A Travellerspoint blog

Canada

Vancouver, Canada (4th - 6th June)

Our journey from Banff to Vancouver involved a 13 hour overnight bus. And it was even less fun than that sounds! We'd foolishly assumed that on such a long journey we'd get one of the nice blue Greyhound buses with wi-fi and plug sockets. But no, we got one of the old white buses without wi-fi and plug sockets. It was also pretty full on arrival in Banff, so we couldn't even get a seat together. I sat in one empty seat and Jamie was in the one behind me. He was sat next to an Australian girl, who he got chatting to. One of the first things he said was how he'd been hoping we might be able to get 2 seats each, in order to spread out and try to sleep, but instead we weren't even able to sit next to each other. I thought this was almost guaranteed to elicit a response of "do you want me to switch with your girlfriend so the two of you can sit together?", but no, nothing. I guess she didn't want to give up her window seat, which I can understand as they do make it slightly easier to get some sleep, but still, I'd have given up my seat if things had been reversed. The girl next to me didn't offer either, though she looked bundled up and half-asleep already. So it wasn't the greatest start to the journey - disappointed by the lack of wi-fi and selfless individuals, I was sat without much to do but half listen to Jamie chatting to the Australian girl whilst a creepy couple opposite kept kissing really loudly, as if to amplify my frustration at not being able to snuggle up to someone in order to aid the sleeping process (the girl next to me might have objected). Oh and that couple opposite weren't creepy because of the kissing, there was just a general creepy vibe about them. Jamie saw the guy take photos of a car crash, which is pretty damn creepy. I also saw the woman picking her nose and then inspecting the contents, which was more unpleasant than creepy, but still. In order to keep my sanity, I used the first part of the journey to start writing a short story. It wasn't the most imaginative short story, seeing as it was set on a Greyhound bus, but it provided some necessary catharsis. I didn't finish it and I doubt I will (I'm not even sure I want to re-read it), but it killed some time and made me feel better.

After a brief stop at a petrol station, 2 hours in, we got back on the bus and attempted to get some sleep. I'd only sleep for brief little patches, but I was still in a general sleepy haze when at about 3am we stopped at a bus station and were told that we had to get off the bus for 20 minutes while it underwent maintenance. It wasn't that there was some unforeseen problem (as far as I know), it's just routine that they wake everyone up and make them stand in a bus station for 20 minutes in the middle of the night. We both vowed to never take another overnight Greyhound bus.

I don't remember much about the rest of the journey, but it was a relief to arrive in Vancouver. We checked into C&N Backpackers, where we were greeted by a picture of a waving otter, which slightly made up for the bus journey from hell. The Backpackers was ok - it wasn't hugely dissimilar to the one we'd stayed at on our previous trip to Vancouver. The guy at reception was brilliant and gave us loads of tips on places to go, plus our room was pretty decent (aside from a few bugs).

Our first trip to Vancouver was on our way back from New Zealand at the end of 2011. I liked the city, but not as much as I was expecting to - it was my first trip to Canada and I'd heard so many amazing things about it that it's unsurprising I was a little underwhelmed. Plus it's quite a big culture shift from New Zealand, so maybe I needed some adjustment time. Whatever the reason, I really enjoyed my 2nd visit - I was disappointed we'd not decided to stay longer. Some of the things we did while we were there:

- We went up to the 42nd floor of The Empire Landmark Hotel, where there's a revolving restaurant and lounge. We had a drink and enjoyed the moving view. This was one of the recommendations from the guy at the hostel reception.

- We went over to Lynn Canyon to see the suspension bridge and waterfalls.

Suspension bridge:
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- We travelled over to Wreck Beach, by the University of British Columbia, as it was recommended by a friend of Jamie's. It was a nice place to watch the sun dip and stick our hands in the pacific ocean. It's a 'clothing optional' beach, but thankfully most people had opted to keep their clothes on (as did we!). There were a few naked men about, including one who was weirdly only half-naked - weird because it was the bottom half. Whatever floats your boat I guess.

