Category Archives: Canada

Day 16 – Vancouver

A week ago, we heard a bunch of loud bangs above our heads and questioned whether it was thunder. We couldn’t see anything for the high-rise buildings surrounding ours, so I did a search on Twitter. Turns out it was a fireworks show, hosted by Viet Nam. Doing a bit of research, we found out that the Celebration of Light runs every summer and different countries enter to host fireworks shows. So we decided today that we’d head down to English Bay. The beach was jam-packed, with a great party atmosphere.

It was the Italian’s to light the sky this week, so we watched, as they lit their fireworks from the tanker anchored in the bay. The spectacular lasted for half-hour. They obviously spent a lot of money on their display.

Day 15 – Yoho National Park and back to Vancouver

We planned to set off early, as the journey takes about ten hours. That didn’t quite go to plan but never mind.

As we headed home on the Trans-Canada Highway we took an early exit on to Yoho National Park. This road was interesting because it had a ridiculous incline up a cliff face, which we had to corner well or reverse back to get around the bends. Then we saw a beautiful waterfall crashing down a large creek. We seemed quite far away from it, but the sound and sight of it was magnificent. From there, we drove and realised only at the end of the road that it was actually a dead end.

We made it back to the highway and stopped off at a couple more places, including a gorgeous little gem called Emerald Lake. We also had a look at the Kicking Horse river, a long, powerful, river which travels some distance.

On our long trip back, we established that we’d stop off again in Kamloops, have a break, maybe another cotton candy ice cream… Hours went by, and at this point I’m seriously in desperate need for a piss, and having hunger shakes. We’re driving past road signs with names of towns we recognise: Merritt, Kelowna. Anyway, couldn’t find this place. I was desperate and we decided the next sign we see with the park picnic table symbol, we’re stopping off.

Lac Le Jeune was our stop off. We approached a campsite there in the hope of seeing toilets. Mitch, with his instinct of driving on the left side of the road, went round the traffic hut the wrong way. No problem, no one around. We drove along this road and it became apparent that we were entering red neck country. There’s a load of reserved pitches, most occupied, and we pulled into one without a pickup and caravan on it. We had a bunch of locals looking at us, thinking we’re weirdos, as we’re thinking the same about them. I ran to the loo, and could barely stand up!

Mitch and me swap over, now I’m behind the wheel, and we’re leaving the campsite. As I approach that hut, there’s now a police officer and the campsite manager, telling me to pull over. “Oooh shit” we’re thinking. I did exactly the same as Mitch and drove on the left, being the wrong side of the road in Canada, in front of a police officer. Anyway, I was told off for the campsite manager for speeding around his campsite. I apologised profusely and we took off.

We saw another sign, for Logan Lake, and decided to stop there. We refuelled, washed our hands as there were no sinks at the campsite, and headed to the park to eat. This little town seemed all new, planned and pleasant. We ate our sweaty, overloaded cheese sandwiches, washed the grease off our hands and carried on back to Vancouver in hope of dropping the car off before the 10pm deadline.

On our way, we passed the visitor centre we planned to stop at. There is no way we would have lasted that long without pissing ourselves.

Vancouver took absolutely ages to get in to due to the roadworks. We eventually got to downtown, and drove through a really shitty, rundown area. I was genuinely surprised at what was in front of me. Groups of homeless, mentally-ill or drug-ridden folk in a couple of groups of a dozen, easy. All out on the main streets. We later learned this was the infamous East Hastings, or Downtown East Side.

After off loading our bounty of groceries from Safeway in Alberta (took advantage of the 5% tax there), we got the car back at 10.30pm.

Day 14 – Banff & Canmore, Alberta

The previous night I read the local newspaper, which talked of families of bears walking around Canmore. Our driving around yielded no bears, so we thought, “bingo”.

We drove to Banff again, and had a little look around. We then carried onto Canmore. On our way down the Trans-Canada Highway 1 the heavens opened and I’d never seen rain like it. Stair rods is an understatement.

