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
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
We hope that the photographic
gallery at the bottom of this page somehow captures the beauty and fun of
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
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plane was rather stuffy and the movie entertainment rather outdated.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
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
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
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
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