Day 5 – Ice Ice Baby

I have clearly made a rookie error. Every time I wax lyrical about the views, they get eclipsed the next day. So it is again as we drive up the remarkably picturesque Icefields Parkway towards the Columbia Icefield.

We are trying to take some photos en route, but not sure they will turn out too well through the bug splattered windscreen. I have to say that I am taking a perverse pleasure in splattering bugs today after they had their way with me yesterday. I have so many bites that I am driving with a very sore balloon head. Little b**tards. I’m having to wear a hat so as not to freak out the locals.

Anyway, back to the drive. It is becoming apparent that, although distances aren’t huge, we may have overestimated our ability to cover ground. The going is often slow due to perpetual road repairs, convoys of RVs and a phenomenon that I have come to think of as slawping – the sudden slow down of the car in front as a spectacular vista hoves into view and the brakes are applied to allow for some gawping. Guilty.

We finally made it to our destination – the Athabasca glacier for a quick stroll. It’s a bit of a shock to the system going from temperatures in the mid 20s to freezing and snowing in the glacier, but totally worth it. Sad that it will not be here for more than another 80 or 90 years. Probably not helped by us tourists traipsing all over it and pumping out lots of hot air in the form of “ooo”s and “aah”s.

From the glacier we are taken to the Skywalk. It seems impossible to book the glacier walk without also booking this somewhat manufactured attraction. Ethan made the good points that

  1. Two attractions makes the price more palatable and
  2. Probably adds an extra incentive for people to take the 2 hour trek from Banff.

We scooted around as fast as possible, trying not to get into too many Chinese photo albums and went on our way.The journey back of course was a treasure trove of photo ops, including a chance to see the Rocky Mountaineer train working its way through the famous spiral tunnels. It’s all in the timing.

And talking of timing, it’s time to round of the day with a nice glass of Canadian ice wine.

Day 4 – The Restaurant at the Top of the World

A day of settling into the digs and exploring the local area. Think we picked the right week to come here. Seems to be the first week of the summer season and not too many people about, which suits us just fine.

Taking a look at the local Kicking Horse attractions today. First stop, Boo the grizzly. Kicking Horse has its own resident grizzly bear. Brought closer to humans by its mother (for protection from other bears apparently) and then orphaned, Boo now lives in a 20 acre habitat and deigns to occasionally come out and perform for folk. Sadly for us, Boo also brought his performing troupe of Mosquitos and the swarm wreaked havoc amongst the observers. I’m sure some of them were landing on my mosquito repellent devices, but I guess that these are made of sterner stuff than your average mozzie as they have to get through grizzly hide. They certainly took a liking to me. I’m half expecting to look like the elephant man tomorrow.

Boo
Boo!
The Scratch
That’s the stuff, just to the left a bit.

Now Boo’s enclosure is reached via a chair lift, so I was quite impressed that Ethan supressed his fear of heights to make the trip. Next up, a gondola trip 4000 feet up to the top of the mountain for lunch at the Eagle Eye restaurant. Ethan only needed one quick shot of liquid motivation, so he must have been pretty keen!

Well worth the trip, this must be the most impressive restaurant location that I have eaten in. Made yesterday’s views look like warm ups. Food wasn’t bad either! I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t asked where I would like to sit as I was all geared up to ask if they had any seats with a view.

Panorama
Round and round we go…

Saw this critter outside. Looked like a beaver from a distance, but we couldn’t quite figure out what it would be doing on top of a mountain. On closer inspection, I suspect it may be a marmot. Google lens had it as some sort of chipmunk, but what does Google lens know?

Marmot?
Love it or hate it… marmot.

We are not doing too well with our walking yet. I suspect that we are both hiding behind the fact that we haven’t sourced any bear spray yet and we are reliably informed that the black bears are coming. Actually, I think we have just discovered that relaxing on holiday is not a bad thing. We always intended to have an acclimatisation day, and there is plenty of time yet.

