A Travellerspoint blog

Canada

Canada, round 2!

Toronto, Quebec City, Montreal and the 5 day train journey across Canada back to Vancouver. Oh and Matthew's 40th Birthday! Seriously?

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For only a few bucks extra, we found out that the return flight we took to South America, did not have to return to the same place, namely Vancouver which you have read about at the start of our adventure. And so our flight north from Lima in Peru, arrived into the city of Toronto, in the east of Canada.

Starting our day's travel from Bogota in Colombia, made for a tiring day, but an ice cream stop in Lima airport put a smile on our face, our last taste of the delightful South American ice cream that has refreshed our palate on many a hot day!

Also a breath taking view of the New York city sky line, a first for me, as we stopped briefly at Newark Airport, Debs being the first to spot the Statue of Liberty! It was here Debs almost 'lost' me at passport control. What is it with Americans? Dare I say it as my visits have only been at airports, but they have been so stereotypical. Back in October I was stunned to see teenagers so large that they had to be driven to the departure gates! And this time, an American who simply could not understand why I was moving to New Zealand! The passport control conversation went a little like this:
'Good morning, where is your destination after Canada?'
'Good morning, New Zealand'.
'Why are you going there?'
'Because my girlfriend is a Kiwi'.
'What is a Kiwi?'
'Well, someone who comes from New Zealand'.
'And when are you going home?'
'I am not, I will live in New Zealand'.
'Why?'
'Well because me girlfriend is a Kiwi, I mean comes from New Zealand'.
'But after that, when will you go home?'
'No New Zealand will be my new home'.
'Why?'

And so it went on, I simply answered his questions straight, but he was just not getting the answers he either wanted or understood. It was so hard not to start becoming sarcastic and rude. He was so ignorant to the possibility of moving country. And he worked in passport control! Unreal. Debs was very quick to calm me down telling me, correctly, never to upset an American passport control person, they have a surprising amount of power to just turn you around if they do not like you!!

Anyway, safely arriving in Toronto, we were greeted at the airport by Lia. Lia and Mike and their gorgeous energetic daughter Anna, were to kindly put us up while we stayed in Toronto. And much to our delight, the cold spell of -20C had recently passed, and an unseasonably warm +15C was hanging around. That afternoon we were in our running shorts and jogging along the river!! So much for needing to buy a down jacket the moment we arrived!

Before leaving Bogota, we bought a cuddly fluffy stuffed horse we named Carlos in anticipation of sweetening Anna to our stay with her. (And luckily for us when we bought it, we found out it was 2 for 1 day at the kids shop, so we got Carlos's twin and gave him to our host there Elena, as we knew she had a 4 year old neice. Apparently there is no chance of the neice ever receiving it, Elena fell in love with him at once and wanted to keep him as a reminder of our stay!) Anna also fell in love with Carlos, and many a happy hour was spent playing with both of them in the lounge to squeals of delight from Anna!

Toronto does not have a huge amount to offer the casual tourist, but getting to know Lia, Mike and Anna was a joy. Lia's cooking kept us very well fed, and the highlight of our brief stay was a trip to Niagara Falls, just an hour away. Impressive, very impressive, and my first proper glimpse of America at ground level. We got thoroughly soaked in the spray from the falls, but enjoyed it none the less.

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Moving on from Toronto fairly quickly, we headed further east to Quebec City via train, and so the start of my mammoth, in every sense of the word, birthday celebrations. 40? Seriously? Every who knows me, knows how immature I can be, and I want to stay a teenager in my mind as long as I can! Debs started as she meant to go on with much generosity and surprised me with first class train travel! Amazing what telling people it is your birthday can do; I got a free bottle of wine, and a complete kids play pack! Told you I was immature! 40? Seriously?

