Canada – Friends! Axes, Downhill Mountain Biking – and more Friends!

Laney and I had long been looking forward to our arrival in Canada. We had planned for a YEAR to see some friends we had met in Paris the previous summer. And also added on another stop to see friends we made in Vietnam.  As you know, there were only a couple times on our trip that we had ‘familiar faces’ so this was definitely going to be a treat. We had no idea. HA.

We flew into Vancouver from Anchorage. A gloriously short direct flight. Love those. HA. We arrived too late in the evening to get a ferry so had arranged to stay overnight at the Red Rock Casino, which was very very nice!

The next day, we slept in, had a nice lunch, then hopped on the connector bus to the ferry. It was a lovely ferry ride, and I met a lovely Polish woman who had been living in Canada for 25+ years. She was planning a trip back to Krakow with her sons to visit her parents. It was fun to talk about how lovely Old Town Krakow is, with its architecture, lovely people and amazing food. HA.

Arriving in Victoria ferry terminal, we didn’t know what to expect – a little nervous would we even recognize them? Would we get along as well as we had that one day in Paris? HA. Yes, we really were going to stay 3 nights with women we had spent only ‘most of’ a day with on a bike tour in Paris. We clicked THAT much.

Well we needn’t had conceded ourselves. Emily ran up to us, and there were smiles and hugs all around as we joined Pat at her car and piled our big bags in. Conversation was easy, and joyful, in the car ride, and really for the next 4 days we spent with them.

Pat was an amazing hostess, making us feel so comfortable, and, as she put it “The rest of your trip was travel, I want these few days to be vacation for you”. Here’s a woman who knows travel, and knows how to make people feel welcome.

Within a short time of our arrival the house was full of family and friends. Pat was hosting a dinner in honor of her visiting granddaughters (from northern Alberta). Her son and his family joined, along with a variety of other friends and family. It was a wonderful group of people, I enjoyed talking with them SO much. It was great to feel the hug of a family gathering. And they made me feel like I was home.

Later in the evening, Pat and I enjoyed some wine together. Talking as women do. About all the really important things in life. People we have loved and lost. The future for ourselves and those we care about most. It was so wonderful to have this connection – so quickly developed but yet so complete.

The next morning I woke to coffee ALREADY MADE – ha. What a treat! Then we headed into the downtown area for an iMax movie and museum exhibit on Egypt, followed by lunch at the street food vendors ‘out back’ of the museum. We were joined by most of the previous night’s crowd.

That afternoon and evening we spent at home with Pat and her granddaughters, Emily and Sarah. Both sets of women (young and old) getting along wonderfully.

The next day, we were so so lucky, Pat’s son was available (and the boat was fixed JUST in time) to go to a nearby lake for the day. Another family friend had a camper at a campground on the lake, and we spent the day swimming, wake boarding, eating, talking and laughing. The weather was Alaska-perfect. I guess Canada perfect is the same! HA. Cool, dry air, hot sun.  Moving from sun to shade was the difference between being a tad chilly, or being nearly too hot. Doesn’t get any better. In her typical ‘you’re on vacation’ fashion, Pat had packed all manner of food and drink for ‘us girls’ which included myself and Laney, Pat, her teen granddaughters Emily and Sarah and her little granddaughters, in the 7 to 9 year range. Oh and her son, the token male. HA.

 

 

Saying goodbye was hard. It was so nice visiting with friends. We shared the ferry ride to Vancouver with Emily and Sarah then proceeded to get our rental car and move into our airbnb for a couple nights.

While in Vancouver, we visited Stanley Park and took a bike ride around part of it. I had intended to do it all, but the weather wasn’t great – and THAT PARK IS HUGE! HA! After that we wandered a nearby neighborhood and had some amazing Japanese! YAY! Hot Rock beef, noodles, all the foods!!

 

Also while wandering Vancouver we came across this gorgeous and unique hotel. I noticed it for it’s look, then the name struck me. There is a song by one of my favorite musicians, Cheryl Wheeler, and it’s called Sylvia Hotel (the album name as well) so we took a photo and I wondered if it was THIS hotel she was singing about. I looked it up later – Guess What? IT IS!! This is THE SYLVIA HOTEL. Love it.

 

 

Aside from some relaxing and some good Indian food, that was about it for Vancouver. On to Squamish!

Squamish was just a stop along the way, but I had heard it was THE PLACE to do some rock climbing, so I booked us a guide and we spent a great day climbing the cliffs. According to our guide, these were ‘easy’ and ‘not steep’ – ha. well they looked pretty steep to me! We learned some new skills and broke a sweat, and ate wild blackberries on the walk back down the hill – so WINNING!

Above – that’s ME all the way at the top. This is considered an easy climb, with a gentle slope. HA looks pretty vertical to me! Although there are lots of places for foot and hand gripping.

 

There’s Laney!

