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
Manchester is my most local ‘big’ airport, so it was with great happiness that I discovered that Air Transat had a direct flight to Vancouver. This happiness turned out to be premature because Manchester is a b*stard of an airport to transit through. We turned up a good 2.5 hours before our flight , but there were problems with the our passports in electronic visa system (which I am still not entirely sure were my fault), followed by an almost glacially slow security system, which meant that we were almost running to make our flight. This was not a relaxing start. The flight itself was OK, apart from the food being comically poor, and at 9 hours, far too long (though that is hardly the airline’s fault). At Vancouver we had 2.5 hours again to make our connection to Calgary. Unfortunately Canada makes your port of arrival the point of entry where you have to clear customs and immigration. There’s no in-transit arrangement, so you are forced to work your way from airside to land side with all your luggage, then check in again and go back through security to airside. Not a lot of fun, especially when most of the airport staff seem plainly confused as to exactly what you need to do themselves. Except if you’re flying Air Canada, which seems to have desks and staff everywhere. Eventually we managed to get our luggage in the system and back airside clutching our boarding cards, but once again found ourselves rushing towards the gate to make the flight. This one turned out to be on another wide-bodied Airbus, which I thought odd for such a short hop, but it transpired out it was going on to Amsterdam from Calgary. I am sure there was some sort of flight amalgamation going on there. So we taxied out a few minutes late, into the ground queue, then did a quick tour of the taxiways before ending up at the same point on the taxiway as we were a few minutes earlier. “Uh-oh”, I thought and sure enough one of the pilots came on the intercom to say there was a technical fault and we were returning to the gate to let the engineers take a look at it. Luckily the engineers did manage to fix whatever was wrong (or at least reassure the pilots enough for them to continue) but by now we had missed our slot completely, plus needed to refuel to replace all the kerosene we’d burned whilst driving around the airfield.
So it was a good hour and a half behind our scheduled flight time before we were finally airborne. The flight itself was alright, with the Rockies below in the late afternoon sunshine, so we thought our ordeal might finally be over. We were wrong. On arrival at Calgary, everyone had to disembark, including those for Amsterdam, We made our way to baggage reclaim on the very far side of Calgary airport and waited. The carousel disgorged a few cases then stopped. After about 30 minutes a Air Transat representative admitted they hadn’t sorted the luggage and all the Amsterdam cases were mixed with the Calgary cases and they were having to take the lot off an sort them out. Another 30 minutes passed and the rep was back to tell us all that the baggage handlers had somehow mistakenly delivered all the Calgary cases to the wrong part of the airport, but she would personally fetch them for us to this part. At that point it because rather farcical as a stream of hand-pushed baggage trolleys and disabled buggies loaded with cases made their slow way from one side of the airport to the other. Of course one of our cases was in the first delivery and the other in the last! By this time it was getting towards dusk and I was getting agitated about driving an unfamiliar car on the wrong side of the road through a strange city. Luckily the Avis checkout was very fast – too damn fast for me to take it all in, to be honest. However we somehow ended up with a brand new Dodge Journey SUV, a GPS system I could barely work, and a ride into Calgary to our hotel. Happily I can report that the trip was largely uneventful, and the hotel was reached with minimal fuss. A space in the underground garage was procured, and we were in our room looking out on the same fading Monday evening as we had set out on 18 hours previously. We were there.