22 October, 2019

Wet, windy and then wetter in Vancouver...

With a population of 2.5M, Vancouver is the third largest city in Canada. We haven't been here before, but we have made short visits to Vancouver, Washington (USA), not that far away. We had a good break here between the last Rocky Mountaineer transit and the first Polar Bear photography expedition of the season. We stayed downtown which occupies a pensinsula between the harbour and False Creek.

Old railway station, now a hub for subway and ferries.

Freight trains on way into downtown goods yards.

Poignant war memorial in West Cordova St.

For our entire stay, it hardly stopped raining. There are 200 days a year of rain in Vancouver, but the city's open areas and sidewalks offer little protection, so we guess the locals are just trained to endure it. There is a small underground shopping precinct in downtown, but nothing like Toronto's maze of underground walkways (PATH), so there is always good business in umbrellas. We wore our raincoats on every outing, every day. The city is a blend of old and new, from the cobbled streets of Gastown to ultramodern towers like the Tellus telecommunications building.

The roof of the classical Fairmont Hotel reflected in the ultramodern glass wall opposite.

Already shivering from a previous dunking, this young lady about to be plunged into the tub again in a fundraising promotion.

This and other luxury hotels have been closed by strikes by underpaid workers.

The atrium of the Pacific Centre.

The atrium of the Vancouver Public Library.

Our hotel at the corner of Beatty and Robson Streets.

The city (well, both Vancouvers presumably!) is now named after George Vancouver who explored around here in 1792, and his name originates from the Dutch "Van Coevorden", denoting somebody from the city of Coevorden, Netherlands. Canada's Vancouver had the previous name of Gastown, now a district within downtown, named because of the talkative nature of a local publican Englishman John Deighton known as "Gassy Jack".

The steam clock in Gastown has interesting provenance. It's not that old. It's located over a vent in the old city's underground steam heating system, and local businessmen, concerned how homeless would be attracted there to warm up, in about 1970, commissioned horological artisan Raymond Saunders to design and build a clock over the vent. Steam powers the Westminster tuned whistles, and winds the clock.

Maple trees are taken seriously here, with this forest atop an apartment block.

Back lane in downtown Vancouver.

Clean Rooms available at Danny's Inn in Cambie Street.

Short video of the steam clock striking the hour.

Vancourver's iconic steam clock in Gastown.

Vancouver must be one of the world's most culturally and ethically diverse cities. People-watching reveals this, but the census statistics are that 51% of locals have a first-language other than English, and it's not French either! There's a very significant Asian population here, but everyone we had dealings with spoke excellent English. There's a federal election here in a day or two, so the campaign is at fever pitch. Illustrating this diversity, one of the major opposition party leaders is a very personable turban wearing Canadian born man of Indian descent. His New Democratic Party is not expected to win, however.

We made good use of local public transport, aided by a nicely loaded Compass swipe card given to us by a clogging buddy. The city has a subway system, and on the surface a network of trolley cars and buses which radiate out into the suburbs. The Compass card also covers the Seabus ferry which crosses the harbour (Burrard Inlet) to North Vancouver.

North Vancouver skyline, and the seabus terminal.

Prepared logs seem to wash up everywhere they are allowed.

Upmarket apartments with splendid views in North Vancouver.

Love Me Forever locks near the North Vancouver ferry terminal gaze over the downtown skyline.

A jet-boat on its way to downtown Vancouver.

Highly mechanised ferry terminal allows for rapid turnarounds, but do we want to lose those beautiful old clunkers in Sydney?

On one excursion, in persistent rain, we caught a trolley to the Van Dusen Gardens, a botanic garden about 10km south of downtown. This compact garden was densely packed with floral colour and spectacle, and was well worth the visit, despite the weather. It was being set up with electric lights for Glow festival. According to its website "VanDusen Glow in the Garden returns for another season of festive enchantment. Join us this Halloween season for a walk through a new light show with unique features and magical moments. The old barred owl has played a Halloween trick by casting a 'hootenanny' spell and making it glow. Help Anna the hummingbird and her friends lift the spell as you journey through the garden." The Festival has just started, let's hope the weather improves!

The 17 Oak trolley took us to the Van Dusen botanic garden.

Colours in the Van Dusen garden.

Umbrellas add to the colour at Van Dusen.

Mossy totem pole detail in the Van Dusen garden.

Anna the hummingbird ready to be illuminated for Glow.

On the south side of the Vancouver city peninsula is False Creek, so named because it's just an inlet, not the river it was thought to be. Within False Creek is Granville Island which was a densely packed industrial location in the 1920's but it went the way of much downtown industry, and by the 1970's was an industrial wasteland at which stage a Public Market was established which started a trend for the island to become the visitor and tourist hotspot that it is today. In steady rain, the island was packed with shoppers and sightseers for our visit.

