It’s been more than a while since our return from visiting 2 weeks in Canada, so before all the brain cells rot, here is an attempt to summarize a glorious trip. I managed to snap more than 600 photos (tossed about half), and still they really do not capture the experience.
It is a generalized summary, but I must say the Canadians we met, in city and tiny towns, in the mountains and on the coast, were all gracious, friendly, and genuine– in fact, beside one woman who cut in front of us for a line on a train, we did not meet one rude Canadian. They must have hid them all away when they heard we were coming.
The start was a June 15 flight form Phoenix to Vancouver…
The start of the trip was 4 days in Vancouver, while I attended the NMC Summer Conferemce held at University of British Columbia. There was plenty of time in the afternoon for a nice 15 block stroll to Granville Island, and thanks to a tip from a gallery owner, we had a great dinner on the outside deck of the SandBar restaurant, overlooking False Creek.
I had planned the trip forgetting that the first day was all pre conference workshops, so it was a good opportunity, for another day of exploring one of my favorite, walkable cities. The neighborhood are charming, though we are reminded that most of the tiny places are owned by desperate millionaires or trust babies (outrageous prices for real estate).
We rented bikes and rode the circumference of Stanley Park which takes much less time than one might think. We made the obligatory stop to say hi to the Totem Poles.
Stanley is quite a gem of a park, and we really ought to have tried an seen some more– but the views from all sides was treat enough.
Next it was lunch and some gawking around Gastown… we had a rush back to the hotel as we had plans to meet up with colleagues and families of Brian and D’Arcy— as our local host, brian had set up a barbecue at Spanish Banks beach.
The conference filled the next two days, our Small Pieces presentation was packed, overflowing, over the top– probably the best coverage was by the Mario Andretii of conference blogging, Roland Tanglao. Thanks! I had a massive audience of 5 nice people for my New Directions for the MLX (I think Pachyderm stole my audience…) but ti was a great exchange witht he 5 present. It was good I forgoed the massive Breeze format for a page of links as a presentation.
I like very much the format of the NMC conference- for one thing, they put good half hour spaces between sessions- allowing time to socialize. The sessions are also longer (75 minutes) than the classroom standard 50 minutes, and the 5 Minutes of Fame show is just too good to miss (see the clips from 2003).
Other highlights were the keynote by MIT’s Henry Jenkins, the evening “gala” at the UBC Anthropology Museum, and the University of Calgary show on APOLLO– clunky acronym, but the most awesome Learning Object tool ever. Keep your eyes on that clever “King” fellow.
But Saturday it was time to shift to vacation mode- the dress shoes and slacks stashed away for the Tevas and shorts. We rode the 80 minute HarbourLynx ferry from downtown “van” west to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Then it was a long drive west across the island, 3 hours, to get to the coast town, funky Ucluelet. It took about all 3 days to get the name procunced correctly: “yu CLU lit”.
The funny thing about this place is that it seems overly shadowed by the more touristy Tofino, 10km north. IN fact, when we met other Canadians during the trip and they asked about our travels, it would go like this:
Us: We spent 3 lovely days on Vancouver Island, in Ucluelet
Them: Oh yes, Tofino
It is like some sort of symbolic link (uh oh, unix vague reference).
Anyhow, the fresh seafood just plucked from the waters was some of the best ever, we had a moody mixture of dense fog and spots of sunshine (it seemed like weather systems were about 3 miles in size).
Long Beach was also shrouded in fog, which was too bad because it was a tremendous stretch of sand, water, and forest. The funny thing about Vancouver Island is when you look at it’s map- there is a major highway hugging the east coast, and just about only one other road crossing east-west: everything else is roadless wilderness! (I hope, rather then clearcut lumber fields)
The bonus was a black bear jumping across the road in front of us, much faster in movement than I was with the camera.
And the next day was clear and sunny (in town it turns out). We went to the harbor where a friend of a friend took us on an informal whale watching trip– the boat operators share sightings, so after a bit of chasing around numerous small islands (and yes, away from twon we got wrapped in fog) where were treated to a nice show of one whale doing some tail whomping dives.
After 3 days of west coast paradise, we rode back east to Nanaimo and then south to a nice water front B&B near Mill Bay, as well as some good seafood in quiet Cowichan Bay. Having daylight past 10 at night made it nice to get a lot of sight seeing time in.
