Road Trip: Vancouver to Calgary

Days 9 to 15

The bad weather stuck around for another couple of days, but for the remainder of my families’ trip the sun shone!

Our first journey from Calgary took us back to Lake Louise and Banff.

Lake Louise is a must-stop for any tourist to western Canada. The colour of the water is not photo-edited on any of the pictures that you see of this magical place. It is a emerald to the naked eye as it is on any photographs you see on a Google search. While I didn’t manage to canoe on the lake at this visit, it is still on my to-do list. The setting of the lake between the valley of two distant mountains is postcard-like.

Named after the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria: Princess Louise Caroline Alberta; Lake Louise is not only sided by two mountains, but the two mountains frame the Victoria glacier in the distance at the opposite end of the lake to the Chateau. Around the  lake are a number of hiking trails, one of the most popular is beside the edge of the lake that will take you to the far end where it is not unusual to see bears (as we did) and rock climbers.

If you visit Lake Louise, then you are a thirty minute drive from Banff; the next stop on our tour. For those tourists that want every other store to be a gift store, then this is gift store heaven. This, I would say, is the only downside to Banff. A trip to Banff is really only complete if you’ve visited the Cave and Basin, taken a trip to the top of Sulphur Mountain, walked along the Bow River to Bow Falls and the Banff Springs Hotel and sampled one of the many excellent restaurant along Banff Avenue. This time it was French cuisine as Sylvia and I ate at Le Beaujolais: http://www.lebeaujolaisbanff.com. The view from the second level restaurant is one of the best restaurant views in Banff and the menu is vast and intriguing. There are two sides to this restaurant, the formal dining room and an adjoining bistro, although you are able to order from either menu on either side. It really is excellent food, well prepared, served by personable and knowledgeable staff.

Heading back east we also visited Bragg Creek, and the nearby Elbow Falls. These are both between thirty and forty minutes from Calgary and can be easily done as a day trip.

Bragg Creek is a small hamlet and has a small variety of antique and unique clothing stores. In a small outdoor mall is an ice cream store with around fifty different options and, by contrast, at the other end of the mall is an olde-tyme saloon. The parking lot to this mall is a common meeting place for those Harley Davidson enthusiasts before heading out on small and winding country road tours.

This visit to Elbow Falls, below, I found less impressive than on previous occasions. The first picture is one taken in late June (this last visit):

You’ll note that, unlike most Canadian rivers, lakes and water generally, the water seems to be a murky brown. It was. The snow melt, combined with recent rains appear to have dragged dirt and sediment into the rivers and lakes – although in this past week with 30C+ temperatures and no rain, the rivers are returning to normal. Above, as you’ll see, the falls are reduced to about 3m in height. I visited the falls at Easter in 2011 to a completely different view:

The falls are approximately 6m in height in April and, in my opinion, are move more impressive. Elbow Falls has a short 1km walking path and is an ideal place to take a picnic and spend a relaxing afternoon. There are a number of hiking routes around Elbow Falls that can be explored, although that didn’t feature on this latest trip. I would add that it is also a romantic spot to declare your love to a significant other!

The final excursion of my families two weeks in Canada was to Waterton Lakes National Park, above (top). This was my personal highlight of all of the travels my family and I experienced.

The first things I noticed about Waterton were how small the townsite is, and how many wild animals roam the streets with tourists…

…although tourists are given the appropriate warnings about wildlife:

There are also bears to be seen, as we managed to see on our first day in Waterton.

The first thing I would recommend doing is visiting tourist information, grabbing a few guides, and looking through them to plan your activities. Then walking to the Prince of Wales Hotel to view the stunning lake and mountains and start to get your bearings. If you only have a couple of days in Waterton this should be enough to fully explore the town, take part in one or two hikes and take a boat trip south, past the U.S. border to Goat Haunt, and eat a couple of good meals.

One of my favourite places to eat was Wieners of Waterton, a custom hot-dog shop that makes a mean Breakfast Dog: http://www.wienersofwaterton.com. Zum’s Eatery (no website) also hs the best fried chicken I have ever eaten. It is also ‘world famous’, according to the menu at least.

For our final day together before my family returned to England, we spent the day in Prince’s Island Park in Calgary to celebrate Canada Day. Perhaps the perfect ending to a trip to Canada: to celebrate it’s history, heritage and diversity.

Days 7 and 8

Me and a 44 Magnum. My first ever experience at a shooting range, and that was my gun. A good old Dirty Harry revolver. Yesterday didn’t work out as planned. We did leave Revelstoke and make Banff as expected. However, a good and reasonably priced hotel room was impossible to find, the rain was pouring and Banff just wasn’t appealing. We pushed through to Calgary, which was not a whole lot better, but at least it was a place to relax for the day and recharge for the rest of my families travels.

