Monthly Archives: August 2017
Our last day in Banff sees us head off in the orange Jeep along some of the short drives around the town’s environs and then along the Bow River Parkway towards Lake Louise. The weather has been excellent if not a little hot, getting up in the high twenties, and the winds have been as such to blow the smoke away for us. So the skies have been pretty clear with a faint haze of smoke when the sun gets a bit low in the sky.
Our first stop was at the Vermilion Lakes. These are not the same type of lake as Lake Louise , but are actually wet lands with marshy areas around them and they are relatively shallow. There is supposed to be lots of bird life here and we saw some Canada Goose strutting around in the marshy places and lots of ducks digging in the mud near the edge. Bears are also supposed to like this place. The only bears we have seen though are the stuffed ones in the shops.
Lake Minnewanka is at the other end of Banff and seems to be the place where the locals go for their time off. There is a café here, canoes to hire and also the much publicized Boat Cruise on the Lake. It is quite a large body of dammed water with what appears to be a small hydro power plant. We encountered a mob of deer on the side of the road, seemed to be mum deer with a number of relatively new-born hanging nearby. They got a bit skittish if you got too close, apparently they will have a run at you if they feel threatened.
The Bow Valley Parkway is the old road that linked Banff with Lake Louise until the Trans Canada Highway was built. The two roads run alongside each other on opposite sides of the Bow River. Lower down beside the river runs the railway line on which we travelled in the Rocky Mountaineer, no wonder the scenery was looking a bit familiar! At least though we could stop here and there for a good look!
Spent a little time at Johnston Canyon, this is an old tourist spot dating from early 1900s. We set out along the pathway leading to the lower falls, however Homealone pulled out of the walk when it continued along a walkway attached to the side of the canyon. Allthego continued and found there were a further two such suspended walkways before reaching the falls. A good view was had of these by going through a narrow tunnel for a few metres to a small viewing area. The only problem was there was a queue to do this, made up of a lot of selfie takers at the other end. An endless wait of self indulgence! Now if you think Allthego has a problem here then you are right! One or two selfies is fine, but there has to be a limit……………or does there?
We left the Parkway at Castle Mountain and went down the road towards Kootenay National Park. Down this way there is a spot that marks the Continental Divide, there are a number of these markers down through the Rockies and their importance rests in dividing British Columbia from Alberta. On the western side water flows to the Pacific and on the eastern side towards the sea to the north of Canada and the Atlantic.
There is a drop loo just on the British Columbia side and Allthego thought he would contribute to the Pacific flow, there was no such facility on the Alberta side. The road down here also ran in places beside the Vermilion River, a glacial fed shallow milky green stream racing across a rocky bottom.
We returned to Banff along the Trans Canada Highway, a speed way compared to the Bow Valley Parkway. We now head for Lake Louise.
Our lodgings at the High Country Inn are a welcome spot after the decamp from the train journey. It is a quiet place on Banff Ave, the main drag through the township. Not far from all the action. This action was mostly eating and drinking establishments, souvenir shops of varying quality and content, arty places and more accommodation.
There were a lot of happy tourists around. In what appeared to be descending order of numbers these comprised Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Indians (from the subcontinent) and the ROW (including quite a few Australians, many of who are bar and restaurant workers). This assortment meant that it was a real battle to get a good picture because of all the selfies that were being taken. All wandering around like sheep grinning at themselves in I Phones etc, quite frustrating at times. Allthego even offered from time to time to take group shots, always gratefully accepted, to try to clear the scene. Now the odd thing was there were not a lot of conspicuous Chinese, Korean or Indian restaurants around. There was a bit of sushi. Not sure what they all made of the burgers and the Italian places which are all over the place.
Anyway the main reason to be in Banff National Park at this time of the year is to look at the mountains and wander around the parks and sit by the streams. The snow has mostly gone, there are some little pockets high up and numerous small glaciers in the high peaks. Many of these glaciers have shrunk in size over the last 100 years or so and some are remnants of past glories 10,000 years back.
We have done or usual town walk, looking at the buildings, nosing around some of the shops and checking out the parks. A little bit of food has been consumed, mostly Italian. Although we both indulged in an open burger, Allthgo’s burger was adorned with Swiss mushrooms, Homealone passed on these. The Italian place had a bread BBQ, you made your own toast on the BBQ with a choice of topping. Both of us had garlic butter which just soaked into the toast as it was cooking, rather tasty indeed!
