There’s a reptile in flight ….

img_9324I think I was a reptile in a past-life.  Usually in a constant state of seeking to nudge up the house thermostat in a bid for a warmer temperature and a place to defrost my hands and feet, I can normally be found nestled under several layers of clothing, with thermal socks and gloves that only a heat-seeking missile would be attracted to.  Ironic then, that I find myself living in a Winter City where temperatures are sub-zero for at least 3 to 4 months of the year.

There’s only two ways to go in such a climate – either embrace the frozen north, or hibernate; only to reappear when the snow has subsided and we start to climb into the positive temperature range around April/May time.  You may be reading this assuming I’m the latter ….. but no.  Despite my cold-blooded tendencies, I do enjoy the winter activities and especially, a spot of skiing – either downhill or cross-country.  Both are readily available in Edmonton, and working in my favour for the cross-country is the fact that Alberta is a prairie-state and literally, as flat as a pancake.  It certainly makes for a less arduous (and by definition, much more fun) way to experience the sport with the avoidance of any hills or steep terrain which would have me hyperventilating with effort and collapsing with sheer exhaustion.  img_0046But I do miss my mountain fix.  It’s one of the scenic aspects I miss most about living in the UK.  That said, Jasper, and the Canadian Rockies are a mere 3.5 hrs drive to the West and are mountainously majestic on a monumental scale.  We’re lucky that we can take a quick trip there for a weekend, get my mountain fix, and attempt the downhill skiing of the Marmot Basin.  With 86 runs, the longest high speed quad-chair in the Canadian Rockies, and views to die for, it’s a spectacular place to ski.  And this past weekend, we did just that.marmot-basinAll the family have their own equipment, and during the past two Winters we’ve lived in Canada, everyone has gradually picked up the skills and technique to get them from the top of a slope, down to the bottom – hopefully, without any mishaps en route.  Even my youngest kid who is now 7, will happily throw herself down the more gradual terrains – which means the whole family can ski together.  My middle kid is the risk-taker, and will seek out every treacherous route in a bid to experience moments of sheer terror with shrieks of hysteria.  Living on the edge is definitely one of her life philosophies ….

Beset with a few challenges including my husband having the navigational prowess of a lemon, my middle kid demonstrating a strong magnetic draw to any dare-devil activity, and my youngest kid being solely focused on remaining upright; I adopt the role of chief navigator and assume responsibility for making sure that whatever chair lift we go up, there’s a route back down that doesn’t require the mastery level of a black diamond.  With the trail-blazing abilities of a bloodhound, I’m relied upon to traverse the various routes down the mountain, identifying a variant path each time from the one before, until we all safely arrive with aching limbs and tired muscles to the awaiting chairlifts at the bottom  – only to be whisked into the heavens such that the cycle can repeat itself yet again.img_9355After a few hours, confidence was high and I decided to inject some novelty, proposing we take a chairlift towards the top of the mountain rather than focusing on the middle and lower terrains.  As we ascended, the views were spectacular and the scenery stunning.  With my attention somewhat distracted, I had failed to notice the need for a rapid exit at the top of the lift as the chairs quickly gained height before flipping around a spindle and returning back to the bottom.  Graciously hesitating at the top to let my kids off first, was my undoing.  I missed the optimum point of departure – and only when the chair started to pick up speed and the ground quickly fell away did I realise a hastier exit was required.  The prosaic lines of the immortal song, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go Now’, reverberated through my head – and a nanosecond split decision saw me adopting an ‘Eddie the Eagle’ approach to descent as I ‘launched’ myself off the chair.goat in flightA ‘Clash’ it certainly was.  Imagining it to be more graciously executed than the reality, I felt I had it perfectly controlled until the landing.  Maybe it was the knees, or even my posture that let me down, but my husband later recounted the moment when he witnessed the ‘splat’ as I hit the ground and arrived unceremoniously in a heap at his skis.  Even the best of us, have our odd moments of misadventure and I’m still chuckling about the incident a week later – whilst nursing a rather large bruise that has managed to feature all the colours of the rainbow.  The bruise has managed to generate enough heat to keep my reptile-like tendencies at bay, retaining warmth in my hands and feet.  I can’t help but think it’s far easier just to notch up the thermostat …. ūüôā

 

Google images supplied the cartoon in today’s blog, the rest have been photogenically captured by ‘goat and kids’

For research purposes only, you understand ….

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There are few better pleasures to look forward to each day than collapsing onto a comfy sofa in an evening with a glass of vino. ¬†Not a day goes by without hearing on the radio yet another ‘research article’ on whether 1 glass, 2 glasses, no glasses, red glass, white glass, whatever …. are good for your health, prolongs your life, or reduces it considerably. ¬†I’m prepared to take the chance. ¬†I don’t care whether it’s the latest fad or whether there’s proven evidence that drinking a glass a night is bad for you. ¬†I wonder whether there’s been detailed research on the best or worst times of day to succumb ….. maybe I’ll have to volunteer ……

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Anyhow, one of the delights of being in Western Canada is that the Okanagan Valley, located in the south of British Columbia, is home to one of the most prolific wine-growing regions throughout Canada. It’s also a massive fruit-growing region with farmers stands at the sides of roads where you can purchase their mouth-watering produce, or even go in and pick some yourself from their overflowing fruit orchards. ¬†Nestled¬†between the temperate rainforests of coastal British Columbia, and the world’s only inland temperate forest on the western slopes of the Columbia mountains, it receives relatively low rainfall and enjoys hot temperatures – so attracts over 200 different commercial vineyards where nearly every style of wine is produced, with¬†over 60 different grape varieties. ¬†I’m on a mission to sample each one ….

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Since arriving in Canada, we’ve taken a keen interest in Canadian produce so given that one of the items from our bucket list was to visit a vineyard (or two), we thought we’d take a road trip to the next province and see what all the fuss is about. ¬†For research purposes only, you understand …

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Now, having come from the UK, one of the things about living in Canada that we continuously struggle to appreciate, is the sheer vastness and scale of the country. ¬† What looks like small distances on a map, are actually huge monster drives. ¬†The Okanagan, for example, is fairly ‘close’ to Edmonton at just over 540 miles (870 km) away, taking at least 9 hours constant driving, during which you cross over the time-line, scale the Canadian Rockies, go through at least 3 national parks, traverse 2 mountain passes –¬†witnessing¬†the climate and dramatic scenery changes as you go. ¬†It’s stunning. ¬†Once you hit the Canadian Rockies, it’s virtually just one road too – the Trans-Canada highway – beside which for the most part, you travel alongside the Canadian Pacific Railway line and the huge red CPR freight trains that epitomise Canada.

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Once you reach the Okanagan, there are vineyards and fruit orchards galore. ¬† The terrain reminded us of being in Tuscany in Italy, with huge lakes and rolling vineyards – it’s a beautiful place to visit. ¬†There are local maps detailing where all the vineyards are, and you can drive in and sample their produce – oh, and purchase a few bottles too (it’d be rude not to). ¬†For kids and adults alike, the lakes are superb to swim and play in – crystal clear waters and at various locations, activity platforms¬†harness¬†small zip-lines on which you can¬†throw yourself in the lake. ¬†You need to in those temperatures too ……

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But it’s the road trip through the Rockies and the national parks that is the most spectacular. ¬†If you’re prepared to do some research, you can hunt out various stop-off points along the way which are just hidden off the main Trans-Canada highway – literally, within a few meters¬†too. ¬†Boardwalk trails which not only give you 20 mins to stretch your legs, are¬†within steps of the parking lot, and can see you deep within the forest – walking amidst Giant Cedar trees, many of which are over 500 years old. ¬†Just watch your tank of petrol during the road trip as the distances are so large and the availability of gas stations few and far between – it’s an extremely long walk if you run out!!

So, I’d definitely recommend it. ¬†The road trip, the scenery, the lakes and the wine. ¬†I may have to take a repeat trip …. for research purposes only, you understand …. ūüôā

A brief change of scenery

New Westminster

One of the novelties of living in a country the size and scale of Canada, is that new experiences and opportunities to do things crop up which you would never previously have thought.  My oldest kid is a keen swimmer (see previous mentions and blogs), and aswell as competing at the provincial level – which sees her travel mostly between Edmonton and Calgary, there are a few opportunities to venture across Western Canada which appear in the swimming calendar during the year.  Back in December, she flew to Victoria on Vancouver Island with her swimming team just to compete – something at the age of 12 in the UK, I don’t think would ever have featured in the itinerary.

These last few days, I’ve flown with her to Vancouver for yet another competition.  It feels quite close to Edmonton being on the left hand side of the country, and yet is still 90 minutes on a plane and for those wishing to drive, a mere 12 hours in a car away.  Distances are deceptively large over here.

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Being a swimming competition, they are not always held in the traditional tourist locations, and this week is no different.  30 minutes outside Vancouver, we’re staying in New Westminster – just south-west of the main area of Vancouver and on the banks of the Fraser River.  Apparently, it was named by Queen Victoria after Westminster in London, and as a result gained its official nickname, ‘The Royal City’.  It’s a working river, and there are tugs and boats transporting huge logs all connected together up the river, plus huge mounds of sand and gravel, piled high and being heaved along on boat platforms.  It reminds you of the sheer scale of transportation which is used in Canada, alongside the huge Canadian Pacific Railway trains which seem to also predominantly focus on freight.

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It never ceases to amaze me the total difference in climate and geography compared to Edmonton.  Edmonton is extremely dry and flat – as is a large proportion of the whole Alberta province.  The recent devastating forest fires in Fort McMurray which are still being fought alongside many other fires across the region, lay testament to the challenges this poses when rainfall is so slight.  Everything is tinderbox dry and the province-wide fire ban has had to be enacted to try to minimise risks further.  It’s a dangerous situation – ironic when we generally spend 5 months a year under snow, but with colossal forests, mostly wooden building structures and very warm weather once the snow has gone, it’s a potent cocktail.

Now in Vancouver, it’s akin to arriving in Manchester, UK.  It’s green, wet, cloudy and humid.  Rain doesn’t seem to be far away, and I stifled a smile when the hotel informed me that an ‘extra amenity’ included in all rooms was the use of an umbrella.  I don’t think I’ve used one of those since I was last in the UK ….. I’ve enjoyed being re-acquainted.

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That said, you can never tire of the wonderful mountain views – it’s so nice to be in a place which isn’t flat.  You forget how much you miss having a hilly terrain when you’ve spent the vast portion of your life surrounded by them.  And the abundance of water, estuaries, bridges, rivers and sea is lovely – something you can only appreciate when you’ve not seen the coast in a very long time.

We’ve had to navigate ourselves on public transport – and get ourselves to the pool locations at daft times in a morning – all of which we’ve managed without major incident.  Thank goodness for modern technology and google maps……

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And food.  We could’ve resorted and played safe with the usual food chains that can be found dotted up and down the streets and avenues, but I’m a bit of a fanatic for sourcing out and discovering more authentic eateries and trying things that are different.  One of the swimming mum’s took us to a new ‘Trattoria’ that had recently been voted best new restaurant, and the food was delicious.  Portions were generous, the quality of the food was exceptional, with my oldest kid appreciating the supply of carbohydrates to provide the energy required for her races the following day.  I also discovered an asian eatery on the New Westminster Quayside, which provided good quality produce cooked healthily and was truly scrumptious.  Next door was a small bakery making all their own pastries and breads, alongside other artisans housed in a small building complex clearly trying to reinvigorate visitors to the Quay.  I may have to restrict my food intake for the next week to compensate for the last few days …

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We’re now down to our last day of competition and whilst my oldest is doing all the hard work, I’m enjoying the change of scenery and chance to explore along the boardwalk, parks and quayside.  Given another chance to visit Vancouver, for those that haven’t been I’d recommend the downtown area and waterfront every time, but for those looking to venture further afield, take a trip to New Westminster and you may be in for a pleasant surprise ……  ūüôā

 

Most of the pics are author’s own, but a few have been kindly obtained via google images 

Spring has sprung??

Canada Geese

Do you know what the collective noun for geese is? ¬†I always thought it was a ‘gaggle’, but listening to Canadian radio earlier this week I find out that there are several different collective terms for geese – all dependent on what the geese are doing at the time. ¬†For example, if geese are on the ground, then quite rightly, they’re often described as a ‘gaggle’, ‘herd’ or ‘flock’. ¬†But if they’re in flight, then it’s either a ‘wedge’ or ‘skein’. ¬†I never knew that till this week. ¬†It got me wondering how geese have managed to get to the high echelons of¬†having so many descriptive terms? ¬†I did an internet search to see how many collective terms are used to describe the joys of having kids – and found a complete dearth. ¬†There’s many terms I’d use to describe my 3 kids – many of which wouldn’t always be complimentary …..

Anyhow. ¬†This all came about as Canada Geese are arriving back in Edmonton (maybe it was a slow news day as it was the key topic of conversation on the radio) with¬†‘wedges’ being¬†spotted in full formation flying in from goodness knows where. ¬†Comes to something when even the Canadian Geese migrate away from here over the winter …. maybe there’s a message in there somewhere? ¬†Being upbeat, it’s obviously a sign that the worst of the weather is over and a lot of our snow is finally melting away after months of being surrounded in a blanket of ‘whiteness’. ¬†I love the snow and have really enjoyed getting active with the skiing this season, but it’s hard to describe the feeling of finally seeing grass in your front and back lawn slowly re-appearing. ¬†Optimism, I think. ¬†That said, most of the lakes are still completely frozen so we’ve a little while to go as yet. ¬†I’ll have to temper my excitement. ¬†And it’s March already …..

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Not surprisingly, the grass isn’t looking that great. ¬†Mind you, if I’d been covered with over a foot of snow for the best part of 4 months, I’d be looking rather worse for wear too. ¬†Even the Arctic Hare that visits our back garden and ‘stops over’ occasionally under the decking, is rather at a loss. ¬†His fur is still pure white so he’s standing out like a belisha beacon until his coat changes to the summer brown colour.