The next day was a short drive to Victoria, and a swing north (the long drive was quicker than the direct ferry, eh?) to see the unbelievable flower displays of Butchart Gardens. It was just a riot of color everywhere, from the Rose Garden to the Sunken Gardens– not bad for an old quarry.
We then returned to downtown Victoria, another lively, walkable city. It was busy with the arrival of some Tall Ships, but we breezed through the Empress Hotel (missed tea time), fun shops, and everywhere, people seemed to be eating, drinking, or drawing caricatures of tourists.
We took a long walk around Beacon Hill park on the south jut of town (a great off leash dog area too), watched some wind surfers, gazed across to the mountains of Washington State. We also took in the world’s tallest totem pole, all 132 feet of it. It is good to know we keep track of stats like that.
Next we drove north to a hilly residential area where we visited the night with Scott and family, in a lovely part of town, full of tall trees that strained the imagination of what we see for trees in Arizona.
Entertainment for the evening was watching The Education of Little Tree with Scott’s son. Priceless.
The next day was the short ferry ride to Salt Spring Island, where we bopped around Ganges, the artists studios on the north end of the island, and a drive to the top of Mount Maxwell to to take in a… cloudy vista. We stayed the evening in one of our favorite B&B’s of the trip, at the Salt Springs Vineyards (Two of the bottles we bought there did not make it far into the trip; the llast red was recently bottled, so it has come home to Arizona to sit for a few months).
The next day was the big multi-modal travel. It was a drive to an early ferry from Vesuvius to Crofton, a buzz up the highway to Nanaimo to drop off the rental car (and thanks to the lady from Avis who ran out to give me the camera I had left on the front seat!), a ride on the HarbourLynx ferry back to Vancouver where we hopped on the SkyTrain to Pacific Train Station.
We checked bags, and then spent some more time dawdling through Chinatown, then over to the Vancouver Art Gallery (where I did not buy a $55 gray Andy Warhol T-shirt).
Next we stopped for some iced latte in the shops inside the incredible Central Library, a beautiful 5 story structure linked by an open atrium to shops and offices. This is the key concept of providing social places near learning facilities.
We watched the dancers do acrobatics off the side of the building, hung with climbing equipment, and spinning to techno rock music. There was quite a crowd gathered.
Back at the train station it was the start of the next phase of the trip- a 17 hour train ride through the night from Vancouver east to Jasper, in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta.
Let me say this about the train- it is S-L-O-W! It goes in fits and spurts, and it felt like it took 5 hours just to get out of the Vancouver industrial area. We met some nice folks across the aisle, ate in the white table clothed dining car (the food stunk!)… and hardly was able to sleep in the chairs.
Fortunately, we had some fantastic scenery, and it was almost all through uninhabited terrain, following the path of the Frasure River, then leaving it, and joining it again near its source west of Jasper. We got a great view of Mt Robson, tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies.
It was refreshing to step off the train in Jasper— the guidebook I had read for the trip suggested it was a congested busy place to be avoided, but this was not the case at all. The town was very quaint, a bit funky, and certainly a relaxing place to be, especially in contrast to the crowded bustle of Banff.
We spent the whole afternoon in town, and taking in the immense mountain backdrops on every side of town. Our stayover was 30k east near Pocahontas (I would not recommend the cabins there where we stayed), and we did get a nice dip in Miette Hot Springs— the water was rather warm, but I have never really gotten the fascination with hovering long in the swimming pool type springs. They even have lifeguards to jump in the 3 foot deep pools for daring rescues. There were some nice walks around the old mining area of Pocahontas, which had a beautiful variety of wild flowers, especially at the top of the old slag piles.
The next day we got an early start to the top of Whistlers Mountain via the Jasper Tramway, early enough to beat most of the tourists. The trams whisks you to near the top of the mountain in a few minutes; pity the young college students who as guides must recite the same overview 30 times a day.
From the end of the tram, it was about a mile of not so steep uphill to get to the peak, at a little over 8000 feet elevation. It seemed that most tourists do not bother to go gar past the tram station, a pity as they miss the startling views at the summit.
It did seem odd to be at this elevation and well above tree line, while down here you’d be in the middle of a lush forest. Unfortunately, this day as overcast and tinged with haze from distant forest fires, but it still was amazing.
Off on the south edge of the summit is your collection of rock cairns, or people totems, whatever. It was curious also to find very delicate yellow and purple flowers blossoming here where it was too touch for sometihng more than a tiny shrub to survive.
