Oct
19
2012

Vancouver and the Island

Arrived in Vancouver on Wednesday, checked into a motel and headed downtown. Had to get the Skytrain into the centre which sounds much cooler than it actually was. We were only on it for a couple of stops but in that short time it was obvious why Vancouver is called ‘Mini Hong Kong’. Chinese and English were the two obvious main languages (in that order) and although it was a nice enough place, I’m glad in a way it wasn’t better than Calgary.

Before we had a wander round the city, Abby made a note on the map of the area we had been told to avoid by both Roy and the Canada book we had been reading throughout our trip. We walked to Gastown and Chinatown and were on our way to Yaletown (where the restaurants and shops were) when we found ourselves right in the middle of the area we were supposed to avoid. It was like something out of a film where zombies come out of doorways making their way towards you from both sides of the street. I’ve not seen anything like it before, some proper crazy people about. A woman was emptying bottles of water all over the street while yelling at a copper, a bloke was counting leaves scattered all over the floor and getting really angry with the wind when it moved them around. Without trying to look too touristy with our map out and ‘mug us’ written on our heads, some fast changes of direction and an extremely quick pace got us out of bumville and back to civilisation.

There is not much left to say about the rest of Vancouver, not much to see as a whole, some nice areas, some bad, but lots and lots of Chinese people. Did have a great Thai meal in a place called ‘Simply Thai’ which if you are to believe the pictures hanging by the door, a place that Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks have eaten. It didn’t look like a photo-shop job and the food was good enough to make me believe it was true.

The best part of the whole of Vancouver was the drive down the Coquihalla highway (well for me anyway). Abby wasn’t too keen on the massive drops either side of the road, the constant road signs saying ‘IMPORTANT: Must carry snow chains from Oct – Apr!’ or the racing lines I was taking on the descent.  Around 90 minutes drive in total, not sure how high we climbed but there was a change of temperature from 14C at the bottom to 0C at the summit. Driving through the clouds and in between the mountains was fantastic, by far was the best road I have ever driven! Certainly a place to test those future 250’s, Leigh and Terry!

We decided to get the ferry over to Vancouver Island and visit Victoria and some of the other places we’d heard were worth seeing. The ferry was pretty uneventful (I was watching for icebergs on deck) but the journey was over in 1hr 35mins.

Victoria was lovely and did remind us of the UK. The weather was about the same and the streets could have been from any northern city. Victoria also hosts a castle and cathedral which we visited and is extremely rare for Canada because it’s such a new country. Most of Canada’s buildings are under 100 years old with the exception of a few in Montréal. Anyway, the castle and cathedral were nice to see but not a patch on some we have back home. There was a lot of shopping available, some nice parks and lots and lots of pubs which is probably why it reminds Brits of back home. Also had the best ale of our trip so far, Blue Buck by Phillips brewery which is brewed on the island apparently.

Looking to get the early ferry tomorrow morning (Saturday) and then try to sneak over the border into the US and make it to Seattle for a few days. Not sure if the hire care is allowed into the USA (we have no proof it is only the word of the woman in Toronto) so we might be touring Canada a bit longer… which wouldn’t be a bad thing!

Oct
17
2012

The wine regions of BC

Well we headed back up towards Banff and Lake Louise and headed straight through the Rockies into British Columbia and to the mountain town of Revelstoke. We stayed there for a night and made use of the free aquatics centre we had entry to with the motel. It wasn’t much to shout about but we did spend an hour or so in the steam room and Jacuzzi which was relaxing.

The motel we stayed in was quite nice but right next to the train line that follows the road up through the mountains. We had trains passing every five minutes and they continued on through the night which didn’t impress Abby much. These trains were much longer than the rest we’ve seen so far (200+ carriages and 3km long - not like I was counting). Most of them had 2 engines up front, one in the middle and one at the rear, just to get the sheer weight of the cargo over the mountains!

