Gilly doesn't like to do AM; I've known that for a long time but this was different. This was the start of our honeymoon so the alarm went off at 7:00 and a taxi was due to arrive at 9:00 to take us to Heathrow. Due to Gilly's love of sleep, everything had been calculated to the last minute and so, when there was a bit of a delay on the motorway, she started getting edgy. This it seems was a good time to admit to me that, although the tickets advised a 3 hour check in time, Gilly had thought this excessive and calculated allowing just 2 hrs. Thus we arrived at the airport at 11:45 for a 1:00 pm flight and had to rush through security and straight down to the departure lounge. I pointed out to Gilly that, if we had missed our flight, she would have felt guilty for the rest of our VERY SHORT marriage as it would have been completely her fault!
The flight took off on time with us on board and about 9 hours later we touched down at Calgary airport. By this time we were quite tired and had got on to a transfer bus to the hotel before we realised that we were supposed to pick up our rental car at the airport. This was where we first came across the English / Canadian language barrier: if you tell a Canadian that you are looking for a hire car, he is likely to ask “Higher than what?” Our upgrade room.
Car rental sorted, we made our way to the Fairmont Palliser Hotel where we were greeted as 'the honeymoon couple' and told that we had been given a free upgrade to help us celebrate. Our room was a suite on the 'executive floor' of the hotel and came with a separate reception desk, executive lounge on the top floor where our breakfast was served, and there were drinks and free canapés from 5:00 to 7:30 pm. We made our weary way down to the bar where we enjoyed a bowl of clam chowder before returning to our room and collapsing into bed at 9:30 pm local time (04:30 UK time) after having been awake for 21.5 hours.
Gilly enjoying the luxury of breakfast in the executive lounge. I awoke at 4:30 am with my body clock telling me that it was mid-day. Knowing that Gilly would be asleep for several more hours I quietly got dressed and went for a walk around down town Calgary in search of coffee. I noticed that the few people who were on the streets at this time were actually obeying the pedestrian crossing lights even when there were no cars in sight. Apparently, although it is highly unlikely that you would get a ticket here for jay-walking, it is socially unacceptable.
Modern Calgary reflected in the mirror-like side of an office block.
From the penthouse 'Gold' breakfast lounge we got our first glimpse of the Rocky mountains in the distance and we felt very pleased to have a little luxury in which to start our married life together and to recover from the jet-lag.
Calgary is the self-styled 'centre of the new west'. The town has grown rich on the oil industry and is growing rapidly but it lacks any real tourist interest. Even the guide book struggles to find anything encouraging to say about Calgary, describing it as 'brash and bold, liveable but characterless, prosperous but economically precarious, super modern but not pretty'. The economy in this old cow town is nonetheless growing 40% faster than the rest of Canada.
The black squirrels in the park completely ignore the people passing by. The Peace Bridge is loved and hated by locals in equal measure. From my perspective this looked like a relatively small city and it was hard to believe that it was big enough to have hosted the 1988 Olympic Games. That is not to say that Calgary does not have anything to commend it. There are lots of shops in the several shopping malls and a few good restaurants. The river area has over 50km of paved track used by walkers, runners, skaters and cyclists. The Glenbow museum and the controversial Peace Bridge were for me the highlights of a rather dull town. The same bridge takes on a completely different look at night.
On the third day, well rested from a night of Melatonin drug induced sleep, we drove on to Banff National Park which was the first National Park to be created in Canada. Banff town itself was founded in the late 1800s with tourism in mind; it has been a tourist destination ever since. The town is protected and further development is forbidden so it has become quite crowded and the existing hotels seem to be permanently full. We took the gondola to the top of Sulphur mountain where we found the local wildlife (the ground squirrels) to be very friendly. Afterwards we drove on to the waterfalls at Johnston Canyon, stopping to admire the views at Vermilion Lakes on the way. Double visionThe still waters of Vermillion Lake in Banff national park perfectly reflect the mountain in the background.
The first impression that you get of Canada is of a BIG country of wide open spaces. Although this may be less intuitive and more to do with a knowledge of geography, you soon get an idea of how vast this country is when you go outside of town and find that where the town ends, wilderness begins but I will come back to that later.
