Tag Archives: road trip

Day 3 – Akureyri

We worked out our days to allow for a big drive, followed by a break, and so on. Chloe definitely didn’t have a break yesterday, so I drove us to Akureyri, Iceland’s second ‘city’.

It’s a good two and a half hour drive from where we were staying, approximately 170km. We woke up early to set off with good time and enjoy the day at a leisurely pace. I opened the blinds to see that the mountains were now pretty much covered in snow, and our patio had a light dusting overnight. Probably enough to bring traffic to a halt in old Blighty.

We rang the road conditions hotline, that informed us that our passage would be icy and to take care (the automated message read something like, “conditions are i-see, and maybe trick-ee” in this lovely Icelandic accent, really wish I recorded it!). Upon considering whether to risk it or not, we decided to stick to our plans and, before setting off, I looked for snow chains in the boot. Turns out we had snow tyres fitted – a requirement for all cars in Iceland. And so we set off. Iceland seemed even quieter with this change of weather.

The roads looked a tad icy and were dusted with snow, but no matter how many times I tried testing the traction, by picking up speed and slamming on the breaks, this thing just wouldn’t skid. It stayed put. The sun was now coming out and with the snow giving the mountains their first coat of white, the colours made Iceland look a completely different place to yesterday. Blue skies, whiteish landscape, and the sun made the rusty colours exaggerated. Not only that, but what seemed to be starved greenery was now bright and lush.

The drive was, again, inspiring. The views were always astonishing. The Route 1 was still a tad snowy when in the mountains, and at freezing point, but the beautiful sun was changing this. On a number of occasions, I had to stop to take advantage of this beautiful weather, to take photos of a landscape which is now benefitting from the onset of winter and a baking sun, which I could imagine how Iceland looks in its 24 hour summer sunlight.

Akureyri is a small town – just 17,000 residents here. An outpost of civilisation in the north, sitting on the Eyjafjörður. It’s significance as Iceland’s second city delivers important shops and restaurants. We looked at a few shops, for Icelandic sweaters (lopapeysa), though I couldn’t make my mind up.

Afterwards we headed to a restaurant on the fifth floor of a building overlooking Eyjafjörður, called Strikið. Pretty cool looking and reasonably priced. They served standard and Icelandic dishes.

Chloe opted for the safe choice of a (raw) hamburger. Being a part-time vegetarian, eating a meal without meat in Iceland is a difficult task. I picked the Icelandic burger. A mashed up patty of beef, goose and reindeer, blended to perfection. Topped with Iceland cheese, rocket (urggh), and… blueberry sauce. It somehow worked!

We continued to Route 1, skirting the fjord, looking for Goðafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods. An important site which turned Icelanders from paganism to Christianity. Iceland’s signage is notoriously shit – so we went down a track for a few kilometres, and turned back as there wasn’t a waterfall. We headed to a plume of steam, and found it (the sign was pointing at the wrong road).

We headed back to look at the Christmas house, and all-year round Christmas shop. It was weird but great. Smelled like Christmas, and felt like Christmas. Excessively pricey mind. The cost of some shitty ornaments could afford me a 4×4 trip to the Icelandic highlands. But that said, worth a visit!

We then carried on to Brynja, a legendary sweet shop just outside Akureyri. We had beautiful ice cream (from milk, not cream), with a moat of hot caramel fudge surrounding it in a pot, with sugared chopped nuts swimming in it. Divine! If you’re in the north, visiting Akureyri just for an ice cream from here is well worth it!

We drove back in the dark, and arrived at the cabin at 8:30 pm. New neighbours – Paul and Matteo from Dublin and Argentina respectively. They were telling me, shouting from one log cabin to another over howling, freezing cold wind, that they’ve been in Iceland for a week, waiting for the Northern Lights, with no luck. I sat, checking every five minutes, for those magical green swirls to appear in the clear sky full of stars. Nothing. Not at 3 am, nor at 5 am.

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.