One of the things I miss most about being in the UK, is the bulbs that start appearing and the daffodils bringing bright colours ready for St David’s Day in early March. ¬†Easter is always a good time to get out in the garden and see some colour and new growth. ¬†Not in Edmonton. ¬†The rule of thumb seems to be to hang on in there till May as the ground is still solid and heavy frosts appear during the night, plus not to forget the occasional snowstorm that can bring a full covering back again instantly. ¬†Talking of which, I think that’s the forecast for this evening. ¬†Oh well ……

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We took a jaunt across to Jasper last weekend. ¬†We haven’t been there at this time of year, and whilst the mountain valleys are free of snow, as you start to climb the mountains you suddenly hit the snow-line and the snow depth that still remains is huge. ¬†So much so, that it makes you wonder how long it will¬†take to fully thaw. ¬†The views across the mountains and lakes are spectacular though. ¬†You alternate from being in early Spring down in the valley, to a ‘Narnia-like’ winter experience where the snow even on the conifer branches is 5 inches thick – it’s quite surreal.

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And quiet. ¬†I’ve never experienced ‘quietness’ quite like it when you’re in the mountains. ¬†Complete nothingness. ¬†Absolute silence. ¬†And still. ¬†The only sounds are from our feet tramping through the thick snow. ¬†I was almost expecting Mr Timnus (namely, James McAvoy from the Chronicles of Narnia films), to appear from behind a snow-covered tree. ¬†Failing that, I had hoped we may spot some wild animals in the forests and near the lakes, but these I suspect, were wisely remaining hidden due to our 3 kids who were grudgingly trudging along with us. ¬†I was sorely tempted at several points to feed one of them to any animals brave enough to put in an appearance but in the end we had to compromise on bringing them back home with us (the kids that is – not the wild animals), after we plunged the oldest kid into 3 feet of snow when she ‘helpfully’ doused her youngest sister with a vast amount of snow down the inside of her coat. ¬†We saw the funny side, but it took several hours before comedy and even the smallest hint of humour was felt¬†by the kids themselves…..

The joys of having kids so helpfully brought to mind. ¬†It got me back to thinking of collective nouns again ….. ¬†ūüôā

Give it a shot … ?

Photography

When I was little, my Dad used to spend many hours upstairs in the attic which he’d converted to a small office. ¬†There were two items which used to draw my attention – one was a Hornby train track which he’d set up and the miniature trains would¬†run around the track, stopping at the mini stations. ¬†It was great fun and probably inspired more by Ivor the Engine rather than Thomas the Tank Engine ……

Anyhow, the second attraction was that he would convert the attic to a dark room, for processing the negatives from his camera. ¬†I remember there¬†being¬†an abundance of different chemicals and a highly complex process which had to be undertaken in aspiring to produce the perfect print. ¬†I used to help out and would be in charge of switching on and off the red ‘safelight’ – and watched in awe as the pictures slowly emerged onto the photographic paper. ¬†I remember having to ‘hang’ the damp photos up on a small washing line so they could dry. ¬†You’ve got to admit, technology has certainly speeded the entire process up these days, but there’s something more authentic and unique when the technique to produce them was so variable and long-winded.

I’ve always enjoyed taking pics but never really put more thought into it. ¬†My back-catalogue of pics pre-Canada has largely been dominated by the kids in all manner of British places and undertaking an array of past-times. ¬†Interesting for me to look back on and remember the events, but less so for others!

Since arriving in Canada, I’ve found a new sense of inspiration in the natural landscape. ¬†I have no photographic technical knowledge whatsoever but can appreciate inspirational shots. ¬†I also have a personality trait which lacks patience – so taking pics immediately and ‘in the moment’ is more my style along with devoting¬†total¬†reliance on the sheer brilliance of the automatic camera built into my iPhone.

A friend recently challenged me to post a photograph of nature – online, every day, for 7 days. ¬†I wasn’t sure whether I was cut out for the task, but gave it and go, and thought I’d share these with you – along with details of where they were taken……… enjoy ūüôā

Day 1: There’s an abundance of red berries as you walk through the River Valley in Edmonton which are striking against the predominantly white snowscape and bare-branched trees. ¬†I love the colour contrast and this was taken in the grounds of the Muttart Conservatory – rather like a small ‘Eden’ project here in Edmonton, and definitely worth a visit.

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Day 2: There’s a walking trail called the ‘River Loop’ which takes you around Fort Edmonton park. ¬†Probably just under 3 miles in length, it’s a popular walking route of mine – fairly flat and easy too, for kids to tramp along. ¬†I’ve spotted the occasional coyote along it in the past plus you get to see parts of Fort Edmonton as you walk along. I thought I’d test out a black & white shot …

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Day 3: Also taken along the River Valley but looking towards the Fort Edmonton footbridge over the North Saskatchewan River. ¬†I’m constantly fascinated that it can freeze completely over …

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Day 4: Autumn (or ‘Fall’ as it’s referred to over here), is my favourite season by far for the abundance of colours which are simply stunning. ¬†This next shot I took back in September walking along the Whitemud Park North trail. ¬†We visited ‘New England’ in the Fall several years ago and I think this is equally as spectacular in colour with the ranges of yellows, oranges and reds set against the crystal clear blue sky. ¬†Life can’t get much better than this surely?

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Day 5: There are plenty of bridges cutting across the North Saskatchewan River, all of which are subtly different in style. ¬†I’ve taken lots of pics of many of these, but this next one was a footbridge across a river estuary leading into the North Saskatchewan. ¬†I love the angles and shadows – and whilst this was taken mid-day in Winter, it has something compelling about it.

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Day 6: One of our favourite places we’ve visited whilst being in Canada is Canmore, just south of Banff in the Canadian Rockies. ¬†Along with being home to the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company (highly recommended for any beer-lovers out there), it also has stunning scenery. ¬†This pic I took on a weekend trip when my parents visited last Summer, on a walk up to Spray Lakes just past the Canmore Nordic Centre. ¬†It was particularly notable, as we were obliged to carry bear spray with us and the kids were constantly wondering whether they would out-run grandma should one appear.

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Day 7: My final submission. Taken last Spring, this is Lac Beauvert just outside the Jasper Park Lodge in Jasper. ¬†I can’t begin to describe how peaceful and serene the place is, and the mirror-image reflections in the water, with the turquoise colours and typically blue skies, are staggeringly beautiful.

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Nature at it’s best. ¬†It just goes to show, that as with most things in life, it’s worth taking a shot …. ūüôā

Do you want to build a snowman?

Ice Castle

Earlier this week, I took the kids to visit the Ice Castle which is currently residing in Hawrelak Park – down in the River Valley in Edmonton. ¬†I mentioned in an earlier blog about the Ice Castle being under construction when we wandered past to investigate just before Christmas (click here for my earlier blog). ¬†It’s been billed¬†as the largest ice structure in North America, and true to their word, it includes slides, waterfalls, tunnels and caves through which you can explore.

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Now for those picturing an Elsa Castle nestled on the top of a forest mountain you would be slightly disappointed. ¬†Edmonton isn’t renowned for mountains – or hills of any kind in fact, but it does have plenty of River Valley and scenic parks, and an abundance of snow with sub-zero temperatures to make you feel at home. ¬†Just make sure you’ve got plenty of layers on, snow pants, ultra-tog-rated gloves and some hand warmers – and you’re good to go!

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We’re often blessed with crystal clear blue skies and sunshine, albeit surrounded by snow, ice and chilly temperatures – and it makes for ever so effective photos which I thought I’d share with you …

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And rather like the Tardis, the castle¬†was much bigger on the inside than it was outside – just single-tiered, with spectacular icicles and ice formations. ¬†You’d think that it would be prone to melting, especially since we’ve been basking in the delights of temperatures that have been just above freezing point for most of the last week …… but no. ¬†I guess one of the advantages for selecting Edmonton as the city of choice for hosting such things and with the degrees of cold we tend to experience, it guarantees ice structures remain intact certainly during the core Winter months. ¬†It’s even too cold to build a snowman ….

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In fact, just to prove the point, I should have¬†captured a photo of the large fire pit that is lit and providing a small degree of warmth, constructed from ice and burning chunks of wood in a section of the castle itself. ¬†The irony wasn’t lost on me!

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There are 2 ice slides which get plenty of use from the kids, and the occasional adult who is petite enough to get themselves through the narrow passage and up to the top of the slides themselves. ¬†I concentrated on making sure the kids didn’t plummet too far off the end of the slides and wiping out a couple of picture-taking adults as¬†they hurtled themselves down at speed. ¬†In fact, I’ve just thought of a new game segment for the TV show, ‘Wipeout’……

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You can’t have a castle without thrones (obviously ….), and there were 2 on which to take a royal pose. ¬†Mind you, getting yourselves on these thrones and sat still long enough for an obligatory pic to be taken without slipping immediately off, is hilarious. ¬†There were some brilliant moments with adults of all ages attempting the feat which had me chuckling away and could just imagine appearing in a ‘You’ve Been Framed’ compilation of comedy outtakes.

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So, a great afternoon activity and definitely worth a visit – it’s here till March. ¬†There are certainly advantages to living in a winter city¬†and¬†with the prospect of snow not disappearing for at least another few months yet – I’m off out to¬†make the most of it. ¬†Although, building a snowman will have to wait a while until it’s a bit warmer … ūüôā

Winter sports …

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We seem to spend forever planning and preparing for the imminent arrival of Christmas and all the festivities that go along with it, and yet no sooner has it arrived, then it’s over and we’re now already heading midway into January. ¬†It’s frightening how fast time goes. ¬†But in terms of Christmas, we’ve just had the fortune to celebrate our second Christmas over in Canada – and we made a concerted effort to try to make the most of the break by doing new things and trying different activities.

My last blog mentioned the various shows and attractions we went to see with the kids just prior to Christmas (click here for a reminder). ¬†As soon as we’d recovered from the Christmas Day excesses, we hit the road, and travelled the 4hrs over to the Rocky Mountains and Banff. ¬†Edmonton isn’t renowned for its hills, so you can never take away the delight of seeing the Rockies slowly appearing on the horizon after 2 hours travelling, and the size and scale of the mountains covered in snow. ¬†Ironically, we left Edmonton in -20, and arrived in Banff at -5. ¬†The heady temperatures didn’t last for long and the cold flipped on its head and plummeted us back to the ever so familiar ‘minus double digits’ for the remainder of our stay. ¬†That’ll teach us for thinking it may be warmer further south!

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It’s always nice to have people visit, and extra special this year was my best friend from home who flew over from the UK along with all her family to spend New Year’s week together. ¬†We’re both of a similar mould, and making the most of a week together with family members whose ages ranged from 6 to 76 required a detailed plan and meticulous planning which we’d been developing for the last 2 months. ¬†One of the first activities all bar the seniors of our party were first to attempt, was skiing. ¬†We opted for a family lesson, and ended up with a tutor from Cardiff in good old Wales. ¬† I lived in Cardiff for a while years ago, and we happily compared notes and places as we traversed the mountains. ¬†It’s the first time I’ve been skiing in the mountains since doing it in Europe many moons ago, and you forget the staggering views and scenery at the top of the mountains, just after you disembark from the chair lifts. ¬†Trying to¬†concentrate on the terrain is hard work when your eyes are constantly drawn to such wonderful views – and the skiing itself is crisp, dry, and beautiful powder snow to ski on. ¬†We had a brilliant day.

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Another highlight and ‘must do’ in the Rockies is a trip to the hot springs. ¬†There are several different locations and last year, we visited the one just outside Jasper. ¬†Banff equally have hot springs, and the view across the mountains is amazing when you get there. ¬†There’s nothing quite like the experience of sitting in a blistering hot pool of 40C, whilst your shoulders and head are exposed to the outside elements of -25! ¬†It’s much more pleasant doing this in winter than it is in the summer I’ve found, and there’s also a comical element as your hair, eyebrows and eyelashes start to form ice crystals and freeze. ¬†It’s hilarious! ¬†The worse part, is the decision to come out of the pool and move indoors to get changed …… brrrrrrrr…………

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Next on the itinerary was ‘dogsledding’. ¬†It’s been on our bucket list of things to do in Canada and it didn’t disappoint. ¬†We opted for a firm just based outside Canmore – probably one of my most favourite places in the Rockies – who take you via minibus about 17km towards Spray Lake. ¬†There, you’re greeted by tour guides and 185 huskies who are all excited about being hooked up to sleds and going for a 10km run. ¬†The dogs howl and jump with excitement until the sleds are off and then within an instant, there’s complete silence as you move along the trail except for the patter of paws on the snow and the occasional encouraging command shouted by the guide.

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The sleds are surprisingly comfortable and the winter views of the lake and forest scenery, spectacular. ¬†We even had the rare pleasure of spotting a moose with her youngster moving through the trees – brilliant! ¬†Nature at it’s very best – and certainly puts life into context when you can be out and about just witnessing such majesty. ¬†Amazing.

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Spending time together, doing stuff together, sharing experiences together is what makes such things memorable. ¬†And it truly was. ¬†It was a great week spent with friends and family – and all the more important to us as they’d flown from the UK to spend it with us. ¬†We certainly had a few comic moments too – and we’ll be dining off and recounting these¬†for years to come! ¬†What a way to start 2016 ….

Happy New Year one and all ūüôā

Walking on sunshine (whoa …..)

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For those that know me, they’ll probably spit out their mouthful of tea into their Cheerios when I mention the words ‘exercise’ and ‘me’ in the same sentence. ¬†Yes, not naturally known for seeking out most forms of physical activity, it has come as somewhat of a surprise that over the last 2 weeks, I’ve subscribed to ‘Strava’ and have achieved more than 17 miles in recorded exercise this week alone. ¬†Bet you weren’t expecting that. ¬†And in all honesty, it’s come as a slight surprise to me too.

I did mention in last week’s blog, that since the kids are now in school for 7 whole hours every day, I’ve the opportunity to create my own routine and daily activities. ¬†Well, sometimes it’s the things around you that inspire you the most, and we’ve got the most amazing Autumn colours and weather going on at the moment – to such an extent, that I’m beginning to take up residence in the River Valley, and delighting in how many different scenic walks and views I can manage each day. ¬†On average, I’m managing around 4 ¬†miles each day and it’s taking me just over 1 hour to achieve. ¬†See what havoc I create when left to my own devices …

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Now, before we get too carried away – it’s only the end of week 2, and I wouldn’t say it’s formed part of a habit just yet. ¬†I’m also conscious that snow may only be just around the corner and when it does arrive, it’s here for a whopping 4 or 5 months at least. ¬†So, I’m taking the initiative, and spending time getting some brisk walking under my feet and revelling¬†in the stunning scenery that I’m not used to being so blessed with just on the doorstep. ¬†Literally, there’s no excuse, and it would be a travesty if I didn’t.

