This is the journal of my holiday trip to western Canada which I did together with a friend Ronald, between July 23, 2003 and August 7,
2003. I hope you enjoy the journal as much as we enjoyed our holidays :)
Day #1: The holiday started in the wrong way when the people at check-in told us that the flight would have a two hour delay in Amsterdam due to technical problems. Because of this we would also miss our connection in Chicago to Calgary and thus we had to wait five hours there before the next flight was scheduled. When we finally arrived at Chicago it was a bit of a mess as my friend Ronald was put through some 'additional' security checks. But we managed to find each other again, and we also called Zak to say we would be a little (5 hours!) late. Atleast Zak and his wife Mandy picked us up from the airport after a boring and long day. Opening my suitcase I found a leaflet from the DOT which you can find on the right.
Day #2: This day started much better by sleeping a tad bit long, but that was only because of the little jetlag, and just the sheer tiredness from the day before. After breakfest we grabbed a bus and halted at a park on an island in the Elbow.
We did a little walking here amongst some of the quiested places in Calgary. Time for some coffee from The Planet (Well, no coffee for me, as I only drink tea, but you get the idea). It's a nice little place where a lot of different people meet and it's the ideal way to start your day. But of course, we couldn't stay there for ever and we thus ended up at the Glenbow museum where Inuit art was running as a temporary exhibition. Besides the temporary exhibition there are also some 'default' exhibutions which show for example the little statue on the left. For dinner we went to Mortal Coil, a nice place to lounge, eat, and drink some great Martinis.
Day #3: After picking up our rental car at Rent-a-Wreck, which may sound weird for a rental car agency, in Calgary we set off for Dinasour Valley, which is situated some 150 km east of Calgary. After a boring drive on very strait roads we finally arrived in Drumheller, Alberta where the Badlands are situated.
Due to erosion the valleys, which are very rich of dinasour and related fossils, are strangely formed. The erosion also made it easy to obtain prehistoric material. The Royal Tyrrell Museum has a large exhibition of those fossils. One of their nicest found objects is the fosil of the T-rex which you can see on the right here. After visiting the museum we went for a walk in the nearby area to enjoy some of the strange soil formations. When back in Calgary Zak took us to a very interesting Ethopian restaurant. The food is full of flavors and comes without utensils on a plate :).
Day #4: Today we started our 2,000 km tour to Prince Rupert. In the first part we went from Calgary to Jasper in the Rocky Mountains. It lead through two national parks, Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. Just before Banff we had our first encounter with the Rocky Mountains, which seemed massive to us.
Instead of following highway 1 to Lake Louise we took our first detour through the Bow Valley Parkway which showed us some breathtaking scenery (such as the one on the left).
Past Lake Louise we continued through Banff NP over the Icefields Parkway to Jasper and made our first major stop at the Columbia Icefield, which is the largest glacier south of Alaska. We opted for taking a little hike on the Athabasca Glacier (right) which was quite a cold experience. Not really because the temperature was that low at all, but mostly because of the strong winds blowing over the ice.
After our one hour hike we left and headed to our next stop, the Athabasca Falls (For some reason the Canadians have little creativity for chosing names for landmarks :) a bit further to the north. The Athabasca River gets it water from the melting water of the Columbia Icefield and thunders here through a narrow gorge where the walls have been smoothed and potholes are created by the sheer force of the rushing water carrying sand and rock. Just after the falls we went further north on another 'alternative' route.
This road was really bad, even worse than the roads in Montreal. After a couple of kilometers the RV in front of us suddenly stopped and one of the persons got out with a camera. We of course watched what the guy was doing and found out that he spotted a bear. Woot! Our first bear encounter, on the first day of our trip. Unfortunately he was quite concealed in the bushes but I still made quite a nice photo of it (right).
In Jasper we found the Astoria Hotel to spend the night. The hotel was quite a disappointment because of the small rooms, and the definitely annoying warm rooms without A/C. Because the room sucked we made an attempt at walking to one of the nearby lakes, but because we didn't get to it within 25 minutes we instead walked back and got our car, us lazy bastards. The drive was quite worthwhile, as you can see that Lake Patricia is pretty beautiful (left).
Day #5: We started by going back on our route from yesterday to take the Jasper Tramway up mount Whistler. After a 15 minute ride with the gondola we arrived at the summit station at 7800 feet. We heard that if we would walk to the top we would have a very nice 360 degrees view, so off we went.