In these first couple of days our main activity was the 7 km return wander down the Bow River to see the Bow Falls. This was where the afore-mentioned selfie takers really cut loose. Well worth the effort to get there with the Falls going strong.
We have also picked up the rental car to enable us get further around the Park and ultimately up to Jasper via Lake Louise. Our first port of call was the Banff Gondola which takes one in a 4 berth car to the top of Sulphur Mountain. This takes about 8 minutes, a climb of 2,292 ft (698 m) and to a height of 7,486 ft (2,281m), a little higher than Mt Kosiusko. It was a very smooth trip, Homealone though saw very little. Some great views from the top.
Our next excursion takes us out along the Bow River Valley towards Lake Louise, but more on that next time.
The blog has been off the air for a little while due to computer problems. Allthego’s trusty old PC breathed its last in Victoria and a replacement needed to be arranged. It’s loaded with Windows 10 and so some new tricks have had to be learned, also a bit short on storage so blog production has been frustrated, until now. We are back on air!
A note of warning now, Allthego is going to scatter pictures through this post that may not relate to the surrounding text. This is because there were a lot of pictures taken. Unfortunately a lot turned out unusable, because the train was moving and rocking along and we were shooting through glass windows with lots of reflection at times. Had opportunities from time to time to go to an open air area to snap away, so the outcome of those ones was better.
We returned from Vancouver the same way we went over, BC Ferries. A pleasant trip across the strait, weaving between the islands. Highlight was the sighting of 2 small whales flapping their tails. The sailing was delayed about an hour and we got back rather late to the hotel. This was a pity because it was the Fairmount Vancouver, a rather flash place (all part of the Rocky Mountaineer booking). Various famous types have stayed here over the years. The location was also somewhat superior to our previous digs in Granville Street. We didn’t see much of the room, back from a late dinner at around 11pm and then up the next morning at 5 am to join the tour group heading off to the train station.
Now this early morning process was an interesting study in human behaviour. Basically there were two groups of people involved. Those that had registered the night before and a smaller group like us who hadn’t. Registered people had got their special bag tags, we had to get ours. Allthego had this all under control and we got our tags, attached to the bags and then onto the bus. A few souls didn’t worry about getting tags and just got on the bus, no tags and no bags. Americans. A few grumbles here and there about having to get off and do it properly. Finally, we were off.
The train boarded at 8 am and we were bag piped off. All 785 of us plus staff, 22 carriages with two diesel locomotives to drag us along (on the second day this was to become 3 as we climbed the Rockies). A highlight of the morning was viewing the eclipse (through some special glasses of course) through the top of our glass dome carriage. Some friendly Americans shared these around. The train tracked the Fraser River Valley out of Vancouver up into the coastal mountains and then along its rugged canyon.
After lunch we left the Fraser River and followed the Thompson River into Kamloops. This was our overnight stop. All 785 decamped the train and were bussed off to various hotels for the night. We had a little wander around the town and along the river bank as the sun set. After eating and drinking for much of the way dinner was not required.
Off to bed early, as it was another 5 am start. The second day saw us beginning the climb up into the Rockies following a network of 7 rivers. The agricultural landscape soon gave way to the forests and towering peaks. This was an amazing part of the journey.
The original construction of this railway in the late 1800s and early 1900s was quite a task, monumental human and engineering effort. Some breathtaking cliff line runs and bridges to traverse. Two lengthy spiral tunnels in opposing mountains were quite impressive engineering feats to get the train tracks up a steep grade.
After this it was the run into Lake Louise and then a short time later Banff, arriving at around 7.30 pm. It had been an enthralling long two days on the tracks and in the mountains, bed was very welcome.
We are now in Victoria. Not Victoria in Australia. But Victoria on Vancouver Island. Allthgo has taken along his Victoria (Australia) base ball cap with ‘Portsea’ emblazoned on it. It caused a waitress some confusion when Allthego showed it to her and asked if she knew where ‘Portsea’ was. We had quite a chat on the merits of the two Victorias.