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So, back to Strava. ¬†It’s quite clever all this modern technology malarkey. ¬†I go into the ‘app’ on my phone when I start walking, and press ‘stop’ when I’ve finished – couldn’t be simpler! ¬†It maps my route, tells me how far I’ve walked, where I’ve been, and I can upload pics along the route too. ¬†The only thing it’s lacking is the ability¬†to provide a cup of tea at the end of my efforts ….. ¬†For some of my routes, it even compares me to others who have walked the same segment and gives me a ranking. ¬†I’d like to say I’m not competitive in the slightest and that this doesn’t interest me at all. ¬†But I’d be lying. ¬†It’s extremely addictive, and has me to the point of seeing if I can beat my average pace per mile each walk I do. ¬†I’m up to a ‘brisk’ walk – not just any old saunter or stroll, but a good walking pace – just short of those who do ‘race walking’ and waddle like constipated chickens. ¬†That’s a bit too advanced and certainly not for me. ¬†Chickens can rest easy in the knowledge that I’ll be stopping short of adopting that pose. ¬†I’d rather run – and that’s an insight into how mad things have become in such a short space of time. ¬†I know! ¬†I’m unrecognisable …….

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So how’s my body reacting to the onslaught of muscles being plied into action, I hear you ask? ¬†Well, last week I was walking like an 85 year old granny, but I’ve picked up since then and my body has readily acclimatised to the flexing of muscles. ¬†It’s been a shock to the system in the literal sense as well as the metaphoric. ¬†I’m finding the glass or two of red wine in an evening tends to balance things out quite well. ¬†Purely for medicinal reasons, you understand …..

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Not only that, I’m now travelling in my truck ;-), with a pair of headphones, walking shoes and water bottle at the ready – so I’ve absolutely no excuse why I can’t take a stroll whenever the urge strikes. ¬†This is a serious turn of events. ¬†I’ve also discovered that it’s a brilliant way of finally getting round to listening to all the albums and tracks I’ve downloaded in the last 11 years but never had time to really listen to (my oldest kid is nearly 12 …..). ¬†And I don’t mean just background noise and stuff – or having it on in the car with the kids interrupting proceedings and any form of concentration I can muster every 10 seconds. ¬†I mean – really listen to. ¬†When it’s playing directly into your ears, and you’ve got a fast pace going on, beautiful scenery with absolute peace, it certainly brings new meaning to living and loving life. ¬†ūüôā

And there are loads of people doing the same. ¬†The variety of people I pass on each and every route is astounding, and the numbers of people capturing some form of exercise is positively motivational. ¬†Everyone says ‘hello’ – it’s just like being back home in the North-West in terms of friendliness. ¬†IMG_4111I love that.

It’s much better than strangers just passing like ships in the night, with no acknowledgement or recognition of another human being. ¬†I can’t ignore people, and I’d need to be in a coma before I do.

So, I’m feeling all replenished, active and inspired. ¬†All the pics in this week’s blog I’ve taken along my walking routes so hope you get the bug and some form of inspiration from them too ….. ¬†ūüôā

You’ve gotta visit here …

Q: ¬†What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison?

A: ¬†You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo …..

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No, I haven’t lost the plot. ¬†It may be the last weekend of August and after nearly 2.5 months off school an element of hysteria has set in. ¬†I can safely say that everyone’s had a lovely break, but are now ready to return to their studies. ¬†Whilst we’ve still got over a week to go before this happens, I’ve been on the search for somewhere to visit as a day excursion – and get some of the kids’ surplus energy burnt off. ¬†I was instructed that this had to involve a picnic, an element of walking (albeit the kids plea was that this ‘wasn’t too much’), and¬†lots of animals to spot and seek out…

So, my chosen destination was Elk Island National Park. ¬†We’ve never ventured anywhere to the east of Edmonton, and this is just 35km outside the city, taking just under an hour door to door, to get there. ¬†It’s one of 43 national parks and park reserves in Canada and also Canada’s only fully fenced in national park, home to North America’s largest land mammal; the wood bison. ¬†In fact, the wood bison is on the threatened species list with numbers having diminished to extremely low levels, and the park has been one of the most influential organisations in re-establishing bison not only in Western Canada and the US, but has contributed to growing bison herds all over the world.
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The park was originally founded in 1906 as a wildlife refuge for the preservation of elk herds in the area, and since then, has grown to be a wildlife sanctuary for bison, moose, elk, white tail and mule deer, beaver, porcupine, Canadian lynx and other small animals. ¬†It is home and a migratory stopover to 250 species of birds, including pelicans, great blue herons, a large assortment of ducks, and birds of prey ‚Ķ bald eagles, great horned owls and osprey. ¬†After the African Serengeti, Elk Island has the 2nd highest population density of grazing animals in the world. ¬†Bet you didn’t know that!

Most of them however, were elusive in their absence today.  We toured the park, took the instructions from the park wardens on where to go to spot the herds, but alas, all we saw was one huge male bison having a relax in the sun (see above!).

That said, we did spot lots of beaver dams – minus the beavers themselves …..

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… and we also saw 5 pelicans – which we weren’t expecting so this was a bonus!

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The views across the lakes were fantastic, and at 75 square miles, the park has ample enough space to accommodate those that venture this way. ¬†It wasn’t busy in the slightest – but I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything in Canada which can be classed as ‘busy’ the way it is back home in the UK.

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Lots of different trails to explore, all of varying distances and across assorted terrains.  We took a 3.5km walk on the Beaver Trail which was through woodland and along tracks which saw us back at the truck in just under an hour.  We need to venture back, as there are longer treks Рsome 16.5km in length which will take you further into the park and present a much higher chance viewing animals and wildlife living there Рbut obviously, take a longer duration in time to complete.  The best time to visit being early in the morning or at dusk Рnot at mid-day when all my brood had eventually got themselves dressed, organised and finally ready to get out of the door!

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Most interesting, is that the park is also home to Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve – one of only 7 dark sky preserves in Canada, and dedicated to maintaining dark skies. ¬†In fact, The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada use the site to observe the night sky, and the public is also welcome to attend – as long as ‘night sky etiquette’ is strictly observed. ¬†I can just imagine trying to get my husband to abide by this – I’ll have more chance getting the kids to do as they’re told! ¬†That said, I’m frequently receiving nightly alerts informing me of the chances of seeing the ‘Northern Lights’ in the Edmonton area, so given the Dark Sky Preserve¬†is so close to us (in relative terms), we’ll go for a night viewing of the sky at some point and hopefully, spot in full colour, the Northern Lights. ¬†Let’s hope. ¬†I’ll let you know how we get on!

So, one week left before school resumes. ¬†The challenge is on for the final week. ¬†Start the stop-watch ¬†……

ūüôā

Just because it’s raining, doesn’t mean you can’t dance …

An obscure title for a blog, I know.  You’ll have to read on to appreciate the significance ….

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I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions the abundance of walking trails available to explore throughout the River Valley.  These are prolific and having so many on the doorstep means you’re always stuck for choice on where to explore next.  The River Valley cuts through Edmonton and can be accessed on either side of the North Saskatchewan River through 22 parks and over 150km of trails.  You may think that on a day (well, it’s been a full week in fact), where the weather has seen blue skies, sun, and temperatures in the late 20’s and early 30’s, setting out on a walk in the River Valley will have you exhausted and flagging before you exit the car park.  Not so.  In fact, it’s absolutely ideal as down on the valley floor and alongside the river, nature has created the perfect canopy of coverage and protection from the strong rays of the sun, leaving you cool and collected as you trample through the trails.

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We opted for a walk from Emily Murphy Park (named after a Canadian women’s rights activist who lived in Edmonton, and became the first female magistrate in Canada and the British Empire).  Whilst there are lots of routes to take, we opted to take one down through the trails and alongside the river towards the High Level Bridge.  It’s a case of ‘make it up as you go along’, but it’s not overly complicated if you’ve the nose of a bloodhound and remember to always keep the river to your left ūüôā  As the trails are used by both walkers and cyclists (cross-skiers in the Winter too, but luckily, we’ve a few months to go just yet), keep to the right hand side otherwise you’ll get mown down in the rush – they are certainly well-populated with people taking their daily exercise.  Not surprising too, as down in the shade it must be a good 10 degrees lower ….

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As you get closer to the High Level Bridge, it’s an impressive iron structure standing at 152 feet above the river and half a mile long.  Opened in 1913, it was the first bridge in Canada to carry four different modes of traffic – rail, streetcar, car and pedestrian.  The latter three are all still utilised, although the rail has a newer bridge now which runs alongside the High Level one.

IMG_3345I guess out of necessity, there’s also signs and an emergency telephone as you walk onto the bridge which quickly sober you up.  The kids hadn’t seen anything like this before and it needed somewhat of an explanation that lasted for the full duration of the walk across.  Still, creating distractions are my thing and getting the kids to look at the view, to notice the streetcar above us on the highest rails, and the noise of the cars driving past were all proffered up for their consideration.  The view on a day like today was truly stunning.

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In recent years, a ‘Light the Bridge’ initiative has seen 60,000 LED bulbs inserted into the bridge and every night it lights up in an array of different colours.  The colour schemes vary, and a schedule of each evening’s colours is circulated by the City of Edmonton at the start of each week.  This is based on requests made to symbolise different events which are going on in the city during that week.  The kids love driving over the bridge and seeing the different colours, which can also been seen from afar.  It’s beautiful.

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As you walk onto the pedestrian path across the bridge, there are some quotes which have been set into the concrete pavement and unless you passed on foot, you would miss them.  See what you make of this one which is just as you enter the bridge …..

‘I leave my past on one side, and start my future on the other’

I loved the whole idea of this and it made me smile.  Here’s another which also resonated …

‘Just because it’s raining, doesn’t mean you can’t dance’

Super, aren’t they?  Completely thought-provoking and inspirational.

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It’s been a great day.  We set out to enjoy the scenery, get some exercise, and spend time together as a family – that’s what weekends are for and we certainly achieved that.   What it also made me do was to reflect on the quotes above and our aspiration to make the most out of each day we spend, trying something new, and doing something fun.

I think we’re doing it.  There could be worse things in life than adopting such a philosophy I think.

ūüôā

Three cheers to the grandparents

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We’re nearing the end of the Canadian visits from the grandparents, and both sets have had a truly wonderful first-time experience of this vast country. ¬†Not only has it been lovely having familiar faces around – it’s amazing how much you miss not just being able to ‘pop round’ or arrange an impromptu weekend visit every now and then – but the seniors in the family and the youngest 3 members, have thoroughly enjoyed spending time together. ¬†Common factors are clear winners with both sets – demands for ice-cream, desserts, cakes and biscuits – I’ve had to be the umpire and affect some degree of sensibility otherwise the oldest and youngest generations would¬†be eating them continuously! ¬†Grandparents have clearly been leading the kids astray … ūüėČ

My in-laws are in their mid-80’s and had never envisaged a trip to Canada, believing that physical limitations and sheer old-age, preventative factors. ¬†However, following a series of prompts by us and eventually, just buying tickets with the dates for their travel, meant there was nothing for it, but for them to board the plane – and they arrived without incident and importantly, all completely intact.

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That was nearly 3 weeks ago and during this time we’ve seen an abundance of superb weather and also some excellent trips out – both near and far. ¬†It’s made us explore and find things to do that all parties enjoy, and for the last 3 weeks it’s been particularly challenging as accessibility with wheelchairs has had to be incorporated into the mix. ¬†I’ve had to balance limited physical abilities alongside the abundance of energy my 3 kids display and need to burn off on a daily basis.

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So, we’ve had some delightful trips. ¬†One was to the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton. ¬†It’s set in the River Valley just outside downtown Edmonton, and has 4 glass¬†pyramids. ¬†For those familiar with ‘Eden’ in the UK, it’s very similar but on a much smaller scale. ¬†That said, the Muttart Conservatory is an accredited museum and is home to one of Canada’s largest botanical collections.

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There are 3 biomes, each displaying a specific climate year-long. ¬†Temperate (very similar to the climate in Edmonton), Arid (desert and drought-like), and Tropical (humid and hot) each host an array of botanical delights that have their own appeal. ¬†The kids loved wandering around and looking at the different varieties. ¬†The fourth pyramid is entitled ‘Feature’ and provides a themed display which changes approximately 7 times a year. ¬†At the moment, it’s theme is ‘Journey to Middle Earth’, and along with a ‘hobbit’ home, wizard, dragon breathing out plumes of smoke through its nostrils, along with cascading waterfalls – it was truly amazing. ¬†There was a photo with both dragon and my mother-in-law that both myself and my father-in-law had a chuckle about as we both had the same caption in mind. ¬†Suffice to say, I’ve not included it here, I’ll leave it to your imagination – you’ve only got the painted dragon to feast your eyes on below. ¬†The latter pyramid was definitely the most striking of the four, but with wheelchair access available throughout the displays, it meant all members of our party could see everything and experience it together. ¬†Brilliant.

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Fort Edmonton was another day-trip affair. ¬†Edmonton’s heritage park takes you back to 4 eras. ¬†The original Fort built in Edmonton from 1846 signifying the fur-trade era is an impressive structure, and shows how tough it must have been to live and survive in such a harsh climate without the joys of central heating or warm clothing.

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A street depicting 1885, and the hardships the first settlers had to go through is full of original buildings from this time which have been re-sited and located in the park alongside each other. ¬†This is followed by a street from 1905 and Edmonton’s growing municipality, and then finally 1920 with ice-cream parlours, motor vehicles and movie-theatres. ¬†It’s brilliantly done, staff are dressed in clothing from their specific eras and take the form of residents in each of the communities.

