Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Canada Land Trip 3

VIA Train
The VIA Train route from Jasper to Prince Rupert passes through stunning wilderness landscape for 1,060 kilometres. The route guide lists 46 points of interest taking in massive pine forests, vast lakes, long river valleys, a number of villages and a few towns.
The observation lounge and dome carriage
Passengers booked for Prince Rupert have an overnight stop at Prince George, for which they must find their own accommodation and transport to and from their hotel. This is not the all-inclusive Rocky Mountaineer. We spent the night in Canada’s Best Value Inn and made use of the supermarket in Prince George for our meals the following day.
Lake and Mountain views through the windows
From the website, we expected that we would have designated seats and a dining car. Fortunately, we found out the day before that the only food would be sandwiches, crisps and other snacks and it would be wise to take our own food with us.
Inside the Dome carriage
Another expectation was that the train would be on time, as indicated by the timetable. It did leave Jasper on time, but the breakdown of a goods train on the line made us two hours late into Prince George. The 0800 departure from Prince George was about one and a half hours late and the arrival at Prince Rupert was three and a half hours late, which meant we arrived at our hotel after 0030. Apparently, changes have been made and the passenger experience should be better from 1st June.
Changing the points was not hi-tech

Crossing a viaduct
That said, we found the rail journey amazing and marvelled at the determination of humans to conquer seemingly insurmountable obstacles to complete this transcontinental route.
Cabin view
We had about six hours’ sleep at the Prince Rupert Hotel on 25th May, before setting off by taxi to the BC Ferry Terminal. We had booked an outside cabin and were able to view the scenic Inside Passage from the comfort of our own heated space.
Occasionally the murk lifted and we had a rainbow...
We were pleased we had done this because it rained all day and many of the lovely views were shrouded in mist. We did venture out from time to time and found sheltered spots to avoid the horizontal rain hitting the exposed decks at almost 20 knots. At least we could dry out afterwards in our cabin.
...But mostly it was wet.
The food on the ship was good; the staff was friendly and helpful and the schedule ran on time. Jeremy asked if we could visit the Bridge and we were given our own private tour by the Third Officer. It was a little different from the cockpit of Sal Darago as we looked down on yachts sailing below us, which appeared to be model boat sized. The Third Officer said that he would always prefer that yachts contacted big ships on VHF to discuss their course.
Back to school
We slept well in the bunk beds and left the ferry soon after 0900 the next day at its destination of Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. A converted school bus took us to the Quarterdeck Inn. Our room was ready; we had a view over the marina, a pub next door and a laundry across the road. Sorted!
Dorothy, Brian, Kathy and Jeremy above Elk Falls
The bus to Coutenay left at 10.45 on Sunday 27th May. Two fellow passengers from the VIA train and the BC ferry shared a taxi with us to the bus depot. We arrived at Courtenay at 15.30 and were met by our sailing friends Brian and Dorothy, who we last saw on the island of St Helena in 2013. They have a lovely house in nearby Comax. They no longer cruise the oceans, but do take to the water in their trimaran, kayaks as well as skiing and cycling.

They showed us the beautiful scenery at the waterfront and in Campbell River, where we hiked in Elk Falls Provincial Park and Protected Area.
On top of Mount Washington
The next day, we all drove up the lower slopes of Mount Washington, parked the car at the ski resort and hiked up to the summit. Brian and Dorothy are super fit and very kindly slowed their pace for us. I was slow as usual on the descent and used my knee supports once again.
Totem Poles in the Victoria Museum
It was great to catch up with our friends and fill in the gaps of the last five years. All too soon, it was time to be off again on the bus to Victoria. It was an hour late arriving, giving us just enough time to check into the Bedford Regency Hotel downtown and walk to the splendid Royal BC Museum.
Legislature Building, Victoria
Canadians on the VIA train told us we could book on a Greyhound bus in Victoria and it would take us on the ferry to Vancouver. Even better for us, they had a service which took us all the way to Vancouver International Airport. Our hotel, Accent Inn, had a free shuttle to and from the airport. All went well and we returned to downtown Vancouver for a walk along the waterfront and a horse drawn tour of Stanley Park.
Vancouver Sea Plane Marina (want one)
The horse whisperer - two gorgeous Percheron brothers (want both)
Too soon we were picking up our last hire car at Gatwick Airport and driving on the LEFT back home. Of course, home has its comforts and rewards... on Sunday morning we were having breakfast on board Searose with Emily, Ben, Ellie, Sophie and Tess. The only thing missing was the sunshine.
Breakfast on Searose

Friday, 8 June 2018

Canada Land Trip 2

All too soon, we were off to Jasper via the amazingly scenic road called Icefields Parkway. Short stops along the way gave us the opportunity to photograph, breathtaking vistas such as:

 Herbert Lake

Crowfoot Glacier

Bow Summit and Peyto Lake

Peyto Glacier

Tangle Falls

Looking south from the top of a pass

Athabasca Falls

On arrival at Jasper, we checked into the Maligne Lodge for two nights. The helpful staff at the Visitor Centre told us about the Sulphur Skyline Trail on the east side of Jasper National Park. We drove about 25 kilometres and parked near the Hot Sulphur Springs. I was slightly uneasy about the hike, which was described as difficult and had an elevation of 600 metres. Sure enough, once we found the start of the trail, it was uphill all the way. 
Lunch at the top
We had been warned to look out for black bears and to make a noise as we were walking. We sang many of the songs we knew as we walked and no bears were seen along the way. 

