The Adventure….Chapter 4

…..Our Rocky Mountaineer arrived at the halfway point in our journey, in the late afternoon of the first day, shunting slowly into Kamloops. I had not done my usual advanced research so wasn’t sure what to expect of Kamloops. I knew it was a connecting hub for trains but did not appreciate its size. It is at the confluence of the two branches of the Thomson River and is near Kamloops Lake, has a population of about 100,000, and is otherwise an un-spectacular town. We were waved-into the Station by a number of uniformed railway staff which was a nice touch. The contrast between the raw natural beauty we had all witnessed, and the industrial landscape into which we had come was very stark.

 

The organisation was great and we were  all coached to various hotels throughout the city. We ended up in a motel, which seemed to be in the middle of a retail park!  It had excellent sizeable accommodation, but no on-site eating facilities (just like the Premier Inn in the UK), but this was no problem. We were glad to have to go out to eat in the evening, and we decided that a local laid-back burger eaterie should be the destination (not the KFC of the photo!)

It was a brash, bright restaurant and we were given a rather large menu, which, when unfolded was almost as large as the table! As if that wasn’t enough, when the very-pleasant waitress came, she rattled-off a large number of specials, and options of sauces etc. ….and all I wanted was  a simple meal. Again, having looked around at the portion sizes, we shared a main course, and finished-off with a lovely ice-cream sundae….evil!! And the Canadians can make good coffee!

Most people who know me understand that I love to observe, and chat to people! Such a venue as a restaurant allows people-watching , and especially in a foreign country. What astonished me most was the love affair which the men appeared to have with jeans and baseball cap.  If, as a child, I had sat down at the table with a cap or hat, it would have been swiftly removed by a parent or grandparent. It was obviously the custom here for skip-caps to be worn, but I wonder……. are they all hiding a balding pate!

For convenience and security, our suitcases had been retained on the train overnight, and so we had been instructed to have overnight bags (rucksacks in our case).  Now, with most men, this is no problem; but to ask a woman to decide what was the minimum to make her feel presentable to herself and her peers, and compress it into a rucksack is not simple, or to be undertaken lightly. Lady of the House did it with panache, and looked a million crisp dollars (Canadian dollars, that it!). On the other hand, I managed with the normal toiletries (I even used a wet razor, to save space), minimal hygenic clothing changes, and a top that I was assured would not crease (Ha,bloody Ha!). I also looked a million dollars  (crumpled, scruffy, and needing ironed!).

Next morning, we were picked-up at another un-sensible time for the short drive to Kamloops station. (I somehow, in my ignorance, thought that this was going to be some kind of restful holiday……how wrong I was!) This time our train had joined-up with those coming direct from Banff and Calgary. So we now had another 400 passengers on board, and the train now stretched into the distance, in both directions.

Breakfast on the train was most welcome, and we settled down to watch the scenery gently drift by…now there’s a phrase! I was always interested in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which said that when on a train, or any other moving object, we could consider ourselves at rest and everything else moving relative to us (hence the name of the theory). It is easy to imaging scenery drifting-by, but of course the natural order had been there for many millions of years and we were simply intruding on it. (SCIENCE LESSON OVER!)

This scenery was quite different to the previous day’s. We still mainly followed the course of rivers, which were now slow-running  but were almost at their level. The few hills which we saw on some stretches had few trees and little vegetation, and bare rocks were the order of the day. Mining, logging, and old ruined buildings were in evidence, and we spent a considerable time in spotting osprey nests on the top of telegraph poles, and eagles hovering, all with squeals of delight!

As the volume of rivers continued to increase, so we were able to see the development of rapids, starting in the Black Canyon, which was more awesome than beautiful, with the river in spate.  At the confluence of the Thomson and Fraser rivers, it was possible to see which one carried more silt and was therefore muddy whilst the other was relatively slow-moving and clean. Before you ask me, I can’t remember which was which!

Contrary to the bravery (fool-hardiness?) of the Lady of the House, I don’t like heights, especially when it involves a large weight of moving steel traversing a spider-like structure, over a raging torrent some distance below.  She revels in leaning out of available windows to grab photographs, whilst I suspect every creak of being the beginning of a dramatic disaster for all of us, and retreat like a snail into its shell, fearing to change the centre of gravity to beyond the wheel-base.

This one looked a bit safer….

…and if only a train had been coming the other way

We were well into the second afternoon and eyes were starting to droop as the weather had been perfect and the sun very bright. The countryside started to become more tree-covered again and the river narrowed even further to Hell’s Gate. The water here is so fast that ‘fish ways’ have been constructed to allow them to rest in cavities of still water as they gather strength to progress upstream.

 Click on the picture to see the detail of the raging torrent of water, and the restaurants built out on stilts. The red framework in the middle was part of a cable-car which crosses the river and rises steeply to the mountain behind….you wouldn’t get me on that to see any view! As chance would have it, the train heading in the opposite direction could be seen on the opposite side at Hell’s Gate.