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There’s a steam engine and street tram providing rides and assisting in the transportation across the park, plus a fair and midway – attraction park with carousel rides and other amusement delights from the early 1900’s. ¬†Well worth a visit – but leave yourselves a day for the privilege and don’t forget to pack a picnic ūüôā

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Further afield, and a trip to Western Canada isn’t complete without a visit to the mountains and the awe-inspiring Rockies. ¬†Jasper was as beautiful as ever – we’ve been there 3 times now in the last 12 months, and has become our favourite destination of choice. ¬†Lovely to see the mountains without snow for a change, whilst the most impressive view was when my oldest kid and I took a walk around Lac Beauvert at 6am in the morning. ¬†The sun casting red glows on the peaks of the mountains above and only the sound of the animals for company – staggeringly beautific and iconic.

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This was followed by a brief jaunt to Lake Louise, a mega tourist attraction, but when you arrive at the lake you completely understand exactly why. ¬†Nestled in between the mountains, the lake is the most gorgeous turquoise colour you can imagine, and it’s a view you can never tire off. ¬†The older generation were staggered by the breathtaking scenery and along with a car journey that takes you through the Icefields Parkway – one of the most scenic drives in Canada – were stuck for words. ¬†It even took their minds away from the lure of ice creams for a brief period!

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Back in Edmonton, we’re now taking things easy for the last few days of the grandparents stay with us and I’m sure it’s a trip they’ll never forget – for numerous reasons. ¬†More importantly, it’s given everyone a replenished sense of connection with one another, shared experiences, and unforgettable memories. ¬†It just goes to show, that no matter how old you are, you can experience things you never thought possible – and truly benefit from the process.

It’s going to be quiet next week …… !! ¬†ūüôā

Jurassic World – hunting for dinosaurs

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If you ever want to know anything about Dinosaurs and be astounded at artefacts which are millions of years old, you’ve got to take a trip to Drumheller in Alberta, Canada. ¬†It’s a small town, about 90 minutes to the north-east of Calgary and set in the most impressive scenery imaginable – the ‘Badlands’. ¬†To describe them as a mini-grand canyon wouldn’t be far from the truth and whilst it may take time and effort to get there, it’s a location that will reward you in astonishment and wonder.

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Once founded on coal, Drumheller’s main attraction these days is being home to one of the most pre-eminent dinosaur museums in the world – the Royal Tyrrell Museum. ¬†The museum continues¬†to discover amazing dinosaur fossils across¬†the province and attracts both tourists and palaeontologists from across the globe as a research centre and tourist site. ¬†The range of fossils and dino-skeletons which are on display throughout the huge presentation areas are simply astounding. ¬†Even if dinosaurs aren’t your thing, you can’t help but marvel at what has been discovered and is right there in front of your eyes.

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We’d been advised to book on one of the museum’s dinosaur digs which takes you into the fossil fields and just like any palaeontologist, you’re there on your hands and knees brushing the sand and stone in search of actual artefacts. ¬†It’s a great experience and not just a mimic of the real thing – this IS the real thing and you’re actually there, knelt on the fossil fields and potentially discovering the next big find …. talking of which, this pic below is the latest on display which was discovered only in 2005 …

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You won’t be surprised to learn that back in the main town of Drumheller, they welcome visitors with the ‘World’s Largest Dinosaur’ – I kid you not. ¬†Featuring in the Guinness Book of Records and standing 26m high, you can climb up the inside of a model T-Rex, and look out through its teeth at the surrounding view. ¬†It’s fun and wacky, and brings a smile to everyone’s faces. ¬†In the town, there are model dinosaurs everywhere so you certainly know you’re arrived in the right place!

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There’s a Dinosaur Trail Drive which takes you alongside and past the impressive canyons and Red Deer River. ¬†The canyons are spectacular and completely at odds with the almost totally flat landscape which surrounds then. ¬†You see the various stratas of rock layers which have been naturally formed over millions of years so any geologist will think they’ve gone to heaven and back just witnessing the view. ¬†For us mere mortals, all you can do is gaze in awe at such beauty that’s been created.

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Then, there’s the Hoodoos. ¬†Hoodoos take millions of years to form from¬†the effects of erosion caused by water, wind, and frost. ¬†They stand 5 to 7 metres tall and each one is a sandstone pillar resting on a thick base of shale that is capped by a large stone. ¬†The solid, strong capstones protect the softer, underlying base creating their unique mushroom-like shape. ¬†However, the hoodoos are eroding at a rate as rapid as one centimetre per year – quicker than virtually any other geological structure. The varied colour and texture of the rock, visible as horizontal banding on the hoodoos, is based on¬†the ancient environments of the inland sea and coastal swamps once present during the Cretaceous period – between 70 to 75 million years ago. ¬†It’s almost incomprehensible something that old! ¬†There again, they are in absolutely good company set alongside the dinosaurs and our visiting grandparents ūüôā

2015-06-27 14.32.45Another trip worth making whilst you’re there, is along Highway 10X from Rosedale – just outside of Drumheller – to a small hamlet of Wayne. ¬†Another one for the Guinness Book of Records, you can drive over¬†the most bridges (11 in total) across the shortest distance – 6km in total. ¬†Wayne itself, originally was home to over 2,400 people, but now has a mere 33 remaining living there. ¬†It’s fast approaching almost ghost-town status and has the ‘Last Chance Saloon’, built in 1913 and one of Alberta’s only operating cowboy relics.

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In terms of old ages past, it’s a trip full of history and relics –¬†and another item ticked off our bucket list¬†– and a ‘must-do’ for anyone visiting Alberta. ¬†Get it on your list!

Now, onto our next bucket item …. ¬†ūüôā

Bear spray at the ready …

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A trip to the Canadian Rockies is always a superb experience and a wonderfully scenic visit, but one of our favourite places to stop off at, is Canmore – just south of Banff. ¬†It’s an old mining town, nestled in between the mountains so you get 360 vistas all around – but without the touristy lure and trappings of Banff or Lake Louise. ¬†As a result, it’s much more authentic. ¬†The main street with shops are individualistic and it is riddled in character and a great atmosphere.

There are some lovely walks along the banks of the Bow River, but for our visit this weekend, we took a walk up to Grassi Lakes. ¬†Bears are still very active and the advice from the Information Centre is to ensure you¬†have some ‘bear spray’, as the berries are starting to come out and are a major attraction for our furry friends.

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Following a 90 second demonstration on what to do should we fall upon a grizzly and how to operate the canister ‘in-haste’ – plus signing a declaration that we wouldn’t use it for any other purpose – we were good to go. ¬†The resulting conversation from the 3 kids for the first 30 minutes into our walk, was a preoccupation into the detailed arrangements should we encounter a furry beast – not helped by suggestions of feeding the youngest as a sacrifice to it first, whilst the rest of us made off as fast as we could. ¬†The youngest was understandably perturbed by this proposal and it was¬†concluded that it isn’t the ability to outrun the grizzly we need to be concerned about – just to be able to outrun the slowest member of our party … let me introduce you to the grandparents who are currently visiting ….!! ¬†The youngest was decidedly comforted upon this news that she wouldn’t be bringing up the rear.

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Anyhow, this certainly took care of topics of debate during the amble, and created a distraction for the kids whilst they traipsed up the paths to an elevation of 1500 metres. ¬† There are 2 small lakes when you arrive – both a vibrant green and turquoise which makes the journey thoroughly worthwhile. ¬†You also get the view of the Bow River down in the valley overlooking the town of Canmore too. ¬†There’s a large waterfall to see and an opportunity to take lots of pics. ¬†It’s not a hard walk and reaps rewards for the small amount of effort required – it’s also extremely popular so get there early to benefit the most.

It was with slight disappointment we arrived back at the cars without an encounter or even glimpse of a grizzly – although if the bears had any sense, they’d wait till it was quieter in the evening to eat the produce in relative peace. ¬†Given my 3 kids, I wouldn’t have blamed them at all.

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For the humans, there are some culinary delights worth testing out whilst in Canmore. ¬†The Rocky Mountain Bagel Company, on the Main Street makes 12 different varieties of bagel each night and the sandwiches they produce are mouth-wateringly tasty. ¬†We tried the ‘Mountaineer’ – pastrami, cheese, salad, mustard and gherkins – which we had on a jalapeno-cheddar bagel. ¬†Truly delicious.

Further down the street is the pub, restaurant and shop of the ‘Grizzly Paw Brewing Company’. ¬†A local producer, they have a modern, purpose-built brewery just 2 miles down the road which offers tours and ‘tastings’ too of all their ales. ¬†Those who don’t necessarily want alcohol (?), can sample their sodas which the kids loved. ¬†Needless to say, beers (not bears) and sodas were procured and consumed that evening …

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There’s also one of the oldest buildings in Canmore to visit, built in 1893. ¬†Not old by European or UK standards, but significantly old in this area, and the original home of the Royal Mounted Canadian Police who were stationed in Canmore earlier last Century. ¬†Prior to this, were there any disturbances of any description, troops from Banff were called in and suffice to say, by the time they often arrived, the event had either culminated in disaster or has dissipated completely. ¬†Those were the days.

So, a good weekend was had by all and should you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, give Canmore a visit and let me know what you think. ¬†I suspect you won’t be disappointed. ¬†In the meantime, we’re into our final week of the school term and the prospect of hunting for dinosaurs looms ever closer (and this isn’t a sarcastic reference to my parents – honest!). ¬†More to follow ….

ūüôā

Stunning, stupendous and serene …. (and a bear!)

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Well, as weekends go, it’s up there as one of the most memorable and absolute best. ¬†It was Mother’s Day in Canada last weekend and feeling rather like the Queen, I decided to celebrate it twice (the UK had the pleasure of this event back in March). ¬†We also took¬†the rare opportunity to venture away for Mother’s Day weekend – where usually we have either or both of the grandparents round for a meal and celebrations. ¬†Obviously, a little more difficult given the distances between us, so this year we ventured further afield and thought about ticking off some more items from our bucket list.

I still can’t get over being able to travel to The Rockies from Edmonton. ¬†4 hours in the car, it’s practically on our doorstep – so a trip to Jasper it was. ¬†There’s not much that can go wrong for even those challenged with navigational abilities. ¬†It’s basically head West from Edmonton for 400km and you’re there. ¬†I’d like to say there are several road turns and a little bit of a dogs leg to manoeuvre – but I’d be wrong. ¬†It’s literally a straight road, head West and keep going for 4 hours. ¬†Simples ……

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In fairness, it’s not the most scenic either till you come through a small town called Hinton, about 3 hours into the trip. ¬†Just after the town, you get the first view of the mountains and they are remarkable. ¬†Being Spring, they are still snow-laden at the top whilst all the trees and valley floors have melted and are turning a vibrant green. ¬†The weather had clear blue skies and sun shining. ¬†Beautiful.

I was slightly concerned about the timing of the weekend away as last Wednesday saw continuous snow in Edmonton to a depth of 20cm. ¬†It was a bit of a surprise to be awoken to, but hey, guess that’s part of the joys of living in a Winter City! ¬†All gone – thank goodness – by the Friday, and even then, nothing stops here for the sake of a bit of snow. ¬†We’d never get anything done otherwise. ¬†Anyhow – back to the trip.

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A brilliant place to stop off at is Miette Hot Springs – about 40 mins before you get to Jasper. ¬†Miette Hot Springs, located in Alberta‚Äôs Jasper National Park, features the hottest mineral springs in the Canadian Rockies. ¬†Water flows from the mountain at 54¬įC (129¬įF) and is cooled (cooled!!! I tell you), to a comfortable 40¬įC (104¬įF). ¬†There are 4 pools – each of varying temperatures from hot, to very nice, slightly cool, and then absolutely freezing – containing the minerals sulphate, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, and sodium. ¬†It’s hilarious watching the kids jump into the coldest pool (none of the adults seem to be willing to attempt it), and seeing their faces and the speed with which they made a fast exit. ¬†It’s also all outside, so you get to wallow in the waters whilst admiring the views across the mountains. ¬†Bliss …….

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Jasper itself is a lovely town – and less riddled with tourists than the popular Banff and Lake Louise destinations which are another 3 hours due South away in the car. ¬†You get to spot lots of wildlife – who were out in force last weekend – as you travel along the National Park roads. ¬†Elk were in abundance, as were Mountain Big-Horn Sheep, and Black Bears! ¬†Just watch for the tail-lights of cars stopping up ahead and pull over – there’s usually something to see – and we managed a tally of 2 Black Bears during the weekend. ¬†Just don’t venture out of the car … fleeting observations of a wolf on 2 occasions, plus the obligatory Canadian geese, squirrels and birds. ¬†Only the Moose was more elusive and has yet to be spotted.

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Then there’s the scenery. ¬†It’s awe inspiring, majestic and breath taking. ¬†The lakes nestled into the valleys which are turquoise and crystal clear, reflect the snow-topped mountains and the silence is deafening. ¬†It’s one of the best places in the world to spend time. ¬†Instantly from reaching the edge of the National Park, you start to relax and savour the views. ¬†I tell you, I couldn’t help but reflect that being able to experience and see these wonders just within a weekend trip away – it’s not something most people have the chance to do, even for a holiday. ¬†Amazing. ¬†Warrington, England certainly can’t compete with this and even the Lake District (one of my favourite places to visit in the UK), is not remotely on the same scale.

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Sitting outside our room, watching the wildlife, looking at the beautiful lake set in the snow-topped mountains – and sipping a glass of Grand Cru Champagne (Mother’s Day gift from the kids). ¬†We sampled delicious food, (there’s also a superb bakery in Jasper itself which is worth a visit), and walked around Lac Beauvert which was stunning. ¬†Now, that’ll take some beating. ¬†If it’s not on your list of places to visit, put it on there now. ¬†ūüôā

Take me to the River

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It’s Spring in Edmonton – the sun is out, Canadian geese are arriving and the grass is returning to green – ¬†and we’ve been out exploring. ¬†In fairness, we’ve been exploring since we arrived but the snow does impose some limitations on our ability to go for long walks and take in the scenery. ¬†So we’ve been out investigating the delights of the Edmonton River Valley ….

Here’s a few facts for you. ¬†At 7,400 hectares, Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley is the largest stretch of urban parkland in North America. ¬†There are 22 major parks and over 150 kilometres of trails on which you can enjoy walks, bike rides, picnics, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and lots more. ¬†Built into the River Valley are major attractions like the Edmonton Valley Zoo,¬†Fort Edmonton Park, the¬†Muttart Conservatory and the¬†John Janzen Nature Centre. ¬†On top of that there are both public and private golf courses set into the River Valley, plus four downhill ski slopes – two of which are within the city and two immediately outside.

