July 13th – Canada, eh ?
Vancouver. We arrived a little groggy from our BA flight from Heathrow but alert enough to try the Canada Line Skytrain into the city (canada line). We found it a bit difficult to see all the stops and how these relate to the streets. No clear map seems to exist. A new city is always exciting. Interesting to see how Vancouver has been shaped by immigration from Asia and a bit odd that French is the official second language. We had thought this was a thing in Quebec rather than the West Coast. We dragged our cases uphill from the Skytrain to Barclay House B&B (review) in the downtown area. Lovely old heritage house which has been decorated in modern fine style. The staff were a pair of charming young Japanese ladies and we had the Mountain Room which was cosy . We went for a jet-lag busting walk down to the beach. Very busy with people enjoying the sunshine. We ate quite reasonable Malaysian food in the Banana Leaf (review) restaurant in Davie St which took the last of our energy before we had an early night.
14th July Vancouver Highlights
We had a lovely breakfast of cake, fruit salad and a quesadilla before setting off by taxi to the aquarium. Highlights were the huge variety of jellyfish and the ghostly Beluga whales. There was a massive octopus who looked a bit sad and the famously cute sea otters who link paws to stay together.
Weather felt like it was pushing 28 degrees. We managed to find the queue for Go Fish (on the island park walk opposite Granville island) which had been recommended by the fabulous food blogger, Not Quite Nigella. 40 minutes later I had a nice tuna burger with some spicy tomato salad and Una had (the better choice) of a salmon taco and tuna taco. Not as good as Shrimpy’s in Kings Cross London but OK. Sauces, as usual this side of the pond, are too sweet for our tastes. We also paused to try the meat-stuffed bagel from Siegels, another Not Quite Nigella tip. Really yummy. A tour round the market (fantastic fruit, veg and meat) and shops exhausted us and we had to have a powerful shot of coffee. Suitably revived, we marched up hill to the Vancouver art gallery (VAG – yes, really) but the exhibitions didn’t appeal. Quick change of plan: we took the skytrain to Chinatown and walked to the Dr Sun Yat-sen Chinese gardens. There are two sides to this, the paying and non-paying. We thought paying was worth it even though it is a little over priced. The other side is a bit rough and populated by tramps. The paying garden is very calm and nicely laid out in a Dao style. The guide was very informative but too much of a crowd for us in our jet-lagged state so we heard the introduction and made our own way around.
Overall impressions of Vancouver Chinatown were not favourable. It seemed a bit seedy and not very inviting for tourists. Perhaps we just missed the nice parts. Dinner was at the Boat House (review) in English bay. We managed to get a seat at the front of the deck. The views are fantastic and if we had booked a later slot, an ideal location for a sunset. The service was good and the long cocktail list full of interest. However, the food was a disappointment. After dinner we sat on the beach and watched the people, ships and the sun set. The water reflected the silver of the light and the rows of mountains behind a blue haze hard to beat. Request to Canada and America from David: please stop adding sugar to everything! Bread does not need to be sweet. Soy sauce is not sweet..
July 15th – In the saddle…
A day of riding and swimming. Up bright and early. Following an interesting breakfast and discussion with Dennis, the charismatic innkeeper at Barclay House, we left our bags in the B&B and set off for the bike hire shop near Stanley park. We stopped at Wholefoods on Robson for lunch supplies – a healthier option than the offerings on the beaches. We decided on Spokes for the hire and it took less than 5 minutes to acquire our bikes with (legally required) helmets and locks. We cycled up to the docks at the waterfront centre then back- tracked to circumnavigate Stanley Park. It was fun watching the sea planes take off and land at the water harbour.
