Banff, part 2

October 18th, 2006

Today we headed out on a tour of Banff. THere was a Brewster bus waiting outside our hotel, so I asked the driver if he the tour bus driver, no he wasn’t. He radioed in to ask about the tour, and was told a taxi would be picking us up.

So the taxi arrived, and we jumped in. He took off and headed for the bus terminal, we arrived and he got out, and told us to get out too. He ran inside and spoke to the Brewster staff, then ran off leaving us confused about what was happening. It turns out that instead of the tour bus picking us up, the taxi was taking us to the bus terminal for the start of the tour.

It was the best day we’ve been on so far, Sulfur Mountain was fantastic. The tour ended at 12, as we had another bus to catch – this time to Calgary.

Banff

October 17th, 2006

We boarded the “Express” coach to Banff this morning, which then stopped at the village (ie. a couple of shops down the street from our hotel) for about 20 minutes. Eventually we got moving, and arrived at Banff about an hour later.

Banff is much larger than Jasper, and has many many tourist shops. We were planning on going up to the Banff Gondola, but the clouds had been low all day and we couldn’t see the top of the mountains so instead we walked around town instead.

We ran into another couple that were on the same tour as us from Jasper, and again there are a lot of Australians working here. Later in the evening, it started snowing. We’ve had some light snow that didn’t make it to the ground, but this was the first time I’d seen real snowfall.

Athabasca Falls, Columbia Icefield, and Lake Louise

October 16th, 2006

Lake LouiseWe boarded the Bewster tour bus and headed south. First stop were the Athabasca Falls, where we ran into the tour group who were in the back half of our Rocky Mountaineer coach to Jasper. After that, we moved on down the Icefield Parkway to the Columbia Icefield and the Athabasca Glacier, where we went onto the glacier with the SnoCoach. This was my first time seeing snow up close, and it wasn’t as nearly as cold as I expected.

After lunch, we continued towards Lake Louise, stopping at several mountain lakes along the way. Eventually we arrived at the village of Lake Louise, only to discover we were being dropped off at our hotel and would not actually be taken up to the lake!

We checked in to our hotel, and then caught a taxi up the hill to the lake. I think the village only has the one taxi, and they sure know how to charge! $6 per person each way up to the lake – it’s not even a five minute drive! he took in almost $50 (there were four of us) for about 10 minutes work, and on the way back he arrived with his mates in the taxi (it was a minibus). He didn’t get a tip.

There’s nothing much in the village of Lake Louise, and only the one hotel up by the lake. If I were doing this trip again, I’d continue on the tour bus to Banff (the bus spent an hour or so at the lake after it dropped us off).

Yet again we found ourselves at a hotel that had malfunctioning wireless internet (The Riverland motel at Kamloops had a working wifi network, but no uplink to the outside world). The Lake Louise Inn was even worse – I could connect to the wifi access point and get the login page, but then it would drop out.

Tomorrow we’ll move on to Banff.

Photos

October 15th, 2006

In case you missed the photo gallery link on the right side of the page, click here for the photos

Jasper

October 15th, 2006

Elk on the roadWe woke up to a chilly -2 degrees today, it had warmed up to 0 by the time we were ready to leave the hotel. Surprisingly, I wasn’t cold as we walked a few blocks to the main part of town. The main square had a Parks Canada display with stuffed animals (bears and wolves, plus a few others). We then did a bit of shopping and returned to the hotel to get ready for our afternoon nature tour. We saw several elk on the highway, and some moose by the lake as well as a squirrel and a long horned sheep.

Jasper seems to be full of Australians right now. There were several of us on the train yesterday, and today on the tour had a couple from Melbourne. Both waitressess tonight had australian accents too. As we were having dinner, a pair of elk walked down the street outside of the hotel. They were still there when we finished, so I grabbed my camera and took some photos.

