Canada. What a Country. PT 1

We got back from a two week trip to Canada yesterday afternoon. Boooo! After been up for 30 hours straight, despite a long, deep sleep last night we’re still on Canada time (-7 hrs) so the bitch that is jet lag is lingering a bit today and I was at work all day too!

You’d be bored with a day-by-day, hour by hour account of where we went and what we saw there so here is a brief(ish) overview to chew on. If you are an active person that loves great scenery, the outdoors and wildlife, Canada should definitely be your next holiday. Speak to Sally but more on that later.

We first went to Canada in 2019 for two weeks and packed a lot in. Distance, places, scenery, maybe too much in hindsight but we were blown away by it. I think you can fit the entire UK into the Alberta province alone. It’s a mind-bogglingly big country and is why a 3-4 hr drive to them is ‘…just down the road’. Mental.

Alberta is BIG, Canada is MASSIVE

Last time, we managed to get to Vancouver (west coast next to USA border) via Whistler and Victoria, Vancouver Island, which was fantastic but a lot of mileage through British Columbia (the province to the left of Alberta on the map). We fell in love with the place and promised ourselves we would go back but the COVID-19 pandemic obviously killed a couple of years of travel off. We finally booked to go again last year. A year seems a long time to wait but it seemed to come around really quickly and before we knew it two weeks ago we were packing then up in the air flying eight hours to Calgary again.

The Plan
This time we decided to dial-down the travel within the country a bit, see some new places, revisit some favourites and stay with some friends too who we met last time. So here was the basic itinerary. I say we, but Sally effectively built the holiday from scratch, researched the hotels, the excursions and trips for us. It’s what she does. It’s her job. She loves the planning. I don’t. Can’t be arsed to be honest, I just want to pay my way and turn up because wherever you go or what you do in Canada it’s going to be a wow!

  • Drive to Heathrow, stay overnight
  • Fly to Calgary, pick up a car for the trip
  • Stay with friends in Okotoks, south of Calgary (3 nights)
  • Drive north to Edmonton (2 nights)
  • Drive east to Jasper (3 nights)
  • Drive south to Lake Louise (1 night)
  • Drive south to Banff via the Icefields Parkway (3 nights)
  • Drive south, back to friends (2 nights)
  • Fly home

The Holiday
First up was a B&B for the night next to Heathrow Airport. Sally found a place that we could leave the car for two weeks and it was cheaper than (trade-price) airport parking. Sounds good right? The compromise were planes taking off what felt and sounded like the end of the street lol. They did stop late at night and it was fine with the windows closed but the best part was the free airport drop off and pick up. Nice find Sally.

very close and very loud

Heathrow Airport was fine. Despite horror stories of queues and cancelled flights, we literally floated through. Check-in to departures via security in less than 30 minutes. We had booked an airport lounge too. TIP: If you can’t afford first or business class flights (we definitely can’t) an airport lounge is pound-for-pound the next best thing for me. Drinks, food, comfortable seats. A bit of posh and a treat before you even leave the country

The flight to Calgary was on a 787 Dreamliner with Air Canada. A beast, busy and the most tech on a plane I’ve ever seen. Passengers get their own entertainment centre where you can watch movies, listen to music, play games or view your flight progress on a global map in various ways. Really cool but the best feature were the dimmable windows. No sliding cover, a button you pressed and it dimmed it so you could still see out without the glare. Very clever. The shit bit was mandatory face masks. Not a fan.

free ear pods provided + integrated USB charging port

We landed in bright, warm sunshine 7 hours behind the UK. We had effectively gained half a day. Actual flight time was 8 hrs but we were only a couple of hours later than when we left which is always a weird feeling.

We picked up a car. A nice and simple transaction at the airport then we were off driving on the wrong side of the road in late-afternoon traffic on the Highway south to our friends’ house in Okotoks. Drive time 35 mins. Everything transport is big. Cars, roads, intersections. All concrete, all massive with an unhealthy amount of giant pickup trucks. The Dodge RAM and Ford F-150 type. But when you see what they have to tow, how far and how bad their winter’s are, you kind of understand why. Driving standards are shit though like the UK

a very popular vehicle in Canada

Our friends are english and emigrated over a decade ago. They live in a typical Okotoks, Canadian detached, family home (more massiveness!). Like most North American homes, made of wood, then clad with a double garage and basement. Cool as fuck to be honest. Half the house is a self-contained man cave. The rest is my ideal home, open plan setup, big lounge, big kitchen, big telly. Just big, big, big and ace.

We rocked up late PM and were treated to an impromptu BBQ + beers on a very warm evening. Some deer randomly walked up behind the house as the night drew in. We snook a look at them but they weren’t bothered and it’s quite normal apparently. Later we retired for a well earned, jet lag induced sleep. What a welcome. What a start to the holiday.

Red, one of the family dogs demanded a selfie

The next day, my out of sync body clock woke me at 4am. Groggy but up and about, after a champions breakfast, Polly and Craig took us on a day trip ‘just down the road’ to Waterton Lakes. 100+ miles in Canada is just down the road. But you stop for coffee, obviously! The size of the place is staggering. We drove south. Waterton is almost on the border with the USA. This part of Alberta is very flat. Wide, open plains and fields give way to foothills and then mountains. Farmers were harvesting fields the size of small towns and I saw one sign for a ranch that was 65,000 acres which is probably small. The roads are long and arrow straight. For miles and miles. Only the terrain seems to make them deviate. It’s difficult to articulate how vast the place is. Waterton Park, on the edge of the Canadian Rockies, is a National Park and a beautiful place. Polly and Craig take their RV (Recreational Vehicle) there and chill by the side of the lake. I can see why. We were there out of season and it was relatively quiet and with Polly on crutches (knee op) it allowed us to walk around slowly and take it all in. It was actually very refreshing to be made to do that way. No rush. Calm. Just nice and we got to see wildlife too. Deer and later a bear at a distance and salmon jumping up a waterfall on the way back. A long day but worth every minute.

The Day 2 wake up wasn’t so bad. It takes a few days to get over the time difference and feel normal. Today, Polly and Craig drove us southwards again to a place called Frank Slide which is the unfortunate site of Canada’s worst ever land slide. Half a mountain literally gave way and engulfed most of the town of Frank in 1903. We visited what they call an interpretive centre. We’d probably call it a museum or memorial in the UK which explains how and what happened via film and interactive displays. Quite sombre but really good. It’s quite a sobering thing to see the aftermath and actually drive through the huge debris field too. On the way we saw our first moose too.

After that, we headed further south over the Crowsnest Pass for another Tim Horton’s coffee stop, a visit to the biggest truck in the world in Sparwood and then lunch in Fernie. Another long day but awesome again. Great fun.

This was supposed to be brief but like Canada it’s obviously going to be bigger than I thought so I’ll break it down into parts

In the next chapter we leave Okotoks and drive north to the capital of Alberta, Edmonton.

See you there

3 thoughts on “Canada. What a Country. PT 1

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