Anyway, we had a day wandering round the little ski town which looked really nice, but as there wasn’t any snow we headed off down to Kelowna, the wine region of BC.

We had heard Kelowna was very different to the rest of Canada and we really could have been anywhere in France, Italy or the Med. It didn’t feel at all like any of the Canada we had travelled through. Rolling hills both sides of the town overlooking a big lake, with vineyards all over. After only being there for 30 minutes it was obvious it was a bit of a retirement home for Canadians but we could see why.

As we were in Kelowna for 2 days we decided to do the wine tour trail. We hit as many of the wineries that were open as we could (7-8 in total I think). We didn’t go with a group tour so I just drove between them and needless to say, Abby did most of the sampling. It was a nice day and we got to see how a couple of the wineries made their wines and heard about how they stop the bears eating the grapes! We finished the day by coming away with several bottles of wine and as there had been quite a few generous samples throughout the day, a slightly drunk Abby.

So our next stop is Vancouver which is 4 hours away but it should be a nice drive as we going to take the Coquihalla highway! :-)

Oct
14
2012

Goodbye Alberta. We'll be back...

 

The last week has flown by, partly because we have both been having so much fun, but probably because we have spent most of it drinking far too much! This is pretty much due to us spending 8 nights with the fantastic Ann and Roy Williams, some old friends of Abby’s parents. They have lived in High River for 6 years after moving to Alberta, Canada and what a fantastic place! Not only is their house amazing but High River itself is extremely beautiful and so accessible to all its surroundings.

We arrived on the Friday 8th which was the start of the Canadian Thanks Giving weekend. Abby hadn’t seen Ann and Roy since she was 12 and I’d never met them before. We decided to stock up with some wine and beer before we arrived, but after having the tour of the house, we went down to what can only be described as the best basement I have ever seen, and probably ever likely to see! Roy had built an actual bar in his basement, kitted out with pool table, relaxation area, full DJ/PA system, old style America Jukebox and another bedroom (for those that really can’t make it home). What he didn’t tell us was that pretty much the whole street comes round every day for a party!

We met some fantastic people while we were staying with Ann and Roy, too many to name but everyone was so friendly and made us feel so welcome. This was probably why we ended up staying 8 nights instead of the originally planned 3!

So what did we get up to while we were there… well we did quite a lot alongside the job and house hunting, and I’m not even joking! In no particular order other than as I am recalling them from memory:

Had a fantastic home cooked Thanks Giving dinner by Ann
Went hiking for the day in Banff (Johnson’s Creek)
Improved my pool game
Went around Calgary and up the tower
Ate the best barbequed steak in my life
Went to watch Wade and Tanya play in Riley’s Cattle Barn
Went to our first Bass Pro shop in Canada (refrained from buying a crossbow or rifle)
Went shopping in Okotoks
Visited the Indian graves and a Hutterite colony (which would never have happened if Roy wasn’t with us)

Added to the list above were also numerous great/late nights when various people popped over from the street for a ‘few’ drinks! The local sergeant was a right laugh on the karaoke!

Also managed to give Ann and Roy something back for letting us stay so long… fixed Ann’s laptop and repaired and serviced Roy’s Wurlitzer 3400 statesman jukebox. So just want to say a big thank you to Ann and Roy for the last 8 days!

Below are a couple of pics from over the last week to try and sum everything up!

So to summarise, Alberta is definitely the best place I/we have been so far and the place I want to move to once I get home (Abby has also shown more interest than I expected which is good). We are heading through the Rockies towards the wine regions of British Columbia over the next few days which Abby has been looking forward to.

Oct
4
2012

A birthday in the Rockies!

Driving into Jasper has defiantly given us the most amazing scenery so far. The mountains look amazing but even the tops of them (3000m-3500m) don’t have any snow, so it shows just how warm it gets here in the summer compared to the Alps. The amount of trees once you get high up is unbelievable, it just goes on forever.

