Posts Tagged ‘vancouver’

22 May this year will be exactly 12 months from the day that Carol & I left to go to Canada. I thought I’d blog about that trip. Why? Twelve months on, I wanted to force myself to think about everything we did, because we had such a great time, and truth be known it’s probably the only major highlight in our lives for the past two years. On that front, special thanks goes to cancer, DWS (work in general for that matter), bushfires, the GFC (no, not the Geelong Football Club) and bowls for not playing the game. As I wasn’t blogging then, I also wanted to have a written record of what we did, so that in five years say, it’s easier to remember how great it was.

So, well before dawn on 22 May 2008, we pissed a taxi driver off by taking a short journey to Mentone, caught the airport bus to the airport and jumped a Qantas flight to Sydney. We had a very tight connection over to the international airport for our Qantas flight to Los Angeles. I hadn’t travelled with Qantas internationally since 2000 – I have to say the service hasn’t improved. They still look down their noses at you as though you should feel privileged to travel on their airline. We thought a four hour transit at LAX would be enough to change terminals and airlines to United, but we only had about 20 minutes in the departure lounge before we grabbed a United commuter flight up the west coast to Vancouver. What a brothel is LAX. Someone should blow it up. BTW I just put that bit in there to see if the CIA reads my blog.

So having left home at about 5:00am Thursday, we arrived in Vancouver early afternoon same day. Two initial impressions remain. Firstly, the grumpy immigration officer, who was having his challenges with an Asian gentleman who either couldn’t or wouldn’t speak English and was handballed along eventually. I decided to greet him with “So, having a good day are we?”. As we didn’t get thrown in jail or find ourselves on the next flight to the US, it seems he took it the right way. The other first impression of Vancouver was our taxi to the hotel, which was a Toyota Prius, a hydrid vehicle. It seems the varoius taxi fleets comprise a lot of these vehicles. Well done Vancouver for being so environmentally aware.

On arriving at the Holiday Inn, Carol decided it was time to hit the bed, while I did my usual routine on arriving in a new city and went for a long walk, armed with camera of course. The things that stand out in my mind are the countdown clock for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the building doorway used for Superman and the continual aircraft taking off from Vancouver harbour for Victoria and surrounding islands.

Superman buildingWinter Olympics countdown timerAircraft departing Vancouver harbour

It was back to the hotel to find Carol refreshed from a good sleep and a decision on dinner required. We found a sports bar on Granville Street – great bar food, really friendly bar staff (most of whom seemed to have visited Australia recently) and wall-to-wall televisions showing just about every sporting game being played that night in Canada and the US. That’s our sort of bar. Had nachos with black, instead of yellow corn chips. Never seen that before.

Friday dawned brightly and it was time for us to get out and discover Vancouver, via a fairly novel form of transport.

Tourist bus

These buses start early in the morning and do a circuit around Vancouver, stopping at all the spots worth a look. They’re about 20 minutes apart from memory. The idea is that you get off wherever you like and then get on a later bus once you’ve had a look around. It stops at places such as Downtown, Stanley Park, Chinatown, Gastown, Yaletown and Granville Island. We had a great day, but were pretty knackered by the end of it.

 Gassy JackSteam clockGastown

It was then that I discovered how antiquated Canada is in terms of liquor laws. It is impossible to buy cold bottled beer from what we would call a bottle shop in Australia. The idea is you either go to a pub or similar and drink there, or you go and buy bulk unchilled supplies and take them home. Not very good for a couple of beer-drinking Australians who just want to have a cold beer in their hotel room and not pay through the nose for it. Anyway, we went back to our favourite sports bar for dinner. The Canadian liquor laws were the subject of considerable discussion as our holiday progressed.

 Day three in Canada (Saturday) and we decided to split up. I went for a walk from the hotel, with the intention to walk around Stanley Park (was really pleased I bought those Timberland boots before we left) and Carol decided to hit the shops, on a mission to buy a beaver. Stanley Park is this magnificent park overlooking Vancouver Harbour (http://vancouver.ca/parks/parks/stanley/). It’s 1,000 acres with a walking track right around. I hadn’t actually intended walking all the way around, but it was such a magnificent day and there was so much to photograph, that I just kept walking and walking. I swear half of Vancouver was out riding, walking or rollerblading that morning – it was a bit like the Tan on steroids (with apologies to people who have no idea of this thing called the Tan). 

Harbour lightRowing clubTotemsHorse drawn transport

Many of you won’t know that I’m a bit of a train nut. I was determined to experience some suburban train travel in Canada – there’s no better way to see the urban, non-touristy parts of a city. And what’s special about the suburban train network in Vancouver? It’s driverless. The whole network is controlled by computer. So on Saturday afternoon, while Carol slept, I headed down to the subway and jumped a driverless train. It was pretty crowded, but I went right to the end of the line and then got to sit in what would normally be the driver’s seat on the ride back into town. It pissed off this little kid that really wanted to sit there – “Mommy, why is that nasty man from Australia sitting where I want to sit?”. Bad luck, kid.