False Creek has a cute little ferry service which zig-zags up and down its limited course in protected waters. You can buy single rides or day tickets, and it's a good way to visit Granville Island from downtown, although in finer weather, it would just be a pleasant walk over the Granville Street bridge.

Stunning Science Centre at the end of False Creek.

A tiny False Creek ferry heads under the Granville Street Bridge.

The Granville Island public market sells many type of berries, but none more delicious than these Colombian golden berries which we sampled for 25c.

No salmon, must be out of season at the Granville Island market.

The oldest and only real "industry" remaining on Granville Island is this concrete works.

Resting eternally under the Granville Bridge, the Relief used to be a rum runner before it turned to legal pursuits.

One of the exhibits at the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

Canada Geese were keeping guard on this lawn.

One of many street art installations, this mesh mosque by a Saudi sculptor evokes imprisonment within religion.

Looking to the Vancouver skyline over a marina and Granville Island.

Stanley Park, surrounded by waters of Burrard Inlet and English Bay, lies at the tip of the Vancouver Peninsula. It was named in the 1880's after Lord Stanley, a British politician who had recently been appointed Governor General. It's a large park (400ha), once rated as the "top park in the entire world" by Trip Advisor, which would have made for a fine visit and interesting walking if not for the rain. Much of the park's interior is (more or less) native forest Instead, we just skirted the edge, and stole a few snapshots. Notwithstanding the weather, the park was well patronised with visitors and a sodden-horse drawn carraige was still operating.

Totem poles in Stanley Park.

Under stormy skies, lightouse near the Lions Gate Bridge at the entrance to Vancouver Harbour.

One night when we intended to have a ramen near our hotel (to avoid getting wet) we discovered crowds in the street packing all bars and restaurants. There was a Canadian Football League (playing American football) game on at BC Stadium which just happens to be next door to our Hampton Inn & Suites hotel. We did find space at an untrendy "watch us cooking" Chinese cafe which served us bland food on paper plates, so we didn't starve, but it was a near thing. The game, which we then watched in a bar, seemed to be between state teams British Columbia (orange) and Saskatchewan (green), and unfortunately for the home team, the visitors won.

Right next door to our hotel is the BC Place football stadium which served as the main stadium for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

We stumbled across filming of a "Supergirl" episode. Despite her powers, she could not keep the rain away.

When not dining on fast food, we mostly chose restaurants in Yaletown, an old industrial district which fell into ruin after the 1986 World Fair, but since reinvented into a trendy entertainment, dining and shopping precinct, many of these businesses on the ground floor of historical buildings. These restaurants are universally loud and busy, and we generally chose the one that we didn't have to wait to get into. No matter how expensive the restaurant, they all have televisions mounted on the walls showing baseball, football or hockey - every restaurant is a sports bar!

Bustling dining enclave of Yaletown, that elevated sidewalk is an old railway siding platform.

Patriotic rail car in Hamilton Street, presumably evocative of Yaletown's railway history.

Our only out of town excursion was to Point Roberts, a long time bucket-list item unknown to most people. As Wikipedia says "Point Roberts is a pene-exclave [look it up!] of the United States on the southernmost tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula, south of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada." It is an absurd artifact of the desk-based Oregon Treaty in 1846, when the US border with British territory was set to the 49th parallel. No-one realised that this excised a tiny patch (10sq.km) of soil in the Strait of Georgia from Canada, and when they did realise it, US authorities inexplicably refused to hand it back. There has been constant talk of Point Roberts (pop 1000) seceding from the U.S. and joining Canada, but it has never happened. In 1973, a drought almost caused hostilities, until a deal was struck to provide water from Canada.

Expecting no less, we had to go through the full immigration process as we crossed the border in both directions. The border officials from both countries probably have lunch together and laugh about the triviality of their work. There is a small shopping centre and a marina at Point Roberts, a haven for US yachtsmen, and a good view of the British Columbia ferry and goods terminals. Apart from that, not much! It was even quieter than we thought it would be. But we did find the Saltwater Cafe open, a quaint establishment with friendly staff, where we had a pleasent lunch and talked to some locals.

Driftwood at Point Roberts, but we couldn't find the expected lighthouse.

The border lies along that fenceline in Roosevelt Ave, the houses in Canada, the road in USA.

The Saltwater Cafe was our lunchstop in Point Roberts, Washington.