It was my birthday on Tuesday the 2nd and what a great few days I’ve had. Woke up on Tuesday morning to it snowing and all those mountains that were lovely and green the day before have got their first snow, so we are really lucky to have seen them in both conditions just a day apart. The snow is great but makes me want to go skiing which unfortunately will have to wait as all the Canadian Rocky resorts don’t open their season until end of October.

We intended to do some hiking on my birthday but due to the heavy snow and poor visibility we decided to go and visit the Miette hot springs instead. The drive along the road (only 56km away from Jasper) was epic with some lovey hairpins and white snowy verges. The springs were not as I expected (small lakes or steaming pools), but were actually 2 swimming pools that were naturally heated by the volcanic activity. They have to cool them down naturally as the springs are around 70C according to the information boards around. One of the pools was at 38C and one at 40C and there were also two plunge pools at 6C and 10C but I couldn’t tempt Abby into these. It was amazing sitting there in the lovely warm water with the snow falling onto us!

Wednesday the snow had stopped and although there was only a dusting within Jasper itself, there was around 10” to a foot as we drove to Maligne Lake to do some hiking. We had planned to do the route Opal hills which was a 14km hike round trip but the park had closed it due to ‘Presence of Grizzlies’! We opted for the Bald hills route instead which was only 13.2km but also looked over the other side of the lake.

As we hadn’t prepared for hiking in the snow, so the choice of attire was a tricky one and Abby proved this by getting changed 3 times in the back of the car. The snow was around 1 foot at the start of the trial so Abby opted for full snow gear, including salopettes and her ski jacket. I assumed it was going to be quite warm at the top so went for just 3 quarters and a t-shirt with my body warmer. It started off fairly easy going but half way up we did have to engage 4 wheel drive and scramble. It was near 2 foot in places so I made Abby plough the way as my legs were cold. The views when we got to the top were amazing and well worth the now frozen ankles I had!

The way down would have been 1000% better if we’d had a sledge or some skis but we never. :-( When we eventually got back to the car we decided to both partake in a cup of hot chocolate in a nearby lodge café. If you know me you will understand that’s its completely unheard of for me to have any kind of hot drinks at all, but I am happy to say I am not converted and all it did was burn my tongue!

The drive down back to Jasper was made by seeing our first close up Bear, Moose and Wolf! Abby shouted at me to get back in the car as I ran towards the bear armed with only the camera. I only got as close as 10 meters where another woman was standing taking a photo. She didn’t look like a very quick runner so I knew if things went wrong the bear would probably get to her first!

 

So all in all a great couple of days in Jasper, we are staying her until Friday at which point we will make the 6 hour drive down the Ice-fields parkway (going to be amazing!) to just outside Calgary where we are going to stay with some friends of Abby’s for a couple of days to a week!

Sep
30
2012

Saskatoon, Edmonton and the Mall!

Its been a few days since the last post so thought I’d better give an update to let everyone know I haven’t fed Abby to the bears yet. We made it out of flat Manitoba into Saskatchewan which turned out to be equally as flat. Drove quite a lot in this state as there wasn't much to see as everything is just farm land, wheat and barley, oh and more wheat.

More interestingly, I did think my eyes were going funny at one point because of the massive straight roads. Every 10 meters or so it seemed to me like black splodges of tar were moving across the road, slowly but enough to notice as we hurtled along. I asked Abby what she thought but she never had her glasses on at the time so, I may as well have been asking the headrest. Anyway, I stopped in the middle of the road when I saw the next moving black thing (no cars around so it’s not like stopping on the M6) and they were moving! They were massive caterpillars and we must have passed millions of them over a couple of hours driving. (Abby put a stop to me counting them shortly after 6 or 7!)

 

We stayed in Saskatoon, the capital of Saskatchewan which was a really nice place. Everything is centred round the university and the river which flows through the town. Everyone was really friendly, the weather was beautiful and we both really liked this place.

