restaurant in particular are lovely. It turns out that the food is very nice too but you pay for it. The second most expensive meal of the holiday and we both left hungry…..we didn’t even have a bottle of wine. The service is excellent too, they certainly hire good people.

guess what the weather was like on our last half day before flying home? Yep. Stair rods. We got up, went down for our last breakfast and then returned to our room to pack. Once that was done we had to decide what to do for the next 6 hours. From previous experience (i.e. the day before) we knew of a place around the corner where you could hide away in darkness in a comfy seat for a few hours. Off we went to the movies again. We saw Ford vs Ferrari and we both loved it. Matt Damon and Christian Bale were brilliant and Amanda was almost sobbing at the end, which is apparently a seal of approval. I sort of knew the story of how Ford took on Ferrari to win Le Mans in the 1960’s but obviously I only knew part of it. It’s a great tale and anyone who enjoys motor racing will love it I think.

By the time the movie had ended it was time to eat as as our meal the previous night was so expensive we went cheap. Off to the food court at the mall. Delicious wraps consumed, we headed back to the hotel. We had decided that we might as well go to the airport early, drop the hire car off and wait there rather than tramp around in the rain. The traffic was pretty busy but we found the car hire return place pretty easily and then settled in for a wait until we could drop our bags off. When we checked in online earlier I noticed that even though I had paid £160 in total to reserve our seats, we had been allocated different ones. This happened on the outward bound flight too but I didn’t make a fuss because they’d put us one row closer to the door which makes it easier for Amanda. The homeward flight however put us an extra row back which  was a pain, not to mention instead of an aisle and window seat we had centre row seats. not a happy bunny I complained and was told basically, tough, sometimes this happens but you can have your money back. When we got to the airport bag drop off however we met a very nice lady who was actually waiting for us in order to help us with the wheelchair etc. We explained about the seat malarky and she said she’d try and sort something. We dropped off the bags and went to the BA lounge, which is very well hidden to keep out the riff riff like us obviously. As we went in, the lady behind the desk was also expecting us and took our boarding passes off us to get new ones with reallocated seats. At this point we had no idea where we would be seated but were promised it would be closer.

The lounge is excellent and a free beer (Crown Royal and ginger for her), some food, a coffee and cookie later and we got our new boarding passes. EXACTLY THE SAME SEATS AS WE HAD COMING TO CANADA. Result! This raises a question though. When I originally tried to reserve the seats these were not available either flying to or from Canada and yet we sat in them both legs. Am I stupid or is it just a huge con to reserve your seats? As it turns out, when I complained, I was told in future not to pay and to contact the special assistance group at BA and they will reserve our seats for free because we need to be near to the toilet and the entry/exit point.

British Airways’ Club World flight home was a bit sad. The plane was old. The screen was about 6 inch square and looked less than SD. Compare that to many airlines huge screens  and other facilities as you can see why it has a less than stellar reputation. The reason we keep using them is the staff. They are, without fail, excellent. Every time we’ve flown. We love them dearly and will continue to book with BA because of it.

Home now. Jet lagged, Tired one minute, Wide awake the next.

Where shall we go next time?


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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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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.

 


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Au revoir Whistler, Bonjour Vancouver

The main route between Vancouver and Whistler is called the Sea to Sky Highway and it’s easy to see why. After a short drive you can see the water while at the same time huge mountains surround you. We made several stops and as Amanda was driving I was quite demanding. “Stop”… “Quick, pullover” and she was quite obliging which I’ll probably pay for at some point.

It seemed really strange to suddenly be in amongst heavy traffic as we came into Vancouver. We’d gotten so used to driving on almost empty roads over the past week, sometimes not seeing another vehicle for almost two hours, the difference  was incredible. We had a delay crossing the Lions Gate Bridge but that just gave us chance to enjoy the view of the city and the crossing into Stanley Park. It was a bit difficult for the tourists navigating through the city traffic but we got there and first impressions of the Fairmont Pacific Rim was very good. Very new, modern and ‘trendy’ without seeming unfriendly. The electronic keys are just touched to the readers to open the doors and inside everything can be controlled by the iPad in the room. Curtains, temperature, lights all touch controlled, not to mention being able to place reservations for dinner, call your car from the valet parking, order a newspaper, just about everything. Tech lovers dream. Oh oh oh…and the tv has a great sound bar giving excellent surround sound to go with the 42″ screen, oh and the bathroom has a magic mirror that has a tv built into it. OMG I could seriously live in this room. Nespresso machine, a desk with multiple chargers built in so charge my MacBook, iPhone, iPad etc, even the lights have mood settings so you can set it for ‘welcome’ when you come back in the evening, or ‘relax’. Brilliant.