The ride was easy – flat though a bit windy. We stopped at various sites including the totem poles which the leaflet we got from the bike shop claimed was the most visited site in BC. Ho hum. We also walked up to Beaver Lake, none to be seen but thousands of lilies. The wind made it quite deceptively cool and I didn’t realise how sunburnt I was getting. We eventually arrived at Second Beach and ate lunch on the foreshore. Wonderful views of mountains and the sea. We then cycled back to the shop and walked back to the seaplane docks before heading inland for a coffee at Caffe Artigiana’s 1101 West Pender Street – beats Starbucks every time. We walked on to Gastown which was a bit of a let down. The steam clock looked like an oversized grandfather clock until it suddenly started to play a tune through 5 whistles. Quite amusing. We toured a few boutique shops and the most impressive thing was the First Nation people doing intricate wood carvings on the street. We then walked back to the docks and waited to see a Disney cruise ship departing. Wondering how many of the victims would go mad on the voyage to watch glaciers via binoculars in Alaska with constant Disney music films and themes in the background. I’d be the first to re-enact the Titanic and jump overboard. Having seen the ship depart we walked up to Hapa Izakaya on Robson near Nicola Street. A nice Japanese restaurant with a food happy hour. Very good and reasonable price. We picked up a cab via our B&B to the airport hotel, Best Western Abercorn Inn in Richmond. A bizarre mix of Scottish pictures, 1980’s food and decor but nice staff and comfortable rooms.
July 16th – Mountains but no Mounties
On an early flight to Calgary. Speedy security check with a bizarre rule that the staff now have to say bonjour as well as hello. One commented that they didn’t know how to pronounce it but had been told they must say it. On arrival in Calgary, we had the usual discussion with the Avis rep about a sporty car rather than the Ford dross we were offered. After wasted time attempting to up-sell us it transpired they only had an insipid Ford after all. We’ll stick with the Dodge Charger specialists again next year. We arrived at the Banff Boutique Inn (review) and room 7 which overlooked the road towards the river. Very spacious, clean and comfortable. We wanted a walk to stretch our legs and headed along to the Bow Falls. Question : If you leave Canadians on a pebble beach, how long before someone makes an Inukshuk ?
On the way back we walked down the main shopping road with the usual mix of boutiques, food and tourist traps. Some very nice wild animal pictures and we’ll go back again tomorrow. Una is in love with sea otters…. We’d booked Saltlik (review) for dinner and this proved to be an excellent though expensive choice. Beautifully cooked steak and vegetables and we couldn’t resist the chocolate ganache pudding with a BC ice wine from Prospect vineyard.
July 17th. Do Bears sit in the woods ?
We had an early breakfast and collected a lunch from the Wildflour Bakery (review) on Bear Street before setting off, ever so slowly (55mph) to the Lake Louise gondala. We took the gondola to the top of Mount Whitehorn anticipating a massive number of bear sightings.
We visited the interpretive centre to find out about the bear walk in the “people exclusion zone” only to be told the wardens would avoid seeing bears at all cost. We asked about the Pika trail and were advised that we should travel in groups of at least four people. Una being adventurous said “na, let’s go”. The walk was fairly steep with good views of Lake Louise itself and the valley. However, no bears to be seen. We went to Lake Louise and had just found a lunch spot on the shore of the lake when the heavens opened. Being British, we finished our lunch and started to walk further round the lake. By the time it was stair rods we headed back, regretting not taking our umbrellas and waterproof jackets…. It was also only 12 degrees whilst England is suffering a heat wave! We popped in to the Fairmont hotel to escape the rain and to see what a $500 a night hotel looked like. I have to say we won’t be staying there. Underwhelmed. Moraine Lake was meant to be quieter so we went there as the rain had stopped. We arrived and got a few cloudy pictures before the rain started again.
We decided to go back to Banff and hoped we could do another walk there. Sadly the rain caught up. A bit of a disappointing day weather- wise. After the meal last night and the quite filling lunch we wanted something lighter for dinner. Wandering around we found the Bamboo Garden, a supposedly Thai restaurant, on the second floor of some shops on Banff Avenue. Sadly it was very disappointing. Una’s salad was inedible and as usual the sauces over -sweet and from a bottle. The staff were fine with deducting the cost of the salad. The weather has improved again and the sunset over the mountains with the changing light was very enchanting.
July 18th – Inkpots in the mountains
The plan for today originally entailed a walk around a lake oddly called Minnewanka and then a canoe on the Vermilion Lakes. The weather forecast was mixed so we decided to go further afield up the 1A highway to Johnston Canyon and hike up to the waterfalls. The drive was very enjoyable with great vistas.