Wreck Beach:
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Posted by chantalpatton 00:02 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Banff and The Rockies, Canada (28th May - 3rd June)

On the 28th May we took a bus from Edmonton to Banff. This was the start of our adventure in the Rocky Mountains. Banff's a really nice little town, albeit incredibly touristy. We lost count of how many times we heard English accents. It reminded me quite a bit of Queenstown in New Zealand, but without the whole bungy jumping element. We arrived fairly late so just went for food and then a brief walk. For food we went to a great vegetarian place called Nourish. Their portions are really big as they're designed for sharing, so we had the gourmet falafel and also some nachos between us. Their nachos are their signature dish and are fairly spectacular. You get the traditional beans and cheese and such like, but then there's also a load of fruit on there. I think there are about 27 toppings in total, if not slightly more. You'd imagine that strawberries with melted cheese on would be pretty gross, but it worked surprisingly well.

On our brief walk in the area near the hostel we managed to see Ground Squirrels and a Mule Deer. We'd not even heard of Ground Squirrels before, so had to ask the receptionist in the hostel what they were - they looked like a cross between regular squirrels and meerkats. We also weren't sure what the Mule Deer was at the time, so we were cautious to keep a safe distance. We also carried a stick around in case of bears or something else scary, but thankfully we were fine.

Here's a Ground Squirrel:
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The hostel we stayed in was the HI Alpine Centre, which was pretty decent, though the dorm room hadn't been cleaned that well (or recently at least). They also had a weird thing whereby you only got a free pancake breakfast if you booked through booking.com (I think - though this also seemed to include Hostelworld). Happily this meant that we did get it, but it seemed kinda unfair that other people didn't. I dunno, maybe we were charged a higher rate or something. Or they just wanted to keep us sweet so we'd give them a good review! Is that cynical?

We only had the 1 full day in Banff before starting on our 4 day bus tour with the Moose network. We went for a walk to Bow Falls and saw some more Mule Deer, plus had a better explore of the town. One really good thing about the hostel we stayed in is that you get use of a free bus pass.

The following day was the start of our group adventure in the Rockies. We thought we'd have plenty of time to get our free pancake breakfast first, but as there was just the one guy working in the restaurant (taking orders and doing all the cooking), it took quite a long time to actually get our pancakes, so we had to wolf down as much as possible in about 3 minutes. We then got to meet our tour guide and fellow passengers. You travel around in a minibus, so it's not like a whole coach load of people, which is good. Ryan was our guide and he was awesome - really laid back and friendly. Our fellow passengers were an English girl, an English guy (travelling separately), 3 Swiss girls (travelling together) and a couple from Singapore. Everyone was really nice and we got on really well as a group, which is rather useful when you're spending 4 days together. After introductions, our first mission was to buy food. We all agreed that it made sense to buy and cook meals as a group, so we were split up into breakfast, lunch and dinner teams and set loose in a supermarket. It felt a bit like being on some strange kind of game show. Or a really non-taxing episode of The Apprentice! I was on the dinner team and we managed to gather together the ingredients for a veggie stir-fry. After that we set off on our adventure.

My memory of the specific places we went is pretty bad, so apologies for any vagueness. We stopped in a few places and walked around, taking in the scenery. It was sadly quite rainy on our first 2 days of the bus tour, though it didn't impact us too negatively. The rain often seemed to hold off for a while when we were outside, so that was quite considerate. We generally couldn't see the mountain tops though. One place we did stop on that first day was Lake Louise. This was the one place in the Rockies that everyone had raved about and told us was amazing, so our expectations for it were pretty high. Maybe partly because of that and partly due to the bad weather, we were pretty underwhelmed. It's a nice enough lake, don't get me wrong, but it was far less spectacular than pretty much everywhere else we went during our 4 day trip. Infact it became a bit of a running joke: "yep, this is better than Lake Louise". I think another reason why it was underwhelming was because it was so touristy, with a big hotel right up next to it.

The moose bus tours are classed as adventure tours, so they're more about being travellers than tourists. We didn't spend a huge amount of time on the bus and we did a lot of hiking, which was great. We also got to see a lot of wildlife, quite often at the side of the road. You'd know there was something ahead as you'd see what's referred to as a 'bear jam'. This is when a load of tourists pull their cars over in order to get out and take photos of some animal (not necessarily a bear, though obviously they're desirable to see). We'd pull over as well, but we'd stay within the bus to take our photos, as that's the safe, sensible and respectful thing to do. Wild animals can easily get spooked and attack you, or you can easily spook them and cause them distress. As well as viewing the various animals, we also marvelled at the stupidity of some people getting right up close, quite often with their small children. Over the duration of the trip we got to see an array of animals, including deer, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, a moose and some black bears.