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It’s not called the River Valley for nothing. ¬†The North Saskatchewan River is a glacier-fed river that flows east from the Canadian Rockies to central Saskatchewan. ¬†It is 800 miles in length and winds in a northeastern direction through Edmonton. ¬†It originates 1,800 metres above sea level in the massive 325 sq. km Columbia Icefield in Banff National Park, before flowing across Alberta and Saskatchewan to Lake Winnipeg, into the Nelson River and eventually into the Hudson Bay. ¬†It also is accountable for supplying Edmonton and surrounding communities with drinking water. ¬†The banks of the river are wide, and the colour of the river a bluey-green which looks magnificent amongst the many coniferous trees, blue skies and bright sunshine.

Whilst it’s been picturesque in the snow, it’s only since the snow has finally departed and the temperatures have started¬†to warm up that we’ve started to explore this vast area.

The sheer scale of the paths and walkways is amazing, and there are access points where you can park up, hop out and start exploring throughout the whole River Valley system. ¬†It’s cleverly designed too – encouraging access through numerous paths that connect across the valley to other parks, walkways and bridges enabling you to criss-cross the river. ¬†There’s also a tonne of thought that’s gone into making it absolutely accessible to anyone, on any mode of designed transport, whether that’s 2 legs, 4 legs (usually the canine variety but not necessarily limited to…), horse trekking, mountain biking, segways (yes, I’ve seen a few of those around too), skateboards, and scooters. ¬†With 22 parks, there’s ample large green spaces which are dotted with picnic benches and barbecues – some of which were in active use with families and friends this weekend. ¬†The smell as you walk past was extremely appealing. ¬†One family group had also brought a bouncy castle with them, plugged it into a portable generator and the party for kids was well underway. ¬†Games of ’rounders’, baseball and football were in abundance, and yet, only a couple of paces away you’re back onto the single tracks and paths along the banks of the river and it goes quiet again.

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Dogs seem to be one of the most popular pets and owners are out en masse in all the parks – some of which are ‘off leash’ areas and the volumes of dogs running around and generally having a great time was superb to see. ¬†Although, at one point I did wonder whether we’d stumbled into a ‘Dog Owner’s Meet’ given the large numbers of canines in existence – but my kids thought it was superb and spent most of the time debating between themselves which types of dog they would prefer and what they would be called. ¬†It served a great purpose as a point of distraction from the usual grumblings of, ‘are we there yet’? ¬†I did remind them that the prospect of a dog in the household would probably be the final straw for my 20 year old cat (yep – she’s still here), which then triggered a whole barrage of sarcastic comments from my husband who has never been particularly keen on the feline variety and saw it as¬†a potential opportunity. ¬†Suffice to say, we won’t be looking at a canine for the foreseeable future …….

Edmonton has designed numerous ‘Community Walking Maps’ which are available online and cover most of the Edmonton area and River Valley separated into individual communities. ¬†Designed to encourage activity (something the Canadians absolutely excel at), each map has lots of different walking routes, things to see and what to do. ¬†Whilst you could be forgiven for thinking Edmonton a smaller city, the scale of the area and distances is deceptively large – and¬†with it the opportunities to do more things and experience additional¬†stuff, much greater.

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A bit like being in Northern England, everyone says hello and is extremely friendly. ¬†If you visit the most popular parks then you’ll see many more people – but this is still only a portion of the volume you would get compared to going for a walk in the UK. ¬†It’s not surprising to only meet one or two people when you’re out for a walk, such is the scale the River Valley area covers across Edmonton.

It’s a beautiful part of the world and we’re lucky to have the chance to experience it. ¬†Having something like this on your doorstep is a gift and¬†we’re planning to make the most of it. ¬†Now, where’s my canoe …

ūüôā

Bears, Beers and Broomsticks …

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My blog has been absent for over a week – and with good reason. ¬†We’ve been busy ticking off some of our items from our bucket list. ¬†Unlike the UK, the schools in Alberta don’t get many breaks during the school year longer than one or two days at any time, with the exception of Christmas and Easter where we get just over a week. ¬†It’s worth it in the longer run, as schools finish the third week of June and don’t go back until the second week of September, so it’s the equivalent of stacking all your presents up and having them in one long hit during the warmest and sunniest time of the year. ¬†So, Easter is the prime time¬†to take a short holiday – and we’ve been to Vancouver, one of the places on our bucket list to visit and explore.

I’m still amazed that being only in the next Province, it still takes just under 2 hours on a plane to reach – and with a complete change of landscape and climate too. ¬†Rather like the UK, Vancouver sees a lot of rain, and with a temperate climate, it’s very green. ¬†Having experienced snow, ice and a general ‘whiteness’ around everything for the last 5 months, the colours and wetter climate hit you as soon as you arrive. ¬†The landscape too is wonderfully scenic – with mountains, sea and what feels like a greater history in the architecture and buildings. ¬†It’s a lovely reminder of home.

Many would balk at the rain that was coming down like stair-rods on our arrival Рbut having not experienced rain for the last 6 months, it was a novelty and being from the north of England, a somewhat familiar experience.  Grab your raincoat and brolly, and just get on and ignore it Рwe had a great time.

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We spent the week gradually ticking off all the iconic stuff to do whilst in Vancouver. ¬†There’s a superb seawall – a walk and cycleway (we did both during the week) that’s approximately 9km and takes you around Stanley Park. ¬†It’s a public park just over 1000 acres, that is almost entirely surrounded by the waters of English Bay and Vancouver Harbour. ¬†We saw a sea otter, watched the huge tankers anchored up waiting for their cargoes to arrive, sampled the fresh fish in one of the eateries around the park, and explored the park. ¬†It’s also home to the Vancouver Aquarium which houses white beluga whales – which we’d never seen before. ¬†Another first. ¬†Very impressive and the range of sea-life and even a sloth (!) kept the kids entertained for a couple of hours.

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Downtown Vancouver looks out at the mountains to the North, and a trip across the harbour on the SeaBus and a local bus up towards Grouse Mountain is a must. ¬†On our way, we stopped off at Capilano Suspension Bridge. ¬†Built in 1889, it¬†stretches 450 feet (137m) across and 230 feet (70m) above Capilano River – and takes you into the West Coast rainforest, a natural temperate rainforest where some of the oldest Douglas Fir trees are more than 1300 years old. ¬†A treetop walk takes you 100ft up into the trees and allows you to see and experience the rainforest from a height – and with seven suspension bridges attached to the trees, it’s accessible to anyone and everyone. ¬†Well worth a trip.

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Further up the road, Grouse Mountain is over 4000 ft high and ascended¬†by either cablecar or by doing the famous ‘Grouse Grind’ – a 2.9km gruelling trail up the face of Grouse Mountain and commonly referred to as ‘mother nature’s stair-master’. ¬†With 2,830 steps and taking the average person approximately 90 minutes to complete, experienced climbers can do it in 45 – it’s not for the faint-hearted. ¬†Needless to say, we took the cablecar….

It’s well worth the view – overlooking Vancouver Harbour and beyond. ¬†We were also in luck as 2 grizzly bears had just come out of hibernation a few weeks earlier and we managed to tick these off our bucket list too!

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What was most enjoyable, was the vast range of artisan shops and crafts you can visit and wander around. ¬†Granville Island was our favourite, and also home to the Granville Island brewery (another item on our list), and Liberty Distillery. ¬†‘Taster menus’ offer selections of their nectars along with tasting notes which make for a truly pleasant experience. ¬†Authentic coffee bars were also sought out – and well worth the effort of the find, compared to the commonplace commercial coffee establishments familiar to all across the world. ¬†The coffees were equally a delight to sample and the range and complexity of different tastes just goes to show how much we get used to middle of the road multinational, mass-produced fare. ¬†Tasting original and unique food and drink was certainly a highlight.

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One of the most distinctive shops visited was a ‘Broom Shop’. ¬†I’ve never seen one. ¬†Ever. ¬†It’s run by 2 sisters who aim to make 25 brooms a day in their workshop which also serves as a retail outlet. ¬†The skill and beauty of what they do and make is amazing and the kids found it fascinating to watch them hone their skills. ¬†I couldn’t resist a purchase and despite ‘where’s your hat?’, ‘you forgot your cloak‘, ‘have you joined Harry Potter‘, ‘which one should we get for the mother-in-law?‘, comments being hurled in my direction –¬†I admit it was fair game – it’s a lovely reminder of such a great city.

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A wonderful week away. ¬†Next job¬†on the list is planning our adventure and travels over the Summer … with or without broom ….

ūüôā

Life is a roller coaster …

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At the end of my last blog, I mentioned a trip to Galaxyland …. the largest indoor amusement park (cue Jeremy Clarkson) … in the world (click here for the pre-amble). ¬†Situated within West Edmonton Mall (largest shopping mall in the world until 2004, and now only the largest in North America and 10th in the world), it has 24 rides and covers an area of 400,000 sq ft – all packed together under one roof. ¬†The one roof is pretty key, as when the temperature outside is a blistering -25, you seek the warmth indoors and being able to enjoy the rides without the fear of frostbite or ice freezing up the equipment. ¬†It is home to the world’s tallest (14 stories), and longest indoor roller coaster, the ‘Mindbender’. ¬†It is also home to the ‘Space Shot’, the world’s tallest indoor tower ride (12 stories high).

Now, just to put this whole mall into context, it also hosts the¬†‘World Waterpark’, the second largest indoor waterpark in the world and the world’s largest indoor wave pool. ¬†It has a full size ice skating rink, multiplex cinema, sea-life centre, Fantasyland Hotel, and by the way, over 800 stores. ¬†Receiving in excess of 32.2m visitors every year, you can safely say it’s huge.

You would also think it busy – and according to Edmontonians, it is. ¬†The Mall itself receives 32.2m visitors every year which isn’t a small number. ¬†But to someone who comes from the UK and upon any visit to an amusement park, whether in the UK or Florida, the meaning of ‘busy’ entails most of the day spent queuing for rides for the delight of a few moments experience – our trip to Galaxyland was positively quiet.

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This was brilliant, as we could get straight onto each ride without even a single queue – the most we spent was when it got truly busy in the mid-afternoon and delayed us by having to wait a whole 5 minutes. ¬†Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure if anyone else takes up the mantle and upon their visit is ¬†met by all 32m visitors arriving on the same day – please don’t blame me.

The kids loved it – and I’ve got to say, not being one for thrill rides as a rule, I quickly got into the swing and partook in all except the truly hair-raising and petrifying experiences. ¬†These, I left to my 11 year old kid who sprinted¬†onto both the ‘Mindbender’ and ‘Space Shot’ time and time again,¬†by herself.

For those with toddlers – this is equally catered for. ¬†I did think these would appeal to my youngest kid, who at 5 years old, hasn’t had that many experiences of large rides and I suspected would find the prospect of these pretty daunting. ¬†I was proved wrong, and she refused to entertain anything simplistic¬†– opting for the ‘Intermediate’ level rides and anything she was just about tall enough to gain entry on. ¬†It was hilarious, as her squeals of terror/laughter as they¬†careered through the park, made me and my other kids break out into fits of giggles too. ¬†Never quite knowing whether she truly enjoyed it or not, the test seemed to be at the end when the ride eventually stopped. ¬†If her immediate response was met by the shriek, ‘again’, back we went on the same ride.

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The one downside with it being indoors, is that you don’t necessarily get the scenic views like you would at the top of the Pepsi ‘Big One’ in Blackpool. ¬†That said, the number of rides which have been packed cleverly inside this cavernous space was brilliant. ¬†I was left marvelling at the science which must have gone into positioning each and every ride so they don’t hit one another!

Only the ‘Haunted House’ had the youngest screaming in terror – as mostly it was blood and gore, with motion sensors making the dummies move quickly upon entry to each room which made me jump at one point. ¬†For those wondering how I fared with my broken wrist – well, it’s now out of plaster and having physio treatment. ¬†I had to make sure it didn’t receive too much of a jolt on some of the rides, but¬†my daily exercise picking up a glass (or two) of red wine each night seems to be doing the trick ūüėČ

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Galaxyland is a great proposition. ¬†Where else do you get something that caters for everyone and all their tastes. ¬†Whether or not each family member takes to the rides, those that prefer the ‘retail’ experience can opt to hit the shops which are next door. ¬†The food eateries are too numerous to mention, and the range of food on offer equally so. ¬†Best of all, it’s only 15 minutes drive from our house so I’m guessing we may be visiting it on a regular basis.

‘Mindbender’ anyone …… ????

ūüôā

Age? It’s all in the mind …

Heritage. ¬†Whenever I hear the word, I have a preconception about what it includes and immediately assume it can’t possibly interest me as I’m too young and focused on looking forward into the future – not back at times once passed. ¬†However, I accept it’s purely a mindset and sometimes it can offer the stability and grounding that enables us to move forward and build on what we have today.

It was with this in mind that I gingerly entertained the prospect of visiting the Calgary Heritage Park with the kids. ¬†We’d received several prompts and recommendations to visit it – one from an extremely earnest chap fronting the Visitor Information Centre at the bottom of the Calgary Tower. ¬†He was so articulate about the features the Park contained – fabulous bakery, original steam train, Victorian fairground rides, that we were swayed by his enthusiasm and decided to pay it a visit. ¬†And were glad we did.

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It’s Canada‘s largest living history museum and covers Canadian history from 1860 through to the 1950’s, based just south-west of Calgary. ¬†Established in 1964, it’s currently celebrating it’s 50th year and whilst there’s an admission fee, all the fairground rides, train trips and journey on the steamer around the reservoir are completely free. ¬†Not only have they re-created a small village as it originally might have been, they’ve transported many of the historical buildings to the park and placed them on display. ¬†And not as ‘display cabinets’ with ‘do not touch’ signs dotted all around them as you may find in other countries. ¬†No, you’re invited to participate in the houses, they are fully functional with staff playing ‘acting’ roles as residents of the village and acting these out with aplomb. ¬†You genuinely do think you’ve been transported back in time.