All in all, we spent 2 hours in Point Roberts, and we drove virtually every street. Apparently most visitors spend less than 15 minutes, so we feel like long-stayers. It was an enjoyable visit, and sitting in our rental car was a good way to spend time in mediocre weather. And we won't have to go back again!

20 October, 2019

Mists and clouds over the Rockies...

VIA Rail's website and documentation is so lacking in confidence that they will adhere to their schedule that they warn all travellers not to book ongoing connections within 24 hours of the scheduled arrival time. In the end, we arrived in Jasper AB after our cross-continent journey more or less on time, which gave us 24 hours until our next departure on the Rocky Mountaineer from the same railway station.

Jasper is a "small town", but compared to Australian small towns, it's rather big, with a population of nearly 5,000, and we found it to be a pleasant and bustling little place surrounded, even this early in the season, by snow capped mountains. We saw a spectacular sunrise as we arrived. Jasper started off as Jasper House, a trading post, in 1813, and was named after the local postmaster.

Near dark in Jasper overlooked by snowy mountains.

Jasper lies on the Athabasca River. It looks as though there's a lot to do in the area, ranging from skiing to glaciers, hot springs, camping, sightseeing and bushwalking, and mountain lakes for water activities in summer. The town is in the middle of the Jasper National Park. But we had no car, and just explored the town. We would have liked to stay longer in Jasper to do some nearby exploring, but the timing of the convention in Waterloo and the end of the season for the Rocky Mountaineer prevented this.

There in Patricia Street we found Snowdome, a large and truly excellent coffee shop + modern coin laundry, so we made use of both services after three days cooped up on the train. The coffee was excellent and the shop well patronised, maybe it's the only espresso in town? And, on the recommendation of another customer in Snowdome, we had dinner at Raven which proved to be as close to "fine dining" as you could hope for in a small place. The menu was unusual and our choices proved to be interesting and delicious.

The Rocky Mountaineer arriving in Jasper the evening before our trip. Love that bell!

Overnight we stayed at The Crimson, a large and busy hotel maybe 600m from the station, so we lugged our luggage along good sidewalks in both directions rather than raising the ire of taxi drivers hoping for a better fare.

Next morning at dawn we first discovered what it means to be a customer of the Rocky Mountaineer, and why it is (a) one of the "world's leading travel experiences by train" and (b) also the busiest privately owned passenger rail service in North America. Even as we approached the station almost an hour before check-in opened (we were afraid that rain was coming) we were greeted with open arms and our luggage whisked away from us. Over the next two days we enjoyed the most fabulous service from this outfit who, like VIA Rail, can't guarantee their timetable, but are so organised and customer focused that it overwhelms you.

Glimpse of Mount Robson (3954m) through the clouds.

Mysterious fog covered valley of Valemount, between the Rockies and the Premier Range.

At this spot near Canoe River, two speeding trains collided head-on in 1950, killing 17 members of the Royal Canadaian Horse Artillery.

We travelled goldleaf class which seats us in those iconic domed viewing cars that are so well known. The problem with these (as on The Canadian's dome cars) is that quality photography is impossible through the tinted and optically imperfect windows, but the goldleaf cars also have an open air vestibule where (if you rug up) you can take better photos, although you still have to deal with the scenery rushing by at 150km/hr and a lot of rocking! Rocky did slow down at a few photogenic locations, while The Candaian would just steam through.

Colorful valley underneath Mount Milton.

Pyramid Falls fall 91m from a lake on Mt Cheadle.

Looking across the North Thompson River, scarred landscape from a long ago wildfire.

Rocky's goldleaf cars were luxurious, and we had electrically adjustable seats reminiscent of modern aeroplane seats, plus seat heaters! And we enjoyed five star service both upstairs in the dome and downstairs in the dining room. Truly splendid meals and beverage service. For two days, we never ventured out of our assigned goldleaf car, each one having its own crew and facilities, virtually like independent starships.

The weather was not kind to us. The spectacular mountain scenery out of Jasper was all but hidden in a cloud of heavy mist. Our journey (one of four run by the Rocky Maountaineer) was called Journey Through The Clouds, so this is probably pretty typical.

Here's a rare field of grain not yet harvested, near the locality of Vinsulla.

Here's a rare field of grain not yet harvested, near the locality of Vinsulla.

Our itinerary was from Jasper to Kamloops British Columbia on the first day, going on to Vancouver on the second day. No night time travel on the Rocky Mountaineer - we overnighted at a hotel in Kamloops (miraculously finding our checked luggage already in the room!).

Our hotel in Kamloops.