On our first two nights we stayed in wilderness hostels, so called because you're out in the wilderness (strangely enough). This means no showers and no flush toilets. And you need to be on the lookout for bears! On our first night we stayed at Rampart Creek:

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We had a good dinner and then spent most of the evening talking about the possibility of running into a bear on the way to the toilet and how it felt a bit like we were in a horror film. Thankfully we all survived the night and no-one was hindered by wildlife on their way to wee.

On the second day we headed into the Columbia Icefield to check out the glaciers. We had a good long walk in that area, then headed on to a waterfall. We all climbed part way up it, then the more adventurous ones in the group (which was actually most of the group, though not me as I'm a total wuss) kept climbing up to the top. That was quite exhausting (even just watching!), plus it was raining, so after a brief trip to get some warm drinks, we treated ourselves to some time at the hot springs. That doubled as both a nice relaxing afternoon and also a good opportunity to shower.

That night we stayed at Athabasca Falls, our second wilderness hostel:

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We had a barbecue with some beef and some bison. I'd previously had bison in Cuba and found it pretty tough as it had possibly been overcooked, so it was good to get to try it again. It was cooked much more rare this time, which is how I like my meat, so it was definitely more enjoyable. I still found it much tougher than beef though. That night we also got to see the Northern Lights! That was really exciting as I've never seen them before. They weren't really strong in the sky, so not as spectacular as a lot of the photos you see, but they were still pretty impressive.

On our third day the sun finally appeared. Hoorah! We took full advantage of it and managed to fit in a lot. To start off we went to Athabasca Falls and walked all around there. Then we headed to a pier where you can stick your feet in the water and get one of those fish pedicures (but for free!). Sadly my feet were covered in plasters, due to blisters, so I didn't join in. We then headed to Maligne Canyon, where Ryan dropped us off at one end, then took Fenton (the bus) up to the other end to meet us there. Of course, being the only trek where we didn't have our guide with us, this ended up being the one trek where we encountered a bear. It wasn't far ahead of us, though it was just a small black bear, thankfully, not a grizzly (though it would have been cool to have seen a grizzly at some point on the trip). We all stopped, of course, not wanting to get too close. It ran off, though in the direction of the path we were heading towards, so we were slightly concerned we might round the corner and find it sitting there. As we were being cautious and keeping our distance, a couple came up the trail behind us. We told them there was a bear ahead, so that they could be equally cautious, but the lady just said "we're not interested in bears" and kept walking. Strange. The bear had totally scarpered anyway, so we continued on to the end of the trail where Ryan was waiting (and juggling). Of course it then started raining as we had our lunch (it rained during all our lunches at some point), but there was a handy tree to shelter under and stop our sandwiches getting soggy.

Before heading to the hostel in Jasper we had a final hike up to a lookout point. As well as the awesome view, we got to see some sheep and a chipmunk. The hostel we stayed in in Jasper was a bit disappointing really after the quiet secluded wilderness hostels. There were just the 2 massive dorms, one of which was female-only, though I stayed in the mixed gender one so I could be with Jamie. We were put in a fairly cramped and dark corner of the dorm, which didn't really help our slightly negative opinion of it. Not that it really mattered much as we didn't exactly spend much time there. We had a while for showering and such like but then we headed into town for food and drinks. The word 'town' might suggest it was sizeable, but it was smaller than Banff and Banff was pretty small. Not that size matters (*insert own joke here*). We had a good night out, drinking some drinks and playing some pool. We were mostly playing doubles and Jamie and I went undefeated. More down to Jamie than me, granted, but I'll still happily take some credit.

On our fourth and final day we headed back to Banff. The Swiss girls stayed in Jasper, so it was sad to lose them, but we gained a German guy instead! We went on a hike up through some waterfalls at Beauty Creek in the morning, then went and had lunch by the weeping mountain:

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In the afternoon we walked up through some snow to reach a lookout point for an amazingly blue lake, which was pretty spectacular. Ryan said he'd never seen it so blue. Annoyingly I can't remember what it was called, but look at how blue it was:

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Once we were back in Banff we checked into the Same Sun hostel, which was pretty decent. Our dorm room looked like it used to be a hotel suite or something, as it was split into different rooms and had a TV, fireplace and notices about a hot tub (though no actual hot tub, alas). Our meal was also included, so that acted as a good final group activity.