Bakery

The bakery was truly fabulous. ¬†Staffed with bakers busily hand-making the produce to sell, we decided to choose a variety of baked goods – the cinnamon rolls were the best we’ve ever had, and the Canadian butter tarts (a speciality of Canada), were absolutely wonderful (to the extent that I’ve had to seek out a recipe online to try and replicate the tarts once we get home!).

At various intervals during the day, the ‘villagers’ act out a ruse and there’s an ongoing saga which continues for a few hours across different parts of the village. ¬†It’s good acting, as authentic as it can get, and the kids loved watching the antics. ¬†There’s an original newspaper press, with¬†two chaps demonstrating and printing an edition of the ‘village’ paper. ¬†Having to explain¬†to ‘kids’ how newspapers were produced compared to today’s modern equivalent is an insight in itself – how quickly technology has moved the newspaper industry forward. ¬†And yet, it’s great to see one in full working condition.

School

We moved onto the school which was complete in all furnishings and decorations. ¬†Blackboards with chalk – again, try explaining to the kids of today who are used to smart boards and IT graphics, how things used to be. ¬†Being British, I was amazed to see the Union Jack up in the classroom and pictures of Queen Anne – I hadn’t quite appreciated the extent to which Canada was a British Colony before it became independent. ¬†It was just like visiting a Victorian classroom in England.

Ice Cream

The kids had heard that there was the opportunity to make home made ice cream, so we made our way to the cottage where this was happening. ¬†I’m ashamed to say I’ve never made ice cream from scratch and watched as the kids all participated in putting the custard and cream in a central compartment, then filling this around the edges with ice and rock salt. ¬†It’s amazingly simple. ¬†They all took turns to churn the ice cream over the next 30 minutes, with their hard work being rewarded with being able to eat what they’d made once it was ready. ¬†Collectively deciding it was ‘the best ice cream they had ever eaten’ and after returning for several repeat scoops until it was finished, is something which has stayed in their memories ever since.

Steam train

We took a trip on the steam train which transports you¬†around the 127 acres, and with 3 stations, provides the opportunity to move quickly from one side of the park to another and see all the various exhibits. ¬†There was an old colonial house with a lady busily making a fruit pie inside with whom you could watch and talk, plus the village store which offers candy sticks and sweets for 50 cents. ¬†There was a saloon offering ales and beers, and we stumbled across a surveyors house with maps and equipment which they used to create the original maps and methods of navigating across the land. ¬†The ‘surveyor’ proudly announced that we were stood in the oldest building in the Heritage Park dating from 1870. ¬†I couldn’t help but smile, as it’s only on occasions like this that you realise how recent that actually is. ¬†In England, we’re so used to history dating back to well before the Roman times, that for something as recent as 1870, it’s classed as modern by our standards – my house in the UK is older than this! ¬†That said, the feats which have been achieved since this time in developing¬†the country are impressive and seeing this in a Heritage Park is a superb way to provide a focus on a country’s history and subsequent development.

Fairground¬†We saved the Victorian fairground till later in the day – as motivation for the kids as we made our way through the many interesting buildings and things to see. ¬†There’s a ferris wheel which provided much amusement, and an old ride very similar to the original ‘waltzer’ running on metal wheels, plus¬†a swing carousal which we all enjoyed. ¬†The best ride of all was a Victorian caterpillar ride which part way through, had a mechanical cover which covers the entire ride – rather like a caterpillar to those watching – but for those in it, means you are cascaded into darkness still moving up and down. ¬†The whole family loved it and with smiles all round, everyone declared it’s as good as the rides of today. ¬†You can forget all the latest gizmos and gadgets – this simplistic form of entertainment had us laughing out loud and having a great time.

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For any motoring buffs out there, there’s ‘gasoline alley’ which is an extensive collection of vintage automobiles in¬†pristine¬†condition – some of which you can sit in and experience ‘hands on’. ¬†There are old oil and gas pumps – you forget how colourful and attractive these were; and along with all the vintage signs and banners, it’s an uplifting and interesting place to see.

So, what did we think about the Heritage Park? ¬†If you’re ever in the vicinity, do check it out. ¬†It certainly made me forget the connotations the word ‘heritage’ usually conjures in my mind. ¬†Heritage is as simple as enjoying the journey from where something has come from, to where it is today – and providing the basis for where we go tomorrow.

Let’s relish it.

Calgary ….. it was a stampede

Calgary Tower

The skyline of Calgary has all the hallmarks of an American city looming into view. ¬†As you come in from the West, you pass the Calgary Olympic Park which was built for the 1988 Winter Olympics. ¬†It‚Äôs a huge site, with the iconic sky jump (where Eddie the Eagle made his name), bobsleigh runs, skeleton, smaller jumps and the luge. ¬†It’s a lasting legacy from the Olympics, aimed at every age and ability, but also a source of inspiration and challenge for those wishing to participate at future Olympic Games.

In the distance, you can just make out the Calgary Tower Рwhich held the burning flame at the top and could be seen across the city and beyond Рduring the 1988 Winter Olympics.  Through the centre of Calgary runs the Canadian Pacific Railway, along with the Bow River which almost divides the City in half.

First on our list was a trip up the Calgary Tower. ¬†At 1228m above sea level, it’s the highest 360 degree observation deck in the world, with a lift taking¬†you to the top in 62 seconds. ¬†Along with the latest technology gadget acting as your information guide in hand and through headphones, you can watch the screen as it maps your progress quickly up the tower.

Calgary    Calgary

At the top, it truly is impressive.  The Tower offers 360 degree views across the city and beyond, and you’re left to your own devices to listen to the guide, use the touchscreen pad, and just take in the sights.  For the brave ones, there’s a clear walkway where you can look straight down the side of the tower and down on to the streets below.  Pretty daunting, but an adrenaline hit all the same.

Calgary TowerFrom the Tower, we walked¬†northwards to the Bow River. ¬†As in Edmonton, the winters are cold and all the buildings and blocks are cleverly connected by ‚Äėpedways‚Äô on the second floor, which enable you to navigate your way across the city without ever venturing outside. ¬†Brilliant!

Older historical buildings from the late 19th Century upto the mid-1930’s are set alongside the modern skyscrapers of today.  In fact, when the original buildings were being constructed, there was a mandate to ensure all the stone used was from the local areas, so therefore, you’re left with buildings in a beautiful yellow sandstone colour nestled in amongst the modern skyscrapers of today.  It gives a wonderful contrast and historical feel to Downtown Calgary.

It’s more of a commercial and business centre than Edmonton, and you do feel a difference in the air between the two. ¬†However, typical of Canadian cities, there’s always parks and play areas for children and adults alike. ¬†The Prince’s Island Park – not named after a royal as you may think, but Peter Anthony Prince, who came to Calgary from Quebec ¬†in 1886. ¬†It’s a superb oasis, also¬†providing host to many of Calgary’s large events, and¬†is an excellent park and area of calm amidst Calgary Downtown.

Prince's Island Park, CalgaryIt would be remiss of me not to mention the shopping opportunities – research obviously I forced myself to undertake purely for the purposes of writing this blog. ¬†Let’s just say, for all female readers out there (and a select portion of men who enjoy the recreational elements of this too), you will not be disappointed. ¬†In fact, not only have they developed large seating areas (‘men waiting rooms’ for all intents and purposes I thought), they provide entertainment for the kids brought along too. ¬†Offering something for everyone and keeping people distracted, whilst those who enjoy the retail experience savour the delights of shop upon shop enticing you in – and doing an excellent job of separating you from your wallet! ¬†We stumbled upon this excellent playground on one of the higher floors of the shopping area which my kids thought totally fantastic – it was excellently maintained, popular with young visitors, and enabled the kids to let off steam and enjoy the ‘shopping’ experience! ¬†The Canadian approach to shopping and facilities for children especially, is something the UK could learn a lot from. ¬†I struggled to get them off it after 30 mins …

Calgary shopping mall play areaOne of Calgary’s most famous annual events is the ‘stampede’ which we had just missed – it’s held in July every year. ¬†Clearly popular, there is still all the signage and banners on display, and the number of ‘cowboy’ or ‘western outfitters’ which provide the full ‘gear’ was interesting to see. ¬†Just the smell of the leather as you pass the outlets was inviting in itself – and the range of clothes, boots, hats and accessories was staggering. ¬†For someone who knows nothing about this whole area (not much call for it in north-west England), it was a brief glance into another world.

Whilst we were there, Calgary – along with Vancouver and Toronto – has been voted as one of the best places to live in the world by The Economist. ¬†In fact, it comes in at number 5. ¬†It is delightful, and even as a tourist, it’s a lovely city to visit and enjoy. ¬†Whilst extremely glad we came, I personally prefer Edmonton, and am now looking to forward to returning back ‘up north’. ¬†Maybe it’s my inherent northern traits coming out …

Tourists, tourists, everywhere

Banff National Park I’ve mentioned in past blogs about the delights of travelling in Canada, the ability to enjoy the country and savour the surroundings without significant numbers of tourists and volumes of traffic.  There’s an imaginary line which starts at Lake Louise and follows the Trans-Canadian highway down to Banff Рboth beautiful places and the highway connecting the two has wonderful vistas, but it’s also the honeypot every tourist is seeking to taste.

The drive south of Lake Louise down to Banff is relatively short (by Canadian standards) Рand not deprived of scenic vistas and mountain views.  In fact, I thought the Banff National Park particularly stunning but for those wishing to savour the experience and the views with an element of authenticity, an out of season visit would be more fruitful.  Upon arrival in Banff, and as in Lake Louise, you’re surrounded by tourist coaches, cars and people whisking tourists and their cameras to their next destination stop.  It has character, but this is masked somewhat by the volumes of people equally wanting to sample some of the atmosphere and views.

We stopped and walked along the main street.  They have a great playground for kids which is just outside the Banff Information Office and museum Рa large granite stone which encourages children to climb and play on Рthe kids loved it.  I just felt it too touristy (sorry Banff), and was keen to continue our journey to Canmore which is only a further 20 minutes drive south.

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Canmore has the feel of a working Canadian town – almost the place where those working in Banff actually live and relax. ¬†There‚Äôs an excellent brewery – the Grizzly Paw Company – which brews it‚Äôs own beers and sodas in a beautiful wooden brewery just outside the main town centre. ¬†Definitely worth a visit – they offer ‚Äôtastings‚Äô of both beers and sodas, but after my youngest ‚Äėkid‚Äô asked for her fourth ‚Äôsample‚Äô of the grapefruit soda, we felt we were outstaying our welcome. ¬†(As an aside, they do tours around the brewery on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday – had we managed to coordinate our schedule, we‚Äôd have loved to participate in this). ¬†We had to be content with tasting some of the beer, buying a dozen bottles of both beers and sodas, and chalking this up as a ‚Äėmust visit again‚Äô when we move over to Canada properly.

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The town of Canmore has real character and a buzz about it. ¬†Each store is individual, distinctive and seems to epitomise Canadian living. ¬†We stumbled across ‚ÄôThe Banff Bagel Company‚Äô – a cafe which makes it‚Äôs own bagels and offers coffees in a variety of strengths and ¬†flavours. ¬†It‚Äôs homely and warm, and we ordered several bagel sandwiches which were ‚Äėto die for‚Äô. ¬†The pace is relaxed and unhurried, you really do feel as though you could stay in there all day. ¬†As for the bagels themselves, if I ever want a bagel sandwich in the future, each and every one will be measured by the superb taste and texture of the one I devoured here. ¬†We loved Canmore and felt it was a truer reflection of a town in the National Park, and one without significant numbers of tourists – although the irony that we are tourists too, isn‚Äôt lost on me!!!

Sad to leave, we progressed along the Trans-Canadian Highway to Calgary.  All in all, from Lake Louise to Calgary it takes approx 2 hours.  You exit the National Park and slowly the mountains get more distant, the land gradually flattens out as Calgary looms closer.

The city calls …

The path less travelled …

Lake Louise

When the scenery is so spectacular constantly, you start to get complacent about seeing ‘yet another stunning view’ of a turquoise coloured lake set amidst fabulous mountain views. ¬†Yet, that’s what you’re up against when travelling south on the Icefields Parkway and down to Lake Louise.

Despite all the hype, Lake Louise was smaller than I anticipated. ¬†It’s a small village and venturing further west, you finally reach the superb glacial lake named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta – the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria (bet you never knew that!). ¬†On arrival at the Lake from the road, and at the eastern end of the shore is the imposing¬†structure of¬†the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – one of Canada’s grand railway hotels and built by the Canadian Pacific Railway early in the 20th Century.

Fairmont Lake Louise

Clearly open to¬†tourists, hikers, general public access, as well as¬†hotel guests, it’s a small area attempting to accommodate huge numbers. ¬†In fact, the sheer number of coaches delivering coach load after coach load of visitors just to survey the surroundings was immense to the point of population overload. ¬†You can’t help but feel that Lake Louise has been too successful in gaining such a worldwide reputation that even in the heights of summer (goodness knows what the lure of winter skiing does to overall visitor numbers), but it does detract from the majesty of the place somewhat.

We took a walk along the shoreline from the hotel to just under the glacier, then started to climb up hill for a couple of kilometres. ¬†The tourist numbers rapidly fell away (once the ability to hold a cappuccino in hand whilst taking a shot on a camera proved too challenging with an uphill climb), and only then did you start to get a feel for the real beauty of the place, the quietness, and the fantastic views that can only be achieved with a degree of effort and steadfastness. ¬†Luckily all 3 ‘kids’ were adequately incentivised by the prospect of an ice cream and drink should they manage the ‘circular route’ – a route let me say, that for some bizarre reason was left with my husband reading the map. ¬†Not a normal feature as his navigational abilities are renown – but for completely the ¬†opposite reason! ¬†I’m still not sure what happened, but the 4.2km ‘circular tour’ turned into an 8.7km ‘hike’ – he denies all knowledge and blames the map – however,¬†we made it back to the lakeside where we started, somewhat shattered and with aching limbs and muscles, but all glad we’d made the climb and knowing we’d witnessed something of Lake Louise that the vast majority of transitory visitors fail to experience.

Lake Louise

In the winter, not only is there skiing, but the Canadian national cross-country skiing team train there. ¬†The Lake freezes and there’s the opportunity to skate on the Lake¬†which I bet is superb with the glacier above.

At dinner that evening, we sat next to an older couple from Texas who told us they were travelling from Houston¬†up to Alaska and then a bit of a round trip back down to Texas which would take them a month to complete. ¬†They’d never been to Alaska and that was reason enough to visit – but were stopping off at Lake Louise en route. ¬†They’d stayed nearby 20 years before but had always hankered after staying at the Fairmont – so 20 years later, their wishes came true. ¬†They¬†spent their dinner sat next to us and luckily it didn’t put them off and they offered us a stay in Texas if we ever find ourselves in the vicinity! ¬†That’s one thing to be said for everyone we’ve met whilst in Canada – they are the friendliest and most hospitable set of people I’ve ever come across anywhere else in the world. ¬†They take time to converse, offer advice and will go out of their way to assist – it’s a lesson we could all learn a lot from.

Moving south of Lake Louise, you get the views of Banff National Park (still no moose, bears or wolves), and finally stumble into Banff itself. ¬†The instalment continues …

Ice Station, No Zebra (or moose, or bear…..)

Up there on the tourist list of ‘must do’s’ is to drive along the Icefields Parkway – it starts just south of Jasper and takes you through Lake Louise and down to Banff. ¬†At 120 miles long and built during the Depression, it’s an impressive drive in all manners of the word – both size and scale – and one thing to note, always ‘plan for the unplanned’. ¬†You may think that the sat nav calculation of the time it’ll take you to travel from one vista to the next is broadly accurate, but you’ll need to at least double this as it won’t account for the numerous stops you’ll make in-between this just to ‘snap’ the view and take a few moments to savour the scenery and peace.

On route south from Jasper, you’ll come across the Athabasca Falls. ¬†It’s where the Saskatchewan River is forced through a narrow gap in the rocks and the thunder and pace of the water is ferocious, frightening and mesmerising. ¬†It’s only a few moments from the highway and well worth the detour ….

Athabasca Falls   Athabasca Falls

In fact, from the highway, you quickly get a view of the river once more as you pass the falls and you would never know such a falls exist. ¬†Just goes to show, it doesn’t take much just off the highway to see the miracles of nature….

Continuing southwards, the most notable (and busiest attraction by far) is the Athabasca Glacier and the visitor centre that is built directly opposite it. ¬†It’s the largest glacial expanse of snow south of the Arctic, and at the mountain peak, it’s suggested that the depth of the glacier is 100m deep. ¬†Worryingly, the glacier is decreasing in size each year – they suggest it loses 15m each year as the amount of the decline in the glacier is faster than the corresponding annual snowfall. ¬†There’s a marker of where the glacier was in 1843, and you can see how dramatic the decline has been since that date. ¬†You can’t help but think that the vehicles and tourists now visiting it on a daily basis especially during the summer months, is exacerbating this somewhat. ¬†That said, to take a trip on the snow mobiles onto the glacier itself, stand on it, see the height of the ice, the majesty of the glaciers and drink the freezing water, it’s a life experience in every sense of the word.

Athabasca Glacier      IMG_3698   Glacial Water

One of the newest features near the glacier is the Glacier Skywalk which only opened in May this year. ¬†It’s beautifully constructed, and apart from being 200m above the ravine walking along a see-through glass corridor that for those without any vertigo issues get a real buzz from. ¬†For those of us who have height ‘issues’, sheer terror, panic and a clinging to the rails around the edges seemed to be the common characteristic. ¬†I completely appreciated the brilliance of the architecture and the feat of man being able to construct something so ‘out there’ – I just wished the natural movement of the structure as you walk across it wasn’t as pronounced. ¬†That said, I made it to the other side completely intact albeit¬†with a higher heart rate, but to say we’d done it and seen the views from it, was superb. ¬†A must do.

Glacier Skywalk   Glacier Skywalk

The waters from the Icefield flow down the Snow Dome mountain and continue on until they reach 3 different oceans – the Pacific, the Arctic¬†and the Atlantic. ¬† Known as the hydrological apex of North America, Snow Dome Mountain is a triple-continental divide, and is part of the Great Divide – which divides water flow from east to west across North America. ¬†There’s only 2 places in the world where this happens.

All in all, a great drive with a jewel to look forward to at the end – Lake Louise.

More to come …

The heady delights of Jasper

old-Jasper-Nationa-Park-sign

After Edmonton, we traveled to Jasper for a few days. ¬†It’s a much longer journey than it looks on the map, and was our first sample of the size and scale of living in Canada. ¬†In fact, the first 2 hours of the trip was dual carriageway, with very little traffic whatsoever and vertically straight highways. ¬†It’s not often I’ve seen a sat nav saying turn left in 306km – and as you can see from the photo below, I’ve saved one of the more exciting shots to show you as we were just passing some ‘green space’!

Sat nav

The evergreen trees are broken up by golf courses – in fact, for any budding golfer and golfing fanatic, Canada is the place to come. ¬†I’ve never seen so many golf courses and it made me wonder how on earth they are commercially viable given the sparse numbers of the population and the vast numbers of courses available to ‘make a putt’.

That said, I’m not missing the bumper to bumper traffic of the UK at all. ¬†There are no tailbacks, no queues and even in the ‘busier’ areas, this is the equivalent of early Sunday morning traffic. ¬†In fact, one driver in Jasper was complaining about the difficulties of pulling out onto the local highway, and I’ve got to say, he’s never experienced ‘real’ traffic and congestion if that was anything to go by. ¬†I send all my sympathies to any Canadian brave enough to drive in the UK as it must be a huge culture shock and something that sends them dashing back to their homeland with relief afterwards.

The mountains and Rockies finally came into view and the vastness was extremely pronounced. ¬†We entered Jasper National Park – all vehicles have to display¬†a pass which is issued to them at the various entry points to the parks. ¬†There are bear signs and ‘watch out for moose’ signs – none of which we’ve had the delights of witnessing as yet.

Miette Hot SpringsBig Horned Sheep

We stopped off at Miette Hot Springs which are natural springs where the water (full of minerals) comes straight out of the ground at a blistering temperature of 52 degrees. ¬†This is then artificially cooled to 40 degrees and you can swim in the pool – or rather, bask in the pool as swimming is far too energetic in that kind of temperature. ¬†There are 3 other pools, all with varying temperatures – one at 35 degrees, then another 24 degrees until the final one is more of a ice water pool which is absolutely freezing! ¬†Good for the soul!!! ¬†That said, you’re sitting in mineral pools on the top of a mountain overlooking the Jasper National Park amid stunning scenery and enjoying the delights of the minerals on your skin. ¬†You can see why it’s popular! ¬†A lovely stopping off point – just don’t forget your costume and towel!!!

Jasper

The lakes around Jasper are absolutely amazing – I’ve never seen water that is so vibrant turquoise. ¬†They are clear and extremely inviting – especially on a warm summer’s day. ¬†The picture above is taken from the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge on the shores of Lac Beauvert which is beautiful at anytime of the day. ¬†Deer walk into the grounds in the evening and ground squirrels play in the woodland surrounding the shores of the lake. ¬†Simply stunning.

Pyramid Lake

 

Pyramid Lake was particularly delightful¬†and well worth a visit. ¬†We had a paddle and dip in the lake and as you can see, there’s almost no one else in sight. ¬†Hard to believe you’re in a prime tourist location – it was almost like having your own private lake!!

The Jasper Skytram is also worth a trip. ¬†Just outside Jasper, you take a cable car to the top of Whistler Mountain and for those feeling energetic, you can walk a further 45 minutes to the summit. ¬†It’s a walk well worth it as your efforts will be rewarded in abundance along the route from the views and panoramic vistas which surround you. ¬†We made it to the top (with 3 kids in tow), on a day which had blue skies, not a cloud in the sky, and complete visibility of Mount Robson, the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. ¬†We were informed that this is only clearly seen on approx 24 days each year – one of the very rare occasions when we’ve got our timing completely right!

Mount RobsonUnukchukWhistler Mountain

Take a trip – you won’t be disappointed.

Our next stop takes us from Jasper to Lake Louise … see you in a few days ūüôā

Edmonton – upon arrival …

 

Edmonton fountains

No one said an orientation visit would be a ‚Äėholiday‚Äô but we‚Äôve been hard at it for the last 5 days. ¬†Aside from our ‚Äėresearch‚Äô into the emergency Children‚Äôs Hospital (see last blog), we‚Äôve covered a lot of miles both on foot and in vehicle.
The city of Edmonton is beautiful – downtown is compact and everything is within easy walking distance. Whilst we‚Äôve been extremely lucky and have had blue skies and sun for the vast majority of the week – always over 22 degrees – there‚Äôs no doubt that the winter when it arrives is cold and long. ¬†There are ‚Äėpedways‚Äô linking all the areas downtown such that you never need to go outside and can easily walk from one area to another – essential in bad weather. ¬†The majority of car parking is underground and in various ‚Äėparkades‚Äô around the city. ¬†However, the best feature is the people who are extremely friendly, welcoming and above all, positively glowing about life in Edmonton and it being the best place on earth to live.

IMG_3323 IMG_3324 IMG_3331

We‚Äôve visited Old Strathcona, a beautiful part of the city where the Farmers Market which is held there every Saturday will be an absolute must. ¬†Full of freshly grown produce, home made relishes and jams, honey, fresh bread, cheeses and hand turned wood carvings – the list is endless – the atmosphere is one of fun and welcome. ¬†The main street ‚Äė Whyte Avenue‚Äô, is strewn with artisan shops and cafes. ¬†There‚Äôs a heritage trail you can walk around and the high level streetcar which operates on the original Calgary to Edmonton ‚Äėright of way‚Äô, passes many historic sites and is the highest streetcar bridge in Canada.

IMG_3372

There are fountains of water for paddling and splashing during the summer throughout the city, and these turn into ice skating rinks during the winter.  It truly is beautiful.
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By car (we hired a Grand Cherokee which is huge by UK standards), and navigated our way around all the main suburbs and regions of Edmonton.  We found areas where we’ll be targeting for houses to either rent or buy Рwe haven’t decided which yet Рand all have immediate access to woodland, parkland and leisure facilities.  We stumbled across some water parks which, given the fantastic weather, had children screaming in delight at the water jets and mini fountains they could play on.  We don’t have anything like this in the UK Рwell, not that’s free Рand these are dotted all across the city here.  We were staggered that there were no entry fees of any kind, and even on a busy day, they weren’t overcrowded.  Everything is highly maintained, attractive and fully functional.  It’s probably stuff that people in other countries don’t even consider, but it’s such a welcome feature after living in the UK all our lives that I can’t wait to embrace.  The kids can’t either!
BroccoliFood wise, there‚Äôs loads of supermarkets and the farmers markets which provide direct produce and all the required essentials. ¬†We even spotted ‚ÄėEnglish Mustard‚Äô, so the panic is over and we‚Äôve identified where we can source this from without importing direct from the UK! ¬†Like in America, there is an abundance of fast food, high sugar, high fat and massive quantities on offer. ¬†It‚Äôs hard to find healthy food quickly and in small portions – all the more difficult when we‚Äôre staying in hotels too. ¬†That said, we‚Äôve had some exceptional meals. ¬†The beef is superb – both in taste and texture. ¬†We‚Äôve had bison burgers – lean and mean. ¬†A chinese meal that was completely different to that offered in the UK – but the best I‚Äôve ever eaten. ¬†The flavour and range on offer for the main dishes was staggering and all the ‚Äėkids‚Äô declared this the best meal of the trip so far. ¬†The restaurant was in an unassuming building a few blocks away from where we‚Äôre staying, and not somewhere you would naturally think of venturing into. ¬†However, once through the door, it is a cavernous building decked in all manner of chinese adornment, and to add more spice, it turns out that the chinese ‚Äėhosts‚Äô have their own reality programme on Canadian TV which has won various awards – no wonder it was busy! ¬†Worth the experience certainly!

So, a superb 5 days and we all feel ready to embrace the Canadian life in Edmonton.  Off to Jasper and the mountains tomorrow so we’re looking forward to seeing some hills, some snow and wild animals.

Better get the jumpers ready …

Day 1 orientation : a slight change to the agreed schedule …

Yes, we did have a plan for our first day orientation in Edmonton. ¬†Honest. ¬†Let’s just say events took a slightly different turn just after we awoke and we had to hastily reschedule our original plans. ¬†But looking on the positive side, it was a useful experience going through emergency A&E at the Children’s Hospital in Edmonton.

Dudley B. Menzies Bridge (LRT and pedestrian b...

Dudley B. Menzies Bridge (LRT and pedestrian bridge) over North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not only did we get to try out the ‘LRT” – local rail transit from the city centre out to the hospital (it’s a direct link you’ll be relieved to hear), and the whole process of buying tickets, working out which direction to travel and navigating our way to the right transit stop was remarkably simple. ¬†Not only that, I couldn’t get over not having to stand in a train carriage sniffing someone’s else’s armpit and hoping there was enough oxygen to last until the train opened it’s doors at the next stop. ¬†London Underground it is not. ¬†Thank goodness. ¬†In fact, it was almost akin to travelling late-morning on a rural train in the UK. ¬†Wonderfully free of vast numbers of passengers, searing heat and stress. A pleasurably experience and one I now have complete confidence to do alone in the future.

Anyway, I digress….

The Children’s Hospital is directly opposite one of the train stops on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River. ¬†A beautiful modern building, extremely welcoming and with excellent signage. ¬†Getting ourselves and the ‘kids’ to the admissions area was a doddle and upon arrival, we were welcomed by a triage nurse who had both the ‘kids’ requiring medical assistance on the weighing scales, blood pressure checked and immediately assessed. ¬†Not only that, they both received wristbands (complete with a tinker bell fairy – much to their delight) and quickly ran off to play on the touchscreen games and entertainment systems that were in the waiting room for their amusement. ¬†With only 1 other family also awaiting assistance, it is a million miles away from my own experience of the NHS in England every time I’ve ever visited. ¬†This was a case study example of how emergency admissions should operate (for those who are seasoned readers of my blog, you’ll detect a slight trend towards emergency services of late – click here for past blog!). ¬† I do assure you we are not particularly accident prone, but I accept there has been a tendency to navigate towards this characteristic, especially where my ‘middle kid’ is concerned. ¬† She didn’t let me down on this occasion either as being one of the 2 directly concerned.