They forgot to tell that it would take 1.5 kilometer to get there though. After the first summit came the second, and after the second the third and last one. But indeed, there was definitely a terrific view from the 'real' summit. Exhausted from the hike we just set there for a couple of minutes, and made some photos of the view such as the one on the right of Lake Patricia and Lake Pyramid. Back in the valley we continued en route to Vanderhoof, a little town 100km west of Prince George. The trip was pretty uneventful, except of course from the beautiful scenery and our second bear encounter.
This time the little bugger was feeding itself on berries at the side of the road. Without bushes hindering vision, I quickly snapped some pictures of which the one here is the best one.
In Vanderhoof we found our hotel, North Country Inn, without much hassle. The tip from the Lonely Planet showed up like a really good one. The Inn had large rooms, an excellent restaurant and was very decently priced. After dinner we were pretty much too tired to do anything useful, so I went to enjoy a nice warm bath to relax.
Day #6: After Vanderhoof we made a small tour to Fort St. James, a historic site about 70km north of Vanderhoof. It's a old fur trading outpost, restored to it's state of 1896.
It's a quite interesting place to see as there are some 'inhabitants' who explain about the live in the late 19th century at the outpost. After our visit we then headed for Smithers, halfway between Vanderhoof and our first way point, Prince George. Not much interesting to tell about the rest of our trip there, but of course the scenery was again beautiful. The hotel in Smithers was again found easily and had a nice large room. I was not particulairly happy with the dinner they served in their restaurant Pepper Jack, but it was not that bad either.
Day #7: From Smithers we continued to Prince Rupert on the coast. A few kilometers out of Smithers we encountered a little village, Mauricetown, where a bunch of people was fishing for salmon in the river.
A ranger visiting the place explained that they catch the fish by sticking a rod with a few hooks on it into the water and 'feel' if there is a fish. If they find one, they (of course) try to get it onto the shore. It was strictly prohibited to sell the fish he said, and people would be severly fined if they were caught.
In the afternoon we crashed at a little creek called 'Kweana' which means gold. The water was ice-cold but I still got in to cool down a bit, it
was a not-too-pleasent experience though, as the water was really really cold there. We also passed some other mountain range which looks like 'ten peaks', although I'm not sure if this is really that famous place. When we almost got to Prince Rupert we saw some interesting things happen, like rising coulds from a mountain. Okay okay, it's not that interesting, but it still made a very nice photo.
Day #8: The Inside Passage mini-cruise is supposed to be one of the most breathtaking boat tours in the world. But in order to get on the ship, we needed to rise quite early, 5:30am as we needed to board the Queen of the North at 6:30am. After getting on board we enjoyed our breakfest, which was included on the trip (after buying a ticket for it of course).
As soon as the sun burned through the clouds we went on-deck to enjoy the sun. There were some whales in the neighbourhood, but they were hard to see due to the distance and their stealthyness. Actually, you could only see a tail once in a while. In the afternoon it got very windy outside, so we were forced to go inside and entertain ourselves. At least the ship had a small 'cinema' where we saw Basic after dinner. At 11:15pm we finally arrived at our destination, Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. We had some trouble finding our Bed and Breakfest there, but once that was sorted out we jumped straight into bed.
Day #9: A real race against the clock would start today. We booked the ferry in Nanaimo at three o'clock so that I could be in time for my presentation at the Vancouver PHP Group. We started in a wrong way by getting up not too early and enjoying the very extensive breakfest at our B&B. After breakfest we almost raced to Nanaimo but also took some time to enjoy the scenery of course. Wee ended up nice in time for the ferry, which would be leaving at 15:00. Then distaster came upon us. Just before we would board the ferry, our rental car refused to start. We called with the rentel company and decided to leave the car in Nanaimo so that we could take the ferry as foot passenger and get a replacement car in Vancouver. The fine folks at BC Ferries helped us getting things done on their end, such as moving the car to a parking lot, and arranging new tickets for us. Of course, we were not able to catch the 15:00 ferry anymore, and had to wait two more hours.
In Vancouver Beth picked us up from the ferry and drove us to Active State's office in Vancouver were I could finally start with the presentation on Xdebug. In order to demo Xdebug I did need to login to my laptop at home, as PHP changed during the last few days and it would crash the installation all the time. Due to my paranoid security I had to ssh to our office firewall, from there to a server at the office, and from there through VPN ssh to my laptop at home... the lag was not too bad fortunately. After the presentation we went with some of the attendees went for some food and a drink to Steamworks.
Day #10: With a slow start we begun our day. Shane and Beth, our hosts had to go to work so we were kicked out of the house to do something of our own. We decided to start walking to Granville Island, which harbours a lot of art shops and the like.