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We arrived in Quebec city in the dark of the eve of my birthday, St Patrick's Day. Unbeknownst to us was 2 things, firstly that the Red Bull Crashed Ice was taking place that night, (try You Tubing that one, crazy wipeouts as skaters race each othere down the frozen steep streets!) and secondly that Quebec City has a lot of Irish influence. And so after dropping our bags, in the most delightful guest house of our entire trip (more generosity from Debs!) we headed into the old part of Quebec City to have a look around. There were huge dumps of snow by the side of the roads, and the gloves were definately needed, but everyone was in good spirit, and we finished the night with a couple of beers, and flaming sambuca shots in the appropriately named St Matthew's Bar!

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The morning of my birthday was one to remember. (Other than being 40 of course! Seriously?) I managed a SKYPE phone call to my family over breakfast which in itself was a feast, the breakfast that is! And Debs had kindly got some anecdotes from family and friends from over the years to make me laugh and smile as they could not be with me on this day. Later, a lazy day of exploring the beautiful town along the banks of the St Lawrence river, and a cheeky birthday beer, all followed by a yummy meal at Le Lapin Saute restaurant. Rabbit is actually quite tasty!

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Monday morning we awoke to the pitter patter sound of not rain, but melting snow, the warm weather continuing. And so arriving at the Ice Hotel at 5.15pm, very excited about staying the night, we were disappointed, but I suppose not entirely surprised to see a notice saying that from 5pm that day, the hotel has had to close early for the season due to melting starting. Gutted! Thankfully they were expecting us as our UK mobile had not been turned on for a while, and their sympathy meant we at least got shown around for starters. The structure is incredible. Each year they try to better the one before, and it was stunning to walk around even if we were getting dripped on! There is a church there that sees many weddings over the winter, complete with ice altar and pews, and a bar with its own ice slide! The rooms were equally impressive, with raised beds, yes, still ice, but with plenty of blankets.

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While this is something I particularly wanted to experience, I sensed Debs was quite glad when they said we were to be put up in a 5 star hotel nearby as compensation (as well a full refund, how kind!) And so after our initial disappointment, we made sure we enjoyed the evening and my birthday in style, warm style! A swim, a sauna, a paid for 3 course meal, and a bedroom suite so large, we got to choose which bed to sleep in! We went for the one in the loft!

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Next day we headed out into the country and stopped to try our hands, I mean feet, at snowshoeing. Lots of fun, and again so warm that we finished in only t-shirts! We soon got the hang of it, and thoroughly enjoyed the tranquility around the frozen lake (when we weren't snowbombing each other or being pushed into the deep, un-compacted snow).

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That night we stayed in a quaint small town called Baie St Paul. We awoke to blocks of ice slowly flowing down the river and could not resist going for a run, cold though it was.

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Taking the train back to Montreal, we looked up a good friend we met on our travels in Bolivia. Marie kindly put us up and we had lots of fun, along with her housemate Anya, exploring the city.

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Montreal has a good vibe, a fun atmosphere and we would have liked to stay longer. Again the warm temperature stayed, and after finding somewhere that sold South American empanadas once again for old time's sake, we enjoyed the first BBQ of the season with Marie and friends, as well as playing frisbee and trying Marie's hula hoop in the park!

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Back briefly to check that Anna had been looking after Carlos in Toronto, and to say goodbye to Lia and Mike's warm hospitality, we start, what was for me (and for Debs too, although she might not like to admit it) the highlight of Canada this time around: a 5 day train journey across the length of Canada. A birthday present of huge proportions, and one to savour and remember for years to come.

Although a bit last minute, taking this train is something I had dreamed of to get across Canada. In my mind the best way to see the country - so much better than flying. This legendary 5 day epic 4,466km journey actually travals across 3 time zones!

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We had a cozy little room with a bunk bed, and our own toilet and sink. Very private, and only a couple of carriages away from the last one which was a high glass domed carriage giving unrestricted panoramic views. Being able to see forward above the train, was new to me, and I loved sitting upstairs taking in the changing countryside.

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As with all long journeys with the same people for the whole way, you get to chat lots and get to know them pretty well which made the trip all the more enjoyable. There were many different people from different countries, but it was great to see so many Canadians enjoying their country too. And then the food. They managed 3 sittings per meal from a tiny kitchen, and we were immensely impressed both with the quality and the selection. Eating so well whilst travelling through the countryside was a real highlight.

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We passed through 3 main landscapes. Initially upon leaving Toronto, the train heads north and into the cold, before turning west through a landscape full of frozen lakes, in the Ontario province. This frozen landscape also continued through the next province of Manitoba where a long stop in Winnipeg gave us time to go for a morning run, much to surprise of our fellow passengers! Next was the vast open prairies of the province of Saskatchewan with little to see other than the odd beaver building its dam, but still very beautiful by their flat emptiness. And finally we awoke in the dark early hours to a blizzard in Edmonton as we progressed through Alberta and into British Colombia for the highlight, the Rockies mountain range. The blizzard had passed by mid morning, and soon the blue sky could be seen for a stunning day of viewing the snow covered mountains. Strange to imagine that this mountain range passes down the length of northern America, and then down the spine of South America as well, where not long ago, we were enjoying the views in Patagonia!

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Before we knew it, we were back in Vancouver and this time staying with a Couchsurfing host, Dean. Always a bit of a gamble saying yes to an area or part of a city you do not know. But we struck gold here, Dean's appartment was right in the centre, on the 8th floor, and spotless. We had a corner room with 2 walls being floor to ceiling windows! Dean was incredibly generous, and we loved chatting to him and learning the rules of curling, his winter pastime, and softball, his summer pastime!

Our last day included another walk around Stanley Park...

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...before heading to the airport for the long flight down across the Pacific, to Deborah's homeland, New Zealand. Our incredible, amazing and completely awesome adventures complete....

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Posted by DebandMatt 14:02 Archived in Canada Tagged travel train montreal quebec toronto falls canada vancouver niagara via across Comments (1)

Rockies road trip (part 2)

Two weeks of stunning scenery, heavenly hikes and dramatic driving; with the icing on the cake being the All Blacks winning the World Cup!!

It is with excitement (mainly about NZ being in the final of the rugby world cup, but also about discovering some more gorgeous scenery) that we meet up with Lucy for the Johnson Canyon and the Inkpots hike.

Lucy is a couchsurfer who has offered to host us for a couple of nights at her place and who was keen to come along on a hike with us too. Lucy informs us that the temperature was -10 as she left her flat this morning, brrr. We have good heating in the car and the ice is soon scraped off and it's toasty warm for the drive down to the start of the trail.

The frozen canyon walls and partly frozen waterfalls are beautiful in the morning light! And again there's hardly anyone around. We continue up to the inkpots, which are cold springs which have formed pools of water. The pools are meant to be different colours, which are hardly noticeable, but the meadow we find ourselves in is surrounded by mountains and the dried wildflowers still in the shade shimmer with frost.

Hike finished, we take a drive into the nearside of Katooney National Park doing a much shorter walk around another canyon and finding out about the wildfires that look to devastate the area, but are actually an important part of the forest's regeneration.

Heading back to Lucy's we find we're literally staying on the sofa this time, and it's a bit on the short side...not our most comfy surf. Neither does the constant people traffic passing our sofa help. M and I decide to be a little more discerning with our couchsurfing choices in the future. As we're heading into Banff to meet up with Cat and Mark for a coffee, we make our excuses to Lucy and agree that a hotel in Banff will be the order of the day.

Mark suggests hiking up Sulphur Mt to Sanson peak which gives us fantastic views on both sides of the mountain range - cheers Mark! And once we've had our fill of the views we jump on the gondalar down. Perfect. (Especially as we get down for free!)

Our hotel is in the centre of town and has a Mexican bar next door. We have Margarita's in jam jar glasses while trying to work out the rules for ice hockey and other patrons munch on peanuts and scatter their shells all over the floor. Very rustic.

A fantastic night's sleep and we are up before the sun ready for our drive up to Jasper along the icefield parkway. A spectacular sunrise greets us and we are on the road north. As we pass Lake Louise the few other vehicles on the road peel off and we have to road to ourselves.

Breakfast is served in the back of the SUV in a layby overlooking a lake and flanked by mountains at -3 degrees. I manage to rustle up some surprisingly tasty pan fried bread with jam and tea on our little gas stove (maybe my standards were lowered by the cold and a grumbling belly, but it really was good!).

The scenery really is dramatic and it seems that every 15mins there is another spot to pull over in, check out the view, clamber down to a lake or up to a glacier! On Megan and Mick's recommendation (cheers!) we hike up Parker's Ridgway. It is snow on the ground almost immediately from the car park until we emerge into the sun at the top of the ridge and hit amazing glacier and mountain views. Magnificent!

We reach Jasper as night falls and find a pub for dinner and some local beers - I try the pumpkin and spice ale - Yummy!

A well deserved lazy morning is followed by hiking through Maligne Canyon and driving down to Maligne Lake. We are struck by how low the water levels are - just a trickle in what we can see could be a forceful torrent of a river, and one lake is dry enough to walk in!

On our drive back into town we see some bigger animals... a moose! He/she isn't bothered by our presence as it has an afternoon snack by the side of the road. And then we spot some bighorn sheep posing by the river :-)

Our spell of great weather is broken the next morning as we wake to rain. As it clears we can see that there is now more snow on the top of the mountains too - nice. We take a look around the very sleepy Jasper town, pick a bottle of 'Baco Noir' (new to us - it was really good! Med-full bodied with lots of plummy fruit and only lightly tanninic) to have with steaks and roast veggies as a late lunch and drive to the picturesque Patricia and Pyramid lakes for a quick peek.

We'd posted an add for someone to get a ride to Vancouver with us and share the petrol. Jeff knocks on our door and, hey presto, we have the company of an Ozzie chap for the long (12 hours thanks to a traffic jam just outside Vancouver) and mainly wet drive. We drop Jeff off, check into our hostel, cook up the last of our food, give the rest away to a couple of French girls and pop out to a nearby bar for a well earnt drink.

Vancouver

We have some shopping to do, so start by heading to the Mountain Equipemnt Co-op (MEC) and buy a steripen (it sterilises water using UV light and means that we wont have to buy 100's of plastic bottles of water in South America), rechargeable batteries and a rather groovy Camelback water bottle. We love MEC - so many awesome bits of kit for all kinds of outdoor adventure!

We pop our head into the 'Sin-bin' bar that we found would be showing the Rugby World Cup - but it's sold out! The owner calls a mate who has a bar over in Kitsilano and within a minute we have 'seats' booked there. Apparently you have to book a seat in a bar here - a crush around the screen isn't allowed...

Stanley park is next on our list. Stanley park, by the sea, is a real oasis in the middle of the city with loads of joggers, cyclists and rollerbladers (I would have loved to have had my blades with me). There are beautiful autumn colours, herons catching fish in a pond full of waterlillies and great views over the harbour. I direct us to a tea house on the top of a hill and we warm ourselves through and enjoy being pampered.

We continue our walk along the waterfront and down to Gastown - the old hub of Vancouver. Rachel has recommended The Old Spaghetti Factory and the long queue outside is clearly a good sign, so in we go inside to enjoy a drink at the bar. I order a massive margareta - it is totally kitstch and completely yummy! Food there is great, and plentiful, and the decor interesting with an entire tram sitting in the middle of the restaurant!

I get very excited as we head to Kitsilano, to our allocated bar for the rugby. Kick off is at 1am so we have plenty of time to introduce ourselves to the local Kiwis and get a few drinks in (how kind of M to offer to drive after!) The pub crowd is split 50:50 with the French, so there is some good banter, especially when the French players make their intention known with a show of force at The Haka. Somehow the French seem to unnerve us, one of the few nations capable of doing so, but we still WON! New Zealand the worthy holders of the Webb Ellis Trophy for the next 4 years. Well done boys! After much hugging of my fellow Kiwis (and the presentation of a Silver Fern flag to me from one of the Kiwi ladies, cheers Chris) and hand shakes with the French, we head to the airport for our early morning flight to Lima for the next chapter of our adventure...

Posted by DebandMatt 09:19 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

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