Early start for fast ferry to Liverpool but as we park up and climb the stairs, disaster strikes: inhalers have been left behind. Too late to return and get them so after a few text messages we go to Liverpool Boots, get their fax number and arrange for a very helpful GP in the IOM to fax a prescription through. It is not what you know but who you know. Two hours parking in Liverpool 1 costs £5.00!
Disaster two, get stuck at Runcorn Bridge and take over 30 minutes to travel a mile. Roadworks on The Bridge, condensing 5 lanes into 1 and only 3 workers visible all of whom were merely looking at the water below! Outrageous behaviour by the contractors.
Near disaster number 3. Accident on M40 just ahead and we all get stopped by police whilst they clear up the mess 7 or so cars in front. Looks like no one hurt although the same cannot be said for the crash barrier.
Get e-mails to work on I-pad but only after a call to MT during which I am introduced to Flic’s new man – Gary. A fellow thespian and rail enthusiast, I am liking him already especially as he has a model train set in his garden.
Dinner at Zizi’s Beaconsfield but it seems to react overnight.
I am writing this at half seven in the evening Vancouver time so half three in the morning UK time. Flight uneventful but queue to get through immigration was over an hour long and involved two overflow “pens” as well as the main area. Marriott hotel good after C$40 taxi ride in Electric Prius car. No lack of acceleration, breaking power and mpg well over 50.
Went for walk to river and saw sea planes take off and land. C$185 for a single to Victoria island is expensive so we will probably go for a sightseeing trip instead. You just have to do it as there may not be another chance to do a sea plane trip.
First impressions of Vancouver are that it’s clean and environmentally friendly with many hybrid cars around and even a re-cycling bin in our hotel room. However, what I was not expecting was the vast number of high rise offices. Quite a business centre.
Weather exceptionally good and no clouds with 25 degrees at max.
Not so early morning despite time difference. Buy a ticket on the hop on hop off trolley bus but NOT impressed. It arrives 20 minutes late with no explanation and is so crowded at you really daren’t get off as you might not get back on again. Walked through Gastown to see the steam clock – Jersey has the only other one. Like Gas town.
Afternoon back on trolley around Stanley Park where trolley could not pick up passengers as he was full even though potential passengers could not get on the previous trolley 30 minutes earlier so were not at all impressed.
More evening walks along sea front and Canada Centre where a musical instrument set into the walkway was popular. Still no clouds and mid 20’s temperatures.
A long day today with tour to Victoria ( Vancouver Island ) picking us up at 7:05 promptly. Tour bus goes on 95 minute ferry crossing ( our 5th ferry this month! ) with plenty to see and we get to Victoria at about 11am.
Another clean city but no high risers this time. Get told off for taking a photo of a Christmas tree in a Christmas shop!
Funny little water taxis buzz around the harbour interrupted by the occasional sea plane and the Seattle ferry. Trees outside the Empress look like overgrown Afgan Hounds!
Now, visiting a garden is not high on my to do list although I like gardening, but these are startlingly spectacular especially the sunken gardens and dancing water fountains. Well worth a couple of hours especially in yet another cloudless sky.
Ferry back leaves on time which is amazing seeing as turnaround time was about 25 minutes. Safety announcements were only made after about 15 mins into the journey though. The passage between Mayne and Galiano Islands is to be seen as the ferry the other way passes at the same time. Quite a feet of seamanship.
One of our 20 fellow passengers on his day off was a young lad who plays Frankie Valley in Jersey Boys that is touring N America at the moment – Nick Cosgrove, just a shame we were not able to go and watch him. He had brought along his parents as he, like us, was taken in by Vancouver.
A walk again by Harbour and then take transit to airport (C$3.75 each which is considerably cheaper than a taxi) to pick up hire car. Surprise, surprise, the car person had even seen TT highlights.
Crossing the border from Canada to the USA by land at the Peace Bridge in thick fog took over an hour from first queue on the road to final exit from the secondary area we had to go to as we were not Canadians nor had a long term visa. The immigration guy was obviously of the old school who missed out at the charm school.
Overnight in Bellingham (WA) and some shopping although we were not impressed particularly with the area.
Back to Canada at Abbotsford crossing which is more eastwards and away from the sea mist that had crept in. Snow capped Mount Baker in USA barely visible as a result. Crossing much more friendly and only took about 5 minutes.