We went for a wander round the university grounds and into the natural science museum which they have on site. Went for a wander around the farmers market as this was something Abby wanted to do, but when we eventually found it, it wasn’t open. We also stumbled across a Corn maze on our drive, so decided to go in as we both couldn’t remember ever going in one. We made it in and out without getting too lost and without nicking too much corn!

Nothing else to say about this place really other than we thought it was -6 hrs GMT here (which it is) but unbeknown to us, they don’t do daylight savings so it was actually -7 hrs GMT (same as Alberta). So we just spent a few days getting up and eating an hour earlier! Oh well!

 

So, Alberta! Well with just over 4000km on the clock and 52hrs of driving, we arrived in Edmonton on the 28th September which is north of the Rockies. Edmonton was a place we wanted to spend a few days and just chill as we have been on the road a lot, so we found a nice little B&B and checked in for 3 nights.

Like Saskatoon, Edmonton is a really nice city which I could quite happily spend a lot more time in. Again centred round a river that runs through the city, there is quite a relaxed way of life here. We spent a lot of time shopping around the area of Strathcona which is pretty much downtown of the main city. Well when I say we, I mean Abby, I just followed her around carrying things as I do best.

Abby got to go in her farmers market this time in which we found a stall selling home-made salsa and offering over 20 different types and strengths with free tortilla chips to try them with. They claimed to have the hottest salsa in Edmonton featuring the dangerous ghost chilli, but upon trying this I decided I wasn’t convinced and I needed a second sampling. In my opinion, some of Dan’s chilli in the past has been hotter! Anyway, after sometime we (and this time I mean I) were asked to either buy something or leave (after nearly eating a third of it), so we settled for the ‘Hot’ version (which was about 4 grades down from ghost) as Abby really did want to be able to eat some.

However the main attraction in Edmonton and the reason why it’s on the map is probably West Edmonton Mall. This place is massive, about 5 times bigger than the Trafford centre, you really can get lost in there. Abby was in her element with over 800 shops and 4 food courts! However, it also featured a 24 screen cinema, a water park that wouldn’t look out of place in Disney Florida, 2 x 18 hole mini golf courses, a full sized ice hockey and skating rink, oh and a theme park! Yes that’s right, and now you’re probably thinking (as I did), “it won’t have many rides in there”. Well, yes I agree there is probably more to do for kids than adults, but out of the7 ‘adult’ rides in there, the 2 roller-coasters were better than anything Alton Towers has to offer! We did them both… well we had to really!

 

This place really was ridiculous, needless to say we spent a whole day there and still didn’t cover anywhere near half of it!

Heading down to Jasper for a few days to do some serious hiking over my birthday so will post again from there!

 

Sep
26
2012

Be Bearwise!

 

We’ve done quite a lot in the last couple of days. We were going to spend a couple of days in Winnipeg but after arriving there and spending a few hours in the place, it was clear both of us didn’t like it. Quite a bit of the city is being rebuilt so it looks like downtown Bagdad, there are beggars everywhere and you just have that feeling someone is going to mug you.

We went into a shopping mall for a look around and as we wandered through the food court, a bloke standing in the middle of the place started shouting “Hasn’t anyone in this F%#*ing place got any F%#*ing change so I can use  F%#*ing the phone?!”. Everyone (around 200 people) went deadly quiet and I just had visions of him pulling out a gun and starting to shoot people, like you see on the news in the states.

I think that tipped it over the edge for us so we decided to just stay one night on the outskirts and continue on in the morning.

Driving through Manitoba is incredibly boring as everything is flat and I mean completely flat. You can see nothing in all directions for miles and miles. In fear of me falling asleep while driving and killing us both, we decided to leave the trans Canadian highway and head north a bit, to where the scenery is better.

With Abby directing now (and I must say she has improved exponentially, she has the map book up the right way and everything!) she led us thought a couple of small towns, towards a town called Wasagaming which is within a National park. The journey there was pretty much issue-free with the exception of one of the roads Abby picked being a proper off road track, so glad we were in the truck!

