The Adventure Chapter 6

………so far……….flight Glasgow to Calgary; transfer to Banff and the snow;  making waffles; Lake Louise and the marvellous Hotel;  Athabasca Glacier;  Athabasca Falls; two days on the Rocky Mountaineer; walking in Stanley Park……and the noisy air-conditioning!

…….Sadly we were soon to leave a lovely city, Vancouver. We had scarcely scratched the surface and we could only imagine from guide books what the rest was like. We had not got(gotten?) to Victoria or anywhere on Vancouver Island and I promised Lady that this is one area to which I would happily return. This photo was taken down at the harbour just before sunset…marvellous isn’t it?

It was now time to get our last sleep on terra firma for a week, in the Blue Horizon Hotel, but the infernal air-conditioning system whirred away, just above the threshhold of hearing, and hence, of sleep !  However, we had another good breakfast and a short taxi ride took us back down to the Harbour, where the cruise-ships lay. We were really getting excited!

We were physically still on Canadian soil, but politically it was American, as we would be. heading into American waters, so we were questioned, finger-printed, and photographed by American security border staff. I had inadvertently made a slight error in my on-line visa application,  and was slightly apprehensive that I might be considered suspicious, especially with my Irish accent. They were perfectly pleasant and luckily they didn’t seem to have noticed the mistake, so we got through with a hugh sigh of relief…..but what if?

Our ship was the American Holland  ‘Volendam’ and could take 1400 passengers. We had never been on such a large  cruise ship before…our Mediterranean cruise had 400, and our Rhine/Mosel ship only took about 100 folk. However, there was no feeling of claustrophobia or crowds as we were taken to our ‘Stateroom’ F1822 on Dolphin Deck. each evening we were faced with a strange animal on our bed made with a folded hand-towel!

‘Stateroom’ sounds very posh, and often expectations are unrealised, but we were very pleased with our king-size bed, panoramic window overlooking the harbour, loads of hanging and drawer storage space (mainly commandeered by Lady of course), good-sized shower-room and loo, dressing-table (eventually featuring a number of pills and potions, as well as a few drink bottles), cumfy sofa, and television….the following link ahould work.

http://www.hollandamerica.com/virtual-tours-videos/Main.action?cat=accommodations&subcat=am&type=vt&id=4&title=Holland

I, like most men, would probably have preferred to go out immediately, for a walk round to get my bearings…..but Lady had other ideas! Cases had to be instantly unpacked, hangers had to be acquired and drawers utilised, so that clothes which had been left unpacked for a week could now be allowed to un-crease, so that she could go out to meet her public, looking pristine.  My argument that some 1398 other people might have some creases in their attire cut no ice, I’m afraid!

Life-boat drill whilst we were still in port, was a bit of a farce. People wandered to their Station late, chatted, moved about, so they were difficult for the Crew to find, wandered off when they thought it was all over, and no-one donned a life-jacket. It was in sharp contrast to some 16 years previously, when men and women were separated, life-jacket-donning was compulsory and no photos or video was allowed! That completed (if not remembered!) we were able to set sail.

There’s something about that time just before any journey starts (be it plane, sea, train or car), when you want to get away, you know that certain things have to be checked (gas off, front door locked; ear plugs in, hand luggage under the seat, lap-belts fastened, etc) but you just want to get going. With planes there then follows the adrenalin-rush of take-off; with cars there is the last wave to the neighbours; with trains there is the noisy clanking over the points and the unsightly backs of houses, as we get on our way.

There is no such effect with large liners. After the ropes have been unhooked, they seem to gently slink away from the quayside. Some make a great noise about it whilst others, like ours, waited until an appropriate time before sounding their hooter.  In Vancouver Harbour it seems to be just as we went under the wonderful suspension bridge and we headed for the Inside Passage…we were leaving the black clouds and were on our way!

Duty done, we went to the Lido deck (one of seven restaurants) for a barbecue with salmon. This was a large deck with undercover tables and also a large area where the roof could open, just like Wimbleton. It had a fair-sized pool, but the sight of some semi-clad bodies entering and leaving the water did not do anything for the digestion!

However, the food was fine, and was, surprisingly, served by the staff. This was as a temporary measure for the first few days to prevent the possibility of e-coli or other bugs being brought-in by passengers…always a worry.

The goodly number of shops on board pleased the Lady so we had to have a look. I managed to get a good book called the ‘Alaskan Cruise Handbook’ (not surprisingly) which gave the maps, mileage references and the history of exploration in the area….I can certainly recommend it as I am reading it some time after returning home.

A brief walk round the promenade deck, and we were in bed at 11.45….but it was still bright enough outside to read by. Tomorrow would be exciting!

Nite nite!!

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The Adventure…Chapter 5

We had originally intended spending a couple of nights in the city of  Victoria, on Vancouver Island, but after re-arranging our schedule, decided that Vancouver would be the place to explore. Having not been in Victoria we can’t say whether we made the better choice…but we can say that we certainly enjoyed being in Vancouver!…..if that’s not all too complicated!

We were worried when our travel agent suggested a hotel on Robson Street….right in the centre of Vancouver. We needn’t have been concerned!  If you had looked at the Google street link on the last post you might have seen the trees on what is a very-attractive walk-way…..and, yes, the drivers were courteous there, too!