We dumped all the wet weather gear and went up to the falls. It was deliciously cool near the fast flowing turquoise river. Elsewhere it was hot 25C+ . Keen to keep going after the top fall, we aimed for the Inkpots another 4 km upwards and along. Many wild flowers, squirrels with go-faster stripes, but no bears. The Inkpots are quicksand filled pools of ice cold water which bubble up from underground sources. Worth the extra trek when combined with the views of the glacial valley. The trip up took around 1hr 45 mins and we felt like we had earned our picnic lunch. We went to Minnewanka Lake and another walk along its shore to Stewarts Canyon bridge. Beyond that you needed a pass and groups of at least 6. Definitely bear country! The lake was gorgeous with a craggy backdrop of mountains. The water ice cold but mercy for our hot tired feet.
The high rainfall meant that the circular road route was closed, so we drove what we could and returned to Banff. We’d booked the Maple Leaf (review) restaurant for dinner .The food was excellent, though expensive and washed down with a bottle of local BC wine.
July 19th. Do bears sit in the woods ?- part 2
The day started well with sunrise breaking over the mountains (not overcast) and temperatures rapidly rising. We headed off for Jasper and no sooner had we joined highway 1 when we had a bear jam. A young teenage black bear was eating on the other side of the motorway and we stopped with many others. Our first live bear of the holiday. The Icefield Parkway is wonderful with huge mountains to either side, many capped with stubby glaciers.
Our first stop, other than for photo opportunities was Peyto Lake. An absolutely stunning vista of the glacier, lake and valley. Get there early to avoid the crowds.
We then travelled up to the Sunwapta Falls and ate lunch under an umbrella in the rain. Yep. Just as we sat down a short storm passed by. We walked the falls trail alongside the river to the lower falls. This is an immense and powerful river in a shade of light murky blue. Walking back the sun was back out and temperatures climbed rapidly encouraging the local mosquitoes to start to feast on my bare skin. The rest of the drive up to Jasper was uneventful and we managed to miss the turn (unmarked) for highway 93a the old way into Jasper. Apparently you need to enter the Athabasca Falls to find this. We hit another bear jam at the entrance to Jasper as another juvenile wandered across the road to another patch of bushes to continue to fed for about 10 minutes. We drove on only to see it confidently enter and swim up the river. Note to self – bears are good swimmers and will catch you!
We arrived at the Raven House B&B (review) owned by a Welsh lady called Mair and her husband Tony. Large pleasant room close to the town centre. We did some laundry in the town and then drove to Pyramid Lake spotting an Elk or two on the way. Pyramid lake is very picturesque and Una declared it the warmest water so far. Warm enough to swim in. Dinner was at Earls (review) which had been recommended by Mair, where we ate reasonably well and enjoyed large glasses of local wines.
July 20th. Only tourists wear zip-off North Face Pants
Up early and out for our “ice cubed” experience on the Athabasca Glacier. Whilst the other tourists stood at the tongue or took the bus on to the Icefield, a group of 14 of us led by a knowledgeable guide went straight up. We were given a history of the glacier along with other pertinent information eg where did the piles of dirt come from, why was the ice so clear? etc. An enjoyable 3 hrs with some ice to eat directly from the glacier.
We drove to Athabasca Falls for lunch and these are the most impressive of the ones we’ve seen. Huge volumes of water plummeting over the edge feet from us. Worth a visit.
We then continued on the old 93 turning off for Angel Glacier at Mount Edith Cavell. A fun road ruined by slow drivers who can’t do corners. We walked down to the lake below the glacial tongue hanging from the cliff which was covered with mini icebergs.
We then went back to Jasper via lake Edith and Annette and on ready to dinner at Fiddle River (review). Dinner was a little odd. My chorizo sausage was almost tasteless and was supported on a large pile of potato salad. Main was sockeye salmon (OK) with a few veg and rice.
