Published: July 14th 2011June 25th 2011 “Ve vill schtop for zirty minutes...”
Everyone loves a Mountie!
Two very large plush bears wearing Royal Canadian Mounted Police uniforms welcome visitors to the Calgary Tower.
No, we’re not on a coach tour of the Rhine, the Tyrol or the cantons of Switzerland. We’re in Canada.
We’d expected to be sharing the ride with other English-speakers but didn’t anticipate having a Tour Director who was Swiss with an Irish surname. However, our ears having become attuned to her accent, we've found Swiss-Canadian Margarith an efficient, knowledgeable and convivial guide with a good, albeit unusual, sense of humour.
As you’ll have read from previous blogs, we’d flown from London Gatwick to Calgary in Alberta, Canada. Thomas Cook’s generous 34-inch seat pitch on their Airbus-330-200 had now been mirrored by that in our big, six-wheel coach under contract to the local operator Jonview
. Its former 48-seat configuration had been reduced just a few months ago to 38 reclining leather seats, plus kitchenette and washroom at the back. There were only 29 of us – English, Scottish, Irish and Dutch – so it was outrageously spacious.
“But...” I hear you ask, “...what were you seasoned independent travellers doing on an escorted coach tour?”
Well, we’d always wanted to visit Canada, but other countries had somehow got in
Give this one a title please!
This wonderful sculpture added to the already enjoyable atmosphere of the Stephen Avenue Walk.
I was going to call it: "If it wasn't for burgers, my waistline would be like that cyclist over there", but it wouldn't fit. Any ideas?
the way. Pat had wanted to visit the penpal she’d had for 50 years but never met. We had romantic pictures in our heads of exciting train journeys, from east to west and over The Rockies.
However, research indicated that, for the price of a train ticket, we could visit almost the whole of Alberta and British Columbia! My brother David and his wife Janice, both Canada aficionados, advised against a boring two- or three-day train ride across the flat farmlands in the centre of the country. Friends Maureen and Peter encouraged us to visit the wealth of ‘must-sees’ they’d enjoyed on their extended visit. And we both decided that driving a hire car wouldn’t do justice to the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, at least for the driver with eyes on the road rather than on the snow-topped peaks. Then, of course, the 8000 kilometre journey each way involved expensive flights, etc., etc., ...
We started to realise that Canada was a big place, with lots to see. Well, it is
the second-largest country in the world, stretching across six time zones from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific in the west and up
into the Arctic in the north.
Before we knew it, we’d asked Canadian Affair
to book flights from London to Calgary in the west of the country, a week’s coach tour over the Rockies to Vancouver (arriving in time for the Canada Day national holiday), ferries to and from Vancouver Island with a hire car for a few days, a flight back to Calgary to spend time with aforesaid penpal and her family - and to attend the Calgary Stampede, followed by a three-hour flight across the flatlands to Toronto and an 11-day escorted tour of the eastern states of Ontario and Quebec, before flying home. Four weeks in all. Sorry kids, a few more pounds deducted from your inheritance!
That was around nine months ago. Now here we were on our way, first stop Calgary, Alberta and our meeting at the Sandman Hotel with the lovely Margarith. Incidentally, we’re staying at so many hotels over the next few weeks that I plan to avoid descriptions of them - you’ll need to read my Trip Advisor reviews if you want more details.
Jet lag hadn’t quite hit us at this stage – it was lunchtime here
Calgary Tower claims to have the highest 360° observation deck in the world. It's certainly very high!
but, seven hours ahead of UK time, it was nearly our bedtime. It actually took us a week to catch up. Early morning starts – wake-up call at 6.30a.m., luggage ready for collection and breakfast at 7.30, departure at 8.00, stops for coffees, lunches and washrooms (we’re all over 50!)
, frequent announcements of “Ve vill schtop for zirty minutes...” (sometimes longer, sometimes just
at viewpoints, arrival at the next one- or two-night hotel stop... The routine was hard work – if we didn’t do it, we’d miss a lot. But, boy, were we tired?! Calgary
In a vain attempt to counteract the time difference, we explored the centre of Calgary, went up the 1228 metre high Calgary Tower
for amazing views, then a stroll along pedestrianised Stephen Avenue, noted for its eclectic mix of galleries, boutiques, cafés and restaurants. We had an early dinner at an Irish pub sitting outside in the sun at what, for us, would have been two o'clock in the morning!
It was raining on and off during our tour of the city the following morning. The Stampede grounds were still being prepared for our return next week – when we
I almost dared!
The view down from the glass floor at the top of Calgary Tower.
I had one foot on the glass - the camera did the rest!
will be joined by Wills and Kate, who will be officially opening this huge annual event. The grounds are permanent - we thought it would be all tents but there are purpose-built stadiums, arenas, fairgrounds, all sorts of things. We’re really looking forward to enjoying the parade, the rodeo, the chuck -wagon races and the atmosphere of what is modestly claimed to be The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth!
We went on to Olympic Park, built for the XV Winter Olympic Games in 1988 and now looking almost as tired as us. Its huge ski jumps and ski slalom areas were still in evidence and used during the cold winter months. The ski lifts were being used, during the summer months, by boys on mountain bikes who arrived at the bottom of the slopes covered from head to toe in mud!
Our journey continued to the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, shown in the panoramic aerial view at the top of the page, visible on the horizon across the flat, almost desert-like, plains surrounding the city of Calgary . Another blog will follow as soon as possible. We’re now nearly three weeks into our tour and this is the first blogging opportunity we’ve had – or, at least, the first time we’ve felt sufficiently awake to put fingers to keyboard!