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Alaska and Canada - August 2006

The incongruity of mixing the history of the late 19th century with the tacky presence of the early 21st century always become evident on a cruise and provide a counter to the stunning scenery encountered on this trip.

The Canadian Rockies, Alaska, the Yukon - places that dreams are made of. This trip was all about establishing whether those dreams would come true in our official 30th anniversary trip.

The scenery was without doubt stunning, the experience was immense but from an historic perspective it seems to be more and more difficult to divorce oneself from the present and move back in time.

This holiday took in Calgary, Banff, Kamloops and Vancouver in Canada and Ketchikan, Juneau and Scagway in Alaska as we  played with two countries and numerous time zones - sailing up the inside passage to Alaska after a five day coach tour of the Canadian Rockies.

We hope that the photographic gallery at the bottom of this page somehow captures the beauty and fun of the trip.

Tuesday August 1st

Don't you  just hate these early starts? The problem with British traffic is you never quite know how long to allow for a journey of 144 miles. Traffic jams, road works, accidents and just about every other imaginable hold-up can turn even the most mundane journey into a nightmare. That's why we set off for Heathrow Airport at 5.20 a.m, allowing us a massive amount of time to account for all of the above. The car park that is the M25 came into play and slowed us up after a reasonable start. Nevertheless we were in the airport area within three hours and left the car at Purple Parking and took the shuttle bus to the airport - arriving about five hours ahead of our flight. I always argue that it's better to be sitting in the departure lounge with a newspaper and cup of coffee than sitting in a panic on the motorway!

When we did get going the flight to Calgary with Air Canada was pretty uneventful, although the plane was rather stuffy and the movie entertainment rather outdated.

As we moved our watches back seven hours, we  relived a good third of the same day and spent over 24 hours awake (apart from a quick doze on the plane). Jet lag is never as bad going out as coming back, however, as there is the excitement of visiting new places and the adrenalin that brings. So you just keep going.

Our first impressions of Calgary were one of a very modern and pleasant city as we  were driven by coach to our hotel which was just off Seventh Avenue. As usual for a one night stopover the hotel was unexceptional but functional and that really is all you can expect.

After checking in and having a shower and change we decided to go out for something to eat and close to the hotel was an Irish pub with a rooftop garden where the atmosphere was good and the food acceptable.

Wednesday August 2nd

Living out of suitcases will be a feature of the first five days of this holiday. Constantly packing and moving on.

We were up early this morning in order to make the most of our limited time in Calgary and an early morning walk proved just what an impressive and compact city it is.

There is a quality of life and richness from natural resources that seems to be evident everywhere. The city is clean and modern and oozes class. Apparently in the winter it is a difficult place due to the extreme cold. But the developers have built in a series of walkways 15 feet above ground level to ensure that local people and visitors stay warm even when it reaches sub zero. A lot of thought has gone into designing this town with plenty of parkland and open space on the edge.

There also seems to be an abundance of coffee shops, always a measure of security and wealth. Such was our interest that the leisurely breakfast and early morning stroll turned into a hectic march to ensure we were back at the hotel before the coach left.

We then had an hour tour of the city including the Calgary Stampede stadium which comes alive for a few days every July with rodeo events.

All too soon we had to leave Calgary (we could have done with another day at least) and head out for the spectacular beauty of Banff National Park and the exceedingly pretty town itself where we were to spend the next two nights.

The drive took us through soaring Rocky Mountain scenery - with plenty of photographic stops on the way. Some of my favourite images of the holiday came from this drive. Banff turned out to be a delightful town. We had feared a tourist trap, but this exquisite little town at the foot of the mountains is still unspoiled despite being overrun by tourists. Indeed there was a feeling of space about it. Our hotel was smack bang in the centre of town and we soon found a very interesting museum dedicated to the philanthropy of Peter and Catharine Whyte. The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies has its own web site which is available by clicking here.

Peter and Catharine did so much to keep the area alive and the museum is a testimony to their life's work of collecting and promoting Banff and the surrounding area.

Banff is overlooked by the splendid Banff Springs Hotel and we hiked up through some splendid gardens and had a pint of beer in an English style pub overlooking the golf course. We watched a number of players tee off and soon realised this was serious golfing territory. A plate of Nachos left us feeling bloated, but we still managed to walk back along the river into town and eat at Melissa's a delightful restaurant just tucked off the back street but which was very popular. Then jet lag and travelling caught up with us!!!

Thursday August 3rd

As I was too tired to enjoy the evening meal, we returned to Melissa's for breakfast before getting onto the coach at 8 a.m to travel the Glacier Parkway which provided us with some more extraordinary scenery. We had half an hour at Lake Louise where the aquamarine water and splendid walking trails round the lake ensured that we just didn't have enough time there.

For those interested in botany and scenery, we got into conversation with an American man who gave us the address of a web site about the area he has put together with his wife. This can be accessed by clicking here.

There were a number of other lakes on the way to the Parkway and it was lunchtime before we got to the visitors' centre. That gave us time for a coffee and sandwich ahead of driving out to the glacier on an official tour bus. We had 20 minutes on the very cold glacier where the air was pure. Then returned to our coach and it was back to Banff. We returned to Melissa's for an evening meal - suggesting that when it comes to dining we are rather stuck in a rut at the moment, but the food there was very good. We then had a  walk round the town before going to bed.