July 21st. Mucking about in boats
We started a bit earlier today, around 7am, so we could hit the Maligne Road early as Tripadvisor pundits and locals had spotted a mother bear and three cubs. Needless to say we saw nothing and continued as far as Medicine Lake before backtracking and stopping off at Maligne Canyon to yet another impressive falls formed from a collapsed cave. A young girl was being used as a practice rescue victim down the 50m drop above the raging torrent. We stopped off in Jasper to collect two huge rotisserie chicken wraps from the Patricia Street Deli (review) – delicious and great value.
We then headed up to Pyramid Lake and hired a canoe from the Pyramid Lake resort for $30 an hour. We circumvented the lake stopping off on a lovely private beach for lunch and a paddle before moving on as others arrived. It took around 3 hrs altogether in the blistering heat but was thoroughly enjoyable.
Una still wanted a swim so we drove down to Lake Annette where we read a while but the water was too cold for us wimps. We had the best meal so far in Jasper at the Sayuri Japanese restaurant. Really fresh sashimi and delicious tempura though the avocado was a little strange.
July 22nd. Turning points
Time to return to Banff and continue our tour across Alberta and British Columbia. Halfway through our holiday. Going to pick up lunch we met Glen who owns the Patricia Street Deli and he let us in before they opened and we recognised him from the beach on Pyramid lake. We drove down the Icefield parkway, stopping for the occasional photo and lunch at Bow Lake.
Arrived at Banff and tried to walk around the Meadow walk and the Sunshine trail. We were beaten off by the mosquitos and retreated. To avoid them, we decided on gaining altitude and went up to the gondola but balked at the CAD 36 each charge. We witnessed yet another accident. This time a small red car going very slowly and stopping erratically was run into by a big white SUV. We relaxed at Bow falls and read our books before setting off back to the Banff Boutique Inn where we had room 3 this time which is adjacent to the main lounge. Very spacious though no fan. The walk- in shower with space for 2 was a nice change. Wanting to understand a little more of the history of the area we visited the Whyte museum and took the tour of the Whyte house. Very interesting insight into the history of the family though unclear what happened to all the First Nation Canadians. Dinner was the usual steak at the Saltlik which was as good as the first time.
July 23rd – Bear Hugs and Moose Knuckles
Off West on highway one stopping at the Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National park which are around 500 metres tall and suitably impressive. A path takes you to the base.
We stopped at Big Hill. Sadly no trains went round the loops whilst we were there. Then to Emerald Lake which is just amazing and a must see. Again busy by mid-afternoon. The walk around the perimeter is flat and varied. We saw a pine marten though people walking with dogs and talking loudly scared it away.
The rest of the drive was incredibly picturesque. We drove up to Kicking Horse ski resort ski resort and took a lift up to the area where they have Boo, a grizzly bear who had made a few escape attempts.The park warden told us lots of bear facts and it was possible to see Boo the grizzly quite close. We were told that he eats corn on the cob neatly, row by row and has a liking for squirrels. He has been known to grab these and bite off their heads as though they were ice cream cones. We didn’t get to see this!
We stopped in Revelstoke for dinner at Woolsey Creek Bistro (review). An excellent meal and one of the best so far. Great flavours well combined and presented. Arriving at Griffin Lake Inn (review) was a relief after 12 hrs on the road. It is situated on the lakeshore and has stunning views.
We’ve decided to take it easy tomorrow and do some canoeing… But first…
July 24th Meadows and mosquitos
Today was a rest day. Mostly. We got up for a very filling home cooked breakfast then headed to La Baguette to pick up some sandwiches for lunch (good coffee). We then headed up the 26km road to the Meadows in the Sky Parkway. The sights across the valley from 2000 metres are quite spectacular. We took the shuttle the remaining 1km through sheer laziness and joined a tour about David Thompson, one of the early explorers who charted the area. It was an interesting snippet of history which tied in with the earlier exhibition in Banff museum. We wanted to do the Eva Lake trail trail at 12km round trip, but decided that we had to fit in canoeing and swimming in a lake as well so turned around about an hour into the hike.
