Having spent five long but very pleasurable days in the company of the ancient & wise journeying through the Rocky Mountains, it was a relief to finally arrive in Vancouver. I say relief as we were fed so well on the train that I gave up wearing my zip-off North Face trousers. The waistband began to dig in cruelly reminding me to watch it, so I decided to wear my forgiving ‘eat as much as you like’ stretchy leggings instead. One of the aims of this big trip is to lose weight, not gain it, the Rocky Mountaineer experience has not helped in this department. Our train carriage was very comfortable, with huge, high windows so we could see the towering mountains as we went by. When we weren’t distracted by food, and the arrival of the cocktail trolley at 10:30am (I know, very early but it was popular, many oldies fell asleep as a result, maybe that was the idea) the views were immense. As we travelled west from Banff the steep, undulating mountain sides were cloaked in great, tall Douglas firs in every shade of green possible, like a widespread and well-built army of grand Victorian dames in their best velvet and taffeta swag dresses. Suffice to say The Rocky Mountains were everything I thought they would be and I’m thrilled to have seen them in all their pre-Autumn glory.
The tour finished in Vancouver and I found myself last Saturday morning waiting in the warm sunshine outside my hotel to be collected by my old school friend, Lindsey. It was very busy. Then the world shifted a little bit, metaphorically speaking. Heads started to turn everywhere, from the hotel valet boys and bored looking guests standing waiting for taxis to the sullen customers sitting in the adjoining coffee shop, as Lindsey slowly glided up the hotel drive in her bright orange, vintage two-seater open top MG. The engine made that luxurious, deep, low ticking sound unique to old-fashioned race cars and which always sounds powerfully glamorous. Beside the MG, all the other cars in the driveway looked really dull and boring in their range of muted metallic colours; if cars had personalities, they would have been downright jealous. Everyone stopped and stared. Lindsey leapt out the car looking effortlessly hot and Bond girl-ish in her long suede boots and jeans, with her wild mane of copper red curls. I was so excited to see her, and so dazzled, I think I squawked all the way over to her, dragging my rucksack behind. After a not so glamorous attempt at squeezing my rucksack into the boot of her car, which involved lots of heaving and pushing from Lindsey and me, and which was ultimately unsuccessful, we left my rucksack at the hotel for the day and set off to explore Vancouver, like a 21st Century version of Thelma and Louise. Chinese tourists stood about taking our photographs. I have never felt so famous in my life!
Lindsey and her husband John were wonderful hosts and made me feel so welcome. With a lot of laughter and a little nostalgia we reminisced about our old school days in a way I haven’t done for a very long time, as well as catching up on the last twelve years of our lives. It was sad saying goodbye yesterday, as I set off to catch the ferry to stay over to Vancouver Island.
I’ve had a happy time at Lake Louise with my elderly, married companions. Yes, elderly. I am the youngest in my group by at least twenty years. I joke you not. Yesterday morning I eagerly plonked myself down at the front of the ‘tour’ coach in Calgary so I could check out everyone boarding from the different hotels. It wasn’t long before my rose-tinted vision of chatting with like-minded, attractive people around my own age began to diminish as I realised there was no-one near 30, 40 or even 50. Everyone is old. And married. I have now faced up to the fact that I am going to be adrift in a sea of grey hair and spectacles for the next few days as the tour traverses the Canadian Rockies, ending up in Vancouver on Saturday. That said, they’re all kind and interesting. It’s actually rather refreshing as they all chat to each other and I haven’t heard one mobile phone ring, nor have I seen a single set of headphones or heard tinny music coming from a device. I haven’t produced any devices in their company. I like that.
There has been one upside to being the young one in the party; yesterday during a scheduled helicopter ride over the Rockies I got to sit up front with the pilot whilst the oldies were all herded into the back. That was very neat. I couldn’t see ‘Mitch’ properly as most of his face was covered by his big bug-eyed helmet, but I suspect he was about 12. He had a long, curled chin sprouting tufts of fluff, like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. Even though I was probably old enough to be his mother, it felt pretty cool to be there beside him, although the chopper itself felt about as safe as an empty tin can as it got buffeted about by the wind. I didn’t enjoy that part, but the views of the Rockies were spectacular.
