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Published: August 11th 2008
Our camping experience on Johnstone Strait without electricity prepared us well for our return to Vancouver City. When we arrived back at our hostel, a fire in an underground cable area had caused a blackout affecting several parts of the city, reducing our comforts to cold showers and candlelight. In fact, our remaining time in Vancouver saw us limited to only a handful of places that weren’t affected by the power failure, that the local rags’ headlines were saying was one of the worst in British Columbia’s history.
When visiting Vancouver you can’t help but notice the amount of homeless here, and there’s an outstretched arm with an upturned baseball cap on almost every street corner. A problem, it would seem, that the authorities are getting nervous about with the approach of the Winter Olympics that are to be held here in 2010.
On our last day in Vancouver we took another one of those sightseeing tour buses (it’s worrying isn’t it), mainly to get out to Stanley Park, one of the world’s largest city parks. Here we had a stroll along the shoreline and through the forested areas.
Although not on our original itinerary, we decided against
flying from Vancouver to Toronto, opting instead to hire a car and drive to Calgary, via the Rockies, and fly from there to Toronto. We had a result at National Car Hire, where our cheap compact was upgraded (for the same price), not once, not twice, but 5 times as we went from a small hatchback to a 4X4 SUV. Furthermore, it had the grand total of 31km on the clock, and as we opened the doors it smelt like it had come straight from the showroom.
We’d allowed six days for the drive and would be making overnight stops in Whistler, Kelowna, Revelstoke, Lake Louise, Jasper and Banff. The highlight would be the ‘Icefields Parkway’ (Highway 93) that travels through the backbone of the Canadian Rockies, and which National Geographic Magazine rates in the top ten of the world’s greatest drives.
Whistler was our first stop after leaving Vancouver, an attractive and outdoorsy town with excellent skiing, hiking, kayaking etc. We got talking to a girl in a shop who had made the mistake of asking about our trip, and while chatting we happened to mention about our lack of bear sightings - ie. none! She gave
us the name of a road leading up to the hills where she was sure we’d spot one. So confident was she, that her description of the drive was a ‘bear safari‘.
After a drink and a bite to eat, and with the sun going down, it was time to give this so-called bear safari a try. It was only fifteen minutes before we began our ascent and after crawling for 4km scanning the sides of the road, we’d not seen a thing. We were beginning to doubt our tip-off when we rounded the next corner, and there in the distance was the unmistakable lumbering frame of a bear. As we got closer one turned out to be three - one large black bear and two smaller brown ones which may have been her cubs but they were almost fully grown. The confusing thing about black bears is that they can be any colour from black to brown to white.
We pulled up and stopped a short distance away, turned off the engine and sat watching real bears in the wild - we never knew they ate so much grass! In half an hour you might expect some
Stanley Park - Vancouver
good photos, but with the light fading and not wanting to disturb them, it was difficult to capture their constant movement in a still. We also decided against getting out of the vehicle, with the bears at times only 20ft away.
On our journey through the Rockies we’ve also seen moose (which are huge and second only to bison as North America’s largest land mammal), elk (the large males with their antlers are very impressive), and also a swimming beaver by its dam…..it felt like we were back on safari. One of the things we failed to spot was a grizzly, which was a shame, but ya can’t win ’em all.
The Icefields Parkway and the surrounding areas of Lake Louise and Jasper were stunning, with many glaciers, mountains, ice-blue lakes and rivers, giant cedars, pine forests, and of course wildlife. We stayed in a log cabin just outside Jasper for two nights, enjoying the scenery and the Jasper Brewery, and then re-drove the Icefields Parkway for a second helping in order to get to Banff.
Banff is a lovely looking town with a lot of the houses and shops built with wood and stone, giving it
that real alpine look, and those aesthetics would undoubtedly improve with a touch of the cold white stuff, which is how you tend to see Banff in the brochures.
We dropped off our hire car at Calgary airport with no time to see the city itself, and that night we arrived (with two hours added to our watches) at our latest hostel in Toronto around midnight. Our location in Toronto was particularly uninspiring, as was the weather, although we’d just missed a bout of heavy storms that had hit the city over the last few days.