The views and flowers were fabulous and we would have continued. There were a lot of mosquitos and flies, worse even than Banff and that is saying something.Una said she hoped never to have to use a Parks Canada toilet, ever again… We managed to canoe around the lake at Griffin Lake Lodge, spotting some large fish, a couple of herons and an eagle. Una also managed to find some fresh water clams during her swim. Una voted Griffin Lake Lodge her top B&B of the whole trip. The owners, Heather and Wayne, are superb hosts and the lodge has a quirky feel and a beautiful lakeside setting. Great stop-off for a cross country drive and glad we booked two nights here. Dinner was had at the Woolsey Creek Cafe again and was to a high standard. Food as good as Vancouver, if not better.
July 25th. From a one horse town to one without any
We left the lovely lake and started the drive to Kamloops. We stopped to pick up lunch in Salmon Arm which had some interesting boutiques. The pier was worth a short walk from the parking and we saw some osprey nesting with chicks. The lake and river are well known for the salmon runs and this year around 4 million salmon are expected. We then went to Herald Provincial Park which was badly signed.
The waterfall was quite impressive in a cool wooded canyon and people were climbing up it into a cave under the fall. Una was very keen for a swim so we stopped at the Sunnybrae municipal beach for a swim in what Una called lake perfection – warm, shallow and big fish but no husband. I sat and read. Thence on to Kamloops to yet another glorious b&b called Riverside (review) just on the outskirts. It has a beautiful garden and private dock for river swimming. The water is quite swift so we just dangled our legs. Dinner was a delivery from the Sichuan Chinese which came very late and in vast quantities. We sat and enjoyed the setting sun on the hills and moraine opposite. Yet another day of 38 degree temperatures.
July 26th Taking to the hills again
We had an amazing breakfast with Cynthia and George the innkeepers dressed in chef’s whites looking the part. It was laid out and presented with fantastic detail. All guests ate together and exchanged travel stories. We drove across highway 1, then 97 and 99, a way less travelled, stopping at Marble Canyon (not worth it) and Duffy Lake which was beautiful but infested with huge flies and plenty of them.
We managed lunch on the logs in the water which the breeze kept most of them away. Then on to Whistler where we booked our 3 hour zip wire tour. Dinner was at the Niklaus North golf course Den restaurant – good food, good view, but very slow.
July 27th Whistler – Disney for outdoor folk
Whistler is a slick resort expert at extracting the dollars from the tourists. There is gold in them there hills so long as people are prepared to pay to ski, board, mountain bike or zip line down them.
There are loads of activities to do most of them costing $$$. We opted for the ziptrek eagle course which consisted of 5 lines stretched over Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. We zipped along a 2200 foot line whizzing over the trees at up to 80kph. Everything was very easy and safety conscious and the young international staff ensure we all had a good time. We followed this up with a walk around the Disney-like Whistler village. The shops were mainly outdoors and ski equipment with cafes, restaurants and souvenir shop scattered throughout. It wasn’t really our sort of place after the more genuine towns of Jasper or even Banff. Whistler seems to have succeeded in taming the outdoors and we did enjoy the well laid out valley walk with a system of paths crisscrossing the lower areas of Whistler. We walked to Lost Lake beach to swim and enjoy the summer atmosphere on the grassy banks. Lots of people around but some quite shady paths apart from the occasional mountain biker. Dinner was in the Rim Rock Cafe (review) and food was excellent including foie gras, rare tuna and tender steak. In true Whistler fashion the building was faux-alpine with plastic tables on the outdoor patio and the highway roaring nearby. This seemed typical of Whistler, slick, pricey and just a little artificial but still enjoyable in an outdoor-Disney sort of way.
July 28th – Over the Sea to Sky
The drive between Whistler and Vancouver had apparently been voted one of the five top drives in the world by The Guardian newspaper, or so said a local fact sheet. Obviously the journalist had not travelled much further and experienced the inner beauty of BC. We stopped at Brandywine Falls which are OK and at a number of unmarked stopping places for pictures. Squamish we drove through twice trying to find something noteworthy but failed, so continued on to Porteau Cove to watch the wreck diving for a few minutes and stretch our legs.
Our next port of call was Horseshoe Bay which we will see more of tomorrow. Pretty harbour and middling fish and chips.