Drive to Kamloops straightforward but boring. Stopped in Hope on the way and whilst the residents like it they probably hope it will improve – it didn’t impress. Next stop was Merritt which had a bit more character including an old hotel which whilst having seen better days was obviously a grand building in its day. Too hot to walk around too long.
Kamloops is big but two nights here is more than one night too many. Nice meal though at The White Spot with a 3 dish dessert sampler big enough for the two of us to share.
On to Valemount and whilst the route was interesting it wasn’t spectacular.
Here comes the impulse buy – a river safari en route to Valemount at Blue River was well advertised by the side of the road – fantastic – and we saw two bears close up and personal by the lake. One male & one female which is unusual, both stocking up for their winter hibernation. Sadly, photos not good but a couple of videos on facebook. Small child in front of us has interrupted the videos but you will get the general idea. The child’s parents, German, were keen Mark Cavendish fans!
Overnight at the Ramada which wasn’t the best choice but we had paid in advance: probably the Best Western would have been a better choice. No mugs provided for hot drinks, only cold ones!
Avoided the receptionist’s dinner recommendation as he clearly hadn’t a clue on many things prefering the games consule his friend had. Found the Caribou Grill which was an excellent choice with all tables taken at one point and fantastic bread, good food and cheerful staff (It’s in town near the railway crossing).
Breakfast finishes at an unheard of 9am – on a Sunday as well – and whilst it was adequate it was nothing to write home about, especially the very plasticy plates and cutlery. Walk to Cranberry Marsh but no ducks on view today. Tourist info lady suggests Rearguard falls just after the 16 & 5 junction towards Jasper is good to go to.
This is the furthest upstream the salmon come for their spurning but that was last month so it is only water to see here. I am guessing but in the spawning season this place would be very crowded which is probably why the parking is only for 20 minutes max.
Jasper and Banff combined Park entrance fee is nearly $20 per day so a 6 day pass was a cost I had not bargained for but if you compare it with some other parks and attractions I suppose it is not too bad.
Lots more stops on way to Jasper including underneath Mount Robson, Canada’s tallest mountain which had plenty of snow – now seen snow in June, July and September – and its snow picture of Bob Marley (or some other ageing rock star). Then on to Mouse lake and yellow head lake.
A freight train trundled by with 165 rail trailers which could have taken 200 or so trucks off the road and took nearly 3 minutes to pass. (I know because I filmed it just to see!)
Lots of colour changing trees but no Maple’s turning red. Fairmont lodge tonight which is in a delightful Lakeside setting and whilst our cabin has no lake view it is nearby. Downside is that internet access is C$14.25 per 24 hours and we are pensioners you know. Talk with a shop assistant who is from Cambridge (UK) and has not found it too difficult to get a job here. She says you get blasé over the sight of wildlife, we shall see.
Walk to lake before dinner and see a female Elk sitting by the path – it just ignored us.
Fall has arrived so the TV says but you couldn’t tell as it is still wall to wall sunshine although a bit cold as we walk around the hotel’s lake which takes about double the time the hotel staff told us. Many birds and squirrels but no bears or elks. Beautiful clear and still water but no evidence of fish. We do see what could have been a baby squirrel but it had different markings so will need to research when I get Internet access.
The girl at the canoe desk spent two years as an au pair in St Albans and Radlett – my growing up area! She was amazed at the house prices there, quoting some over £5m.
After a rest, off to Jasper which has character although there is not a lot there. Lunch at a local cafe opposite station and the long goods trains passing through. A passenger train to Vancouver? That will be 3 times a week sir! Manage to extract cash from station’s ATM as in town one didn’t like card.
They call cable cars, Tramways, here so a visit to The Whistlers via the Tramway is a good call as there is threatened to be a break in the weather tomorrow. Saw a bear and it’s cub just above the tree line on way up but not visible on way down. Good views of Jasper and the surrounding area and many people walking higher up to the peaks above.
The blue river, Athabasca, which flows out to the arctic sea and takes about two years to achieve this seems to meander by slowly but we are over 7000ft up so everything looks small, even 160+ wagons on a train.
Local supper bought in supermarket as eating out too expensive in Hotel for every night then on to Lakes Patricia and Pyramid although these are quiet. Some nice houses near Patricia though which could be rented, possibly. Return too late to take a canoe out on lake so maybe it will have to be tomorrow.