Our Hotel, the Blue Horizon, was a bit like Dr Who’s Tardis…you entered what looked like a small shop, which then expanded to fill the space required. As with all our accommodation, the facilities were excellent and we could look out over the towering hotels and offices. All we could hear at night was the gentle whirr of the air-conditioning plant (at least it was at the beginning).

Having unpacked for the last time before our cruise, we went out for a walk to get a feel for the city. Lots of familiar fashion shops were noted by the Lady, but I  kept her moving!

But where do you eat in a foreign city? Do you go back to the Hotel, where you know the kind of quality you can expect, do you stick with an international brand of restaurant, or try to find a ‘local’ speciality eaterie? We plonked for an Urban Cafe….we didn’t really know what we were letting ourselves in for, but you grow courageous with age!  The menu on the wall was no help as it used strange names and descriptions, so we just went to have a look at what was in the chill cabinet. We ended up with some kind of toasted ‘thing’, coffee, and a rice pudding under another name…..dead exciting!

My main problem with moving about so much is that I find it hard to relax and get a decent night’s sleep. The rooms have all been very satisfactory, the beds have  been comfortable, I have never eaten anything dis-agreeable, and I have not had excessive alcohol…however  I did have the problem  of not getting back to sleep OK after wakening at 3am  with the gentle whirr of the air-(bloody) conditioning!!!!! 

The Sudoku book was my companion for some time that night but I still felt fine when we went down for a Canadian breakfast. Again the menu appeared complex with all combinations of bacon, sausage, egg, fried bread, waffles, black pudding coming up separately! What’s wrong with ‘Full Breakfast’ ?

Suitably sated, we decided that after a bit of minimal shopping at Safeway, for AA batteries (the digital cameras consumed them in great numbers!), we had to see the lovely harbour area on the way to Stanley Park…….

It looks at first view  a cluttered skyline, but when on the ground one certainly does not get that impression.

Stanley Park  is curiously shaped when viewed from above, looking a bit like a sea-horse’s head, with Beaver Lake forming the eye! It was opened in 1888 and named after Lord Stanley of Preston, who was the Governor General. It is over 1000 acres in size, with 120 miles of roads and paths. There were special lanes for cyclists, roller-bladers, and pedestrians, and so we had no problems from them.  There was no way we could hope to see any more than a small section of it in one day as we wanted to walk as much as possible.

http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&sugexp=gsih&xhr=t&q=stanley+park+vancouver&cp=14&rlz=1R2ADFA_enGB347&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&biw=1366&bih=686&wrapid=tljp1309552165680024&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wl

It was possible to have a horse-driven carriage through the park, but with a cost somewhat between that a Gondolier in Venice, and the Greek National Debt, we decided that ‘a pied’ was a good idea. We got to a shop near the Totem Pole area, when it decided to rain, so in we went, and bought a small umbrella, and some small jewellery for presents. Unfortunately the photos we took of the totem poles were not worth recording because of the torrential rain (that’s my excuse anyway!) but you can imagine a number of such edifices with explanations. After a lunch of sandwiches from the shop (quite good, actually!) we moved on to the park, proper.

Stanley himself must have cut a fine figure, as his statue shows him throwing his arms to the heavens when he officially named it, avering that it should be for the enjoyment of all peoples.

However, when we saw the statue, it was clothed in a shirt depicting the Canadian ice-hockey team the Canucks, who were in some final of ice-hockey against what I believe was an American team….so no rivalry there!! They eventually lost to the Americans causing rioting inVancouver….so it’s not just in the UK it happens!

For those who have visited the waterfront in Copenhagen (there I am, name-dropping again!) the iconic image is Langeline (the Little Mermaid). Well, Vancouver has one of its own (Girl in a Wet-suit)….

…….again with a Canucks’ tee-shirt!

We misjudged the size of the Park, and turned-off far too early, but luckily saw the Giant Redwood trees. We then found ourselves back at the water and followed the walkway back through the harbour, imagining where we could go if we only had one of the myriad vessels tied-up.

Lady of the House is (I hasten to add) no tippler, but it was her who suggested that we acquire a small amount of liquid refreshment for our pre-dinner snifter on the ship. We had seen no alcohol on sale in the shops or supermarkets, so, when returning from the Harbour to the Hotel and seeing a shop window full of cans and bottles, we HAD to enter!

There was a good selection, and I discussed it with a security guard, who then informed me of the concept of Government Liquor Stores, where they are able to have an element of control with minimum pricing of alcohol units….so no great bargains here I’m afraid!

We got packing done and then out for our final meal on Canadian soil, and ended-up in a recommended Thai Restaurant!

And so our short sojourn in Vancouver came to an end. We should have planned to be there longer and explored Stanley Park properly (maybe not the whole 120 miles!). If you are a cyclist, then we would suggest that you hire one and see around the Park properly. We also did not get to see the thriving Chinatown. If (and it is a big IF) i could be persuaded to again take the long flight, Vancouver is one place I could visit again. 

And so we were ready to face the open sea next day on our Alaskan Cruise, but before that we had to get a good night’s sleep….ZZZZZZZZZ