For research purposes only, you understand ….

wine

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 …. 🙂

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 …..  🙂

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’s Jasper National Park, features the hottest mineral springs in the Canadian Rockies.  Water flows from the mountain at 54°C (129°F) and is cooled (cooled!!! I tell you), to a comfortable 40°C (104°F).  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.  🙂

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.

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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

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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 🙂