Saturday, August 30, 2008

Oh Canada!

22 years on from the last time I was in Canada I finally return. It’s a place that I’ve always wanted to return to and it took a while, but sometimes these things do. We flew into Calgary at the same time that the world famous (or at least Calgary famous) Calgary Stampede takes place. It is a celebration of all things cowboy, and everyone in the city sports a cowboy hat during the time that it is on.

The first day we catch some of the World Stock Dog championship, heavy horse show, Shriners (on horse, wearing Tommy cooper hats), IAMS Superdogs. The sheepdog competition is actually pretty riveting stuff, and you find yourself really rooting for the team in the ring. There were often some tense standoffs between the dog and the sheep!

The day was rounds off with the Rodeo, with all sorts of events;
Bareback riding, Bull riding, Ladies Barrel Racing, Saddle Bronc, Steer Wrestling
Tie Down Roping. It’s pretty thrilling, and there’s a saying about the competitors – it’s not if they get hurt, but when.

The riders on the bucking horses and bulls are bounced around like rag dolls, and a sizeable proportion end up flying off. We end off the day with a good old fashioned burger and milkshake at Pete’s Drive In.

We have a second day at the stampede, looking at all the interesting different livestock, and cattle penning (where horse riders have to separate out 3 cows from a herd & pen them in).

In the evening we see chuck wagon racing and the evening show. The evening show is soooo overblown it is ridiculous, with hundreds of people on stage all dressed as Mounties high kicking and singing cheesy musical numbers. A helicopter flew a huge Canadian flag overhead while Oh Canada is being sung at the opening of the grandstand show at the Calgary stampede 2008. Jet lag catches up with us and we duck out early.

We drive from Calgary to Lake Louise. It’s an incredible drive, as the Rocky Mountains inch ever closer. We stop off in Bamf (which looks like a bit of a tourist trap) briefly to go up the gondola to see some incredible views. At Lake Louise we stay at a lovely old-fashioned hotel, Deer Lodge, complete with a Buffalo head above the fireplace. We visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake and have a little walk around (a bit of) them. It the evening we eat at Station Restaurant, a converted railway station. Some of the restaurant is actually converted train carriages. Jo has the best steak she’s ever had.

Icefields Parkway is the long road that stretches up to Jasper. It is a stunning drive with many beautiful brightly coloured lakes and waterfalls along the way. Unfortunately for us it was raining on and off most of the day, but it was pretty incredible none the less. There are often “animal traffic jams” caused when drivers slow down to see the interesting wildlife. We were able to spot 2 black bears on this drive. We also stop at Columbia Icefield taking their specially designed ice explorer bus onto the glacier.

It had incredibly localised weather, down the hill it was bright and sunny, but at the top the ice caused a freezing downpour! In the evening we arrive at our destination, Patricia Lake Bungalows at Jasper.

While we are in Jasper we stop for lunch at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, where the 8 year old me stayed on my family holiday. I recognised parts of it which was quite interesting. While we are in the area, we walk around Lake Annette.

The following day we have a trip to Maligne Lake, stopping at Maligne Canyon and Medicine Lake along the way. We pick up 2 Swiss hitchhikers on the way, and see lots of animals including sheep, deer, and a black bear with 2 cubs.

When we get back we go canoeing on Patricia Lake, and have a 1 hour drive to Miette Hot springs for a soak.

Clearwater is our next destination; it is a town on the mouth of Wells Gray Provincial Park. Wells Gray is a bit more out of the way, not so well known and generally less busy, but like most of this area, it is still absolutely stunning. The first evening there we drive up to look at Saphat Falls and Green Mountain tower, which gives panoramic 360 views of the park.

We get up early the next morning to go horse riding at Helmecken Falls lode. I’ve never been into horse riding, but never got the change to wear a cowboy hat or have a chance of a bear encounter either. Makes it more interesting. In fact, on the drive to get there, a black bear dashes across the road in front of us, before running up a steep slope on the other side of the road. Despite our inexperience we are given free reign with the horses, gut they are pretty well behaved. Mine was a bit lazy and I had to give it a bit of encouragement every now and again. A young Swiss girl had a naughty horse that would stop to eat and would then have a little gallop back to catch up with the rest of the group. Her cries of “Wooooaaah Nevada!” made us all chuckle. An interesting part of the ride was that occasionally the noises of the forest, birds chirping etc would come to a complete halt – this was sign that a bear was around. The leader would occasionally shout “No bears here!” to discourage the bear from coming to investigate us.

Whistler is a ski resort in the winter, and during the summer it becomes a bit of a Mecca for mountain bikers, who use the lifts to get to the top of the mountains, and then ride all the way down to the bottom. We didn’t come for that reason, and our choice of accommodation, the beautiful and tranquil Edgewater Lodge was an indication that we weren’t being particularly xtreme. We did however, have a go at ziplining – at Ziptrek. We whizzed across the forest on five different zip lines, even going upside-down on the last one.

Our last stop in Canada was to Vancouver. The highlight was a trip around Stanley Park, a mammoth city park. We visited the aquarium, in large part to see the beluga whale, which had just recently given birth.

We also stopped at Vancouver Art Gallery to see their exhibition “Krazy! The Delirious World Of Anime + Comics + Video Games” it was a pretty specific exhibition, focusing on a few key artists and not really giving too much of an overview, but it was interesting to see, particularly the original artwork of Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware, whom I have long admired. The exhibition actually encouraged Jo to read Maus, arguably the most significant creation in the graphic novel medium. We also visited the Capelano Suspenson bridge (a bit of a rip off)and Granville Island market.

And that was that. A great holiday & lovely place. Maybe I’ll be back in another 22 years or so.

You can see all our photos at this link.