After visiting the Calgary Farmers’ Market we took a short stroll to The Shooting Edge. To everyone’s surprise this morning my sister and her friend, Nicola, announced that they wanted to go shooting. They knew that they had to try one new thing per day from here-on-out, and shooting was there thing! They both did brilliantly, and much fun was had. The results of my shots, you can see above!

Tonight is a home-cooked meal for the first time in over a week and tomorrow we are heading back to Banff to keep exploring…

Day 6

A perfect end to a travel day is watching the sun set slowly. With the wrong camera setting it can be frustrating to try and capture the moment. I felt about thirty minutes of frustration tonight, but finally got it right.

Today we slowly and steadily travelled from Kelowna to Revelstoke. It was a beautiful, 30+ degree day today and we found some Kelowna wetlands, home to red-winged blackbirds, carp (non-native), a blue heron, two turtles and host of other ducks .We swear we saw a beaver. I have one distant shot so perhaps one of you can volunteer to take a look and let me know if it was, in fact, a beaver. We can’t tell from the pictures I managed to get.

The lake front close to the Delta Grand in Kelowna is something else. Early in a morning it is quiet, tranquil, and disturbed only by the occasional distant speed boat. Of all places my Dad would consider moving to in Canada, Kelowna is the place. Seemingly reluctantly he agreed to climb into our eco-friendly minivan to continue out journey east.

Our first stop was at the Log Barn, and Dave’s Goat Walk.

This is a very cool little 30-minute pit stop, especially if you’re travelling with children. It is a large snack and gist shop with home made sausage, mustards and jams. The main attraction, however, is a goat walk where you can walk into the goat pen and hang out with the goats, pet them, feed them and generally fully interact with them. For 25c you can purchase a handful of semi-dry corn which is quickly licked and devoured from the palm of your hand.

We continued our drive east stopping at Crazy Creek Waterfalls and Suspension Bridge ($9.50 per adult, but on this day, despite paying, no ticket checking took place) the site of a large waterfall running north to south underneath the TransCanada Highway. If you’re not interested in spending the money, I would simply try to find a safe place to pull over. We also stopped at the Enchanted Forrest, though didn’t venture in on this occasion. It is probably better to take children into this attraction, although I am certain that Sylvia and I will visit this place one day. Not only are there a number of fictional characters and residences to visit, there is a nature walk which I understand to be directed at identifying the local flora and fauna, and free rowing boat available for all to use.

Revelstoke is just twenty minutes east of the Enchanted Forrest. It is a small mountain town, initially founded when the Canadian Pacific Railway was built through the area. It has a number of small shops and restaurants. Moreover, however, it is set in the middle of a series of stunning rocky mountains, and on the edge of the Columbia River, above. It is a perfect location for biking and hiking, and in the winter months, skiing and snowboarding. Supper tonight was at a local italian restaurant, Isabella’s Ristorante. It was an average restaurant, although the  prices: $15/20 were reasonable. The wine list was poor, and the service could have been better, although both the chicken parmesan, and the lasagne, were very tasty. For desert, the tiramisu was, let’s say, ‘solid’. Primarily on the overall experience, it would only get a 6 to 6.5/10 from me.

Ending where I began, following dinner we strolled to the edge of the Columbia River. We stumbled upon it by chance, just exploring both the north and south sides of downtown. It certainly pays to explore, as you never know what you might find.

Tomorrow we leave for Banff, leaving B.C. behind with some great memories.

Day 5

It is tiring, writing every night after a busy day of sightseeing and adventure. Should I blog every night? Take notes and do a trip summary at the end of a trip? Any suggestions?!

It’s the final night of our Kelowna stay and tomorrow we head slowly to Revelstoke.

I found it very difficult picking a picture for today’s update, so breaking with tradition, I’m including two. There is so much beauty in and around the Okanagan. The day started off just perfectly: home made Eggs Benedict from the Bilodeau Bed & Breakfast. We then cruised to Mission Hill Estate Winery, Quail’s Gate, Cedar Creek, St. Hubertus and Summerhill. As if that wasn’t enough, we threw in the Carmelis Goat Cheese Farm for good measure where we were greeted by feasting chipmunks, clearly used to human attention.

While I would not turn up my nose to owning any one of the vineyards we visited today, Mission Hill remains at the top of my list. It is immaculate, perfect in every way. It is green, exceptionally well manicured, its staff are extremely polite, well mannered, knowledgeable and talkative, and above all, I just get a good feeling when I’m there.

It had been a long time since I had visited Cedar Creek and St. Hubertus. Cedar Creek, in particular, did not disappoint. It does rival Mission Hill in terms of overall presentation. My guests for the tour experienced wine-tasting for the first time and Summerhill did a great job of making it a good and informative experience for them. We completed our days travel by relaxing on one of the many beaches located on Okanagan Lake.

