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.
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.
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.
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!
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”
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.
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”
Another clear morning and another breakfast at Nellies, as per yesterday. Well, why change a good thing? After a leisurely bag packing session to allow the rush hour traffic to calm down, we checked out and dug the car out of the bowels of the hotel and set off for Banff, about 125km away. Getting out of Calgary was a doddle. It’s easy to follow the SatNav, sorry GPS as it’s called here, when you have a) an idea how to work it and b) an idea where you’re actually going.
We awoke in to find the morning was bright, clear and quickly warming up. The evening before we’d been placed high up on the 13th floor of the Sandman Hotel in Calgary but sadly the view from the room was mostly of other tall buildings. The hotel location though turned out to be a brilliant as it was on 7th Avenue and just across the road from the 8th Street CTrain stop. The CTrain light rail system services all of the downtown area of Calgary, (as well as the suburbs), but even more happily was free to ride in the central district that we’d need it for. But more on that later; breakfast first! Continue reading “Out and about in Calgary”
One of my great unfulfilled ambitions has been to travel to the Canadian Rockies. There have been two near misses in the past; way back in 1987 we took a family vacation to Vancouver, and from there we drove and sailed still further west over to Vancouver Island and Victoria, then took the ferry south down the Puget Sound to the USA and Seattle. In many ways this was an epic trip but it wasn’t the Rocky Mountains. A couple of years later an even larger family contingent flew to Denver, Colorado, where we hired two R’s and headed towards Estes Park and from there into the American Rockies. That was an adventure and a half too, but whilst the American version was spectacular (I still recall waking in the campground at dawn to a silent and mist covered Shadow Mountain Lake) it still wasn’t the Canadian Rockies. Well this year, exactly thirty years after the original Vancouver trip, I get to see them at last. This is the story of that trip Continue reading “Away to Canada!”