Our approach to Vancouver was actually quite slow. Unlike on the rural lines, we did not have priority here, so we had to go along at a snail’s pace, but very noisily, over several bridges and running alongside large freight trains setting off on their journey.

And so our two-day journey through the Rockies was over. Unfortunately it is impossible to adequately pass-on the concept of size, age and majesty of this area, ‘the unutterable beauty’ (to borrow a phrase from elsewhere), the raw nature and power of the countryside, the occasional glimpse of wildlife, and the opportunity to enter this world by standing on a glacier! We felt honoured to be able to have the chance to enter this world for a couple of days…and we knew we had more beauty to see.

We taxied to the Blue Horizon Hotel in Robson Street in Vancouver, and if you want to look along this street, click on the link below the picture…

http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&xhr=t&q=blue+horizon+hotel+vancouver&cp=20&rlz=1R2ADFA_enGB347&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&biw=1366&bih=686&wrapid=tljp1309073744136034&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wl

Have a wander around and we will see you in a few days……

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The Adventure….Chapter 3

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Sun 29th ….We left you last time seeing a chap  standing outside his house in Jasper, alongside a table with some  ‘junk’, although he informed us that earlier it had been full to over-flowing.  It was in a lovely residential area, and seemed a bit odd.

However the explanation was simple and sensible……periodically, people put out unwanted, but servicable items.  Anyone can then come along and take any of them without charge, for their own use. Presumably reciprocity is expected so that everyone can get a glimpse of (and possibly obtain) others’ rubbish. Recycling made simple!

Having solved that query, we continued on our walk round this pleasant town. I got some video of one of the large freight trains running through with over 140 coaches! On the way, we had a good viewing of a large deer grazing  beside the road, oblivious to the presence of humans or traffic. By this time our digestion and body-clock synchronisation was still not right and we were snacking at all sorts of strange times. Lunch was at Cafe Mondo with home-made salmon sandwiches….to be recommended!

Next morning, at a quite unreasonable hour, we left Chateau Jasper, and assembled with others at the local railway station to join the Rocky Mountaineer on a  ‘Journey Through the Clouds’. This is one of a number of great trains which traverse (guess what!) the Rocky Mountains, all starting from, or returning to, Vancouver. The weather having previously been mixed, we had been concerned about whether the splendour of the mountains would be revealed in all their glory….we needn’t have worried!  The sky was blue, and the mountains were inviting as we all talked excitedly about the coming journey, and pinned-on our little maple-leaf badges.

The tour on which we were involved had two standards of service, Gold Leaf, and Red Leaf. The Gold Leaf passengers had access to a glass-domed observation area, as well as cooked-on-board meals. We were very happy with the Red Leaf standard, and would be quite happy to recommend it to anyone. 

We settled into our carriage which had about 50 seats with loads of leg space (airlines, please note). There were about 38 of us in this carriage, so a lot of empty seats. Seemingly this is intended so that we could move easily to the side would give us a better view. We had a lovely stewardess, who served meals and gave us a running commentary on the journey and what we should watch-out for. A load of video was taken, but the following link is probably the best way to get a general feeling for it all…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1wYIGN8-Qc

Jasper Lake was the first major stretch of water after we started off, and riding along quietly south west, along the Fraser River, we were increasingly impressed and astounded by the beauty of the scenery. We were then suddenly instructed to put our watches back one hour as we had left the Alberta time zone and entering British Columbia.  Pine trees, animals, eagles, ospreys, rivers, and (obviously) spectacular mountains appeared at every bend and the video camera could be left on permanently.  Sometimes we had to slow down or even stop to let another train pass so the opportunity came to get photographs.

Two spectacular natural formations then had to be seen, and so the train slowed up to ensure we got good photos. Firstly, the Pyramid Falls……

………and Mount Robson, which is the highest point in the Rockies, and is only completely seen about 10 days in the year, so we were lucky….

Because the rail-line was often alongside the edge of steep valleys, many tunnels were necessary either for access or to afford protection from falling rocks. With the necessary curvature of the track we sometimes got a good glimpse of the front of the train heading into the tunnel, and looking remarkably like a snake.

And so the miles drifted on and as the land flattened out we came to the end of the first day and approached our half-way point…Kamloops. We’re off to the hotel to get changed and go out for a meal. Good Night!  See you later, and I’ll tell you about what happened!

The adventure…Chapter 2

Fri 27th ………The trip north-west from Banff heading towards Jasper was going to be a long journey lasting some 9 hours by coach, so it was important that we were up early! However jet-lag was beginning to set-in, and a broken-night’s sleep manifested itself. However, waffles and coffee did the trick and we were out on time.

Time and coaches wait for no man, and we headed off along the Great Canadian Highway, described by National Geographic as one of their ‘Drives of a Lifetime’ ……still with some snow and cloud shrouding the hills. It is truly startling along the whole journey…

The following link gives a good idea of some bits    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNoSIkb9xEE  

This area is one particularly noted for  icefields, but first we stopped at Lake Louise Hotel. This incongruously- massive building is at the end of a frozen lake. We went in to look around inside but anything more than a snack would require a second mortgagae! Further along we came to the Athabasca Icefield and the Num-ti-Jah Lodges. The following shot let us see, close-up, the thickness of snow and ice at the lake.