For me, there’s something about Kelowna. I suspect it is because it reminds me of Tuscany. It is green, the weather is generally incredible, wine is grown here, it has great restaurants, the people involved in the service industry are very friendly and informative. I would encourage anyone to take the time to talk – at length if possible – with staff at restaurants, vineyards, hotels. They are a wealth of knowledge and always willing to give suggestions, make recommendations, or talk about their lives. That is what makes travel fun. Meeting new people, new cultures, hearing a new story, making someone’s day by giving them the time of day to have their say.

My yawns are now making my eyes water, so with that, I’ll be updating again tomorrow.

Day 4

My sister came across this ‘Crazy Rock’, and I had a good chuckle to myself when thinking of its crazy eyes and little nose! Little things please little minds, right?

Today was a travel day. We made a last visit to Sunset Beach in Vancouver before driving to Kelowna with stops in Hope and Merritt. Both Hope and Merritt are little (6,000 – 7,000 people) towns and on this trip were there simply for bathroom breaks and a quick snack. Merritt, in fact, turned out to simply be a change of driver. Hope was suffering from very high rivers and some flood-related evacuations have been caused in parts of BC. There’s still plenty of snow to melt and, world-wide, everyone this year has seemed to complain of a great deal of rain. A very cute little town though.

We checked into our little B&B – my new favourite in Kelowna – the Bilodeau Bed & Breakfast, ate some supper and lounged around the pool/deck before retreating for the night. Generally it was a relaxing travel day and tomorrow should prove to be busier. A quieter day, and a drive, both give you time to reflect on whatever you choose to. I managed to do just that today, so despite the day being quiet, it was a much needed day – as is my sleep! Much more tomorrow…

Day 3

Sometimes it’s hard not to realize that this planet is a beautiful place.

That is particularly so at the Capilano Suspension Bridge (www.capbridge.com). Setting off reasonably early, the sun was just not going to cooperate with me. It remained cloudy for most of the day, though it didn’t affect the Capilano experience. Setting aside the bridge for the moment, this is a perfect opportunity to spend four hours in a rain forrest. From large Maple trees to 1,300 year old Douglas Firs, nature is at its finest in this park.

What impressed me the most was the extent to which the owners have emphasized the importance of trees, plants, water and tied all of it in neatly with the scenic surroundings. It is hard not to touch the bark of the 1,300 year old Douglas Fir and wonder what stories it could tell.

I received my “I Made It” certificate today, too. The suspension bridge is quite wobbly, but is nothing to fear. Just a few years ago a 300 year old, 46 ton Fir fell and landed directly on the bridge. While an inspection was conducted, no repairs were necessary. Our bus driver suggested that the bridge was capable of holding two Boeing 747’s. I felt safe, despite the sway.

Lunch was a treat. For the last three nights I’ve walked by Stepho’s on Davie to see a line-up of at least 15 people. I’d also checked the menu of this greek souvlaki restaurant and noted the selection and the extremely reasonable prices. The food didn’t disappoint. I ordered the lamb pita souvlaki with home made tzatziki for $6.95. It was the best I’ve ever tried, and can’t recommend it highly enough. In business for approximately 23 years, the staff spoke highly of the owner and the food. They were sure to suggest the greek wine. The inside of Stepho’s is, to be honest, a little grotty. It is, however, authentic and atmospheric – a great dining experience.

Following lunch I toured Vancouver by seaplane. The Harbour Air Group (www.harbour-air.com) offers seaplane tours and travel from Vancouver to many surrounding locations. For $100.00 I was in the air for 20 minutes and toured around Horseshoe Bay, Stanley Park, the Burrard Inlet and downtown Vancouver. To be perfectly honest, my interest was in the experience of taking off from, and landing on water: something I’d never done. It is easy. Not only that, the views of Horseshoe Bay and beyond were breathtaking. Photographs just do not do it justice.

The photograph for today, therefore, is moss on tree. I photographed many very touristy things, many fun experiences, but this photograph summed up the day for me. We do live in a beautiful world, a fragile world, and a world that we should not take for granted.

Tomorrow I leave Vancouver. The next stop on my family tour takes us to Kelowna. Until then, take a deep breath of fresh air, and remember the trees around you that make that breath possible.

Day 2

So very tired this evening. It probably has something to do with my agreement yesterday to wake at 6:00 a.m. and walk at 6:30 a.m. At 8:55 a.m. we had finally completed our walk to, around, and back from Stanley Park. We were very satisfied with our achievement, although as the rest of the day was also spent walking my legs now feel like they will fall off. I estimate that I walked a good 14 miles today. My feet are suggesting that it was much, much more.