We retired to the hot tub to reassess our plans…

Relax...
You can’t rush a good plan

Day 3 – Ridiculous, just ridiculous

So, time to leave Calgary and head for the hills. We perhaps haven’t seen Calgary at its liveliest – it still being a month until the famous Stampede. Not that I have a particular hankering to see this event, but it would be fun to be here so that I could keep telling people that this is, in fact, my first rodeo.  Clearly I am very easily amused.

First stop of the day: Ethan wants to go in search of the Hart mansion. I have never heard of it, but apparently it is where many of the famous wrestlers were trained. Who knew? Who, at the end of the day, cares? I am told in no uncertain terms that it is the topic of one of the best documentaries of all time. I am duly chastised. Mission acccomplished, time to move on.

Hart Mansion
Quick wrestling session in the dungeon, erm, basement?

Onwards towards the Rockies. I can see why there are distracted driving laws in Canada. Phones are the least of the problems, the more and more spectacular vistas awaiting around every bend do the job  of drawing attention. It’s the sort of scenery that cameras never qute do justice to, but there seems to be far more of it here than anywhere else I have been. Seems almost rude of the Canadians to hog it all. Just ridiculous.

 

Coming through!
They really wanted the road to go this way!

Stopped at Canmore to stock upon groceries and liquid refreshments before driving to the back of beyond. Supermarkets in Canada don’t seem to sell alcohol, but have associated booze emporia. Safeways has Liquor Depot, which I was almost tempted to stay in as the beer is in a refrigerated room and it was 28C outside. Amazing how warm it stays as you climb into the mountains.

Ethan is selecting favourite mountains, I think largely based on shape. The latest one is described as “suitably pointy; no Matterhorn, but a good effort”. As we are in no great hurry, we swing by Lake Louise as we are passing. Swing by is about right. Nowhere to park for miles around. Dread to think what it is like in the actual tourist season!

We finally make it to base camp (or base Condo) in Kicking Horse which will be our home for the next 10 or 11 days. Looks fairly spectacular. Quelle surprise. About the height of Snowdon I believe which is manageable for an altitude challenged individual like myself.

 

The condo seems very nice, but has already incurred Ethan’s wrath on a number of fronts – no bears yet; the mossies have ruined his hot tub relaxation (war has begun) and I beat him at a game of Canadian trivia. The last of these is most galling as Ethan knew quite a lot of the answers, whereas I fluked my way around the board, answering a single question correctly and then then finished with a flourish by knowing the name of the Canadian town which has a large model of the starship Enterprise. Nerdtastic.

Day 2 – Dinosaurs, Hoodoos and Bandits in the Badlands

So. Having only just gotten to sleep (or so it seemed), I was rudely awakened by a blaring alert on my phone at 3am from the Canadian government (or at least the authorities in Alberta) were sending out an alert to everyone. I fully expected it to be a terrorist strike and had one leg in my trousers before I realised that it was a message to watch out for a particular car as several children had been abducted by an estranged mother several hundred miles away. Now this speaks well of an nation looking out for each other, but 3am? I mean come on Canada, have a little consideration! [Actually, I don’t think Canada could possibly be accused of lacking consideration, its probably the politest place I have ever been and I am definitely liking the chilled out vibe.]

Anyway, being up with the lark gave us the jump on the worm, or at least the greasy fry up equivalent and we set off in search of breakfast. Restored by the power of Denny’s bottomless supply of coffee, we set off in search of adventure.

Now whilst we were flying over Canada, it was apparent that vast swathes of the country (and I mean VAST) were filled with absolutely chuffin nothing. So what better way to experience the mind numbing tedium of so much prairie than to drive through it? So off we set into the dusty Alberta Badlands, for quite some considerable amount of this…

Badlands
Dusty Badlands

Before stumbling across this, which was completely invisible from the road:

Horseshoe Canyon
Where did that come from?

En route, we were subjected to a very polite mugging attempt. Pottering along on cruise control, we spooted some flashing lights and what looked like the scene of an accident up ahead. We duly obeyed the stop signs brandished by the uniformed figures who motioned us to the side of the road … only to find that there was no incident, they were just collecting money for charity. Enterprising I’m sure, but I think that there are other names for holding up traffic and demanding money. We politely declined, playing the no local currency card. They accpeted this amiably and politely motioned us back to the road. Politest highwaymen ever, because well, Canada.

