A wet Sunday morning

A wet start to Sunday with more showers forecast which always poses a problem of what best to do. I had the same problem in Berlin last year and perhaps not surprisingly the same solution – visit a science and technology museum! So once breakfast was disposed of I resolved to do that. Happily the National Technical Museum (Národní technické muzeum or NTM) was located less than 30 minutes walk from the hotel (albeit, some of those minutes were spent ascending to the top of a steep hill – the sister of the one I ascended yesterday). Once at the top the views would have been excellent apart from the overcast, drizzling weather. The museum itself is housed in a perfect example of what you might call ‘Communist brutal’, being a huge, grey building with aspirations towards imposing but leaning heavily towards oppressive. A similar building next door housed the Agricultural Museum, but I had no intention of going in there – I am not weird you know! Despite the glowering exterior, inside the NTM was light and bright, with a definite Art Deco feel to the surroundings. Having paid the entry fee of about £7 (220Czk) I was free to wander at will.

Inside the main hall of the National technical Museum (Národní technické muzeum)

First port of call was the massive transport hall – a giant galleried hangar – full to the brim with cars, motorcycles, trains, planes and boats from all periods of Czech history. I had been warned by Tripadvisor that the galleries here had a strict one-way system in place for walking round, and to break it was to risk a strict telling-off from stern ‘still living in the Communist-era’ museum staff. Well, loads of people were wandering randomly in the most decadent ad-hoc Western manner and I never noticed the staff intervening. Maybe someone caught someone on a bad day? I spent ages wandering through the story of Czech transportation, and was only surprised by how poorly Skoda were represented, given the massive success they are today. 

Lower part of the Van De Graff generator at the NTM – I think this picture looks like an album cover ofr the band of the same name.

Freed from the transport hall I wandered through several other floors of exhibits on different themes. I particularly liked the architecture floor, full of models (some of them  life size details) and dioramas of Prague buildings by famous designers. But practically all of the floors held something fascinating, and I could have returned time after time to find new things to see an do. For example, the interiors alone were worth the price of admission. I have already alluded to the Art Deco entrance hall, but this was continued right through the museum. The staircases and lobby of each floor were grand masterpieces of marble and glass, one of which contained the enormous lower half of a Van De Graff generator, alas not working.

By this time I noticed from the windows on the upper floor that the weather outside was much better than when I arrived, with decent hints of blue in the sky, so considered it a good time to  head outdoors. But first a brew and maybe a bite, so down into the basement to the cafe we go. This turned out to be a perfectly accurate reconstruction of a cafe from Communist times, with formica-topped tables, and a very limited menu of unappetising-looking food, all overseen by unsmiling ladies with the build of former Olympic shot-putters. Except it wasn’t a reconstruction, it was the real museum cafe. I managed to extract a coffee and a cake of uncertain provenance for not much money, but not much joy either.

View along the Vltava towareds the Charles Bridge from the Pražský metronom.

Directly in front of the museum is Letná Park on the hillside overlooking the Vltava river and the Old Town. I headed towards a sculpture called the Pražský metronom, which is a working metronome over 75 feet tall erected on a plinth that apparently once housed a statue of Joseph Stalin. Wikipedia claims that this is a meeting place for young people and I can confirm that is correct, because not only were there many young people in attendance, but the place was graffiti-tagged to hell. I am not quite sure whether to approve or sternly disapprove.

By now it was past mid-afternoon, approaching the time that the conference registration was due to open, so I made my way north towards the Florenc business district to the Hilton Hotel, which was to be our venue. Walking up to the hotel I was glad I wasn’t staying there, despite the grandeur of the interior (more on that anon), but because it was marooned in the middle of dual carriageways, and a long walk from the Old Town. The Ibis might be much more humble (and a lot cheaper) but it was really well placed for walking round the city, not to mention surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the shopping, markets and street food vendors. I actually like having trams screeching by below my bedroom window. But back to the interior of the Hilton; threading my way past all the executive cars and doormen and entering the hotel, I was greeted by a very impressive atrium area going up the full height of the building.  It was really quite the sight given the rather bland, boxy exterior of the hotel. It didn’t take long to register for the conference, then it was the weary 20 minute hike back to the hotel and my sightseeing was over for another year.