As far as we know, the Rocky Mountaineer follows the same track as The Canadian on its journey to Kamloops, and indeed, to Vancouver. After crossing the ridgeline at Yellowhead Pass (1131m) (named after an Iroquois fur trader with distinctive hair) of the Rocky Mountains (which is also the border between Alberta and British Columbia), we skimmed the northern edge of Glacier National Park, then followed the valleys of a number of rivers on the way to Kamloops. We could see the valleys, but not the peaks!

Kamloops is a bigger town than Jasper, population about 90,000. It is at the confluence of the North and South Thompson Rivers which (according to Rocky) leads to its name derived from T'Kemlups meaning "meeting of the waters". We've noted other opinions on this name, though. From Kamloops, our Rocky Mountaineer combined with another which had come from Banff, increasing the number of goldleaf cars from 3 to 5.

From Kamloops, we skirted the 152m deep 29km long Kamloops Lake (there's more of that fresh water again!) and then basically followed the Thompson River, then the Fraser River all the way to Vancouver past a desert of lunar-like landscapes, along sheer, avalanche prone cliffs until it finally gave way to a flat fertile plains of the Fraser Valley, a rich agricultural area which apparently feeds much of Canada.

The Rocky Mountaineer steams past Kamloops Lake.

Used as movie sets, the harsh terrain of Painted Bluffs Provincial Park, opposite Kamloops Lake.

New condo development on the shores of Lake Kamloops.

The Fraser River and its tributaries, including the Thompson, home to one of the most productive salmon fisheries in the world, supporting five species of Pacific salmon — sockeye, coho, chum, Chinook and pink. Salmon eggs are hatched upriver in fresh water, but the fish spend most of their lives in the ocean before migrating back upstream to spawn. With trout as well, angling is a most popular recreation along these rivers (and the bears like to fish too), and we saw many fishermen in boats, especially along the calm lower reaches of the Fraser.

How's that for a picture of a painted landscape, along the Thompson River.

A broad curve and a stark landscape near Ashcroft.

Osprey in flight over the Thompson River.

Avalanches cause major difficulties for salmon in the Fraser River. As recently as June 2019, a rockslide blocked salmon from their spawning grounds by causing "a 5 metre waterfall" that the salmon could not pass. Authorities monitor these occurrences closely, and some radical remedies like trucking salmon around the blockages are attempted.

Perhaps forgotten, St. Aidans of Pokhaist Church.

Over the Thompson River at Lower Shawniken.

Rapids in the Thompson River at Little Hell's Gate are popular with canoeists.

Freight trains up to 3km long ply both sides of the Thompson River on competing railway lines.

Avalanche chutes protect the railway lines near the end of the Thompson River.

Along these sections of desert like environment, we saw many osprey and bald eagles, and it was great to see them actually fishing. Apart from this and other birdlife, we really have not seen any wildlife from the Rocky Mountaineer, and not from The Canadian either. We saw no bears, no bison, no elk, only a fleeting glance at a distant moose, so, from that point of view, the train trips were a disappointment. We did see many beaver lodges, and plenty of farmed cattle and horses, and lots of berry farms in the Fraser valley.

The clear waters of the Thompson River (whose dirt silted out in Lake Kamloops) merge with the muddy of Fraser River (no lakes for sedimentation).

Bridges across the Fraser river as competing companies try to exploit the best railway alignments.

Kiki from England, one of the Rocky Mountaineer's fabulous hosts, on her last roster of the season.

Visitor facilities include a cable car at Jaws of Death Gorge, so deep we couldn't actually see the rapids below.

Just a bit of blue sky visible at Hope.

Roaring down the Fraser Valley towards Vancouver, we leave snowcapped mountains behind us in newfound sunshine.

Arrival in Vancouver was an eye-opener. Rocky Mountaineer has its own station, just out of downtown, and dozens of staff members were lined up waving to greet us as we pulled in. We learned that ours was the very last Rocky Mountaineer of the season, which justified an extra big reception, and we imagine they celebrated heartily when we were safely out of sight. And even though we had not booked our Vancouver hotel with Rocky, they nevertheless bussed us and our luggage to it. This is one impressive railway company!

Timber mills on the Fraser River are allowed to leave stock along the banks, out of the way, but we've seen many stray logs even in Vancouver.

The Port Mann Bridge spans the Fraser River. It was the widest bridge in the world (an honour once held by the Sydney Harbour Bridge) until the new Bay Bridge in San Francisco.

The Rocky Mountaineer passes below the 1936 Pattulo Bridge between New Westminster and Surrey as it nears its final destination in Vancouver.

The last Rocky Mountaineer of the season pulls into its Vancouver Terminal just off the end of False Creek, to a rousing welcome from all staff.