After a stroll we then went along to the Space Center and Planetarium where we spend most of the afternoon. The planetarium was showing a show called 'The Lamps Of Atlantis'. After the planetarium show we headed back to the ActiveState office to pick up Shane. There it was decided to head for a new Indian Restaurant in town, Vij's which serves excellent Indian food, though the waiting time to get seated isquite long (but that's due to the popularity of the restaurant). So together with a bunch of ActiveState people we enjoyed our dinner much.
The aquarium is not only an aquarium though, there are also a few other sections, such as a tropical forest (including crocs and butterflies). One of the major events there is the whale show, where Beluga Whales do little tricks in orer to get more fish ;).
The aquarium is a nice place to visit, and outside the site itself, they also provide advise to and support other environment related projects in BC. After our visit to the aquarium we drove a bit through Stanley Park, and after that around the area and of course past China Town. While that is not the most interesting place in Vancouver, it's certainly worth a small look. In the evening Beth made her famous killer Margeritas for the party later that night, which would be after the Celebration of Light fireworks event. After our first sampling of the drink Shane went off to order Mexican food to go with the Margeritas. But he ordered a little bit too much of it, thus his statement 'Never order food when you had a Margerita'. Just before 10 people came dripping in and we went to put on the chairs on the roof of the building (which is ten stories hight) to have a good view of the fireworks. It was a truly beautiful show. After the fireworks we continued drinking and talking until about 3am after we went to sleep. Needless to say that most people attending the party were quite drunk ;).
Day #12: Waking up late with the after effects of last night's party we departed for Kamloops. We didn't take highway 1 East straight from Vancouver, but instead we went north through Whistler, a popular ski-resort. The road there was turning a lot, and quite packed with traffic so it took us quite a long time to get to Whistler. Continuing over 99 north we discovered that the road lead through the mountains.
Driving there was great fun, because of the winding roads, the very low traffic and a speed limit of 80km/h, which you could almost never reach anyway. Past Cache Creek we then proceeded to Kamloops on highway 1 and we noticed a lot of smoke in both valleys and on distant hills. We were heading straight to the bush fires. Another remarkable thing is that as soon we came out of the mountains the whole area was very dry and very unlike the rest of BC. It looked more like a desert than the green slopes we were used to see.
In Kamloops we could see smoke on the hill across the valley, which made the news on the bush fires look really real to us. Arriving at our hotel, the Sage Brush motel we quickly went to dinner after a nice talk with the friendly staff.
Day #13: Because of the bushfires we first checked if we could use Highway 1 to Calgary. We knew that some roads were closed and fortunately none of them would directly affect them. The first few hours there was a lot of smoke in the valleys and the air smelled awful. About 25 km before Golden we encountered a traffic jam... which would totally destroy our day. After about two hours we ended up in Golden and decided to take a detour by taking 95 South in Golden, and then 93 North to back to Highway 1 so that we didn't have to stay in the jam any longer. Traffic on 95 South was light and we were making good progress. After about 40 km we stopped to relax a bit and there we spoke with some other folks which explained to us that the 93 was closed near Highway 1 because of the bush fires. This meant that we needed to head back for Golden and go all the way through the traffic jam.
That sucked badly. After about an hour we were finally in Golden again and then we still head to go atleast another 15 km inside the queue. Sigh. When we finally made it to the endpoint, we noticed that there was a contruction site with no signals at all. The jam was caused to the vast amount of traffic on that day (due to BC day) and the closed roads because of the bush fires. After we passed the construction site we could finally continue our journey normally.
By that time we spend about 4.5 hour in the damned traffic jam. We stopped two times more, the first stop was Edward's pass (left) the second stop was at the spiral tunnels. As you can see on the picture on the right it was getting pretty dark already. Just after crossing the Alberta border we ended up in a pretty nasty thunderstorm and rain. But just before we passed the Calgary city borders it stopped raining and finally we arrive at Zak's place again around 1am. Exhausted as we were, we headed to bed right away.
Day #14: On the last day of our holidays we relaxed a bit and went shopping with Mandy. In the evening we went to a Japanese restaurant were Mandy's friend Jane was celebrating her birthday. Returning from the restaurant we decided to go to the cinema, there we chose the movie The Italian Job which was quite entertaining.
Day #15: The flight home had no problems at all, except that it was boring (just like any other overnight cross-Atlantic flight). For once the trains in the Netherlands were playing nice and I ended up being hom around 13:00 (on Day 16 actually).