Canada Day 10 – Calgary

As Craig had planned to go on a mountain hike with our new local friend, I decided to stick around Calgary and wander around with my camera.

I finally made it outside after lunch and wasn’t walking around for long before a heavy hail shower hit. I retired as quickly as I could to the shopping mall we had discovered on our first day in the city to keep out of the cold and the hail – no conditions for photography.

Finally the blue skies reappeared and after I regained my bearings, I headed for some of the areas of the city that we had seen the night before from the Calgary Tower.

The cold weather began to chill me and so I headed back to the hotel. Craig returned around 1800 after his mountain hike (by his description I was glad I had stayed in the city). We then made our way to The Keg – a steak restaurant that Craig knew from his previous visits to the city as BA cabin crew. The meal was rather better than the one we’d had on our first night at Ruth’s Chris and was quite a bit cheaper too.

Canada Day 8 – Calgary Historical Village

On our first full day in the city, we were keen to visit the Historical Village on the southern outskirts. With one of the C-Train lines out of action, we caught an Uber there, although could have used the busway which stopped very close by. The Historical Village was a similar sort of tourist attraction to the Beamish site back in North East England, primarily focusing on the early years of settlement in Canada’s west.

Having entered the park, the first attraction was Gasoline Alley. As its name might suggest, this was focused on cars but in fact there were lots of original gas (petrol) pumps throughout the display and several period tankers and breakdown trucks too, including the very earliest type with a basic pulley on the back of a truck. As would be expected, the focus was on rural vehicles that were in use in the Canadian outback and prairies and dated back to the earliest days of cars and trucks, including a Model T Ford. While most vehicles were in immaculate condition, some were displayed as they had been found, with rotted wooden elements and some of the metal elements rusted away. With some of the early vehicles on show, the very basic mechanics were clear to see. There were also some beautiful 1930s era cars, like the 1932 Auburn sedan shown below. The display was quite fascinating and well thought through.

1932 Auburn Sedan at Gasoline Alley, Calgary Historical Village

Having had our fill of all things gasoline, we visited the home of the equivalent to the UK’s suffragette – led by 5 women striving to be allowed to vote.

Next, we caught the park’s steam train around to the other side of the park. The locomotive was a very archetypal American-style example with cow-catcher and a Pacific 4-6-0 axle arrangement. Its whistle echoed through the park all day. It was only a short ride to the other side of the park and we alighted in the actual village, with a range of period shops, a hotel and civic buildings. Some of the buildings were replicas, but we learned that most had been moved there in one piece.

After buying a huge ice cream from the dairy, we wandered through the village. Staff seemed to be mainly volunteers and all were delighted to talk to us as foreign tourists. We were visiting Calgary as a mayoral election was looming and, not wanting to miss out, the village was holding their own election for mayor. A small acting troupe were recreating a number of hustings scenes throughput the day, with a woman seeking election and a rather stupid man campaigning against her with his wife as his agent. We also learned the running joke that the village’s current mayor was always napping during the day and unable to attend the hustings. All good fun and attracted quite a crowd.

The Village had a replica grain elevator/silo for storing grain and transshipping to wagons. Canada’s west was built up around the Canadian Pacific railway line. We’d already heard on the Rocky Mountaineer that stations were generally 8 miles apart because 4 miles was the maximum distance that a farmer could travel to take their crop to the railway for transhipment and still get home to their farms that same night. The railway company built the grain facilities, similar to that replicated here, to service the farms within 4 miles radius and then towns grew up around those. Some towns never thrived and subsequently died, but even now this pattern of development can be seen across the west, even after their original purpose has disappeared.

The town’s newspaper office was working too; the linotype lettering and engravings of a newspaper page being constructed in front of us. In the blacksmiths, a volunteer was working hard fashioning items from iron, while the reconstructed roundhouse had large snow ploughs and various track maintenance vehicles, along with a sister locomotive to the one we’d ridden behind but which had been converted to diesel. The building also had an iconic caboose – the brake van characteristic of North American freight trains, with a raised lookout post for the brakeman to watch the train and communicate with their colleague in the locomotive at the front.

The park also had a cottage hospital and a synogogue, with enthusiastic, chatty volunteers in period costume. The last building we visited, which was on a bit of high ground with views of the city, was a windmill. This particular example had been constructed without metal. The Eastern European family who’d originally built it had created components from bushel that had been cured into a very hard substance that was an old but effective alternative to metal. The family had apparently been gratified to find that the Canadian prairies were well suited to growing rye, which was familiar from their home country.