The water swirling around these rocks made for an irresistible long exposure pic. The second impression is of a new country. The aura of history in Europe is a tangible thing that hangs in the air like a mist that goes unnoticed by those who live there until you step out of it into the clear air of a new civilisation; suddenly you can see all the way back to the dawn of 'modern history'. The 'old' buildings here may date back to the early 1800s; in the 'New West' of Canada even those are rare. I have pairs of socks older than that! Coming from Cambridge (or Cambridge-England as our transatlantic cousins insist on calling it), a history of 200 years is positively recent and even in the First Nations pre-history that we had discovered at the Glenbow Museum, little is known before the early 1700s.
At the end of a busy day we went to the Lady Macdonald Inn in Canmore, a charming B&B run by an Swiss-German called Peter. Canmore was once a mining town which has expanded with tourism but is still small and retains much of its character. There is one main street with a collection of restaurants and small hotels spread out along its length and a number of houses scattered around the outskirts. An ideal stop over to avoid the bustle of the bigger towns. Here I had my first taste of the famous (AAA) Alberta steak which just melts in the mouth.
The following morning Peter made us a breakfast of blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and crispy streaky bacon (I didn't see back bacon anywhere in Canada); this was a rather odd combination but was strangely delicious.
The moods in the mountains change as quickly as the weather. There were storms all around but moments after this photo was taken the sun came out. . . briefly! With our stomachs bulging we set off for our next destination, a town called Field, stopping to take some scenic photographs en-route. We drove past Lake Minnewanka (pronounced Mini-wonker in case you were wondering) but did not stop there. If we had thought that Canmore was small we had seen nothing yet. Field is a one-horse town which deserves no more of a mention than that. About 2 miles outside of Field is Cathedral Mountain Lodge where we were booked to spend the next night. Champagne and a log fire on the only cold and wet day of the holiday - Perfect!
This turned out to be a small group of log cabins with a restaurant and reception. Surrounded by forest and mountains on all sides and with the river running right past the door, this was by far the most romantic accommodation of our holiday. After dropping off our luggage we drove on to Takakkaw Falls, the third highest waterfall in Canada where we managed to take some more photos in between heavy showers. The bear nativity won the prize for the tackiest gift. At $38 we didn't buy one!! Then, as it was still raining, we drove to the village at Lake Louise, which comprises about 8 shops, 2 cafés and a post office. A sandwich cost us $10 each which is not unusual in this part of the world. The village was rather smaller than we had imagined; there is a petrol station and several hotels around the outskirts of the village.
After an hour or so of looking in the tacky gift shops and laughing at the rubbish that tourists will buy we returned to our log cabin to find a real fire set in the grate and a complimentary bottle of champagne to help us celebrate our honeymoon. Later in the restaurant we chose scallops to start which were the best that I have ever tasted outside of Guernsey and a succulent Alberta (AAA) steak rubbed with espresso and herbs. The steak was even more tender than the previous night but the restaurant was very expensive. As we were beginning to realise, everything in the Rockies is expensive!
The Canadians are very helpful, hospitable and enthusiastic people. Their “You want to check in? That's perfect” on arrival at the hotel, “How are you today?” when you walk in to a shop or “You're on your honeymoon? That's awesome!” may sound false and disingenuous to our ears but once you get used to it you realise that it is their way and is perhaps the reason why the English are seen here as being reserved. Pause for just a moment on any street with a map in your hand and somebody is guaranteed to ask if you need directions. When we got back to the UK we found ourselves greeted by surly, sour faced and unhelpful English (and European) staff and we yearned for the enthusiastic Canadian manner.
I found my speech alternating between a faux Canadian accent and a very English one as I got used to words and phrases that feel unfamiliar in my mouth. I decided to stick with English and if I was not understood then I would deal with that when I came to it!
Emerald lake is yet another stunning place in a part of the country where truly beautiful scenery is quickly accepted as the norm. We trekked about 4km around the lake as we needed to burn off some of the calories from the last couple of days. Next, on our way to Lake Louise, we visited the Natural Bridge where the water has eroded under the rock to form a bridge over the river.
Lake Louise was busy. This was the Labour Day bank holiday weekend before all the schools go back and so every family in the country was out enjoying the last of the summer sunshine. Gilly nearly got into a fight with an English tourist who aggressively tried to jump into a parking space by reversing his car at speed and then getting his father to stand in front of my car so I couldn't move. Needless to say Gilly won the argument and we quickly moved on to our next challenge.