We were staying at the university in a room not much bigger than, and with all the attraction of, a jail cell. So we decided to hire another car, which incidentally we picked up from Yonge Street - the longest street in the world, in order to spend a night in a place called Niagara, which apparently has a couple of nice waterfalls………
At only 51m Niagara Falls is by no means the highest waterfall in the world, in fact it comes in at a lowly 50th on the ‘tallest’ chart, but for sheer volume of water it can’t be beaten
and tops the league table with a summer flow of 2,554,875 litres (675,000 gallons) of water cascading over the edge every second
!! A staggering amount of H2O that you’d be forgiven for thinking was unstoppable, but nature found a way on Easter Sunday morning (recorded for the first time) back in 1848 when ice completely jammed the flow.
Bizarrely, some people have chosen to risk the drop over Niagara in the search of fame or maybe just personal development. The first successful leap in a barrel was in 1901 by a school teacher named Annie Taylor. She probably taught Religious Education…..
Robert Overcracker chose to jet ski over the edge, he might have survived if his rocket-propelled parachute had opened.
Only one accidental plunger has survived, falling out of a boat upstream and being carried down and over the roaring abyss. It’s impossible to imagine how terrified that 7 year old boy from Tennessee must have felt. He survived the fall with not even as much as a broken bone! How’s that for bragging rights at school?!
The falls themselves are stunning, and as you can see from the pictures we were treated to a sunny day where
the spray produced a perfect rainbow, although it ruined the long held ’pot of gold’ theory.
Unfortunately, the increase in visitors to Niagara Falls (about 14 million per year) has meant that the natural wonder now shares its surroundings with motels, casinos and fast food chains. You have to feel for those residents along River Road with their beautiful B&Bs, who now have to rub shoulders and compete with this hideous part of their new neighbourhood. It’s a real shame that a more tasteful theme wasn’t adopted here, like it has been in places such as Banff.
We only stayed one night, in a nice hostel, and the following morning we crossed Rainbow Bridge to Buffalo on the US side. As well as getting a different view of the falls, we thought it might be a novelty to jump across the border for an hour or so. Little did we know, that novelty would cost over $20 and included jumped-up, power-enriched border officials with attitude, who were complete arseholes and probably the rudest the world has offered us so far. Their career advisers at high school should have steered them away from jobs dealing with the public. If there
...and a waterfall in the background. Icefields Parkway.
was a petition for them to go over the falls in a barrel we’d have signed it.
So it was back to Toronto, where our room had improved dramatically from the one we left. With one full day left in Canada, and in a better frame of mind, we gave the city a good go starting with the CN Tower.
The CN Tower is the tallest free standing building in the world and has a 360 restaurant above the viewing deck (like the one we ate at in Sydney), housing the highest wine cellar in the world. As well as this, it was the first building to install a glass floor, where you stand looking down, 1122ft to the ground below.
The CN Tower is located right next to the Rogers Centre, home to the Blue Jays, Toronto’s Major League Baseball team. Continuing the theme of world firsts, this was the first stadium to have a fully retractable dome roof. After our descent from the tower, with a match due to begin, we decided to see what tickets the touts were offering. After a 5 match winning streak, the Blue Jays were clearly on a roll, so we
bought two tickets and a hot dog each……….lets play ball!!!
We entered the ground with little knowledge of the game, but the aim was to be educated by whoever was unfortunate enough to be sat next to us, and have the rules and ‘game plays’ thrillingly demonstrated by a team on form.
We left the stadium with our newly gained knowledge of the game of baseball thanks to a mother and daughter who between them were kind enough to try to explain the rules and the dozen or more numbers on the scoreboard. In the end it was the Seattle Mariners (the away side) who provided the plays with a 5-1 win over the home side.
On leaving the ground we followed the local crowd to the Whistle Stop Brewery where we were given tokens for two free beers each, after which we left to explore the waterfront. We ended the day with something to eat and a look at the lit up CN Tower, and then headed back to a different, much improved, hostel.
The following day we were on a flight out of Toronto, and Canada, as we headed for a taste of The
The Athabasca Glacier
Part of the vast Columbia Icefield that contains 30 glaciers in all, and is up to 350m thick, it drains into 3 oceans, the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Arctic.
Tot: 0.051s; Tpl: 0.024s; cc: 15; qc: 23; dbt: 0.0078s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb