Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Canadian Road Trip, Part Two

Photos in this post are some of the best from the trip and do not necessarily relate to the Bad or the Ugly part of our trip.


The best thing about the “bad” of the trip was that nothing was terrible.  It was bad that we had to go to three different garages to get a two-minute fix, but there were other negatives as well.  
In Canada we traveled through five different Canadian national parks (Kootenay, Banff, Yoho, Glacier, and Revelstroke).  There were wonderful sights to see in all the parks, but only Kootenay and Banff National Parks were really tourist friendly.  In Yoho, Glacier, and Revelstroke we could see dramatic views (mountains, waterfalls, rivers) but there was no place for the casual tourist to stop and see the sights.  
Mountain in Revelstroke Nat'l Park from roadside.
From Canmore to Kelowna after leaving Banff National Park we drove for hours without finding a single worthwhile viewpoint even though there had been plenty to see.  
Mad Hatter at street market in Canmore.

Just to prove I was there, too.
  In Canmore we also had a very negative eating experience.  For lunch our first full day in Canmore we tried to eat at the popular Grizzly Paw Brewery where we’d eaten before and knew it should be good.  
Grizzly Paw
First, they told us the wait for an inside seat would only be five minute (outside was much more).  Fifteen minutes later they came to show us to our upstairs behind the fireplace table.  Ten minutes later they took our drink and food order.  We got our water and my one soda within a couple of minutes, but that was the last we saw of our waitress.  Thirty minutes after we had ordered (forty minutes after we’d been seated) I call the waitress over to find out about our food.  She apologized and said that when they’re busy (and they were) the average wait was twenty minutes.  I pointed out we’d already waited thirty.  She said she’d check on our meals.  Ten minutes later she brought us a small chip and dip tray appetizer and said it’d be a while before our lunch (two simple sandwiches) would be ready.  I said that was unacceptable and that we’d go somewhere else.  “I’ll pay for my soda, but then we’re leaving,” I told her.  She huffed and said she’d bring my drink bill.  A couple minutes later she showed up with our bill for $4.20 for one cream soda.  I paid with a $20 and when she came back she said,  “Here’s your change.”  She put down three fives.  Do the math.  Thankfully that was the only really negative eating experience of the trip.  
Osprey with Fish
Another Bad was due to poor timing.  We hadn’t realized that we’d be coming home on a Canadian three-day weekend which even Canadians couldn’t tell us what was being celebrated--probably similar to Bank Holidays in the UK.  This meant that when we left Kelowna on a Monday morning driving Highway 5, a lovely four-lane road which goes up and up and up it was terribly crowded.  What made the drive bad was that it was a high speed road (70-75 mph) and it was practically bumper-to-bumper for all 120 km.  This was some of the most stressful driving I’ve ever done.  You see, Canadians look at a  posted speed sign and think it’s the minimum speed rather than maximum.  Pickups pulling thirty foot trailers were whizzing by us uphill at 90 one after another.  It got better later in the day, but worse as well.  The speed of the roads dropped to 60 mph which meant everyone was going 75, only this time on two-lane curvy roads bumper-to-bumper. Then it all stopped.  Forty miles from Vancouver we hit stop-and-go traffic which would stretch all the way to Vancouver.  Thankfully, we got off that highway twenty-five miles short of Vancouver.  That was definitely a Bad driving day.
Waterfall near Canmore

Lake in Kootenay Nat'l Park
Lots of Good, a little Bad, and one Ugly.  Jim Morrison may have said that “people are strange,” but on this trip people were Ugly!  As much as I want to consider myself to be above prejudice or stereotyping, I keep finding examples and experiences which push me in that direction.  As we were standing in line for an ice cream at the School Bus Ice Cream shop in Canmore, a lady unceremoniously shoved her way in front of the gentleman in front of us.  Anne said loudly to him, “I thought you were next.”  
School Bus Ice Cream--even wedding parties queue up for the ice cream.
He said in a very British accent, “I thought so, too.”  The lady never flinched. Hearing her accent when she ordered he said, “The Germans are like that.”  We did have a pleasant conversation with the Brit as we waited in the queue.  At Lake Morraine we noticed Asian tourists who crowded in front of others to take their photos, Middle-eastern tourists being pushy and rude, and Southeast Asian tourists who were oblivious to everyone else.  On the trail through Johnston Canyon I was pushed and shoved as I tried to take a picture by an Indian family hurrying to beat others to the view points.  At the overlook to the falls as a number of us photographers were working hard to stay out of each others way, an Asian family pushed through, stood in front of all of us, and wouldn’t move after they took their pictures.   Seeing example after example of these “ugly” tourists certainly makes it hard not show some cultural bias--and that in itself is an Ugly feeling.  Every once in a while in Scotland we see examples of “the Ugly American,” but more often we are seeing others as Ugly Tourists.

Lake Reflection near Canmore
Baker Creek, Banff Nat'l Park
Our summer Road Trip to Canada was truly great.  And the Good far outweighed the Bad or the Ugly. 

Next: The next post will come from Scotland, if the Icelandic volcano doesn't change our trip.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Part One: The Canadian Road Trip, the Good...

Our two week road trip to Canmore, Alberta, Canada and Banff National Park (among others) in our 2011 Subaru Legacy Outback had plenty of Good things about it, a few Bad, and one butt Ugly.  In this first part of our trip notes I’ll highlight the Good--those things I can recommend other travelers do or see, including places to stay, places to eat, attractions, golf courses to play, and any other of the good things that came on our trip.
Our trip route took us from Canby to Spokane, WA, the first night.  Then on to Cranbrook, BC, Canada, and finally to Canmore, Alberta, Canada, (just south of Banff) where we stayed for seven nights.  The route home went from Canmore to Kelowna, BC, and then to Burlington, WA, before we reached home.  All our stays were at least decent enough for us to say we stay there again, particularly Days Inn in Cranbrook,  the Coast Capri Hotel in Kelowna, and the Hampton Inn in Burlington.  Above decent were two other places.  The Northern Quest Resort and Casino in Spokane is Five Star accommodation at good prices.  
Sunset from our room in Northern Quest, Spokane.
Even if you’re not into the gaming, the Northern Quest has wonderful rooms and great eating options.  In Canmore we stayed at the Grand Canadian Worldmark Resort.  Again, Five Star accommodations where each unit (studio, one-, two-, or three-bedroom) is fulling equipped for self-catering. 
View of the Sisters from our Worldmark timeshare in Canmore.
For us, the Grand Canadian is part of our time-share program, but people with other time-shares trade in easily.  This was the second week we spent in the Canmore Worldmark and we were not disappointed at all.
On this trip we ate well (okay, we usually eat well) at some places where we have eaten before and some new places.  Breakfast in Spokane was one of our dining highlights.  We ate at Frank’s Diner--a converted railcar manufactured by Barney-Smith in 1906 as an “observation car” for Northern Pacific. 

The car served as a Presidential car (for the company president) until 1931 when it was bought by Frank Knight and converted to a depression-era diner.  The diner operated in Seattle on 4th Avenue until they lost the lease and the car was moved to Spokane.  

It was fascinating watching the cooks crank out tons of eggs, pancakes, and hashbrowns in what to me seemed like orderly chaos.  Food was plentiful and delicious.  Dinner that same day was also at Frank’s, but this time Frank’s Steaks, Seafood, and Schnitzel in Cranbrook.  Portions were huge and very tasty even if the service wasn’t Five Star.  
In Banff National Park we had lunch at a small log cabin Bistro at Baker Creek.  
Baker Creek Bistro
The place was pleasant and the owner friendly, but the star was the lunch I had.  It’s just traditional Canadian fast food (or pub grub) called a poutine.  Originating in the 1950s and traditionally made of fries, cheese curds, and gravy, there are numerous versions of poutine.  The one I had was fries, cheese, and duck confit gravy.  Scrumptious!  There are plenty of recipes online and I intend to try a few.  
The last meal of note was in Golden, BC, at the beginning of our trip home.  We stopped in Golden at the Big Bend Cafe.  This place is funky. 
Big Bend Cafe, Golden
Great food, but even better ambiance--old photos and mountain gear everywhere.  I almost took my camera back into the loo to photograph the signs on the walls, but that would have looked really weird.  We had other good meals on the trip (and few not so good which I’ll get to later), but these were really the eating highlights.   
Besides places to stay and places to eat the trip had plenty of things to see also.  The major attractions started on our drive from Cranbrook to Canmore; here is where we hit the first of the Canadian national parks.  Entering through a narrow gorge, 
Entrance to Kootenay National Park
Kootenay National Park has numerous vista points and pullouts along the Vermillion River.  
Vermillion River

Unique natural fault in rock along Vermillion River.
At Numa Falls, a strong cascade through a narrow rock-walled gorge, we hiked a short trail to the bridge overlook.  

The scene is so dramatic that it is difficult to show it in photos--here a video would have been a better option.  
We spent two days exploring Banff National Park--one day from Highway 1 (the Trans-Canada Highway) and one day from the slower Bow Valley Parkway.  The far end of both days was the picturesque Lake Louise, noted for it’s turquoise water (caused by glacial rock flour or silt suspended in the lake water) and steep surrounding mountains.  
Lake Louise
 The major tourist attraction was actually less crowded than we’d seen it four years ago.  This time it wasn’t too difficult to get to good photo spots. 