The trail from Lake Louise to Lake Agnes is a 7km (4.5 mile) round trip with an elevation gain of about 367m (1,204 feet) and takes somewhat longer on the way up than it does on the return leg. The reward at the top of the climb is the view back down the mountain and Lake Agnes itself. On a hot day, it was great to find the Lake Agnes tea house at the top of the mountain; with an extensive tea selection and chocolate brownies, we were very happy to sit down and enjoy the view over a cuppa! The tea house get their supplies just once a year by helicopter so there were no cold drinks but we didn't mind once we had had our brownies! All the staff live at the top of the mountain for a summer season; walking to Lake Louise about once a week they usually hike back up with a pack of supplies.
This Hotel is on the shores of Lake Louise. This is where we will stay after we win the lottery. Gilly showing how to wear a baseball cap the wrong way round! Perfect reflections on Moraine Lake. Back at Lake Louise we just about had enough energy left for a gentle 2km stroll around the lake.
The nearby Moraine Lake is even more beautiful than its more famous cousin. We spent a happy couple of hours canoeing across the lake and taking some photographs. The canoe rental is $50 dollars each per hour (about £35) but the man at the kiosk said that they never keep an eye on the time and often people are out for 3 hours at no extra charge.
Another attraction in the area is a gondola (cable car) ride up the side of another mountain where you are 'almost guaranteed' to see some bears. We didn't see any bears but the views from the top were almost worth the extortionate price of the ride.
Looking down on Peyto Lake from the mountain top. Travelling further on, we crossed in to Jasper National Park. Passing stunning mountain vistas around every corner, we stopped to take more photos at Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Lake, the Saskachewan River crossing and Peyto Lake before arriving at the Athabasca Glacier.
Staying at the Glacier View Inn we found that we had been upgraded to one of their best rooms in honour of our recent wedding. The room was certainly comfortable and generously sized with great views of the glacier. We walked to the foot of the glacier. Pedestrian access on to the glacier is restricted as there is a danger of ice falls and hidden crevasses on the ice and besides they need a way to encourage the us to pay $110 (approx. £75) for a bus to take us on to the glacier. Climbing the moraine left by the retreating ice we could see a clean blue/white area in the otherwise black and dirty wall of ice where a piece the size of a football pitch had fallen away. The young man (bottom right of the picture) give scale to the image. At this altitude the landscape is pretty barren as can be seen from this photograph of our hotel (beneath the tree-line on the left of the picture) but it still has a rugged beauty.
If we had considered some of our previous meals to be overpriced then we were about to get an unpleasant surprise. The restaurant next to the hotel was not, as hotel staff were keen to point out, run by the hotel. The nearest alternative was an hours drive in either direction so in this tourist trap the unethically priced menu could only be described as mediocre pub food. We paid about $80 for a salad and a rack of ribs and the compulsory 15% service charge just added insult to injury.
We drove to Jasper and had a look around the town before heading about 5 miles away to check in at the Pyramid Lake Lodge. Here we were welcomed with the now customary “You want to check in? Perfect! Oh you're the honeymoon couple, that's awesome. There is a complimentary bottle of Champagne in your room to help you celebrate this happy occasion.” We went for a hike around the lake and took a wrong turn, it was evening, the light was fading and Gilly was wearing sun glasses so under the trees it was getting dark and she began to worry about the bears. Although it was the longer route we decided to turn back as then we at least knew where we were so we put on a bit of speed and sang Monty Python songs to keep the bears away. After all that energy and excitement we headed back in to Jasper for a well earned dinner. On the way we spotted an elk at the side of the road; this was the first large animal we had seen. A view across Patricia lake.
The next morning I awoke at 6:30 and went out in the car to try to spot some more wildlife., I only succeeded in finding two more elk, one of which was the same one that we had seen the night before (I recognised her by the tracking collar and the tag in her ear). I consoled myself by taking some photographs at sunrise by the lake. Having already taken more shots than I could count of mountains reflecting in the lake I decided to try something a bit different and was rather pleased with this picture (below) with the rocks appearing to float in the sky. After breakfast we went to the Miette hot springs where we soaked in the naturally heated sulphurous waters. This picture is actually upside down. It is a reflection of the mountain which is why there appear to be rocks in the sky.