Today took me back to the yacht club and a walk along the harbour walls to Canada Place before wandering into Gastown. According to the literature, armed only with a barrel of whisky and a penchant for longwinded tales, John “Gassy Jack” Deighton wandered through the wilderness of Coast Salish lands in 1867 and set up his saloon on the south shores of the Burrard Inlet. The area came to be known as Gastown. A statue dedicated to Gassy Jack stands on a place where there once stood a maple tree where it is said that the name “Vancouver” was agreed upon as being the name for this city. Once the shipping and warehouse hub of Vancouver, Gastown is now full of trendy bars and restaurants and the obligatory souvenir shops. Gastown is also the home of the famous and much-photographed Steam Clock (above) that steams permanently, and makes loud noises every fifteen minutes.

We decided to venture on to Chinatown, although in order to get there from Gastown there are a number of “down-and-outs” to encounter on route. Having seen Chinatown in Montreal some years ago, I was uninspired by Vancouver’s Chinatown. It possessed the large Chinese gate, as so many Chinatown’s do, but it lacked the hustle and bustle of a Chinatown, it seemed to lack the charm of rows upon rows of grocery stores and fishmongers. Unless you particularly want to hunt Chinese food, or take pictures of the Chinese gate, Vancouver’s Chinatown is not a place that I would spend time getting to.

Given the time, and the painfully slow internet connection this evening, that will be all for today. I will add, however, that despite the cloud and rain forecast for today, my head is red and dry and I’m off to use some aloe. Beautiful day in Vancouver.

Day 1

Technically it is Day 1.5, although this was the first full day in Vancouver. The forecast, grey/black clouds with some rain. In actual fact it was a great day, long periods of sun and very warm. Originally living in England, the weather is always important for a sun-seeker, and I suppose that stays with me to this day. Long story short here, it was much better than expected!

This was a day of walking. After a simple veggie skillet at Denny’s to start my day my entourage and I headed to the beach and began a long, steady walk around the south side of the world-famous Stanley Park. It isn’t the trees and wooded area that make this place special, nor is it the ocean front walk around the perimeter. It might be the smell of sea air and seaweed, or the backdrop of mountains. More likely than not, though, it is all of those things, combined, that most appeal to me about the Park. It is nature, it is ocean life, it is sandy beaches and fast (or extremely large) boats. There are totem poles, Inukshuks, swings (yes, adult sized swings) lakes and lost lagoons. For walkers, joggers, hikers, bikers, blade-ers, and adventurers alike, this is a mecca for exercise and beautiful scenery. The walk is approximately 8km, although walking to the park, and then away from the park, and being distracted by shops and the occasional street festival, I would not be surprised if my shoes saw 15km of pavement today.

We ate lunch in the West End at The Spot Cafe on Denman St. For a quick and cost effective sandwich, wrap, salad or soup, this is a decent “stop”. Today (June 17) there was also a street festival on Denman stretching from Georgia to Davie. A collection of craft, clothing, jewellery and other stalls quite similar to the Lilac Fest in Calgary, although a little smaller, and with a much smaller attendance. A lover of crepes, I was in heaven when I passed, and stopped in, at the Holy Crepe stall for my usual strawberry, banana, whipped cream and extra Nutella crepe It was every bit as good as it sounds.

At the intersection of Davie and Denman are a collection of bronze statues – called ‘A-maze-ing Laughter’, by the chinese artist Yue Minjun. The faces, as I understand it, are of the artist himself, and the statues are meant to help you share in his joy. One of the larger-than-human size sculpture is depicted, above. Every passer by with a camera posed in front of several statues, pulling the same face as Mr. Minjun, and having a good laugh during the process. Mission accomplished then…

Davie street is lined with fantastic restaurants. The smells, particularly those from the East Indian cuisine, almost literally draw you in for a bite to eat. I have so far managed to not be pulled in, and tonight we dined at White Spot. Interesting how we should dine at two places in one day that were decent “spots”. White Spot originated in Vancouver, and while it is now spread across the world, I thought I should try it in its home town. It seems famous for its burgers, and at an average of $15 per meal, it is a solid safe place to grab a bite and a nice pint of beer from Granville Island.

Apparently I have agreed to get up at 6:30a.m. and walk the whole Stanley Park route before breakfast. So, with that said, that will close the blog for Day 1.

English Bay, at night.

The Plan – Vancouver to Calgary, and beyond

One of the best ways to travel and explore your own ‘normal’ surroundings, is to have a visitor (or visitors) in town and have to play tour guide. Well, for the next two weeks, my job is tour guide.

My family and a family friend are in Canada and we’re all shacked up in the Sandman Suites on Davie, overlooking English Bay in Vancouver, B.C., above. This is our home for four days before road tripping to Kelowna, Revelstoke, Lake Louise, Banff, Canmore and, finally, Calgary. From Calgary we may head north to Jasper, south to Waterton Park, or both. Either way, keep checking back daily for updates if interested. For now, I’m going to keep exploring…

-James.

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