The Columbia Icefield was more accessible by specialised motorised machines. The running commentary by the driver was excellent, but like at many such events, the facts are often forgotten  but the impressions remain. It is obviously commercialised but the memories are startling. You can see the size of the equipment used, and you can imagine the terror engendered as it went over the edge of the road to go along the glacier!

Everyone wants to see bears in Canada, and Young Lady was no exception. We were warned on the next stage of the journey, that the driver might have to pull-up if cars stopped in front of us to view some bears at the side of the road…this seems to be permissible. We did, indeed, have to stop and had several good viewings of black bears.

 There were other photos taken, with a variety of focus and quality, but some images looked like faked images of the Yeti, so were not worthy of reproducing here!

Northwards to the Athabasca Falls, a collection of waterfalls going through a series of gullies, at spectacular speed, and accessed by well-positioned bridges.

We took so many photos and video of this area but still could not record the total experience…you have to come to see it. Then onwards to our most northerly point…the lovely town of Jasper, and the well-disguised Chateau Jasper in in its coat of green-painted wood.

Every place where we slept we were fortunate to have great beds, and despite the continuing jet-lag problem (at least in my case), we were ready, after a hearty breakfast, for a day wandering about ‘at leisure’, as they call it……….

We discovered that there was a nature trail on one side of the town, which took you rapidly to great views over the area. This ‘rapidly’ description meant that Young Lady had to be encouraged, cajoled and almost pushed up the steep narrow path, whilst our joints complained at this abuse.

In many parts of the trail the town below was hidden by the massive trees on the hillside, but they protected us from the cool wind. The trail was used by jogger, walkers and cyclists alike, but I was pleased that everyone spoke, and especially cyclists approaced with caution and indicated their presence from behind with their bells. For some reason, in our part of the world they do not seem to see the necessity of informing you of their approach!

And so, down to town level again into a residential area to be met by the following sight….

…..who was he and what was he doing?……..watch out for the next exciting instalment!…….

Setting-off on the adventure…..

No two-week holiday (our longest break in about 18 years!) can be set-up without worries and anxieties, and this one was no exception! Closing down a small business requires clearing appointments and paperwork, banking and answering machine, government returns and who will water the plants!

Close-family illnesses were cause for concern, but are outwith our control and the Lady of the House really needed the break. The other ‘cloud on the horizon’ was the Iceland volcano cloud. It was expected to arrive in time to disrupt our take-off from Glasgow on Wed . There was doubt about the  forecast and Thomas Cook Travel didn’t help by not keeping us informed. However, Son kindly took us to Glasgow Airport and we left on time.

My friends know that I don’t like sitting in a metal tube for hours, many miles in the air. I’ve done it for many decades but still find it un-natural, and boring! Lady of the House, on the other hand, loves it. Attempts to placate those such as me by letting me watch some ghastly video, or be beguiled by advertising, or read glossy magazines, or eat from a cardboard box, just don’t work! An 8-hour journey could be a good chance to have a snooze to try to deal with the expected jet-lag, but the continual jollification by the stewardesses prevents this, at least for me. The shrinking seats made it even more uncomfortable. Luckily we had other passengers who were happy to chat and such distraction helped the hours to pass.

….but, the 8 hour time-zone change was the largest I have had to handle. On arrival at Calgary we almost had to put our watches back to the beginning of our journey, and keep the eyelids propped open for a long time. The warm welcome at the airport from the staff was what should be expected, but rarely received.

The transfer from Calgary to Banff was perfectly pleasant, but the weather wasn’t! The housing estates on the edge of Calgary didn’t look particularly attractive to us, but we were now in a different culture, and had better get used to it. Rain and sleet didn’t detract from the beauty of the entry into the Banff National Park and Banff itself.

We booked into the Fox Suites, wandered around the pleasant main street, and noted the courtesy of the average Canadian  car-driver. Even idiotic pedestrians who wandered across the road contrary to the crossroad signs were treated as if they were in the right! Back at the hotel, Lady and I chose to share the main course of the evening meal as the portions were obviously over-sized for us mere Brits!

Next morning, she had the chance to learn how to make waffles for breakfast and we ate a bit more than we would have at home (but we were on holiday!). We went to the railway station, to get some shots of a train going through, but no-one could tell when the next one was coming as there was no schedule. A short wait in the rain proved photo-less. We had more  opportunities to investigate the main street, the Mall, the attractive river and the museums. It was a good chance to relax after the previous days’ hassles.

Friday morning welcomed us with a fall of snow, but the skill of waffle-making and loads of coffee set us up for the day. We booked-out and boarded a coach heading north towards Jasper, but on the way we had some stops to make…………..