I also used my digital camera to take a 25 second QuickTime view with a panorama view from the top [760k QuickTime movie]. Watch that motion!
Moving south on the Icefields Parkway, the scenery slow unfolds as the peaks get higher.
Climbing out of a valley, you get your first peaks of the toe ends of the Columbia Icefield. We did the proper tourist thing, baaaa-ing our way through the cafeteria, shelling out $50 for tickets for the Snowcoach Tour out into the glacier jampacked like sardines in the monster wheel buses. Despite the tackiness of the canned tour, how many times do you get a chance to safely step out onto a glacier? To stick your hands in clear blue water. To toss a stiff snowball in the middle of summer?
I think next time I might opt for the self guided hike from the road below, but this made up for a fated visit in 200 to Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand when rain socked in all the visibility.
The next leg of the tour was diverting west, to the quaint town of Field for stay over. There is quite a funky general store and great restaurant there called the Truffle Pigs Cafe where they seem to have kidnapped a top chef form some swank resort and given him/her free range of the kitchen. Not quite what you would expect in a tiny town in the middle of Yoho National Park.
We got a really early start on the next day to get to Lake Louise, knowing well it would b crowded with tourists, but also, as we confirmed, the best photos with a good reflection from the lake, are early in the morning.
Despite tour buses dumping camera snapping visitors by the ton, just 1/2 mile around the lake trail, it gets to be peaceful and almost solitude. Again, though the best photos were from the most crowded areas, so it is a matter of biding your time, waiting for the crowds to part.
it is no surprise that the place is this crowded (well the monstrous Fairmont hotel is a draw for those with extra money to burn) because it truly is a breath taking vista. Imagine stumbling up a slope and being one of the first to lay eyes on this scene! I would do like the Indians who lived near Crater Lake in Oregon – don’t tell anyone it exists.
And there is more to see in the area; Moraine Lake is just as much worth a visit, slightly less crowded. There is a great road side view of the numerous peaks to the south, and the water in the lake is a deeper, and perhaps more green blue color than Louise. The pile up of logs at the edge of the Moraine that gives the lake its name makes for great foreground photo objects.
After a few hours of lake vistas, it was time again to jaunt west into Kootenay National Park- over the crest of (??? forgot the name) ridge, you drop into a valley where wild fires have completely converted the forest into something from the latter scenes of the Lorax – complete burning of trees form road edge all the way up the mountains. Apparently there were large fires here in 2000 and again just last year.
The only places not burnt for a large stretch was the small island of green around Kootenany Park Lodge, where we stayed our last night in Canada.
It was not a fluke that it was green; the inn keeper said that during last year’s burning, fire fighters formed a human shield to build a defense line around the lodge. The small cabins still smelled strongly of smoke, and it was not just the remnants of use of the fire place.
We did tool a bit father east through the forest- a number of trails were closed due to the danger of dead trees falling. Once past the edge of the burned area we entered a place of very green lined mountain valleys. We finally saw some more wildlife, a bugling elk along the road, and closer to Radium Hot Springs, quite a number of big horn sheep intently licking the salt from the road side gravel.
Radium is much lower in altitiude and it was hot there, so after a beer in one of the faux cowboy bars, we tooled back the 40k to the lodge.
From here, the trip is the hop skip and long jumps home.
Our visit to the town of Banff was to pick up coffee– a handful of miles south of there, the mountains fade away into the rolling plains, and it starts to really look like cowboy ranch land. We snapped a few photos of the Olympic Park, remanants of the 1988 Winter Games.
We ended up with just about 45 mnutes to walk a little around downtown Calgary (narrowly eascaping a wrong turn on 7th Avenue into the path of an oncoming bus, Yikes!). We did take in the Devonian Gardens, an indoor haven of plants and flowers sandwiched between 3 shipping malls, but we wer told this is one of the things that helps people get through the frigid winters (??).
Also, w\e were taken by these large, alien like statues called “Family of Man” that stride in front of the Board of Education.
Beyond that, ti was the rental car drop off at the Calgary airport (way on the far east side of town), a nicely quick and efficient pass through US customs, a 3 hour plane ride, and it was home again, in that lovely 110 degree F heat we love in Phoenix.
That was Canada in a burst, just a sampling of what we experienced. We had an amazing time, met some incredible people, and came home saying “eh”.