It had taken us about 1.5 hours on the ferry, after an hour on a bus getting to the ferry terminal in Vancouver and then 40 minutes from the Vancouver Island terminal down to Victoria. Victoria is the capital of British Columbia. We are in a hotel overlooking the inner harbour with the huge old Empress Hotel in the background. Down the street from us is Parliament House, another classic old building. It is a very pretty place, green lawns abound and light poles are adorned with flower baskets in full bloom.
We have arrived late in the afternoon and set off on a short walk up Beacon Hill, a rambling 1oo acre public park that over looks the harbour. On the other side is the outer harbour where the cruise ships tie up. Along the way we stop for a refreshment at The Bent Mast, a quaint suburban ale house with a nautical theme. Further along we call in at Fisherman’s Wharf for a fish n chip dinner. It’s then back to the hotel for sleep time.
One of the key attractions near Victoria is Butchart Gardens, a labour of love for many years by the Butchart family. Portland cement barons and property developers from the late 1800s. Jenny Butchart turned the old limestone quarry into an enormous area of themed gardens. It was in full summer bloom, quite an amazing achievement and well worth a visit. The guide sheet says to allow an hour and half to get around. We took 3 hours. With an hours travelling time either way it makes for a full day.
We are here over a weekend and Victoria is throwing a dragon boat racing festival. Teams come from all over Canada as well as from the USA. The racing takes place on the inner harbour and there are male and female teams of all age groups. 4 canoes race with 20 paddlers each, quite a spectacle as they charge down the harbour to the finish line. The weather has been kind to us too, normally cloudy in the morning but fining up to clear blue skies in the afternoon. Sun doesn’t set till around 8.30 so we have long balmy evenings to recover from the days activity.
After 3 nights in Victoria we have returned on the ferry to Vancouver and tomorrow will set off for Banff aboard the Rocky Mountaineer. At the Museum in Victoria we saw an IMAX film documentary on the building of the railway and are greatly looking forward to the trip, hoping that the fires that have been burning for weeks now in the Rockies have abated and the smoke cleared. We will see.
Stanley Park beckons and we are off for a stroll. But first we head to the waterfront to go up to the lookout atop the Harbour Centre. It’s 170 m up and was opened by astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1977. It’s getting a bit long in the tooth but the views are still great. 360 d views of the city skyline and harbour.
We have finally come to grips with the bus network, and their Compass ticket system. It’s not that it’s hard to understand, you just feel under pressure working out where you want to go and get the cash/card in the slot before you are timed out and have to start again. This is particularly the case when Homealone thinks that it should be done differently to what Allthego thinks. You also have to dodge the rogues that want to help you at the kiosks and then claim a commission for so doing. We got caught, shouldn’t have, seen this one before, by one guy saying he needed a 50 c/ $1 piece for his fare, flashing a hand full of 5,10, and 25 c as if he wanted to swap change. He disappeared quickly as Homealone proffered the said 50 c piece!
After this encounter it was off on the bus to Stanley Park. Stanley Park is a big urban park that juts out into the harbour and forms one shore line of The Narrows. This is the passageway out of Vancouver Harbour, under the Lion’s Bridge, into the open sea. It is a big park with many walking tracks through old growth forests that have never been logged. You could spend a lot of time here. We chose to focus on the tip and walked around the point, known as Brockton Point, with its lighthouse, the old gun that fires at 9 pm every night and the First Nations People Totem Poles.
Brockton Point is also the site of Vancouver’s cricket ground. Which is far more important! It has been here for a long time. More or less looks like a typical Australian suburban ground, but has a classic Pavilion which on one side overlooks the oval with a turf wicket (surrounded by a hedge of something) and on the other side the park ovals with artificial grass wickets. They also play Rugby here. Very picturesque, with the harbour in the background.
Around the corner is English Bay. This is a swimming beach, no surf. They have logs lined up in rows along the beach for sunbathers to lie up against. There were quite a few Vancouverites of all shapes and sizes lolling around on the sand enjoying the last rays of summer. Offshore there were ships awaiting passage through The Narrows. We indulged in a nice lunch at The Boatshed restaurant overlooking the action.