No blue sky! What is this wet stuff falling from sky? Me thinks that canoeing would not be good now – that will have to wait until another visit. Our first day of cloud and rain so a morning in Jasper at a coffee shop catching up on e-mails whilst rain clears. Another shop revealed scrumptious fudge which just had to be bought and somewhat surprisingly, lasted another 6 days! (We were only going in for bear bells for Harry as well; another impulse buy)
Off to Maligne lake with Spirit Island, a delightful place that has changed little since Mary Schaffer found it in 1908. Millions upon millions of fir trees line the valleys up to the lake on what must be the worlds longest cul de sac – 25or so km, so how did she know in 1908 that there was something there? The route is interspersed with patches of larch trees with their bright yellow leaves ready to fall.
The boat trip is a little spoilt with the shoutings of a Chinese tour party who understand little English and had absolutely no intention of letting anyone else listen to the very informative guide, preferring to talk amongst themselves at length for the whole duration of the trip causing even the tour guide to suggest that perhaps we could leave them behind at the stop off point! Briefly stop off at the Maligne Canyon where the water has cut a gorge through the rock that is barely visible but definitely audible.
On way back to Jasper, cars and trucks stopped on the side of Highway 6 can only mean one thing, wildlife.
The Elk we had glimpsed by the River on the way from the hotel this morning were up from the river and having their photos taken so it seemed rude not to join in the fun. Better still though was that by the hotel perimeter entrance more cars but this time a male stag although he was not overly co-operative on the photo front.
Leave Jasper, ignoring stomach complaints about missing out on the wonderful munching food in the cafe in town and off to the Banff area via what one website has called one of the most beautiful drives in the world, the ice parkway. It certainly does live up to it’s name for about a third of the way along we get to the glacier rides, a very slick operation to allow you 20 or so minutes on the glacier. Manage to get on the same bus as the same Chinese tourists as yesterday, though they are quieter this time.
By the time we are on the ice, the clouds have lifted which restricts the ability to photograph some of the surrounding peaks but that did not detract from the experience of travelling in a vehicle with 10 5ft high tyres down and the up a ramp that is at 26 degrees. Bizarre dance in a circle performed on the ice by a group of Asians.
One of the facts relayed is that the Columbia Icefield mountainous area has water flows off it that reach the Arctic sea, the Pacific ocean and even the Atlantic ocean via the prairies and the great lakes – amazing but how long would that take?
Next stop (apart from a gas stop – beware, it is 50% more expensive in the middle of the Parkway) is Lake Louise. Very overrun with tourists but idyllic all the same.
Walk through the adjacent hotel where you could have stayed for over £240 per night without food! We had taken Trip advisor’s comments on board and given staying there a miss instead going on to Canmore, about 20km out of Banff towards Calgary. This proved a good choice if you don’t want the crowds but want some atmosphere.
So many cyclists on the cycle tracks between Canmore and Banff, obviously a popular past time here.
Dinner in a Mexican restaurant frequented by locals hits the mark for food tonight.
Yet another cloudless sky, the only blemish being a few high vapour trails. A walk around Canmore confirmed last night’s first impressions that this is a bustling little up market town where locals meet. Bought strawberries from local farmer’s market for desert and found a shop with ever so scrumptious Cinnamon buns! I know I shouldn’t but I did!
Back to Hotel for a Skype session with Sarah, Ali and Harry. Managed to show them the mountains from the window which made them somewhat envious. Harry never stopped moving around and can now crawl from living room to kitchen. A good 20 minutes well spent.
We had bought a package at the ice field which included the icefield experience, a Banff lake ride (really Lake Minnewanka, but I suspect that this original name has fallen out of use recently, can’t think why!) and the Banff gondola ride – actually a cable car, for just under C$100 pp which is good value.
So, off for another lake ride only this time without noisy Chinese. Decide to sit outside on the boat but whilst we had better views, the engine noise obliterated a lot of the commentary. At end of lake there are no mountains as this is the end of the Rockies with next stop Calgary but we may not get there this time. Manage to see a Bald Eagle but little else on the wildlife front.
Manage a walk afterwards to a bridge over a river upon which was used by Marilyn Monroe in a 1950s film.
Drive into Banff which is full of tourists and on to the Bow falls just outside, not as spectacular as Godofass in Iceland or Niagra but beggars can’t be choosers.
Another cloudless sky, a recurrent theme you may think and you’d be right!. Up to Banff and the Gondola otherwise known as a chair lift but not overly impressed, too many trees, not enough variety of views. Back down, no wildlife seen this time, giving the sulphur baths a miss and walked through Banff, a touristy place a bit upmarket than Jasper but with lots of locals there as well including many school kids in their sportsgear.