Jamie and I still had most of the following day in Banff as we were then catching a late overnight bus to Vancouver. The weather wasn't brilliant but we still went for a nice walk up to the caves. Sadly the caves weren't actually open (we managed to go there the one day they're closed), but we got to see a bit of the geothermal activity in the area. Plus we got to see an Elk. Then when we went and got dinner I decided to order an Elk burger! Yes, I admired the beauty of an animal and then got curious as to what it might taste like. Although, as it was in burger form, the taste wasn't as strong as it would likely have been in steak form or something like that. There was a subtle difference to beef, but if I'd not known it was Elk and had been told it was beef I wouldn't have doubted it. After dinner we headed to the Greyhound station to catch our overnight bus.

Posted by chantalpatton 15:55 Archived in Canada Comments (2)

Edmonton, Canada (26th - 28th May)

In Edmonton we couchsurfed. For those unfamiliar, couchsurfing is when you stay with someone (generally on their couch, though sometimes in a spare room) for free. There's a general understanding that if you partake of the service and stay with people for free, you'll also return the favour by hosting others on your couch. This was our first time staying with someone, however we'd hosted a couchsurfer during our time in Toronto. We had a lovely French girl stay with us for a weekend and we showed her round the city and had a really good time, so it was fun to also get to do it from the other side of the arrangement. Colin was a great host and even came and picked us up from the train station at half 6 in the morning. Not only that but he offered a lift to one of the people we'd befriended on the train as well. Really nice guy.

We were only in Edmonton for a couple of days, but I enjoyed our time there. On the first day, after getting to Colin's place and settling in, we went for a walk with him and a friend, taking in a bit of the city and getting a drink. We didn't get to see a huge amount of the city, but it seemed like a nice place - lots of green areas. Then in the evening we went along to a band rehearsal (a band that Colin's in, not just some random one), which was good fun.

Our main activity on the second day was to go to Edmonton Mall. That mightn't sound very exciting, but it's no ordinary mall. I doubt I can even remember all of the unusual things you'll find in there. As well as a water park (with wave machine) and a fairground, there are 2 mini golf courses, a rope climbing area, water massage machines, plus, strangest of all, a pirate ship that hosts animal displays (there was a penguin on it when we were there) and some performing sea lions. Yes, you can be going about your shopping and just pause to watch a sea lion doing tricks. It's surreal!

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After our trip to the mall, Colin drove us to this great liquor store that had a huge selection of beers from around the world. We decided to buy 2 each, but then somehow ended up with 3 each and a shared bottle of local beer (called Jade Dragon). We then spent a fun evening of drinking beer and taking it in turns to pick music videos to play on YouTube. All in all a very successful couchsurfing experience. Loads of thanks to Colin (and his dog Steve, who was very sweet).

Posted by chantalpatton 21:24 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

In Transit - Montreal to Edmonton, Canada (23rd - 26th May)

On the morning of May 23rd, we got the Megabus from Montreal to Toronto. It seemed like we were always ending up back in Toronto, but this was our final visit (at least on this trip!). We then walked from the bus station to the train station and killed a bit of time before we could check in for our train. This wasn't going to be an ordinary train journey though; this was going to be a two and a half day train journey! Canada's a tad bigger than the UK. We'd paid for berths, which are seats during the day and then transform into bunk beds over night. We briefly considered going for the cheapest seats, which are literally just seats, but for 3 nights onboard that seemed like madness. The berths aren't cheap, but we bought them during a sale, plus you get all your meals included too, so it was definitely worth it. You can also pay more than that and get an actual room, but they looked pretty cramped and not really better than the births, so I was happy with our choice.

After checking in, we got to go and wait in the special lounge where there were free soft drinks, plus coffee and tea and some cheese cubes. Then we boarded the train and got told there was a free champagne reception in the activities car. Ace. Glasses of champagne (that got topped up a couple of times), plus hors d'oeuvres, was a good start to a long journey.

The journey in general was pretty good fun really. There were various activities they'd put on, including beer and wine tastings, which of course we partook in. Then there were the 3 meals a day, where you'd get sat with other people on a table of 4. Generally we'd be sat with another couple, so it was like an odd blind double-date, but it was nice to get to chat to a variety of people and find out where they were travelling to and why. There was quite a large proportion of more elderly travellers - not that that's a bad thing - though a few of us younger ones sort of naturally grouped together and ended up hanging out quite a bit and staying up late, mostly talking nonsense. There were also dome cars where you could sit up higher and get a more panoramic view of the scenery. Oh and the food was good too - particularly the lamb I had on the last night, that was really nice. So yeah, those were all the good aspects. The only real negative aspects were the lack of electrical sockets and the lack of wi-fi. I'm assuming it's a deliberate thing as they want to promote a relaxed atmosphere and for people to enjoy the scenery and each others' company and to maybe just read a book or something, which is totally admirable and it was quite nice in a way, but it was also a bit frustrating at times. It was particularly frustrating as we'd not been aware of that in advance, so most of the entertainment we had with us was electronic and based around having wi-fi. I'd actually put off writing my blog for Montreal as figured I'd have loads of time to do it on the train! I suppose I could have typed it and just not posted it, but the lack of plug sockets made that difficult. So there were times we did get quite bored, unsurprisingly. We didn't have books with us to read, so we played cards quite a bit.