After returning from the village to the hotel, where we went for a couple of drinks in the bar, we later went to a ‘vegetarian forward’ restaurant, called Ten Foot Henry. While they had some menu items with meat ingredients, the majority were excellent vegetarian dishes, presented in a shared tapas style. Who knew that tomatoes on sour dough toast could taste so good? We were sat at a counter by the kitchen and could see the kitchen staff working very hard throughout the evening to create dishes for us and the other patrons; we were mesmerised by their hard work and speed.

Canada Day 6: Banff Gondola

We awoke to a surprise, snow was falling in Banff. The snow was quite heavy for a short while and gave the mountains a bit of a dusting, but by the time we had finished breakfast it had largely disappeared.

The plan for the day was to walk up to the Banff Gondola and take that to the top of a nearby mountain for some (hopefully!) spectacular views.

Google Maps and Apple Maps didn’t quite agree on the route, but the shorter route shown by Apple seemed logical and feasible so we took that. The Google route seemed to use roads, while Apple suggested a walk up through the trees. It soon became clear that the Apple Maps route was fine and we followed a track through the trees up the hillside. It was hard going at times due to the steepness of the track but we saved an hour and had a pleasant walk.

At the Gondola, we bought our tickets (about CA$50 each) and had little or no wait until we were ushered into a gondola and were on our way up. The views of the hotel and the mountains were spectacular as we soared over the treetops. We had a gondola to ourselves – two people in a cabin designed for four – so could really enjoy the views without getting in other passengers’ way. It only took about 5 minutes to reach the top and compared to other cable cars, was a fairly tame experience in terms of height above the ground below. Mer de Glacé in Chamonix and Montserrat near Barcelona remain my favourites!

At the top of the mountain was a visitor centre, with a small exhibition, a restaurant and a (closed) cafe. There was a viewing platform on the roof of the centre as well as a boardwalk stretching away from the visitor centre to the site of an old cosmic ray survey station on a slightly higher peak 200m or so away.

After enjoying the view from the rooftop viewing platform, we descend to the boardwalk and set off for the peak. The snow at this higher altitude had not completely thawed and a staff member was scraping the snow off where it had accumulated. The boardwalk was quite busy but gave some spectacular views across the Rockies around Banff. It wasn’t even particularly cold.

We’d been given a 90 minute stay at the top of the mountain (although you can have more time if you’re dining at the restaurant and can delay return when you’re at the top) . Our allotted time was perfect for walking to the old Cosmic Ray survey station and back with the slow pace required when taking lots of photos!

After returning to the lower gondola station, we headed back down the way we’d come. Within 5 minutes though, Craig pointed out a deer beside the track 100m or so away. A fawn joined the deer and we watched and photographed for a few minutes. Finally we walked slowly towards the deer so as not to startle them. We got very close before they moved away from us, but even then they seemed unconcerned.

A few hundred metres further down the path, we then heard and saw a squirrel in the trees. Again we stopped and watched for a few minutes and took some photographs.

After returning to the hotel, we had a free history tour booked. This was a fascinating insight into the hotel’s beginning, subsequent changes and a chance to walk around some parts we’d not seen. It really can feel like a castle sometimes!

For dinner, we were booked into the hotel’s own alpine-style restaurant in its grounds. The main theme of the food was fondue and so we shared a fantastic cheese fondue along with a schnitzel before having apple strudel (me) and a Black Forest dessert (Craig). We were sat beside a roaring log fire, which added to the atmosphere of the evening. At the end of the meal, we got chatting to a lady and her daughter at an adjacent table and were the last customers out of the restaurant at 10pm!

Canada Day 4: Kamloops to Banff

The Rocky Mountaineer was scheduled to leave Kamloops at 0700 and so we were picked up by coach from our hotel, with other passengers, just after 0600. 

Overnight, the train had gained a couple of carriages and an additional locomotive – presumably for the climb into the Rockies. 

The rear half of our carriage were called to breakfast soon after we left Kamloops, while we were given coffee and cheese scones. 

We were following the lakeside out of Kamloops and, as on the previous day, we found it relaxing to take in the scenery. We were soon called to our breakfast after the first sitting had finished. We were sat again with the lovely honeymooning couple from the previous day and quickly picked up our conversation from where we’d left off. Rather than having Eggs Benedict twice running, I chose a sunrise skillet – a mix of potato & sausage with a fried egg atop. All was of course washed down with plentiful coffee. 

Soon, we started climbing into the Rockies and the scenery became ever more spectacular. It’s hard to describe how stunning the view was outside the window. I took the opportunity of half the carriage having their lunch to stay on the outside vestibule a bit longer with my camera. 