As we go further around English Bay we come to the Burrard Street Bridge. This is down harbour from the Granville Street Bridge, which we had crossed a couple of days back. We also had to go across the Burrard Bridge. Why? Well on the other is Vanier Park. This is the place where the annual ‘Bard on the Beach’ Shakespeare Festival is held. We had tickets to see ‘A Winters Tale’. It was an energetic performance, the chardonnay at intermission a bit expensive.
We were in a big tent and the backdrop of the stage was the inlet from English Bay that runs up to Granville Island, False Creek. It was a little odd hearing the play with Canadian accents! By the way it was a long walk across the bridge and was to be avoided on the way back. So we bused it back to our hotel. Easy! Arriving about midnight we polished off a pizza to fill the hole, having had no dinner!
If you think this was a long day it would have been, took us two actually! But we are a bit weary nonetheless.
After a ferry trip we are now in Victoria on Vancouver Island for a few nights.
As predicted we had a little rain during the night and, along with a the wind, it had cleared the skies of smoke. We can see the other side of Vancouver Harbour and the mountains to the north.
On the way up to the waterfront along Granville Street you cannot but help to pass by some of our overnight neighbours. It’s more than a bit sad that these people need to live on the street, some of them are quite spaced out. But we seem to be a 3 or 4 blocks short of the line that divides the upper and lower town, afeature of many of our big cities. After a short interlude at the Anglican Cathedral for a church visit we headed off to the waterfront to sign up for the ‘Flyover Canada Journey’. The first available ‘flight’ was 4 pm, quite a wait. So we had some lunch and a wander around, including a stop at the Old Steam House. This old establishment is now a craft brewery and restaurant complex. Allthego partook of a flight of 4 beers. It was a real flight 250 ml glasses and not the usual ‘splash and dash’ of other places.
4 pm arrived so it was back to the Flyover Canada Journey. Up a flight or two of steps and into a theatre type set up where you were strapped into your seats, rows of about 10 people. Lights out and the floor seems to drop away from you so that your feet come off the ground, maybe our seats are raised a bit. Hard to tell. The screen also seems to drop away so that you are looking down, it is a big curved screen of several stories. Homealone was feeling a bit average about all this and was trying to keep her eyes open as ‘whoosh’ and away we went. The show seemed to flow from east to west across the country. Zooming around Niagara Falls, bit of misty spray falling on us, up and over the east coast mountains and across the central plains and rivers. At times seemingly only metres above the ground but going like the wind. Finally up and over the Rockies, along canyons and rivers. Then down into Vancouver and along the coast. Quite a ride , the 20 minutes went very quickly. After some deep breaths it was up and out!
We headed off to Gastown. Gastown is another one of these old industrial commercial areas that have been ‘reclaimed by the people’. The old brick warehouses and offices, built in the late 1880s after Vancouver’s Great Fire of 1886, have been refurbished to house modern-day retailers, art galleries, cafes and restaurants. There were a couple of cruise ships in the port so there were people everywhere.
It was dinner time and the Flying Pig called us in for some of their offerings. There was more than pig on the menu and they did have a Poutine side for your meal, the standard one as a base with pulled pork on top. We avoided this. Allthego had some fish and Homealone a veal.
We are now into our 4 th day and Allthego is heading off by himself to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park which is a 30 minute bus trip across the Bay to North Vancouver. Homealone had long decided this was not for her and after lunch she headed for the shops.
The Suspension Bridge has its origins back in the 1880s , when the first version was built 450 ft across the canyon from rope and wooden planks. It is 250 ft down. There were masses of people there, all wanting to go across. Allthego stood and observed for a while. There was a line going over and a line coming back, could have been a hundred or so going each way at times. The bridge was swinging around and some people looked a bit put out. One had frozen mid walk and more or less had to be dragged off by her partner. An elderly Chinaman just kept his head down and walked. Homealone would not have enjoyed this at all! About 4 pm the crowds had dispersed somewhat and Allthego crossed over, pausing from time to time to try to take some photos, but impossible to steady oneself. A couple of lads jumped up and down a few times which didn’t help either. On the other side there was a tree top canopy walk among the maples and big Douglas Fir trees. There were some other walks around the floor of the forest and along the edge of the canyon.
Back on the other side the attraction is a suspended walk way along the canyon wall. This is a one way trip, but again there people lined up for the experience. The walk way is quite stable with some good viewpoints.