Now it turns out that Alberta is the dinosaur capital of the world. It’s not clear why so many died in one place, but I suspect that they spent years trudging across the tundra and then just gave up in frustration when there was no end to the journey in sight. Whatever the cause it meant that they plenty left traces for us to see in the Royal Tyrell Museum, including the (we are told) world famous “Black Beauty”.

Black Beauty
Black Beauty, with new lightweight head

and one ancestor…

Ancestor
Family resemblance anyone?

Onwards through the heat and haze to see Hoodoos, before heading back to explore Calgary and the iconic tower.

Hoodoos
That hoodoo that you do so well
Calgary Tower
Where did the floor go?

Missed opportunities of the day:

  • Didn’t make it to the GopherHole Museum. Ethan was horrified that I even contemplated this. But a museum dedicated to dioramas made up from stuffed gophers? Why wouldn’t you? Well if it was a 100 mile diversion it turns out.
  • Also felt that Dinosaur Provincial Park was a little too far. It’s a world heritage site but of course the main draw is that it is actually shaped like a dinosaur. No, really.

dinopark

Best sighting of the day

Sign in a cesspit toilet at Horseshoe Bend. Oh that Canadian sense of humour. At least i think it was a joke, it is a very sporty country, so maybe extreme fishng is a thing?

Extreme Fishing
Rules is rules!

and of course the world’s biggest dinosaur.

worldsbiggestdinosaur

Phew, busy day. time for a drink.

Day 1 – The Era of the Smart Journey Meets the Mind of the Dumb Traveller

Four hours. Four hours! That’s how long it took to get from Nottingham to the airport parking at Heathrow. An unusual amount of congestion even for a Friday on the M1 as well as constantly changing speed directives from the “Smart” motorway. It may be my imagination but I’m pretty sure that traffic flow has deteriorated since the motorways have been imbued with intelligence.

I can only think that this is either because we are being used to train the machine learning algorithms, or because the motorways are the vanguard (the phone autocorrected this to “baguette” which makes it a lot less threatening) of Skynet and they are just messing with us for fun. I can see an apocalypse scenario were the constant tinkering engenders so much road rage that people will just wipe each other out and save the machines the bother. If only we had listened to Stephen Hawking.

Anyway, at least I have 9 hours in a virus filled flying death tube to calm down before the not of driving into a strange city…

Phew, made it. Obviously had to have the obligatory gouging from the hire car company to upsell the insurance before I could drive into Calgary. Given what I have been told of omnipresent cracked windscreens in Canada, a few extra dollars a day to avoid the excess seemed sensible, but I was holding firm on the additional ‘premier’ roadside assistance even in my sleep deprived state. Sad to say though, I caved when she brought out the big guns: “You’ll need this when you hit a deer … and you will hit a deer, everyone hits a deer”.  What sort of a country is this? Smacks of poor organization to me.

Well at least they gave me a free upgrade to a nice 4×4 having taken pity at the thought of me driving into the mountains in what I had booked.

Should be an entertaining few weeks. Have already gotten my first turning right onto the wrong side of the road incident out of the way. Luckily the oncoming traffic was stopped at a traffic light, but they looked a tad surprised. How we chuckled… To be fair, it was about 4:30 in the morning on my personal timeline. Could probably have done without cryptographic conundrums to get into the AirBnB.

Calgary is currently shrouded in smoke from a wild fire, with air quality on a par with Delhi and Bejing – not the crisp mountain air I was expecting. We are assured that normal service will be resumed tomorrow. Ah well, time to go off and readjust that body clock and see what tomorrow brings.

Canada Beckons …

… and its time for the traditional road trip playlist. Slim pickings for songs about Canada, so have gone with the Canadian artist angle, which is much more fertile ground.

(Note: Slim Pickens is not a Canadian artist but is – fun fact – the actor who rode the atom bomb in Dr. Strangelove )

But I digress…

Ethan, never a fan of music while traveling , has suggested an alternative approach of downloading Grand Theft Auto soundtracks. Not sure that is conducive to the relaxed bimbling through spectacular scenery vibe that we are going for. Still, got to keep the navigator happy.

Day 18 – From Swamp to Swamp (to Swamp)

Discovery

So, the final day and some 12 or so hours to kill before the late flight. Ethan has found some places to visit which may be of interest but may also conceivably just be box-ticking exercises aimed at getting another State in (Maryland). He was keen to go to Baltimore, but I have seen the Wire and was having no part of that. This must have done for Baltimore what Deliverance did for Tallulah Falls!

Instead we headed out of the Washington swamp into the Maryland wetlands and Battle Creek Cypress Swamp. Interesting sort of place, containing lots of “trees with knees” – apparently these help the trees to breathe:

Trees with knees

Ethan spotted this one which looked as though the trees had gone beyond just breathing and were giving a rock horns salute to the world

Rock Horns

From here we had a trip to the coast penciled in, to catch a glimpse of Chesapeake Bay. Now, generally speaking, I am happy to have a good walk and experience tells me that Ethan will usually find a car park within a few hundred yards of what he wants to see, so imagine my surprise when the beach (such as it was) turned out to be a 4 mile round trip, through another swamp in 85 degree heat, wearing the clothes that we intended to fly in. I suspect my usual bonhomie may have become a little frayed. Still, the 20mx5m strip of beach seemed to have attracted 30 or 40 other intrepid fools. But at least we saw Chesapeake Bay (tick!).

Swamp 3 of the day

Chesapeake
Yes, that’s it – but the interesting part is close!

Having sweated our way back to the car, we headed off towards Dulles airport and another geek treat inside a real life version of Top Trumps. I have no idea why the Dulles branch of the Smithsonian isn’t better advertised, but it has some great exhibits.

The undisputed Top trump of aircraft from my spotty, nerdy youth – the Blackbird (fastest, highest flying, most expensive…). Possibly the coolest plane ever made:

Blackbird
The coolest plane ever made?

But wait, there is the space shuttle discovery too!

Discovery
… Unless you count this

There was a Concorde, but let’s move on to the Enola Gay. Looked nice and shiny. Can’t help but wonder if it’s been polished up ready to be recommissioned and sent over to North Korea…

Enola Gay
Sombre purpose but catchy tune.

… and does anyone remember a lunatic skydiving from a balloon at the edge of space? Yep, that’s here too…

Hard to express just how much geeking out was going on here!

Sadly, all geek things must come to an end and we eventually had to draw a line under the trip and head to the airport proper. Ethan received the parting gift of having his bag rummaged through by Homeland Security.

Parting Gift
Parting Gift

Not quite as welcoming as mints on a pillow. We were trying to think what might have triggered the search and all we can think of is that maybe the foam Atlanta Braves tomahawk turned up on the x-ray. Of course, rummaging through they will have found his fine collection of souvenir tat and will no doubt have been in awe at the level of dedication that he brings to tourism.

US. Done.

(For now…)

 

Day 17 – The Lincoln Link

Last full day in DC today, although we have some time tomorrow before the evening flight and a car to get around (it was cheaper to hire a car for the day than to get a cab to the airport!). It turns out that there is a Smithsonian outpost at Dulles with some cool (I use “cool” in the aerospace nerd sense here) stuff – Concorde, a Space shuttle, Blackbird and, possibly, Enola Gay. How did we not know about this before? Time has duly been set aside.

First outing of the day to the Newseum, Washington’s tribute to the first amendment and the rights of the free press. It’s an excellent museum documenting the history of the press and exhibits from major events…

Twin Tower Spire
World Trade Centre Tower Spire

…and some sections of the Berlin wall. Can you figure out which side is east and which west?

There are endless old newspapers, including one documenting the gunpowder plot, ancient copies of the Observer and the Spectator etc. and some interesting stuff from the FBI.