Although it felt like we’d only recently finished breakfast, we were soon called for our own lunch after the other sitting had finished and the dining area had been reset. The main menu had not changed, although the starter and dessert was different. I had the steak, which was superb – some going when it had been cooked in a small, moving galley. 

By the time we finished our lunch, it wasn’t long until we reached one of the rail highlights of the journey- the spiral tunnels. 

The original line had been built as quickly as possible with a steep gradient but this prices fatally dangerous and an alternative solution needed to be found. The solution was to change height by creating spiral tunnels within the adjacent mountains, so that the necessary change in levels could be achieved at a gentler, safer gradient. As we negotiated the spiral, we exited the first tunnel with mountains changed from one side of the train to the other and the track we’d just been on far below us. We then navigated the second spiral so that we were again travelling in the right direction and higher again. 

By this time, in the mountains, the light was beginning to go from the sky but we could still enjoy the stunning glacial scenery outside. By the time we got to Lake Louise, where a few passengers were to disembark, it was dark. 

Finally, around 8pm we ended our journey just up the line in Banff – the limit of passenger rail operation on the Canadian Pacific line. We were again met by a fleet of coaches ready to take the 300 or so remaining passengers to their accommodation. 

Finally, we arrived at the Banff Springs Hotel, overlooking the town of Banff, tired but exhilarated after finishing one of the world’s Great Railway Journeys, and possibly the best rail journey I’ve ever made.

Canada Day 2: Vancouver

We only had one full day in Vancouver and woke early due to a bit of jetlag. The hotel was close to the seaplane terminal on the harbour and we watched a range of seaplanes taking off and landing in the fantastic harbour. With a regular flow of yachts and ferries passing the terminal, it’s impressive to see the seaplanes finding safe water to take off and land.

Seaplanes taxiing from Vancouver‘s seaplane terminal.

Having briefly considered a sightseeing flight, we focused on finding breakfast. This was easier said than done; 0800 on a post-pandemic October Sunday meant that few places were open and those that were had a wait for serving. We headed away from the harbour into Gastown in the hope of finding alternatives, but nothing that was open really appealed. Gastown itself is a lovely part of Vancouver and the steam clock is an impressive piece of mechanical engineering.

Gastown’s fabulous Steam Clock

After failing to find any appealing breakfast venues, we headed back to the harbour front to a place that had been closed when we had first visited. It wasn’t fantastic. It was a sports bar, so wasn’t really somewhere we’d normally choose but it was filling and fairly tasty. It served well for brunch; we were booked in at a restaurant that night and so didn’t need much more.

The weather had improved through the morning and so we took the decision to walk along the sea wall around Stanley Park. This is quite a walk – both for scenery and for distance. With good weather on a Sunday afternoon in October, the Stanley was busy with cyclists, joggers and fellow walkers. The walk passes a large marina before snaking around past the rowing club, the HMCS Discovery base on Deadman Island, under the impressive Lions Gate suspension bridge out to Burrard Inlet, which leads out past Victoria and Vancouver Island to the Pacific Ocean.

After our walk, which was about 10 miles in total, we headed back to the hotel for a quick rest, before heading out for our Rocky Mountaineer checkin at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre. This required a lateral flow COVID test in advance of our train journey and took an hour so to queue, get our test and get boarding passes for the next day. We were both nervous; a positive test here would lead to quarantine in a hotel and a big problem for the trip. Thankfully our test was negative and we headed to the bar of the Fairmont hotel to celebrate with a cocktail and wine.

We then had a booking at Black and Blue restaurant at 8pm – steak here is known to be legendary and they do a passable imitation of a Sunday lunch too (Complete with Yorkshire puddings!). The food and wine was indeed excellent, but both of us found the service a little frosty and forced. The ambience wasn’t quite right, although we still had a great night there.

After our meal, it was back to the hotel for an early start to catch the Rocky Mountaineer the next morning – check in at the terminal was at 0715.

4 weeks with the iPhone X

After 4 weeks of using the iPhone X, I can safely say that it is far and away the best phone I have ever used, and I have had most of the iPhones released. It is a pleasure to hold, the screen is fantastic and battery life is much better than previous phones I’ve used. Android users may scoff at this, as they’ve had large OLED screens and wireless charging for a while, but for me the mix of software and hardware is a joy to use. Continue reading “4 weeks with the iPhone X”

Runswick Bay

I often join my family for a holiday in Staithes on the North Yorkshire coast (between Whitby and Saltburn). One of our favourite day trips is to the pretty village of Runswick Bay which is perched on the cliff and has a jumble of cottages and houses all linked by a labyrinth of paths.