We took advantage of being in the national park and did some proper hiking again. I was hoping to get a picture of a bear to share with you all as this area was like bear central station! Abby decided halfway through the hike she was getting a bit scared of the bear noises I was making and the branches of the trees I was shaking, so she started to follow the information in the bear-wise book and started to sing!

It was bearable at first (like what I did there) as she was just humming but then it turned into Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody which was ok the first time but after the 7th I was ready to feed her to the bears! Then the worst thing that couple possibly happen, happened! She remembered she knew more words to the Spice Girl songs than she did Queen, so the rest of the hike turned into more of a jog, me trying to get away from her and her trying to not be left to be eaten by the bears!

So I’m sorry but I have no picture of bears yet! Although, I did nearly run over Bambi on our way out of the park!

Sep
24
2012

Matt the trainspotter :-/

 

We decided to stay in Thunder Bay for a couple of days over the weekend to give us a break from the road. It’s started to get quite cold In Ontario now as Fall is well on its way. I had the most amazing burger for dinner on Saturday at a little place called Sovereign.

Thunder Bay is a fairly large town compared to some of the tiny places we have passed through on the way here. There are a lot of different cultures here and quite a few beggars sleeping on the street which makes me wonder how they survive the winters as it gets really cold here. Speaking of different cultures, we had a massive breakfast from a Finnish restaurant/canteen/community centre… weird place, delicious food!

Matt finally found some trains but it wasn’t difficult as there was a massive rail port just outside our hotel. That kept him entertained for a bit! I didn’t realise he was a closet train spotter, so day 7 of 194 has me questioning our relationship! Obviously I’m kidding, but if I hear “Oh My God look at the size of that train, 120 on that one!” I will kill him.

 

We waved goodbye to Lake Superior and carried on driving West on Highway 17, crossing our first time zone, from Eastern to Central time – so we’re now 6 hours behind. Drove to a town called Kenora, which is our last stop in Ontario. Very pretty town, on yet another lake and managed to get ourselves a cabin in a holiday resort to stay. Treated ourselves to a hot tub before bed, although hot was not the word.  Reckon we have 3rd degree burns as it was ridiculously hot!

 
Heading over to Winnipeg now for a few days before we head North West to Edmonton.

Sep
22
2012

On the road

 

Well we’ve been putting some miles down over the last few days! 1900km to be exact, as they don’t have miles over here! Fuel is fairly cheap compared to the UK but cheaper again in the US so looking forward to that. The roads are epic, some beautiful sweeping bends, massive long straights for over 10km and at times can go up to a few hours without seeing any other cars or trucks. The scenery is becoming amazingly tiring and Abby is beyond fed up of me pointing out yet another lake and gorgeous treeline! Speaking of treelines, we have seen some amazing colour trees, purples, reds, oranges, all colours that don’t seem possible!

We saw our first moose today, crossing the road about 200m ahead of us! I was very excited! It was massive, huge antlers, ambling along taking its time, but it seems even this wasn’t long enough for Abby to get a decent picture of it! Below you can just make out its tail going into the bushes on the left. Needless to say Abby has been taken off camera duty from now on!

So what have we been doing... We’ve been driving pretty much west round Lake Superior for the last few days which is so big it’s difficult to explain. 3 days of driving (on and off) and we are only just coming to the opposite side of it. Its waves on the shoreline are fairly big for a freshwater lake which goes to show how big it is if the moon is having that much effect on it! We were driving through Lake Superior national park yesterday, which took a good few hours. All was going well until we came across a sign that said, “Don’t feed the bears! We both looked at each other and put the windows up before I put my foot down. We never got a picture of that but this one below is fairly amusing.

Everything else is fine, we made it to Thunder Bay this afternoon so checked into our first hotel (hotels and motels are way different things!) Were going out for a few beers tonight and maybe some serious hiking tomorrow as there is a 7 hour hiking trail nearby! Might stay here for another night and head on to Winnipeg on Sunday, depends how we are feeling tomorrow morning!

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