This is a bigger town than Banff but less touristy. Still has cowboys which is cool. After spending some time there, we drove around the national park a bit more. We took a look at the map and spotted a lake called Minnewanka. Being young men with a mature sense of humour we found this very amusing and decided that we’d drive there. After taking pics of the sign, we proceeded to admire how beautiful Lake Minnewanka is. A storm was on the horizon, which exaggerated the colours around the lake. Deep pine green, the turquoise of the water, pale sand and the craggy rocks. Little leisure boats, tied up, fought these inland waves that were fearsome for a lake.

From there we stepped off at a couple of other places, which was so easy to do with how much there is to see here. I believe the place was called Two Jack Lake, typical new world name.

At night, driving down the 1A, two coyote crossed our path, casually walking across the road in a pair, glancing over at us.

Day 13 – Lake Louise and Banff, Alberta

We decided that a hostel charging $8 + tax for an omelette was ludicrous, so we drove down the road and we found a pastry shop. I pretty much ate croissants the whole stay.

From there we travelled to Lake Louise, we paid a fortune for a three day pass and drove around the car parks for half hour cursing the RVs for taking up four spaces.

After parking up, we made our way to the lake. Heaving with tourists but astonishing nonetheless. The water really is that turquoise as on the photos, shrouded by a large mountain range, still snow capped, fog circling their summits.

We began our trek up the Six Glaciers range, where, at the top, over 6km walk, there is a tea house. No problem. We take in the views of barren, to pine, waterfalls and snow, as we chat away putting the world to rights.

We were told this was the easiest walk… well, hours passed, and we’re starting to see mirages of tea houses. We start to lose our rag at this point, the weather goes from very cold to roasting, so the fleece keeps getting taken off, putting back on. I honestly don’t think I’ve worked so hard when walking!

We eventually got there, and if I had the energy I’d have jumped for joy. The tea house is a wood log cabin on stilts, with no electricity and few amenities. The menu was limited because they had so few mod. cons. The menu was full of preservatives and stuff they can make from scratch.My choice was the peanut butter and jam sandwich (it makes me happy that Canadians still call jam ‘jam’, as opposed to Americans who call jam ‘jelly’). It was a pleasant surprise actually – I was expecting it to be horrible.

I shan’t go in to too much detail here, but after such a long walk we needed to use the loo… dear oh dear. The toilet was one of these long drops, reminiscent of the opening scene of Slumdog Millionaire. A stench and sight that will live with me for a long time.

Our journey down took far less time. We made sure to walk across that last bit of snow we saw on the way up, too.

Afterwards, we drove to Banff town which is a good 40 minutes out. On the way we discovered two moose munching away on the road side. The town is picturesque, perfect. Very touristy but not in a Blackpool sort of fashion. It’s town centre is a strip of shops and restaurants built of stone and wood clad, nestled in a mountain range. One of the highlights of the whole trip was the cowboy clothing shop, which served its charming purpose for tourists but also seemed to be a genuine Western riders’ shop, full of genuine cowboy boots (Ariat etc), hats, those sparkly barn dance dresses. Even ABS storage cases for said cowboy hats. Spurs, chaps. Brilliant.

After our platter full of wings and the like, we headed home. We took the 1A route home at dusk, hoping to see some bears… it’s like the road cutting through the Chase, but on acid. No bears today.

Day 12 – En route to Banff National Park

Mitch and I did what I perceived daft for two young English gents – hire a car, driving on the other side of the road, for approximately ten hours each way.

We asked for a Pontiac but received a VW Jetta. Not so bad, as I drive a VW at home so familiarity was a bonus for a car which has the steering wheel on the left.

My biggest concern was driving this automatic car out of the multi-storey car park, or parking lot, without driving it through a wall. After a few minutes of bricking it, we drove off and started on our way. We got out of Vancouver with relative ease, surprisingly.

The drive was easy and pleasurable. We drove past mountains, through the Okanagan desert. About half way we swapped over and Mitch continued the journey, stopping in Kamloops where it was boiling hot. After eating our sweaty sandwiches and cotton candy ice cream, we continued on to the BC-Alberta border. I took over in Golden, where we stopped for a McDonald’s, next to a big bridge passing a beautiful river.