Before you arrive in Canada the tourist propaganda would have you The pine cone on the left of the picture has just been thrown out of the tree by a red squirrel. He was busy storing up food for the winter, throwing lots of cones down before running down to gather his harvest. Each morning he was back up the tree to find any more cones that had ripened since the previous day. believe that there are bears around every corner, standing by the side of the road, giving autographs to passing motorists and that you will see a bull moose standing in every river waiting to have its photograph taken. You may even be lucky enough to see wolves! When you get there they constantly tell you how dangerous the bears are and that you should try to avoid them. Even more frustrating is that they frequently close off entire areas to the public because of 'high bear activity', telling you that 'It is far too dangerous to go up there, you might see a bear!' We had now been in Canada for over a week and our wildlife sightings so far included nothing more dangerous than a ground squirrel. Locals will tell you that they often go hiking alone and have only ever come across two bears while out walking, and "one of those was way in the distance and he didn't even see me”. The light was fading and I didn't adjust my ISO in time so this potentially wonderful shot of mother bear and her three cubs walking across the road is unfortunately rather blurred. The tourism health and safety executive (and shops selling tourist paraphernalia) will tell you that you must never go outside without bear bells, bear spray, bear bangers, guns and armoured suits because the bears are hiding behind every tree waiting to jump out and eat you. The truth is that if you want to see the wildlife then you will have to go out near dawn or dusk and even then you need a bit of luck or to know the best areas where to look. With this realisation dawning we decided to book an evening wildlife safari.
Finally we got to see some of the real wildlife, some Big-Horn sheep, a female moose, a white tail deer and a female black bear with three cubs. Unfortunately the light was beginning to fade and so we were unable to get any good photos. The picture above of the bears is rather blurred.
Back at the hotel we sat on the balcony with some sandwiches and the best smoked salmon I have ever tasted, drinking Champagne and looking out across the lake.
The next day we had a 5 hour drive to Kamloops stopping en-route to have a picnic and to stretch our legs at Mount Robson and a strange little antiques shop in the middle of nowhere. The 439km drive took us across the border from Alberta into British Columbia and was mainly downhill, dropping 833 meters (about 2,733 feet). For much of the drive I could not see any cars in front or behind; the road was straight and even wider than the one from St Peter Port to the Bridge, eh! There were no traffic lights, no roundabouts, no police and no speed cameras; of course I stuck to the speed limit all the way!
A perfect days driving, beautiful scenery and no cars! On the road to Kamloops. It is only when you drive such distances, only passing through the occasional one-horse-town or small settlement and then looking at the map later, seeing how short a distance you have actually covered, that you realise just how vast this country really is. The highway gives the illusion of civilisation, especially in the National Parks with the myriad signs for local beauty spots and tourist attractions. Now that we had seen some of the wildlife our senses were heightened to the fact that when you step away from the main road you are in their country. Somewhere out there are black bears, grizzly bears, elk, moose, cougar (mountain lions), lynx, coyote and wolves. This is virgin forest, true wilderness; the nearest town may be 80km away and may be no more than a small collection of buildings, a settlement founded for trade, tourism or rearing cattle. The blue skies belie the fact that mountains can be treacherous; the weather changes fast here especially in the winter and if you are not prepared then a change in the weather can be fatal. If you are lucky you may have a mobile phone signal but in all but the larger towns you can forget any hopes of Wi-Fi.
The trees in Kamloops had been "Yarn bombed". The city of Kamloops has the appearance and feel of a small town but surprisingly has a population of 85,000 (spread over a large area) and an equally surprisingly varied selection of restaurants. We ate in a Mongolian-themed restaurant to try something different. This had an all-you-can-eat buffet style servery from which you choose your ingredients from an impressive selection of noodles, meats, fish, vegetables and sauces, all of which you pile into a bowl and then take to the counter where they fry it all up together on a large round flat-iron grill. The food was delicious, filling and different but, I suspect, not terribly authentic, having strong influences from Chinese, Japanese and North American cuisine. The town has an arty vibe with First Nation culture and early settler history mixing with the many immigrant cultures. The town centre had been 'yarn bombed' and if you don't know what that is then the picture here should help explain. Yarn bombing is a kind of knitted graffiti, the 'artists' will put jumpers, scarves etc. on public statues, or as you can see here, decorated trees or monuments. The advantage over traditional graffiti is that if a property owner objects then the wool can simply be cut off. Michael and his English Mastiff, Hugo.
Another 5 hours in the car took us down to Vancouver (and sea level) with an ear popping descent from the mountains. As we descended the landscape began to change, the mountain firs gave way to more broad leaf trees and the valley floor widened. Increasingly large areas had been cleared for farmland and we began to see cattle and barns. Gradually the farms and dwellings became closer together and the impact that humans have had on the land became obvious. For the last 60 miles or so we were passing through small towns and villages, farms and suburbs; this is where 'civilisation' begins and becomes more and more densely populated as you get closer to Vancouver.