Over to Prague

It’s the time of year again when I get the chance to travel to a European capital for a computer conference related to work. Because my employer is paying for flights and transfers, it’s a small matter to tack on a couple of days of my own for the happy purpose of wandering around and gawping. Two years ago I got to go to Dublin, last year was the turn of Berlin, and this year I was hoping for Tallinn – just to keep the -‘in’ endings theme going – but alas it’s Prague. No, I jest. I was thrilled when they announced it would be Prague because it’s a place I have never been and always fancied visiting. It looks exotic in an East European way, whilst the Slavic language and alphabet makes it sound exotic. However, in reality you have to remember it’s just a 3 hour drive from Vienna. Not that Jet2.com took even that long from Manchester. Less than two hours after takeoff, on a morning containing one very early start, saw our 737 dropping below some impressively low clouds onto the runway at Václav Havel Airport.

Sunny morning departure from Manchester

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Granville Island and home

Rain, pouring rain. It had to happen at some point, especially in Vancouver, which is notorious for the quantity of its precipitation. At least the Pacific Northwest seems to have saved the wettest of the weather for our last day. The plan today is to check out the hotel and head towards Granville Island public market for breakfast and a look round before catching our late pm flight home. This seems a good plan, but didn’t account for the fun of actually getting off Highway 99 on to Granville Island. The bloody GPS again; it seems to love drawing indecipherable spaghetti roads on the screen and calling out turns on the opposite side of 4 lanes of traffic just as you’re passing them. You can tell we had fun. After a couple of passes I gave up and managed to approach the island from quieter roads on the landward side. Another frazzled start to the day courtesy of the Vancouver traffic. Continue reading “Granville Island and home”

Vancouver

So the day dawns bright and fair once more (hey, hadn’t I promised not to start with a good weather report every time?) and we decide that, as we were so enamoured of Cora’s breakfast in Kamloops yesterday (wow, was that only yesterday? it already seems days ago) that’s we’d check out one of the Vancouver franchises of the same company. The nearest restaurant turns out to be a couple of miles away further along Robson Street, which conveniently is the same street as our hotel. Hey, this can’t be hard to find can it? So hop in to the car, fire up the GPS to keep us pointed the right way and head down Robson in the right direction (a decision with which GPS entirely agrees). Oh wait, not only is there the deadly Vancouver traffic to fight through, plus the block-by-block one-way system, there’s also a pedestrianised section right in the middle of Robson street; this is not so simple after all. Looking at google maps online later, it knows all about this pedestrian stuff, but seemingly the dedicated Garmin GPS (you have ONE job!) is oblivious to it all and wants to go down the verboten sections. Much swearing results, but eventually we find the place. We’re not even two miles from where we started and I am already frazzled this morning. We order the same breakfast as the day before (boring) but somehow this one isn’t as nice, which is a shame. Continue reading “Vancouver”

Sun Peaks to Vancouver

Sun Peaks doesn’t get up early in the morning. None of the restaurants seemed keen to serve breakfast before 8:00 or 8:30am and, as it is a another long drive day today, we felt we could be long a way down the road before all that palaver was dealt with. So we checked out of the hotel and headed for breakfast in Kamloops, which is ‘just down the road’. Once again I underestimated Canadian distances, and just down the road turned out to be closer to an hour’s drive, so we were starving by the time we got to Kamloops just after 9am. I had already chosen Cora’s for breakfast, both because it got an decent review on Tripadvisor but mostly because it was close to the highway without having to navigate through the town itself. This turned out to be actually quite a nice choice,  despite the fact that it was a large, chain restaurant, with a scary infatuation for primary colours, a relentlessly upbeat menu, located on the edge of an industrial estate. The staff were charming and efficient and the breakfast was plentiful and tasty. Apart from a few families, we shared the place with a couple of RCMP ‘Mounties’, which was nice.