Allthego managed to complete all the ‘experiences’ in the Park and had his ‘passport’ appropriately stamped. This entitled to him to a ‘I Made It’ certificate. What an afternoon!
Allthego made it back to the hotel just on 7 pm, the appointed hour that had been agreed with Homealone and after which she was to send out a search party. She was suspicious that Allthego had loitered in a bar nearby so as to just make it in the door at 7 pm. This was not the case, just good timing!
We have landed in Vancouver, it was early, a little after 7 am and most places were still shut. Like the US nothing much seems to open till 10 am. Found our way into town on the train and then walked to the hotel. It was about half a dozen blocks down Granville Street, more or less in the centre of the city area, but heading away from the more ‘with it’ area of the waterfront. We seem to be in the night club type area with what might be the odd one or two ‘speakeasies’ and like establishments as neighbours. All good though, hotel is comfortable. It seems to have been recently renovated, probably for the 4 th time in its history!
We were surprised by the amount of smoke in the air from the wild fires that have been burning up in the mountains for some weeks. It has been a very dry summer. Couldn’t see the mountains across the harbour it was so thick. Rain is forecast and the wind is to pick up in the next day or so and the locals are expecting things to clear up.
We were not able to check in until 4 in the afternoon. Should have expected this of course. Despite being a bit worn out and fragile after the flight we left our bags and set off for the Hop on Hop off bus around town. There are two routes, red takes you around the city sights and the green out to Stanley Park. Hour and half each without getting off, except for a lunch break in between. The driver was full of information/jokes as usual, some of which has subsequently proved inaccurate, confused the Anglican Cathedral with the Catholics; as well as the age of the church. But hey who cares, on the buses you take it as it comes. Allthego got a bit sleepy as the afternoon dragged on and had a short snooze through parts of Stanley Park. Returned to the hotel and after an early dinner it was off to bed and didn’t stir until 10 the next morning.
Granville Island was the destination in the morning. The route took us on foot over the Granville Road Bridge. This is a fairly high bridge, initially over roadways and between and around high-rise apartments and then over an arm of the harbour. Homealone not entirely comfortable crossing over the harbour part with cars whipping along beside us. Some great photos from up here though.
Granville Island is an old industrial area that has undergone one of those urban renewal projects. The old factories and warehouses have been renovated and now house trendy shops and abodes for the arty types to inhabit and contribute to society and the greater good. There is quite a large food hall full of fresh produce, meats , cheeses etc and fast food outlets. We had breakfast rather late before leaving the hotel so we were not in the hunt for anything substantial. Allthego spotted an outlet selling Poutine. He had read about this delicacy and was keen to try it early in the trip in case of missing out. Hot fat chips covered in gravy and some sticky type cheese. This is the traditional offering, more elaborate versions are available eg some are topped off with pulled pork. A fellow diner pointed out that Poutine actually originated from Quebec and was an ‘import’ out here in the west. A french gift if you like. We are not rushing back for more Poutine, beware of the French (as well as the Greeks) bearing gifts.
We stopped in our wanderings around the markets at the local Liberty Distillery, makers of ‘hand crafted’ vodka, whisky and gin. Our purpose was to sample some of the offerings and to rest the legs. Rather pleasant drop these Canadian rye whiskies.
The evening saw us settle down to watch a free open air stage performance of Romeo & Juliet. We had stumbled over this in our meanderings around Granville. It was put on by the Carousel Theatre for Young People, a summer holiday break program for aspiring young actors (13-18). They work for over a month all day and into the night rehearsing and being coached by a team of professionals. It is the 27 th year of the program which focuses on Shakespeare’s plays. It was very entertaining and energetic performance. About 200 people watched. Next year they are doing A Mid Summer Nights Dream.
We headed back to the hotel around 10 pm, after some fish n chips, in a small ferry across the harbour. A long day!
Well here we are sitting in the departure lounge awaiting boarding on our Air Canada flight to Vancouver. Usual group of characters around us, a plane load of our inscrutuable northern friends has just left for home. Much quieter now. Arrived in plenty of time, no hassles in getting through departure procedures so Homealone is calm. A 14 hour flight ahead of us, so plenty of time on our hands. Will report in after arrival.