Tomorrow we head for the Columbia Icefield and Lake Louise, which should make for some more great photos. I have to say thanks to Julie, who lent me her 17-40mm wide-angle lens. It has been really handy for a lot of the landscape photos I’ve been taking, mostly with the film camera. I’m yet to get the film developed (that will happen in Calgary in a few days time), but they should be spectacular photos.

Rocky Mountaineer – Day 2, Kamloops to Jasper

October 14th, 2006

Mount RobsonMorning came and we were back on the bus, then back onto the train with Tim. Today’s journey took north, then east – out of the desert and into the forrest and the Rocky Mountains. The view was spectacular, except for one small problem – all the trees up close to the tracks. They blocked our view and I ended up with 300 photos of out-of-focus tree branches.

The views of the snow capped mountains and crystal clear lakes was superb, and the day went quickly. It was much cooler than yesterday, but still not that cold (gloves and my hooded jacket were warm enough – even when looking out the open window at the end of the car).

We arrived in Jasper, said goodbye to the Rocky Mountaineer crew, and took a taxi to the Lobstick Lodge. This hotel looks nice, but doesnt seem to have much sound insulation – the people in the next room have a dog, and I can hear people running in the hallway. On the upside, it does have free wireless broadband (unlike the Kamloops hotel – they said it was offered, but it appeared broken, and the Vancouver hotel which you had to pay for).

Tomorrow we have the morning to ourselves and then a wildlife tour around the Jasper area in the afternoon. Time to get some sleep.

Rocky Mountaineer – Day 1, Vancouver to Kamloops

October 14th, 2006

Our day started at an early 5:45am, as we had to be at the railway station by 7am. It was still dark when we arrived at the Rocky Mountaineer station in Vancouver, we quickly found our way to car J03 where we were met by Tim, our guide for the two day trip to Jasper.

After the reading safety instructions, it was time for breakfast. The train started to move out while we were eating, and the station staff waved goodbye to the whole 21 cars of the train. And then we reversed past the station but on a different track. Then we moved all forwards and on with our journey.

We slowly made our way out of Vancouver, and sped up as we reached more open country. It was rather foggy, but that cleared as the day progressed. The train followed the Fraser River for a couple of hours, as Tim kept us fed and informed of all the sights. The day quickly past, and we headed into the desert and followed the Thompson River to Kamloops. The land surrounding the river looked very, very dry. We spotted salmon swimming up the river, and eagles trying to catch them.

Finally we arrived in Kamloops, and boarded our bus that would take us to our hotel. Jim, our driver, kept us all amused on the short trip to the hotel. Our room had a nice view overlooking the North Thompson River, however it quickly got dark and we decided to get some dinner and then some sleep.

Vancouver

October 12th, 2006

Vancouver had surprisingly warm weather – I think it got up to the mid 20s on both our days here. Day one was spent at Grouse Mountain, Capilano Bridge and Stanley Park. On day two we walked to Granville Island Markets, and just happened to walk past a couple of camera stores :)

Grouse Mountain is home to a pair of orphaned Grizzly Bears (Grinder and Coola), who Shelley naturally wanted to see. Grouse Mountain also has some spectacular views of Vancouver and the surrounding area. The Capilano Bridge (no, it isn’t made from honey!) is a suspension bridge across the Capilano river, which is near Grouse Mountain. Once we’d gotten those two attractions out of the way, we caught the Seabus back across to the city, and walked down to Stanley Park. Stanley Park is big, far larger than I thought it would be. It has a large number of squirrels, which looked cute for the photos but were rather hard to catch, as they move really really fast. “Beaver Lake” is in the middle of the park – but didn’t appear to have any beavers, only ducks.

Our second full day in Vancouver took us to the Granville Island markets, we walked. I’m not really sure why we didn’t take the bus, but I’m glad we didn’t as we walked past a camera store and I needed batteries and film. As we got closer to Granville Island, we began to wonder how to actually get there, as the road we were on turned into a large bridge that bypassed the island.