Drive up to Tunnel mountain (so called as the Canadian Pacific Railway wanted to drill a tunnel through it to get to the other side but ultimately found a way round, the name stuck though and there is no tunnel) and the Hoodoos before driving on past Canmore to see the end of the Rockies and then up to Silvertip golf club, the fabulous houses in the area and the deer grazing on the way down to the hotel we stayed in (Holiday inn). The italian restaurant in town was again a good choice.
Departure relatively early to leave the Eastern Rockies behind on our way back towards Vancouver. Drive not as spectacular as others until we get to Sicamous and turn off Highway 1 onto the 97a towards Kelowna. Wouldn’t have been averse to stopping in Revelstoke for the railway museum but our arrival in the town co-incided with a goods train just arriving and blocking the crossing so that is on the list for next time as well. A delightfully pleasant drive past Mara lake which would be a good place for a “houseboat” stay.
Pass a mountain goat and what could have been a Jackall through the wine region of BC. Kelowna is somewhat larger than I expected with an international airport but we slowly pass through the volume of traffic to West Kelowna to overnight in W Kelowna. Nearly get hit by another car as I try to avoid a cable holder in the middle of the road but do get an upgrade at the hotel to a large room with a jacuzzi bath at check-in which is good.
On checkout get talking to two bikers from Calgary who are keen to come over to the IoM for the TT and had seen Closer to the Edge. Discover by chance that the Whistler Peak to Peak gondola is not open tomorrow so set off for our 5 hour drive in an attempt to reach Whistler in time for the gondola ride today. A long climb up the 97C and then through Merritt 10 days after last time but the best was to come. Route 8 to Spences Bridge was a lovely drive that would be heaving with weekend traffic if it were in the uk but here was virtually deserted. Nearly run over a stray dog whilst overtaking a car but manage to brake in time.
Briefly travel down valley on Highway 1 in valley with a railway line each side. Five long (100 + trailers each ) goods trains seen in 15 minutes before an even more spectacular drive up Highway 12 and down Highway 99, even more spectacular than Highway 8.
Manage to get tickets for the Peak to Peak gondola with about an hour to spare and it proved to be well worth the chase. The ride crosses a valley about 4km wide and was opened in 2009 which has an unsupported span of 1.88 miles (yes miles!). An amazing experience and am so glad we were able to experience it.
Dinner in town (old spaghetti house) and overnight in the Fairmont. Disappointed that when we booked there was no mention at all of the swimming pool being partially closed. Access only via two flights of stairs – not acceptable and we told them so.
Whistler is like a ghost town today, no wonder the peak to peak is not running. Spend morning around town in the shops but there is nothing else worth viewing – this is clearly a town preparing for the winter skiiers. Trees are now only just beginning to turn red here but they are in the early stages and overcast weather precludes any decent photos (only our 2nd day of badish weather).
We have now seen snow in June, July, September and October, probably now just need April, May and June to make a full set! Cold start and a somewhat hurried return to drop the car off so don’t get time to stop and admire views although do manage to see a bit of the islands north of Vancouver. Pass a convoy of police protecting a VIP although who knows was in the protected car.
Route takes us through the centre of Vancouver and on to the airport. Take transit back to hotel although for some reason fare into town more than fare out of town and a bit of shopping (ladies shorts for C$5.01 in a Sears closing sale!). Dinner in Steamworks and watched film on TV about a firm that clears stranded trucks in the snow on the roads we have just been on – glad we went in the summer!
Our last full day in Canada and it has come around all too quickly. But, what a day to finish with. A local bus ride to Granville Market, oh the smells and the size / quantity of the fruit.
$2.50 in coins each each way was good value for the journey but back for a 2pm stroll to the harbour and a short wait for a trip on a seaplane around the harbour and Vancouver. An absolutely stunning experience and brings a whole new meaning to the safety announcement phrase on airplanes, “in the event of landing on water”.
A day of not doing much in the morning, a trip by train to the station and a flight back to the UK. The end of a fantastic 18 days. We must go back.
Arrive at Heathrow after some sleep: handle of case broken in transit but Virgin staff do not tell me I have to claim in 7 days (added 10 days later!)
Next stop, Maidenhead for 40th and then Mikado and SE Asia.