911In the UK, we’ve had to wait at least 1 hour before meeting a medical professional – and that’s when there hasn’t been a myriad of similar patients awaiting for similar assessments in crowded and underfunded services. ¬†The NHS is a brilliant service in the UK. ¬†But overworked staff, underfunded services and a drive to keep costs as low as possible, often compromise the quality and efficiency of how people are treated.

Back to Edmonton. ¬† The fact that not only we were ‘out of area’ but ‘out of country’, this didn’t upset the system at all and within only 5 minutes of waiting, we were called to admissions to go through to a medical room to await the doctor. ¬†Much to the disappointment of all the ‘kids’ who were clearly about the relish the prospect of whiling away some time on the excellent touch screens and entertainment on offer. ¬†This wasn’t to be – and all I can hope is that this isn’t kept as a dormant desire (particularly in kid number 2), who’ll have us visiting there as soon as we arrive back to live!

A doctor arrived with due haste announcing there was a ‘2 for 1’ package deal on diagnoses today and it seemed on paper that we were vying for this offer. ¬†After a further physical assessment of both kids, a diagnosis was pronounced. ¬†An additional senior medical professional arrived to also confirm the findings and prescriptions were presented. ¬†We were informed that they’d only seen 2 or 3 similar cases of this in the last 3 years so it was a rare occurrence and something that needed antibiotics for treatment and would only get worse if left. ¬†Both clinicians had learnt a lot from seeing it in practice and thanked us for coming in. ¬†Ice lollies were then issued (obligatory I believe), and smiles all round as we went on our way and medications were dispatched and applied.

So, Day 1 Orientation. ¬†We not only got to see where the emergency children’s hospital was, but witnessed first hand how it works, what to do, where to go, who to see. ¬†Our experience was positive, efficient and effective – and above all, friendly and professional. ¬†You can’t ask for more.

Would we go again? ¬†In the nicest sense of the word, let’s hope circumstances don’t require it. ¬†However, I wouldn’t be phased by going through the same thing again should we need to.

Lets hope ‘kid number 2’ hasn’t got alternative ideas ….

First impressions count

Canada flag

First impressions count for a lot. They form an instant view and opinion about a place, a person, an activity, a thought process. Arriving in a new place for the first time and knowing that this is where we’ll be living when we relocate, adds an extra dimension to those ‘first impressions’.

How would I describe the first view of Canada during our drive from the airport into the city of Edmonton?

Р Green.
Р Flat.
Р Vibrant.
Р Spaciously huge.

On the drive into Edmonton from the airport, it’s extremely flat. And I mean – flat. Noticeably so. Especially when you’re someone like me who was brought up surrounded by the northern hills of England and where even moving to Cheshire which has a reputation for being on the ‘plains’ – was considered with a degree of hesitation due to it‚Äôs flatness! ¬†But even in Cheshire there are ups and downs.

Well, in Edmonton there is no other word to describe the terrain as being anything other than ‘flat‚Äô. Immensely so. They don’t describe it as being on the ‘plains’ lightly. It’s only when you approach the hugely wide Saskatchewan river does the terrain start to incline and not until¬†you are virtually on top of ‘downtown’ Edmonton, do you see a slight ‚Äėhill’ into the city centre. ¬†It’s beautiful and the city skyline with it’s few skyscrapers stands out on the horizon looking impressive. ¬†Whilst the vast majority of buildings are ‚Äėnew‚Äô compared to English standards, there is a wonderful selection of hugely modern skyscrapers with their mirrored glass windows, pyramid designs, coupled with beautiful architectural buildings which clearly have strong historical links to the past and how the city has developed.

From top left: Downtown Edmonton, Fort Edmonto...

From top left: Downtown Edmonton, Fort Edmonton Park, Legislature Building, Law Courts, Rexall Place, High Level Bridge, Muttart Conservatory (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And it’s green. ¬†The amount of parkland, trees, leisure areas, grass and space to explore is amazing. The sheer number of play opportunities, playgrounds, climbing frames meant we had to resist the temptation offered every few minutes from stopping the car and allowing the kids to explore and play otherwise we wouldn’t get any orientation done! ¬†Suffice to say, the kids are overwhelmed with the number of play areas and leisure activities and can‚Äôt wait to start sampling the delights! ¬†The range of trees – and especially conifers and spruces, was delightful – I can just imagine what it must look like in the wintertime, and can’t wait to see the difference just a few months from now will make.

It’s vibrant, with lots going on Рcertainly in the city Рand the colours and signs just remind me of our trips to America.  Just about to start in the next few days is the Edmonton Fringe Festival, which is compared to that held in August each year in Edinburgh.  Arts and cultural events and activities feature significantly and we should be in the ideal position to sample some of the offerings and delights.

Finally, it‚Äôs spacious – in all manners of the word. ¬†Even at ‚Äėrush hour‚Äô, it doesn‚Äôt equate in any shape and form to the miles upon miles of standing traffic we‚Äôre used to in England, and even the busiest volume of traffic on the roads is more akin to early morning (and I mean between the hours of 2 – 5am) in the UK. ¬†I‚Äôm going to love this! ¬†Getting around is so accessible and easy. ¬†The grid system has everything on a ‘streets and avenue‚Äô system so it‚Äôs quick to navigate and circumvent around the city and surrounding areas. Then there’s the food with huge portions across such a vast range of culinary delights. ¬†I’m going to need to create ‘space’ to be able to do all the food justice!

4 instant impressions of Canada within the first 24 hours.

Here‚Äôs to the next 14 days ‚Ķ. ūüôā

Best places to live in Canada? Big isn’t always best …

 

Official logo of St. Albert

Official logo of St. Albert

Given the size and epic scale of Canada, you’d think there would be a natural gravitation towards larger cities as being the better places to live. ¬†Whilst Calgary certainly factors up there in number 2 spot for 2014 (Moneysense 2014 survey of best places to live), a much smaller town appears in the number 1 position – St Albert.

Luckily for me, it’s a small ‘town’ to the north-west of Edmonton in the state of Alberta. ¬†It’s a small community with a population of 64,000, unemployment is low, incomes are amongst the highest in Canada, crime rates are low, and whilst the winter is extremely cold and long, it’s sunny all year round. ¬†20 minutes drive from Edmonton (who, incidentally, was placed 8th overall, 3rd¬†best largest city to live in after Calgary and Ottawa), St Albert has an abundance of open spaces, active areas for sports of all types, and for those with ‘kids’ it seems to tick all the boxes, and is a parents’ dream.

St Albert Clocktower Downtown. Originally post...

St Albert Clocktower Downtown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

St Albert has been mentioned to me by many people as ‘the’ place to live when we relocate. ¬†My husband visited it for the first time¬†last week and (as instructed), came home at the weekend weighed down with maps, leaflets, newspapers and general ‘bumf’ about things to do, places to stay, where to eat, schools to attend. ¬†In fact, the most noticeable feature when you look at the street map, is the amount of play areas, parks, woodlands and sporting facilities there are available. ¬†He described walking around almost every corner to be greeted by another ‘park’ with climbing frames to die for – in fact, based on my middle ‘kids’ recent exploits and ability to fracture her wrist from some monkey bars (see previous blog), she’d be able to break almost every bone in her body each week for a year from what he saw in the play areas and the range of stuff to climb and generally have fun on. ¬†(Better make sure the medical cover is up to date ūüôā )

 

As in the UK, the weather was hot last week in St Albert, with paddling pools in abundance and fountains spraying water over pre-school children who were clearly in their element.  These turn to ice rinks during the winter months when the snow arrives.  There are basketball courts, rugby fields, soccer fields, tennis courts, athletic tracks, cross-country skiing facilities, BMX parks, canoeing, water parks and of course, swimming pools.  Ice hockey pitches, fishing, golfing and nature trails also appear.  And all this, in an area with a population size of 64,000.

St Albert Playground

64,000 people doesn’t sound a lot, and when I look at places I’m familiar with in the North-West of England, it’s equivalent to the population of Bury, a town just north of Manchester (yes, the one with the 2 football teams), and the place I was born and brought up in. ¬†I can probably recollect a few of the facilities in the list above being available, but certainly nothing the size and scale of leisure and active sports Canada seems to offer.

On the accommodation front, I hear it’s a busy market with properties not appearing and staying long on the open market before being snapped up. ¬†Not surprisingly, if the range of facilities is anything to go by, the sheer number of schools built to educate the youngsters, and the promotional material advertising it’s place in the top spot, it sounds like a prime location and let’s just hope we manage to secure even a tiny spot for the 5 of us.

I’m sure there’s a little space …

Predictable unpredictability

As part of my prep for moving to Canada, I was reading about the different seasons experienced during each year. Canada has 4 distinct seasons ‚Äď spring, summer, autumn and winter. We‚Äôre moving to Calgary where I‚Äôm informed the weather is quite¬†unusual compared to the weather for the rest of Canada.

For example, where Eastern Canada and British Columbia are quite humid, with ample rain and snow, Calgary is very dry most of the time, with an average annual precipitation of 41 cm (16 inches). While many Canadian homes have de-humidifiers, most Calgary homes have humidifiers. I love this extreme!

The months which have the most rain are May, June and July. On the plus side, Calgary is also very sunny. I was intrigued to read that the summer months see on average 9 hours of ‚Äėbright‚Äô sunshine every day ‚Äď because of Calgary’s latitude and extra-long summer days. What‚Äôs not to like about that?

Another unique aspect of Calgary weather is the ‚ÄėChinook‚Äô – a warm wind from the west which can make a significant difference to temperatures even on a daily basis. Given the close proximity to the Rocky Mountains, the days in summer can be very warm (23 C in July) but cool off very quickly in the evening. Both Spring and Autumn are described as ‚Äėunstable‚Äô ‚Äď snow can sometimes fall as early as September and sometimes as late as May.

 Dark clouds

Talking of ‚Äėunusual‚Äô, compare this to England ‚Äď a place I‚Äôve lived all my life. We certainly have 4 distinct seasons, but the weather is at best, unpredictable ‚Äď and that‚Äôs being kind. It does rain a lot ‚Äď but never at one particular time of the year. Indeed, it can rain at any time, in any place, on any day ‚Äď often, without any warning whatsoever!

Frequently, you may wake to find beautiful sunshine, which will be quickly masked by clouds, some rain, a handful of hail and blustery wind ‚Äď all on the same day, and not necessarily in the same order! In fact, even the UK Met Office get some grief for quite often failing to predict what‚Äôs going to happen. We tend to work on probabilities instead ….. that, and a touch of luck!

It certainly makes for an interesting conundrum just working out what to wear and take with you (just in case!) each day. I‚Äôve frequently sent the kids to school on a warm and sunny day, suncream plastered on their faces and yet by mid afternoon, when school finishes and parents are waiting to collect their offsprings in the school playground, we‚Äôre hit by torrential rain and freezing cold winds. It makes for an interesting challenge at least and after a while, you just have to grin and bear it. The only predictable thing with British weather is it‚Äôs unpredictability ūüôā

It may sound extreme, but we don’t experience massive swings in temperature during each part of the year ‚Äď we‚Äôre consistent from that perspective at least. In fact, as I write this blog, the UK is on course for one of the warmest Springs since records began ‚Äď averaging a balmy 8.97 C between March & May this year. We‚Äôre also on track for one of the hottest summers ‚Äď so the experts reckon! ¬†As an example of how quickly things change in a day, the UK Met Office has just issued severe weather warnings just to keep us on our toes tomorrow and avoid any degree of complacency. ¬†Maybe I’ll keep the suncream at the back of the cupboard and opt for the brolly and mac instead.

 

For me, I‚Äôll be watching with interest from afar as our plans to relocate will be during this Summer ‚Äď at least that‚Äôs something I can definitely predict with certainty.

 

Canada vs England

No, before you mention it ‚Äď it‚Äôs not a match as part of the impending ‚ÄėWorld Cup‚Äô, although it did get me thinking about the strengths, weaknesses, amazing facts, historical significance and physical makeup of both countries.

Canada flagUK flag

Similarities:

  • both speak English (I know Canada is ¬ľ French before anyone wishes to correct me)
  • both have Queen Elizabeth II as their sovereign
  • major religion, Christianity
  • good life expectancy: 80 yrs men and 84 yrs women (Canada) and in the UK, 79 yrs men and 82 yrs women

 

English, or is it?

It‚Äôs interesting when you then compare this to northern England where yes, we speak English ‚Äď but there are so many different accents within small districts you almost think you‚Äôve crossed an imaginary border. My husband constantly ridicules me by saying that yes, the Canadians speak English, but they probably won‚Äôt understand a word of my Lancastrian accent. Oh well‚Ķ‚Ķ I‚Äôll let you know.

 

Physical size:

  • Canada: 9.9 million sq km, the UK: 241,590 sq km.
  • The population of Canada is 34.7m; in the UK it‚Äôs 60m.

Did you know that Canada is 38 times bigger than the UK but has a population density 71 times less than UK. Put simply, living in the UK means there’s a lot of people and not much space.

Hard to imagine, but the population density in the UK is 249 people per sq km. Compare this to Canada which is 3.5! My goodness, we’ll have so much space we won’t know what to do with ourselves!  It seems hard to imagine a country of that scale compared to the UK.  In Alberta alone, the province is the same land area as the state of Texas!

 

Travel time:

Canada is the second largest country in the world, divided into 14 provinces, covering 5¬Ĺ time zones ‚Äď it takes 5¬Ĺ hrs to fly from one side of the country to the other.

In the UK, given the state of the roads and volume of traffic, it takes about that time to drive from the north-west of England down to the south-east coast. On a bad day, you’ll be lucky to get from Manchester to Birmingham on the M6 in that time. These things I’m not going to miss.

 

Let‚Äôs bring this back to the sporting theme. The national sports in Canada are Ice Hockey & Lacrosse. In England, it’s football and cricket. ¬†So, with the World Cup looming ever closer, England are playing, Canada are not. ¬†It‚Äôs our national sport after all. ¬†Given the facts above, we should have plenty of professional sportspeople to choose from and thereby stand¬†a good chance of doing well.

Let’s wait and see!