Before signing off, I can’t not mention the Chateau Lake Louise, where I stayed last night along with the cast of Cocoon. As we pulled up, my first impression was that this statuesque, enormous hotel nestled deep in Banff National Park was like Kellerman’s Mountain Resort from Dirty Dancing. This first impression stuck. I would have liked to stay there longer, it was so luxurious and the views of Lake Louise were immense. I didn’t see any Robbies or Johnnys though, more Mr and Mrs Schumacher types….
Tonight I’m in Banff and tomorrow we board the Rocky Mountaineer train to take us to Kamloops. I can’t wait!
Fresh air and outdoor life abound in Calgary and I’ve loved every moment, thanks to the fabulous and generous hospitality of my hostess, Carolyn, and her family. ‘Fall’ officially begins on the 22nd September and the leaves are just beginning to change colour with sprinklings of gold and orange highlighting the trees; the colour profusion will be spectacular in a few weeks.
I was fortunate to be in Calgary during the Beakerhead festival, an exhibition bringing together the arts, science and engineering sectors to produce amazing, outsized interactive works of art, spread throughout the city at various locations. Some of these were absolutely incredible, like a giant, mechanical serpent breathing flames and fire, genuinely like one of those horrible teethy aliens from the Alien films.
Another work of art, a rather less malevolent one, was a series of about 10 giant musical seesaws laid out in a long row down by the River Bow. This was popular with everyone, old and young, and the cacophony of loud, deep musical booms as the seesaw ends bumped the ground was somehow pleasantly discordant. I had to have a shot, although I was horrified to see I bore a closer resemblance to Bella Emberg than I would have liked.
In reaction to this jarring image of my sausage-legged suspension, I took myself off to The Calgary Tower with a view to climbing the 191 metres worth of stairs to the top. Unfortunately, the stairs were closed to the public, so I had to take the ‘elevator’ up. The views of Calgary at the top were quite breath-taking and I learnt that a ‘chinook’ is a warm wind that often sweeps down over Calgary from the Rockies (not the name of the dog in The Lost Boys, which is what I kept thinking before I looked it up on google). When I got back to the hotel I took myself off to the gym and huffed and puffed my way around a few pieces of machinery to make up for the non-starter stairs.
Well, it’s taking me some time to work out how to manage my travel blog, I keep trying to do things that either don’t work at all, or do work when I don’t want them to! Hopefully the more I fiddle, the better I’ll get….! The last four days have seen me leave Edinburgh, visit Toronto and fly across Canada to Edmonton, where I am now, with big brother Greg. It took me ages to work out how to post my first blog (about the plane toilet, but don’t worry the standard will get better although I do quite like all things lavatorial!).
Toronto was great; it was lovely to stay with my dear friend Pop’s sister, Sheana and her family, who so kindly put me up and made me feel at home in a strange city. As Sheana drove me to her house, manoeuvring (expertly!) through the vast highways from the airport, I was wowed by the number of brand spanking new high-rise buildings everywhere; it was night-time and we made our way through this sprawling maze of towering, gleaming buildings like tiny glowing ants on a long grey track. Quite awesome. Toronto by day was no less impressive. The high-rise buildings, no longer set against a backdrop of darkness and lit up like Christmas trees, sat just as majestically against the blue sky, like giant sparkling cuboids in the sunshine. It was a joy to walk around the Harbour front, eat freshly grilled chicken sandwiches (definitely not the same quality in the UK), take a ferry to the nearby Islands, go up the CN Tower (very high indeed, ear-poppingly so) and absorb all the sights and sounds of North America’s fourth largest city. And the weather was beautiful and warm, making everything bright and fascinating.
Yesterday I flew to Edmonton and was greeted by Greg at the airport, which was truly lovely (and quite moving), seeing such a familiar face in a place so far from home. I went with Greg to his university campus in the afternoon and met his friends from the course, which I really enjoyed. Having heard so much about Edmonton when he was in Edinburgh over the summer, it’s been wonderful to put everything into context and see it with my own eyes. Edmonton is not a bit like Toronto. There are plenty of high-rise buildings, but they don’t gleam and sparkle in the same dazzling way. Perhaps a reflection of the economic mood here. It’s much chillier too, I’ve had to put on my winter clothes, a bit of a shock having come from balmy, warm Toronto. It was 2 degrees this morning. Brrrr.