We completed the drive to Vancouver on Marine Drive but the sea was mostly hidden by impressive and expensive beach side properties. After checking in to the comfortable L’hermitage (review) in Downtown Vancouver and returning the car, we found the delights of the Hudson bay store summer sales. We enjoyed lovely cocktails at Secret Location in Gastown – beautifully decorated. Dinner was at the trendy Salt Tasting Rooms (review) in Gastown. An unusual food experience and worth trying out. We had a post dinner stroll along the seafront taking some sunset shots before heading back to L’Hermitage, the last hotel of our stay and much more cosmopolitan.
July 29th – Ribs and Wings
Another action packed day. We went for a quick 2hr tour of Yaletown but were unimpressed. Sewell‘s picked us up promptly at 12pm to whisk us to Horseshoe Bay for our taste of the west coast tour and first event of the day.
A 2.5hr rib ride around Howe Sound. We saw lots of seals, eagles and other birds but too early in the year for whales who tend to avoid the sound and no dolphins which are meant to be common. The ride itself was exhilarating as well as informative with various stops to explain the environment. We had a final get wet session jumping the wake of a high speed gin palace on it’s way back to Vancouver past the houses which cost up to $15 million apiece.
On our return we sat on the beach before we went for dinner at the Boathouse (review). This Boathouse was infinitely better than the one in English Bay. Food, service and view were excellent. A harbour otter was playing around in a boat on the dock below us. He was even getting up on the seat holding the steering wheel and looking out the front. We think he wanted to jump start it and whizz off.
We had to chase the staff a little to find out how to catch the final part of our adventure – a seaplane ride back to the dock in Vancouver. The light was amazing and the views great, although the ride was a little short. We watched the golden sunset over the planes before heading back to the hotel to collapse.
July 30th – Pedal Power
Our plane had a six hour delay due to a leak but we managed to get a booking on the later flight, also delayed, but arriving much earlier! With that in place Una had a swim then we cycled once more around Vancouver – we know this place well now and have sucked it dry. We’d booked lunch at Le Crocodile but when trying to change the time found it was going to be shut so a quick hunt on Trip Advisor and a chat with the concierge sorted out a later booking at the Shangri La’s Market restaurant (review) restaurant. They had an extremely good lunch time deal, $30 three course menu which after tasty homemade drinks and a couple of extras became $100. Well worth it though for the food and service. L’Hermitage staff deserve a special mention as they went out of their way to help.
Words of advice…
- The park wardens role is partly to ensure that you don’t see bears. Otherwise they become problem bears. Tourists and bears are not supposed to encounter each other.
- Banff is mosquito central with over 50 types. And they are hungry. Ever so hungry.
- Food can be a bit plain out of Vancouver. Tripadvisor helps
- Every Canadian has a bear story. Just ask.
- You don’t get direction signs in both directions sometimes eg Herald Provincial Park is only signed eastbound. If you feel you’ve missed a turn-off, turn around and try again.
Wild Animals we saw:
2x juvenile black bears
1x grizzly bear
1x pine marten
Loads of sea lions/seals
2x harbour otter (inc one trying to drive speedboat)
Many Least Squirrels including babies
Many ground squirrels
1x sea eagle
Several bald eagles
1x other bird of prey eagle-sized
3x mountain goats
Many mule deer
Several elk including calves
1x bat Many Canada geese
A loon or two
Loads of ravens
Una’s top food :
- The best burger : The Den burger on the patio at Nicklaus North golf club.
- The best cocktail : Pear Saki Tini at Hapa Izakaya in Vancouver
- The best chicken wraps : made by Glen at Patricia St Deli in Jasper
- The best steaks : Saltlik in Banff
- The best appetiser : The seared foie gras in Rim Rock Cafe, Whistler
- The best snack chain : Jugo Juice
- The best dinner of our trip : Woolsey Creek Cafe in Revelstoke
- The best wine : Salt Tasting Rooms in Vancouver
- The best value meal : Power lunch menu at Market in Shangri La Vancouver
- The best coffee : Cafe Artigiano , all branches
- The best bakery : Wild Flour in Banff
- The best ethnic meal : Sayuri Japanese in Jasper
- The best ice cream : La Baguette in Revelstoke