Vancouver is a city in every sense of the word, complete with sky scrapers and traffic jams; its wealth is obvious and it was going to be our home for the next few days. We had rented a private apartment owned by a genuinely lovely man named Michael and his giant dog Hugo. Michael had one thing in common with all of the other locals that we met and that is that nothing was too much trouble. He gave us maps along with directions and helpful local tips on how to get around the city, where to visit and where to eat. Along with his intelligent conversation and hospitality, we left at the end of our stay feeling that we had made a new friend. We have invited him to stay with us in Cambridge the next time he visits the UK and we both sincerely hope that he will take us up on the offer. We spent an evening in Vancouver's fabulous China Town.
This is a Healing Lodge on the roof of a fair-trade, first nation art gallery. Inuit style modern art on a brass plaque set in to the pavement. Vancouver was a shock to the system after being deep in the countryside but it is a beautiful city beside the sea with a great deal going for it. There are many museums and art galleries (which kept Gilly happy), a large park with views across the harbour and the usual selection of shops, restaurants etc. We visited Gastown with its old buildings and steam clock (which these days runs on electricity!), various galleries of First Nations art, the food markets on Granville Island and the Bill Reid museum before meeting up with Gilly's lovely friends Bill and Peggy New for dinner. Gilly's friends (and now mine too) Bill and Peggy New Over the next couple of days we also cycled around Stanley Park, visited the aquarium, and the Anthropology Museum at the University of British Columbia. Ships in the Strait of Georgia. The survival suits were definitely not designed for fashion! Gilly's college friends (and now my friends too) Kristin and Derek.
We took a ferry across to Victoria in Vancouver Island for an overnight stay. There we went whale watching in really sexy survival suits and saw orcas (killer whales), dolphins, porpoises and a seal. We also visited the Royal B.C. Museum and went out for a really enjoyable dinner with Gilly's college friend Kristin and her husband Derek.
On the beach a man was balancing rocks and collecting money like a street artist. There is no trick to this, no cement, just balancing skill. He was also selling photographs; I left a small donation and took my own photos.
In summary: I definitely recommend the Canadian Rockies as a holiday destination: the scenery is stunning, the people are friendly, courteous and hospitable if slightly over-enthusiastic and we hardly saw any litter the whole time we were there. Do your homework well before you go so that your expectations are realistic (e.g. for seeing the wildlife) and decide in advance which tours and activities you are going to shell out for as the starting price for everything seems to be $50. This is not a holiday that is easy to budget, for you will need very deep pockets. The only thing that we found to be cheap was the petrol (gas) at $1.35 per litre (about £0.90) and be aware that all prices displayed in shops and on menus are exclusive of tax so the price you see is not what you will pay. The English hospitality industry could learn a lot from the 'nothing is too much trouble' attitude of the staff here - they genuinely seem delighted to serve you; perhaps that is partly due to the 15% tip that is the expected norm. The pace of life in the cities that we visited is much slower than we are used to in UK or Europe. The cities also have the illusion of space, even when surrounded by high buildings; six-lane roads and broad sidewalks help to create that feeling but there is something missing. The towns' 'downtown' areas are relatively small with sprawling suburbs and don't seem to have a central focus such as a square, a cathedral or other landmark so some towns feel as if they have no heart or soul. Perhaps that is because they are purpose-built rather than evolving over the centuries. None the less the towns have their own charm and there is plenty to keep visitors' interest.
We had a thoroughly wonderful two weeks and have acquired some new friends along the way. Our sincere thanks go to:
Bill and Peggy for a warm welcome, a home cooked meal and an extremely generous wedding gift.
Kristin and Derek for good food, good wine, great company and a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Michael (and Hugo) for hospitality, kindness and friendship that went way beyond the call of duty.
To all those who we met along the way who helped to make our honeymoon such a memorable experience.
And to all of our friends who gave wedding gifts so generously to our 'Honeyfund' website, making the final credit card bill a little less painful than it would otherwise have been.
We love you all.
Jon & Gilly Bartlett
All images on this site are the property of Jonathan Bartlett and are protected under UK and international copyright laws.
None of the images on this site may be used (including but not limited to copying, downloading, saving as digital files, printing or any form of reproduction or manipulation) without the prior consent of Jonathan Bartlett.