We were not alone – several other tourists were just as lost as we were. Eventually we found the way, and had a look around. As ususal, we didn’t actually buy anything. Instead of walking back up to the bridge, we took the small (VERY small!) “ferry” across the river. This ferry had room for maybe 10 people, all standing. It had open sides (looked fairly easy to fall out into the water) and appeared to have no life jackets. Another 10 minutes of walking saw us back in the city, looking for a place to have lunch.

After lunch, it was into Sears for some shopping. The layout seemed almost identical to Myer in Sydney, with only some minor differences due to the connecting mall and subway station. Shelley bought a hat and we went back to the hotel, exhausted after walking most of the day.

Tomorrow sees us with an early start – 7am check-in for the Rocky Mountaineer train that will take us to Kamloops and Jasper.

The longest day of my life

October 10th, 2006

It started at 5:30am, the taxi arrived by about 7:15. Thanks to multiple traffic jams around Sydney Airport, it took forever to get there (yay for peak hour traffic). So we checked in (Qantas Club is awesome, hardly any queue). First stop after security screening – the book shop. It took forever. Shelley must have picked up and looked at every single book in the whole shop, we ended up getting a couple of books and then it was off to the Qantas Pub er Club for a bite to eat.

Time flew by, and it was 10:20am – boarding time. They had Super Serious Secret Security Screening (SSSSS) for EVERY passenger. Full bag search and body frisk. The private security grunt took about 5 minutes to search my one bag, and then I told him he missed a compartment :) The pissed off look on his face made it worth it, so I showed him the missed section of my bag. The flight went well enough, we had AVOD (Audio/Video On Demand) which meant we could watch any of the available movies or TV shows at our own pace.

I couldn’t have asked for a better experience than the one I had on Qantas today, except being moved into business class. Qantas Pub Priority bag tags did their job, but I have a feeling everybody’s bags arrived before we got past immigration… The 12 hour flight didn’t seem like 12 hours, more like about 6.

Now for the bad part. LAX airport. Avoid it – Everything bad that people say about it is true. I’d have hated to be on QF93 from Melbourne – it arrived 10 minutes after us, and we had a half hour wait in the queue for immigration as it was. After exiting the sterile area, we tried heading back upstairs to the T4 Lounge, but the huge queue for security screning made it not worth the hassle – so we headed for T3 where our Alaska Airlines flight to Vancouver would depart from. Security at T3 was just as bad (if not worse!) than T4. Shoes off, jackets off. No liquids, etc, etc, etc. Eventually we made it into the terminal proper and found the gate listed on our boarding passes (which were given to us in Sydney). We found a seat in a nice quiet area of that gate’s lounge. As our boarding time approached, it didnt seem to get any busier. I went for a walk and found that our flight had been moved to a different gate! Thanks for telling us!

So we join the queue for boarding AS693 to Vancouver, when we get to the head of the queue, we are told they don’t have our passports on file, so we have to go back out to the lounge and get them scanned! So back in the queue again with about 50 people who have obviously been to disneyland. Ahead of us is a guy with a Qantas boarding pass! Guess what, he gets sent back too. Nobody told either of us we needed to show our passports to the gate desk before joining the queue – and they wonder why the flight is late.

The woman doing the security procedures talk seemed to be trying to getitalloutinonebreathandwasreallyhardtounderstand. So now we’re in the air, after having been awake for 24 hours. The kid behind me seems to think he needed to bash on the back of my seat every few minutes. Not exactly what I needed for another 2 hours. We finally landed in YVR, and got a taxi to the hotel.

I did get a couple of photos from the plane including a video of take off from Sydney, but it has just gone 7pm and I’ve been awake for about 30 hours so I’m going to bed and I’ll look at them tomorrow.

Well the time as almost arrived…

October 9th, 2006

We’re all packed and ready to go. I don’t think we’ve forgotten anything – if we have, I’ll probably remember somewhere over fiji!

 I can’t say I’m looking forward to spending the next 23 hours traveling, but hey, it’ll be worth it.