From here we went in search of lunch and ended up in Lincoln’s Waffles. A Vietnamese greasy spoon that made the Victoria Centre cafe look like World Service. There was actually a slick on my coffee. Tasty, but I felt like I needed a shower afterwards and was exuding grease for several hours. We were befriended by the resident nutter (Hi Steve!) who had considerably more knowledge of the dealings of Prince Charles than I do. At least I thought he was a nutter (albeit a very friendly and pleasant one) before he revealed himself to be a man of incisiveness and discernment by asking if Ethan and myself were brothers. I think I found it more amusing than Ethan.

A quick hike out to the Thomas Jefferson memorial before heading back to the scene of our earlier greasy crime and Ford’s Theatre, the location of Lincoln’s assassination.

Ford Theatre Balcony
Wait a minute, that’s not Lincoln!

Lincoln was shot on this balcony and someone felt it was a good idea to put a picture of Washington there. That’s just adding insult to (extreme) injury!

As it turns out, the Newseum is on the site of the old National Hotel where John Wilkes Booth stayed the night before he shot Lincoln. Almost as though we planned that link. What with the greasy spoon as well, synchronicity was playing silly buggers with us. Spooky.

Day 16 – Washington Wash Out

$850,000

Looks like Washington is getting some of the rain from the tail end of hurricane Harvey on it today. We seem to have been just ahead of the worst of this for the whole trip with Tennessee getting a considerable soaking after we left.

It be damp

Of course, being the intrepid breakfasters that we are, Ethan and myself got thoroughly soaked in search of a hearty morning repast. The research had led us to believe that Duke’s Grocery in the DuPont Circle area of Washington would provide a decent veggie brunch option). This indeed proved to be the case (they apparent fry their potato concoction in truffle oil and it certainly works!) but required quite the expedition. According to Google we have walked nearly 50 miles since we have been in DC…

Washington is heaving this weekend (it is apparently Labour Day weekend), so I’m glad we managed to get through some of the museums during the week. We will manfully fight through some more today.

I wanted to go to the Hirshorn to check out some modern art, but opinion was split within our party as to the sense of this endeavour. I forged on solo and was rewarded with some classics.  One of the guides on the tour bus had waxed less than lyrical about this…

$850,000
$850,000? Bargain!

Apparently, it had cost the American tax payer $850,000 and opinion is somewhat divided.

Anyway, much inspired I set off to create my own street art. The White House lawn presented a juxtaposition of geese and rising steam which I like to call “Geeser”…

Geeser
Geeser

…and this which I entitle “Ratus Deflatus”.

Ratus Deflatus
Ratus Deflatus

Sorry, but it’s a slow news day!

Anyway, we both thoroughly enjoyed the Museum of the American Indian and our second visit to HipCityVeg for the most outrageously good vegan fast food I have tasted in a long time. Damp, but well fed.

Day 15 – Where now Captain Howdy?

We’re casting our net a bit wider today. Heading out of the centre to the zoo and to explore the historic areas of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom. We’re probably not going to spend much time in Foggy Bottom, but I just like typing it. Shady Grove is another good one – probably perfectly innocent, but seems quite apt for Washington. How do these names get picked?

Anyway, first stop the zoo, primarily to see the pandas. Luckily for us, they were out and performing today.

Panda Curious
What’s this then?

Panda Boxed
Aww, my head’s stuck.

Panda Vexed
I hope noone saw that.

Hard to believe that they are dying out.

Great to see them, but we were quite disappointed not to see the sloth bear. Couldn’t be bothered to put in an appearance. Lazy bastard.

I am genuinely shocked by the size of the anaconda. There is no excuse for a snake this size.

I mean really?

Onwards to Georgetown under the pretense of viewing some historic buildings. Of course what we were really interested in was seeing the Exorcist steps…

Exorcist steps
Anyone hear the sound of tubular bells?

Somone had thoughtfully left this to help us battle any demons that might show up,

or possibly out of concern for the sort of people who would be interested in such things. I was actually tempted to try an exorcism of the joggers who kept getting in our way running up and down the steps. Any lingering evil was overwhelmed by the whiff of sweaty smugness.

Back into the core of Washington and an audience with the main man. I’m not entirely convinced of his credentials…

Run, run far, run fast
Time to head to Cuba, I wouldn’t trust this guy to run the country.