Vancouver driverless suburban trainVancouver driverless suburban train

Saturday evening saw us not being able to go back to our favourite bar, as it had been booked out for some event on TV that seemed to be a cross between wrestling, boxing, kick boxing and attempted murder. I’m stuffed if I know why, but men, women and children all seemed to be captivated by this barbarianism. So to bed, reflecting on the first stage of our holiday and very much looking forward to the next. Reflections on Vancouver? Nice. Nice, but unspectacular. Was three days enough? Yep, probably. Maybe another day would have been good to see Victoria, but we’ll leave that for next time.

An interesting aside – we found a coffee shop near the hotel where we went regularly. On one occasion, the girl behind the counter asked Carol where we were from. Carol: “Australia”. Girl: “Yeah, I know. But where in Australia?” Carol: “Melbourne”. Girl: “What suburb?”. Carol: “Mordialloc”. Girl: “You’re kidding, I’m from Chelsea.” Incredible, we travel to the other side of the world and get served coffee by someone from three suburbs away.

So it was up early on Sunday morning for the next part of the adventure.

Rocky Mountaineer

It was onto our coach with a bunch of others for the short ride to the Rocky Mountaineer station where a 24 carriage train was waiting to take us on the jouney from Vancouver to Banff, through the Rockies. So to get a couple of questions that we’re always asked out of the way first. Q: Did you travel in the carriages with the glass roof? A: No, those are the Gold Leaf carriages and we were in Red Leaf. Q: What’s the difference? A: In Gold Leaf, you get a glass roof. And meals that are prepared by a chef and served in a dining car. And you have a larger area “outside” where you can take photos and hang over the edge. In Red Leaf, you get served your meals airline style in your seat. Q: Would you go Gold Leaf next time? A: Yeah, probably. But it’s not a biggy.

Leaving Vancouver, the first thing you notice is the temparate rainforest. Apparently Vancouver has one of the largest in the world. The next thing we noticed was the river. There was a massive snow melt going on, and Jenny, our really excellent carriage hostess, said it was the most water she’d ever seen in the rivers. The other instant impression is how Canada is so incredibly dependent on rail for much of its industry, and we were sharing the rails with all those big freights on our journey.

JennyRocky Mountaineer Station - VancouverRiver In Flood - Devils GateCanadian National Locomotive

I could publish photo after photo of the trip. I took just over 2,000 on the holiday in total – I’m guessing the two-day train trip probably accounts for 1,400 photos. Suffice to say I spent most of the time in the exposed vestibule with a beanie, my old Tassie ambulance polar fleece jacket and camera up to my eye. For anyone who’s interested, it’s a Nikon D40X with an 18-135 Nikor lens – a present to myself a couple of weeks before we left.

So, back to the scenery. Day One doesn’t get you into much of the Rockies. Certainly you see some mountains and plenty of snow. But it is largely quite flat travel and significantly varying landscape. In some places, it is sheer rock walls going straight down to the river, often with water cascading down the side. There are lots of spectacular rail bridges, and in our case, lots of water flowing underneath. However, as the train gets closer to the end of its Day One journey (no, we didn’t sleep on the train), the terrain becomes almost desert-like. It really is quite bizarre. People contemplating a trip on Rocky Mountaineer would know you can head from Vancouver outbound, or in the opposite direction as it makes its return to Vancouver. Our very strong recommendation would be to do it in the direction that we did. I reckon if you did it the opposite way, the second day would be a major let down compared to the first.

Day OneDay One

Day One

Day OneDay OneDay One

We disembarked at the end of Day One in Kamloops. What’s special about Kamloops? Absolutely nothing! Move on! For all my colleagues from Red Cross, I thought this was an interesting way to snag volunteers. They’re obviously well organised with their disasters – they only have them three days per week.

 Red Cross Needs You

Rocky Mountaineer trip Day Two. Drizzling rain. Farewell Kamloops Travelodge. Ah, just remembered another reason for going Gold Leaf. We arrived at the station to find half the train had been stolen. No, not really. They had split the train – half the passengers headed off to Jasper and the other half, including us, are heading for Banff.

It’s fairly easy to summarise Day Two in three words. Amazing! Amazing! Amazing! Through the Canadian Rockies, snow still quite prevalent, magnificent mountain peaks, stunning rail tunnels drilled through mountains, wild animals beside the tracks. A whole day of this. Just absolutely phenominal. I just can’t pull the words together to describe it effectively.

Day Two Rocky Mountaineer

Day Two Rocky Mountaineer

Day Two Rocky Mountaineer

Day Two Rocky MountaineerDay Two Rocky MountaineerDay Two Rocky MountaineerDay Two Rocky MountaineerDay Two Rocky MountaineerDay Two Rocky Mountaineer

Day Two Rocky Mountaineer

And so, at the end of a fantastic day, we arrived at Banff railway station and were transported to our hotel. That seems like a good spot to end Canada Retrospective (Part 1).

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