The trail passed through a brief snow field once we were above the treeline and became very steep for the last, short haul to the summit. All our efforts were forgotten and we were silent as we stared at the amazing 360 degree view from the top.
Stunning view from the top of the Sulphur Skyline Trail
I had my knee supports with me and needed them on the steep walk down. 

The next day we boarded a VIA train to take us on the northern route across the Rocky Mountains.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Canada Land Trip

Calgary Tower
Erin dropped us off at the Caltrain station on the morning of 15th May and we made our way to San Francisco International Airport. Our flight was delayed for an hour and we lost another hour changing time zones. We collected our National rental car from an indoor parking area at Calgary Airport. We should have taken photos of the almost new Honda Civic, but everything looked fine in the rather subdued lighting.
View from Calgary Tower
Our hotel, Lakeview Signature Inn, near the airport was lovely. We stayed for two nights. Downtown parking was very expensive in Calgary, so we chose to park at Fort Calgary, which we wanted to see later, and walked into town to the Calgary Tower. It was a clear day so we had excellent views of Calgary and the surrounding prairie.

Two new recruits
After a soup and sandwich lunch in a popular café, we returned to Fort Calgary. Much has been done to restore the spirit of the original fort, which was completely flattened when the land was sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway. Thanks to the efforts of determined volunteers, the land was purchased for the nation and the restoration began.

Soon it was time to be on our way to Banff. Unfortunately, Jeremy developed a urinary infection so we stopped at the hospital in Cansmore and were stunned to discover we’d have to pay 898CAD to the hospital, plus the doctor’s fee off 250+CAD. They suggested a Walk-in Clinic would be a cheaper option, so we continued our journey to Banff and went straight to the clinic, where we waited our turn to see one of the doctors.

Inns of Banff balcony view
Armed with two prescriptions and a much lighter wallet, we checked in at the Inns of Banff, where we were upgraded to a fifth floor suite, complete with balcony and views overlooking the snow-capped Rocky Mountains.
Lower falls Johnson's Creek Canyon
We headed for Johnson’s Creek the next day and hiked up to the first waterfall, the second waterfall and on to the Inkpots, a beautiful walk but very popular, so the advice was to “go early to avoid the crowds”.
Kathy at the Ink Pots
After two days in Banff, our next stop was Lake Louise Inn. We left our big bags at Reception and drove to the lake. We were lucky to find a space in the huge car park. Hundreds of people walked the short distance to admire and photograph the truly spectacular view across the frozen lake to the glaciers and snowy, mountain peaks beyond. Close by was Lake Louise Fairmont Chateau Hotel, which has stood on that site since the railway first brought visitors to the area.
Fairmont Chateau Hotel at Lake Louise
It was Victoria Day holiday weekend, so the crowds were larger than usual. All the hustle and bustle did take away the magic of the place and we could not escape to higher trails, as they were closed due to snow. There were fewer people at the opposite end of the lake and a small number of rock climbers were scaling near vertical walls.
Lake Louise, mostly still frozen

Reflections at Emerald Lake
Taking advice from the helpful staff at the Visitor Centre, we headed for Emerald Lake, in nearby Yoho National Park, the next day. It was a fabulous walk with clear views and the air so still that the mountains were mirrored in the peaceful lake. One side of the lake had almost no snow, but the other side was a snowy trail with several streams to cross on wooden bridges or tree trunks.
Torrent at Natural Bridge
We stopped to have a look at the Natural Bridge on our way to the village of Field, where we had lunch at the Truffle Pigs.

Goods' train at Field
We had time for another short hike so we stopped at the Great Divide Lodge and asked about the nearby trail to Sherbourne Lake. They told us there was still snow on the trail, but it was open. We set off and soon found ourselves walking through snow, which became deeper and deeper. We turned back in the late afternoon before the bears came out to forage.
Jeremy minus right leg on the way to Sherbourne Lake
On our way back to Lake Louise, we saw our first black bear beside the railway line. Later, we learned that the grain trains often leave some of their produce on or near the tracks as they pass by.
It may look small but it is a real bear. And I did not want to be closer!

Monday, 4 June 2018

Guaymas Mexico to San Francisco, USA

Luxury bus at Guaymas
On Monday 7th May we caught a bus from Guaymas to Tucson, USA. It was 40 minutes late, but very comfy. Unfortunately we had to disembark three times for security checks and it took nearly 2 hours to cross the US border. 
USA Mexico border
Our stay at Town Place Suite by Marriot was great and we tried our first Denny’s for a meal. In the morning we walked to Alamo Rental car at the airport and picked up a Nissen Versa Note. It was small, economical and had cruise control. It was hot (107F) crossing the desert, but we arrived safely at Fort Bliss, El Paso, and had a wonderful time with my niece, Miki, and her two children.
Miki, Kathy, Isaac and Abigail

Birthday lunch at St Clair Bistro, Las Cruces

Courthouse surprise at Mesilla

We returned the rental car to Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport the following Friday. We crossed three State lines: Texas, New Mexico and Arizona on our six hour drive and gained an hour due to different time zones. We flew to Oakland Airport across the bay from San Francisco and were met by our son, Simon. Erin and Buffy the cat were waiting for us in Sunnyvale.
Mothers' Day lunch from The Boiling Crab.

Underneath the sequoia tree
 It was lovely to be reunited once more, even though our separation had only been months this time, not years. I had the pleasure of being with Simon and Erin for USA Mother’s Day and my birthday.
Mini golf. Erin and Kathy were overall winners
Please comment if you think the sequoia tree is actually a giant redwood.