The mountains got bigger, snow-capped in summer. The Trans-Canada highway is a true engineering feat, as it cuts through mountains, hangs off cliffs and sits closely to the Canada-Pacific railway, with trains hauling dozens of grain carts.

We got to the hostel, where we met a guy called Long. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying but he seemed a nice enough chap.

This experience was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Driving for hours may not seem like much, but when you’re from a small country, driving hours down a highway through beautiful scenery and sharing some amazing moments with a good friend is hard to beat.

Day 9 – Vancouver

We got from YVR to the downtown apartment using the SkyTrain monorail. It took about 25 minutes to get to the apartment which is in the Electra Building, a 1950s high-rise glass building which is influenced by Art Deco and has been converted from offices to cool apartments.

Over the next few days we took time to relax as we’d done a lot of travelling. We wondered around Vancouver, did a bit of shopping (picked myself up a Canadian Olympic hoodie and Hudson Bay blanket).

The city seems so tidy, clean, full of energy. And everyone is so polite!

Day 8 – Toronto

Our last day was a relaxed one, especially as it was so hot. We visited the Hockey Hall of Fame, which was surprisingly very interesting. And we shot a few pucks too.

For me the experience in Toronto was quite different to NYC. It is far more relaxed here, and whilst generally received warmly in New York, people here are very welcoming.

As we flew over timezones, the light outside always seemed the same, almost suspended in time. I was truly in awe at the sight of flying over the prairies. Hundreds of miles of what appears to be untouched forests, eventually meeting lonely highways and the odd railroad. Perfect squares and circles of farmed land, huge in size.

Day 7 – Niagara Falls, ON

We caught a coach early for a trip to Niagara Falls. The coach driver was weird and spoke like a robot.

The falls simply are beautiful. We boarded one of the many Maids of the Mist, armed with plastic poncho. It was at this level where you appreciated the power of this natural wonder, always at its mercy if you’re to dare being irresponsible.

From there we headed on to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a quaint tourist village. We sat down at a restaurant, choosing quantity over quality. Mitch ordered a large salad – it was horrendously big. I can’t even remember what I had. All I can see in my memory is that huge salad. Then we went wine tasting. I have no interest in wine at all but hey, free booze. We tried some of the famous ice wine… pas pour moi I have to say!

Back in Toronto, we explored the shopping delights of Yonge St and the Eaton Centre. We then had a lovely dinner at the Three Brewers, drinking from 1 ltr tankards. Brilliant.

Day 6 – Toronto

Our trip was on a tight budget, but the Fairmont Royal York hotel offered us a deal we couldn’t refuse. So we stayed there. What should have been a pleasant experience, our first night there was pretty awful. We were checked in to a smoking room (didn’t even know these still existed in developed countries?), and couldn’t be moved until the next day. The bedding and our clothes stank of cigarettes. For a non smoker, it’s pretty offensive.

We woke up early and visited the CN Tower. The views were spectacular. We couldn’t afford the rotating restaurant, but there is one directly underneath which is really good value considering you’re in one of Canada’s most famous landmarks. We had a beautiful burger with maple bacon as we looked out on Toronto.

As we descended, we took a look round the Toronto Blue Jays shop and around the Rogers Centre stadium.

Had a lovely ride on the small, quaint subway system, the TTC, which still use coin tokens. It’s cute, in a non-condescending way. And some of the old signage is just gorgeous.

We looked around The Bay department store, and some old senile lady clocked us, with the opening gambit “you boys are handsome”. She didn’t hold back her inquisitive thoughts on our origins, either (we both look quite tanned!). And she said we had cute feet. This woman told us her story. She’s from Cornwall, of French ancestry, and moved to Toronto when she was young. We then excused ourselves quickly and found haven at Starbucks.

And then who should walk in… the crazy old lady. I proceed to bury my head in a TTC map waiting for her departure.

In a nod to our previous destination, I purchased a Double Gulp Mountain Dew along with some Twinkies (found it very hard to find those in NY!). And in true class, proceeded to the front desk with Double Gulp in hand, and complained about our room. It worked!