Today we caught a fleeting glimpse of a brown bear, an elk and a mountain goat.

Friday August 4th

A day on the road. Distances in Canade are quite vast. We woke up to light rain, but this soon eased off and we went to Evelyn's coffee shop for a breakfast of muffins and coffee. At 8 a.m the coach set off for the lengthy drive to Kamloops. The journey was punctuated by a number of interesting stops.

We stopped at Kicking Horse Pass to view the Rocky Mountaineer train, the various tunnels and the scenery. Field was an interesting small village where we went to the visitors centre. We stopped at Rogers Pass in the Selkirk Mountains for coffee. The area borders the Trans Canadian Highway and I couldn't help singing Neil Young songs as we continued on our journey.

We had a 20 minute walk in a rain forest before arriving at Three Valley Gap for lunch and what turned out to be one of the best experiences of the holiday. At first it looked like just another coach lunch stop. Lunch was straightforward of the chicken and chips variety. Then we had a tour of the grounds and met an amazing man - Gordon Bell. Gordon had built the entire complex from scratch and works 17 hours a day in the summer and then takes a break by only putting in 14 hours a day in the winter. He started with a seven room hotel and now it has 200 rooms. It is a very attractive hotch potch with rooms being added over the year to give the whole complex a surreal look and feel with helicopters landing, a lake. Antonio Gaudi architecture come to mind. The whole complex is set in landscaped gardens. But that was only the start of the wonders. We were then taken to a ghost town museum. It was full of original buildings taken from various places in Canada and America and re-built as a ghost town in this corner of Canada.

Included were a Sheriff's office, a church, a complete hotel with a full sized snooker table, a bar, a fire station, a brothel and many other buildings. It was one of the strangest and most delightful places we have ever visited. Then there were sheds full of vintage cars (including Model T Fords) and railway engines. Our time there was just too short. Back onto the coach for our overnight stop at Kamloops. People who had visited what was seen as a gateway on the journey towards Vancouver, had described it as something of a nondescript town. We found it interesting. It was mainly one long street but round the back was a park with rock music.

The following link will take you to a web site on the Three Valley Gap. Just click here

Saturday August 5th

It was an early start again, but not before we had found a coffee shop for muffins and coffee before getting onto the coach for the long drive to Vancouver. Our first stop (apart from photographic opportunities) was at the Hat Creek Ranch. A step back in time, it was quite interesting and didn't feel like a tourist trap. Genuine history surrounding an old roadhouse which has been preserved. We had a guided tour and then met a delightful lady who was a member of the so called "First Nation People." She took us on a guided tour and talked about her ancestors and living standards and obviously took great delight in talking to tourists. There are still many reservations dotted around Canada where First Nation People live, sadly often struggling to make ends meet.

Back on the coach there were a number of additional photographic stops before getting to the town of Hope where we had lunch. It was a rather nondescript place of only limited interest. We got lunch from a deli and ate that in a park.

Then it was onto Vancouver where we booked into our hotel. Went for a walk and eventually ate at a burger restaurant in the Gas Hill area.

Sunday August 6th

This was a transition day at the end of the coach trip, but before the start of the cruise. We tried to fit in as many parts of Vancouver as possible in one day and that included a trip to Granville Island after we had breakfasted at a cafe near the hotel. We got across to the island on a water taxi. The trip was so short that the conductor scarcely had time to collect the fares. We had a look round the market and a cup of coffee.

Sometimes it's the small things that happen on holiday that stay in the mind for ever. The unexpected visit to Three Valley Gap was one and a conversation overheard when we were sitting on a bench having coffee was another.

Mother to her daughter "I wonder what the poor people are doing today." Daughter in response "Oh probably sleeping on a park bench somewhere." Somehow this seemed to sum up Vancouver for me. Let's just say after a few visits it isn't my favourite city!!

It was only 11.30 a.m when we got back to the hotel to identify our cases. The hotel was a chaos. The lifts were old and practically useless. Cases were left in our room rather than being taken down to reception as we had been promised. So in the end we had to take them down ourselves. Thankfully the process of getting onto the ship was much easier. Our cabin was very pleasant.

Monday August 7th

This was a day at sea, so no hurry to do anything and a leisurely breakfast. We were moving up the inner passage to Alaska. Outside it was raining and quite miserable so no chance of sitting on deck.

Lunch was mayhem, too much queuing. In the afternoon we attended an art auction. I bought some Dali singed prints, but they never arrived at our home due to a disagreement or something similar between the company and the shipping line. At least no money had changed hands, so we didn't lose out at all.. We then returned to our cabin (I refuse to call them staterooms). Keith and Celia Alden who live in Hethersett were also on the trip. After the evening meal we went to the piano bar where a lady from Texas was playing. She seemed more interested in haranguing the audience than playing. Certainly not the same standard as James Barr last year. We did stay there until getting on for midnight though.

During the afternoon we took part in a progressive trivia quiz in a team of five, including a very knowledgeable Brit and two Americans. We beat three other teams and won an address book!!. The clocks went back another hour and we are now nine hours behind GMT.

Tuesday August 8th

Our first stop in Alaska



To Be Continued


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