We hiked part way around the lake and took a bear awareness survey--bears this year are major problem throughout the area with many trails closed or restricted to larger groups.  Even better than Lake Louise is Morraine Lake fourteen kilometers away.  
Morraine Lake

The smaller lake seems more crowded but there were actually many fewer visitors than at Lake Louise, and the views are just as dramatic.  The next day’s highlighted site was Johnston Creek and Johnston Canyon.  
Johnston Canyon Hike

Much of the half mile hike though the canyon to the lower waterfall is on a constructed raised boardwalk (with appropriate guardrails).  
The final scenic attraction to mention is Bridal Veil Falls half way between Hope and Abbotsford in British Columbia.  The notes I had said the trail was short, but it didn’t say that it was very steep or that the last hundred yards was actually a rock scramble.  

The falls, though, are very photogenic and I did get a few decent shots while trying to catch my breath, not fall, and not get pushed away by other tourists.  While there was much more to see than I have described, these make up the Do Not Miss list of the trip.  
I’ve covered the lodgings, the eateries, and the scenic attractions, but there is more Good about the trip.  Let’s talk about golf.  We played four rounds and can heartily recommend all four courses for different reasons.  The first two, Cranbrook GC and Canmore Golf and Curling Club, are both fine and fun parkland tracks.  
Cranbrook GC
Of the two Cranbrook is a little more challenging--it’s more heavily tree-lined and tighter and has more dogleg holes (most of which turn left).  
Canmore GC

Canmore, on the other hand, is a little more open and definitely has the more dramatic scenery.  At both courses we were paired with locals who were very friendly and great playing partners. Our third golf was in Canmore at the Silvertip Golf Resort.  
Silvertip GC

The course is advertised as “Golf on Top of the World,” and it certainly is!  Sited in the foothills of the mountains surrounding Canmore, the upscale Silvertip GC is not cheap--it actually hurt to open my wallet to pay the steep tariff.  But as a once in a lifetime golfing adventure Silvertip is hard to beat.  Impossible to walk, the course sometimes had ten minute cart drives between holes.  At the top of the course the views of the valley and Canmore were stupendous.  As dramatic as the course is it is also very playable.  What a contrast to our next golf, Michaelbrook Ranch GC in Kelowna.  Surely no one would mistake this course for a championship track--it was as inexpensive as Silvertip had been dear.  But the course was fun to play--we both scored well--and it was filled with friendly locals. 

We especially enjoyed visiting with Stacey Robertson, the course marshall, as we sat waiting our turn at the crowded tee boxes on the front nine.  As good as the golf was at Silvertip it was just plain more fun at Michaelbrook Ranch GC.    
The trip was also a Good one for sighting animals.  Although I was slightly disappointed that we didn’t see more eagles, we did see two flying overhead on the leg from Spokane into Cranbrook.  Earlier in the trip I had seen a big horn mountain sheep beside the road on I84 near Biggs and Anne saw another in Kootenay Park.  Two particular animal encounters stand out.  

On our way to our Johnston Canyon hike we stopped with other tourists near a meadow with two elk.  As I was working around to get good photos of the elk a coyote sauntered by within about fifty feet of me--no photos of the coyote because of the tall meadow grass, but still a close encounter of the wild kind. I did get within about 50 yards of one of the elk before I thought that was close enough.  The second encounter was on a trip up a fourteen kilometer gravel road from Canmore to Spray Lake.  

We stopped first and got photos of a mule deer (I think) from the car and then stopped again to take photos of a rather skinny moose (sick?) munching grasses in Goat Pond.  Besides the normal sightings of ravens, ground squirrels, 

and osprey on the golf courses, we had a confrontation with a particularly aggressive crow.  Anne had just opened a bag of chips (crisps to our Scottish friends) and then gone to hit her ball.  When she turned around a crow was in our cart eyeing the chips.  Anne gave a startled yell and the bird grabbed the whole bag and took off.  Crow 1, Anne 0.    

The last Good I want to mention leads me into the Bad as well.  In Canmore I noticed that the driver’s side mirror was loose and bouncing as I drove.  We stopped at two local garages (there was no Subaru dealer in town) to see about getting it fixed--I knew it was an easy two-minute fix because it has happened before. I told them we were not locals but travelers. At both places I got the same reaction: we’re busy, leave your car for the day and we may be able to get to it, no guarantees though.  Bad!  At Fix It Bow Valley, a third local garage, the response was different.  The manager said, “All my guys are busy, but come back in 15 minutes and we’ll look at it”  Fifteen minutes later the mechanic looked at the problem and spent two minutes fixing it.  Then the manager said, “No charge.  Just leave a donation to MADD in the box on the desk.”  Good!  We were pleased to leave a $20 in the box and to know that there are still businesses who care. 

Next: Part Two... the Bad and the Ugly.