Once we’d checked in and Amanda prised me away from all the electronic toys in the room, we went for a stroll along the harbour. I know some people already know this about me, and I’m sorry that the majority of people feel differently but I really hate the hot weather. HATE IT. I want to stay indoors with air conditioning and shade. I don’t want to sweat it out with all the other sweaty people pretending to enjoy it while saying ‘wow it’s hot today’ and taking all the shady spots which SHOULD BE MINE. If you love the summer, sod off and sit in the sun and leave the shady places for pale skinned, ex gingers who detest the scorching cancer causing radiation. There, rant over. I took some nice photos though and the city looks stunning from this viewpoint.

The digital Orca Pano of the harbour front Coal HarbourWe also saw a really cute mother and baby harbour seal swimming. The pup seemed to be just enjoying itself and the mum just keeping a close eye on her baby.

Mum & baby seal

 

I also lost my glasses….. I thought I gave them to Amanda but when we got back to the hotel they weren’t in her bag and all I had were my sunglasses. Thankfully I had a spare pair which I put on and raced back to where we’d been walking, just hoping….

Thankfully, someone had found them, opened the case (hoping to find expensive sunglasses I assume) and realising that they were prescription glasses for some blind man put them on the wall where I retrieved them, happily.

Tonight we’re eating in the hotel (reservation booked on the iPad, yay).

 


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Day 1 Recap – ‘And it almost went without a hitch’

I book things in advance, people know this. I do it to make sure I don’t forget things. Therefore when someone calls at my door with a car that’s really too small to accommodate 2 passengers, 2 (not huge) cases, 2 pieces of hand luggage and a wheelchair AFTER booking it well in advance, then I’m a little peeved.  He’s convinced he wasn’t told but I have the email (haha). Anyway we managed somehow to fit it all in and we got to Heathrow.

We sped through security, got duty-free (a bit too much by the look of things but we got away with that) and after a coffee we arrived at the gate and then we’re in the air and on the way. Lovely….hmmm. When we dropped our bags off the very nice gentleman put a tag on Amanda’s wheelchair and assured us that we could take it to the door of the aircraft where it would be taken from us, placed in hold number 5 and when we got to Vancouver it would be waiting for us at the aircraft door. What fantastic service. Well… when we arrived in Vancouver we were told, after waiting for about 20 mins and by now the only passengers on the aircraft, that the ground crew had given her wheelchair to another passenger because she’d asked for wheelchair assistance. Someone ran after her and after about 25 mins it appeared with the story that they never REALLY gave it away, no of course not, it was hidden in the hold and it was particularly difficult to remove. The plus point was the BA cabin crew who refused to disembark and made sure we stayed on the plane  which forced the ground crew to sort the mess as quickly as possible.

Two wheelchair dramas in one day, not bad eh?

We had problems finding the car rental desk, it’s not well signposted in the airport but were very happy when we finally saw our transport for the next two weeks.

Our Jeep

Our Jeep

 

Amanda drove the first leg as I’d never driven on the wrong side of the road (intentionally) before and did a great job. We had a minor issue with our sat nav but I got that fixed and we got to the ferry terminal in plenty of time to catch the 5pm sailing.

By now we were seriously flagging, both scared to calculate how long we’d been up, but once on Vancouver Island it was a 30 min drive to the hotel. Canadian traffic signals gave us a minor heart attack a few times. I made the mistake of assuming that traffic lights are the same wherever you go, a  universal method. Red=stop, amber=prepare to stop/prepare to go and green=put your foot down. Here we have flashing red, flashing amber and flashing green. Not flashing like ours meaning things are about to change, just flashing…continously. I had to look them up when we got to the hotel and hopefully we won’t kill someone/get booked/hold up the locals in the future.

The hotel was exactly as we remembered it, peaceful and lovely. I booked so far in advance that the price had come down so I got a $30 a night reduction and they were having problems with our fireplace (who needs a fire this time of year?) and the safe so offered us free breakfasts during our stay too. I reckon that’s about CAD$100 we saved on this stay…(happy face).

Our room at the Brentwood Bay

Our room at the Brentwood Bay

 

The dysfunctional fireplace that got us free breakfasts

The dysfunctional fireplace that got us free breakfasts

 

Our balcony view

Our balcony view

 

Today is a relax/get over jet lag/learn how to use the car/sort out luggage day. Amanda will probably go swimming and I will probably drink beer. Happy holidays