Sleeping on the train was a mixed bag as well. The beds were a lot bigger and more comfortable than we'd been expecting, so that was nice, but the train went remarkably fast during the night and it was pretty shaky as well, which made sleeping quite difficult. I really struggled to sleep on the first night, plus when I did I kept having dreams that I was on a train, so it was like I was still awake! Stupid subconscious. On the second night I slept a lot better, though I did keep getting the sensation that I was on a plane with really bad turbulance, just because it was so shaky, so that freaked me out a little. However, on that second night, we arrived in Winnipeg at breakfast time and stayed there for 4 hours. So after having breakfast we went back to bed and made the most of the train being still and got a few more hours sleep. The third night was back to being bad again though - mostly because we arrived in to Edmonton at about 6:30am, so needed to get up and ready before that - ugh.

Still, overall an enjoyable experience I'd say. Here's the train itself:

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Posted by chantalpatton 21:08 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Montreal, Canada (19th - 23rd May)

Our train to Montreal arrived quite late (late at night, not later than scheduled), so we got a taxi to the hostel, to save lugging our suitcases around in the dark. The hostel (La Maison Du Patriote) was on a really nice cobbled street in the old port area. It was a bit of a strange set-up to check in though, as the staff there only work during the day, so if you arrive in the evening, you let yourself in with a keypad code and then find the room with your name on (and the key in the door). That all worked fine though and it was quite nice having a welcoming note on the door. Our room was also really nice - not especially big, but decorated nicely and with a big bay window opening out onto the cobbled street.

The hostel had a nice vibe about it in general, I'd definitely recommend it. I found it strange that there were only 2 showers and 2 toilets for the whole hostel (which isn't particularly big, but has a decent amount of beds), although I never actually needed to queue for a shower and rarely had to wait for a toilet, so it's not much of a complaint. You also didn't get breakfast, which meant that we ended up going to cafes for coffee and baked goods every morning, which I'm not complaining about either!

It wasn't really that long ago that we were in Montreal, but as we're constantly travelling and seeing new things, it's really easy to start forgetting about things we did in previous places. So here's a run down of some of the things we did, though I know it'll be far from comprehensive!

- As in all places we visit, we walked around quite a lot. Montreal's a really nice city. It reminded me quite a bit of Toronto at times, though much quieter and slightly more European-feeling.

- We went to the Museum of Fine Arts, which is free and really big - it's spread out over 3 buildings that are all connected under ground. That kept us happily occupied for a good few hours.

- We walked up "The Mountain", also known as Mount Royal. You get a good view over the city:

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- We found a pub called 'Les 3 Brasseurs' that we went to a couple of times. On the first visit we got some beer samplers, which was good fun. Oh and we did get food as well, though that's less memorable for some reason. Then on the second visit we had this dessert deal thing they did, which was coffee, cheesecake and chocolate mousse. Three of my favourite things!! Here's Jamie with the beer samplers:

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- We found out that it's free to cycle round the Formula 1 circuit over on Isle Notre-Dame. Cycling's not something I personally enjoy, so I took the subway there instead and had a walk around while Jamie rented a bike and cycled round the circuit.

- Long in advance of our trip to Quebec, our friends Mark and Kathryn had told us that we had to try Beaver Tails when we were there. Don't worry, they're not literally the tails of beavers, they're a sweet, artery-clogging treat, that are shaped like beaver tails. We'd forgotten all about this advice until we happened to come across a Beaver Tails vendor on our last day in Montreal. They're basically like a flat doughnut and you can choose the topping you have. I went for a white icing and oreo cookie topping. Oh my, it was nice, but a struggle to finish - particularly as we'd just been for noodles. Messy too - not to be eaten in public! Here it is:

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Posted by chantalpatton 20:37 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

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