Available in any colour, as long as it’s white. Our car parked at Cora’s, Kamloops.

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Jasper to Sun Peaks

Today was always going to be a long drive day, and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. With bells on. Google tells me that it’s about 450km (280 miles) from Jasper to our bed tonight in Sun Peaks, British Columbia. However, we start the day in the same way as we started yesterday, with a decent breakfast at Papa Johns. After filling the car with gas, it’s out on to the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 16) heading north west towards Tête Jaune Cache. The border with British Columbia is achieved surprisingly quickly , and we’re forced to put our watches back an hour as we move from Mountain to Pacific time. Luckily the satnav and in-car clocks change themselves or there could have been a long session with the manual tonight.

Jasper to Sun Peaks – 450Km of mountains

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Jasper

Chateau Jasper turns out to be remarkably similar in feel to the Caribou Lodge back in Banff, with the same coach parties, and the same odd sense of things being temporary. Every time you pass through the lobby someone is checking-in or checking-out. As a hotel, the setup works well enough – you get a decent night’s sleep – but the whole experience of staying is oddly nebulous and forgettable, as if this part of your life is also transient. At least the coach parties had probably been onto the glacier and hence arrived much later than us the previous day. Jasper itself is a strange town, with a bit of a frontier feel to it. Exploring doesn’t take very long. The majority of shops and restaurants are along one side of Connaught Drive, with the opposite side being the railway. Most of the shops cater for either tourists or backpackers, selling a combination of trinkets and bear spray. There’s nothing there we really want to buy!

Exterior of the Chateau Jasper (not my picture)

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Driving the Icefields Parkway

 

The car in Bear Street Parkade, Banff town centre on a sunny morning, Mt Rundle in the background.

Today is our last day in Banff and our last breakfast at Tooloulou’s. After checking out of the Lodge (didn’t even look for free coffee today) we headed into town and parked in the now familiar Bear Street Car Park, a block from the restaurant. It was sad to see the huge choice of Eggs Benedict for the last time, but exciting to be moving on. When a man is tired of Banff, he’s probably been there about three days.

The first hour of the drive towards the Icefields Parkway was the same route along Highway 1 as we took to Lake Louise yesterday, and was despatched pretty quickly without fuss. The only thing we found noteworthy was the fairly frequent, and wide bridges over the highway. These appeared odd at first because rather than being flat on top, they had a couple of humps mirroring where the arches over the road were below. They also appeared to be full of bushes and trees. The continuous chain-link fences either side of the highway provided a further clue; these were animal bridges, not human ones. Rather clever, and probably essential to allow animals access to the wilderness either side of the road. Continue reading “Driving the Icefields Parkway”

Out to Lake Louise

There was no question that Tooloulou’s was going to figure on the breakfast agenda again this morning. After another fruitless hunt for the fabled free coffee in a lobby full of departing coach passengers, we gave up and rode the elevator down to the basement and took the car into the town centre instead. The reason for the early morning search for coffee is that the in-room facilities are a bit spartan on that front. Well there’s no kettle anyway. Instead there’s some kind of machine that brews coffee, but it looks like getting it running would be an enormous faff with paper filters and suchlike things, plus I am not entirely sure all the right ingredients are present. There’s no way I was going to be able to make a single cup of coffee with that and not make an unholy mess, so it felt safer to let someone else do it. This time I even managed to park practically outside the restaurant, which was nice.

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In and around Banff

Our first day in Banff dawned bright and clear… actually, I am going to stop writing that because practically every day on this trip started that way apart from one, so I’ll save the weather report for the wet day and you can assume sunny starts unless I say otherwise. If nothing else it’ll keep the tension going (or perhaps not). Anyway, the hotel promised us hot tea and coffee in the lobby every morning, but when I went to investigate I found it had all been snaffled by the members of the many coach parties that had arrived throughout yesterday afternoon, and whom were currently either busy breakfasting in the packed hotel restaurant or thronging in the lobby waiting for their transport. Bloody tourists. Continue reading “In and around Banff”