 

We didn’t spend the night in Squamish, though it looked like an adorable little town and I would have loved to spend more time. But we were booked to be in Whistler, so off we went to finish the drive. It’s only about 2 hours from Vancouver to Whistler, which is really great for an awesome ski and mountain bike location. Plus, there are shuttle buses that run from the Vancouver airport up to Whistler. Once you’re there, many many places are available to stay ‘in the thick of things’ so you don’t even NEED a car. I am definitely coming back for a snow season!

Laney and I checked into our adorable Airbnb near the center of Whistler mountain resort. I had a bit of a hard time understanding how to get around and park, which turned out to be justified – because hardly anyone drives in this area. It’s all bikes and walking. Hence the lack of parking. HA. We found the grocery store and YES, the liquor store pretty easily. Stocked up for a few days and got settled in our new home, which was a lovely little studio with a murphy bed and a convertible couch. Oh, and a patio. I love a patio, as you know by now.

One day in Whistler we slept in, then wandered the town. It’s like a strip of stores and restaurants and bars. We were looking for the best and easiest way to try out downhill mountain biking and we finally found it right at the base of the mountain. Whistler Mountain’s own bike rental with lessons and all. Perfect. Normally, they don’t allow children under 16 to do the lesson we were signing up for. I asked if Laney would be OK, and the girl we were working with called a manager, who instantly appeared and he laughed. He said “she’s no 13 year old – she’s a full grown adult! I think she could take me!!” HA. So, Laney was ‘in’ like Flynn.

Downhill mountain biking was a bit harder than I expected. They make it look so easy on TV (and at the competition which was running while we were there). First, just getting the bike on the lift to the top was a bit nerve-wracking. I mean, the lift chairs don’t stop moving. You need to pop your bike up on the back wheel, roll it into place on the back of the lift chair, then hop into the lift chair behind you. All pretty quickly. And those bikes are HEAVY! I mean, disc brakes people!

At the top of the mountain we were shown some basics of how to ride (neutral foot position, how far to lean on the handlebars, and basically don’t even think about sitting down). Then how to take a turn, how to ride over bumps. Then they took us on a practice track where, you guessed it, 5 and 6 year old kids were wizzing around us. HA. How humiliating.

Then, finally, after about 30 minutes in the heat (gosh I never imagined it would be so hot), we headed down the trail where, thankfully, it was shaded. We were both pretty nervous at first, but we started to get the hang of it pretty quickly and got more comfortable. It took us a good 45 minutes to navigate down the whole course. We stopped occasionally, but mostly we rode down, taking turns and bumps. It was really fun but more exhausting than I thought, keeping control of the bike and trying to hit those curves just right.

We got to the bottom and our lesson was over! WOW. 2 hours went really fast. We considered adding some time, but we were both beat – just as well we wouldn’t have to get the bikes back on the lift again! Yikes.

After that, we had a nice dinner and headed home for some sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, we rented some trail bikes to ride around the lakes path that is well-known in the area. It was a gorgeous day, and the lakes are beautiful. There weren’t too many people around, which was nice. We saw some nice sights, and I even spotted a snake on the trail in front of me at one point.

After our ride, the bike rental place recommended a japanese place nearby – and wow was it amazing! All this food for something like $20 CAD!

After that, we were headed to the town of Kelowna, where our friends Jim and Jackie live. We had met Jim and Jackie on the tour of Vietnam, and we got along wonderfully. When they heard we were coming to Canada, they hoped we would visit their town, and I’m so glad we did. It was gorgeous!

I spent a bit of time at a ‘lake beach’ near our Airbnb. So peaceful, hardly anyone around and such nice tiny little waves. HA

Baby Waves at the lake

 

The first day we were in town, I thought we would go zip-lining, but then I read about a place with axe throwing. With the weather being kind of smokey from the forest fires, it was recommended to do something indoors, so Laney opted for the axe throwing. Not surprisingly, we were the only women there- HA. But we enjoyed it thoroughly! So much so that we decided to do it again the next day – and we talked Jim and Jackie into joining us!!!

On the second day, we paid a little extra to throw some specialty axes and some knives as well.  It was really great. Jim and Jackie liked it too.  Before we left the facility, we peeked in on the ‘rage room’. I had no idea what this was or what to expect. Well, it’s an interior room, with all plywood walls, where you can have a fit and break things. When we saw it, there was a pile of computer parts in the corner, fully smashed. HA. What a good way to get out your frustrations!!

 

 

 


My face when I missed. HA.

 

 

 

Jean Axe Throwing in Slow Mo

Laney Axe Throw in Slow Mo

Laney Specialty Axe Slow Mo

We had a couple nice meals with Jim and Jackie – as locals they knew which places were good (always a big help). One day, we were in the area for the Pride March of Kelowna and that was a fun experience as well!

On the final day in Kelowna, we went bowling, where I bowled the absolute worst games of my life. HA. Oh well.

Next, on to Jasper! Our last stop before heading home.

Driving across the western part of Canada was absolutely beautiful. In parts, unfortunately, our view was hindered by the forest fires and the smoke but at times it was quite clear and just stunning!!

On the way from Kelowna to Jasper we encountered two things. An elk on the side of the road, and an Anne, also on the side of the road. HA.

Seeing the elk was amazing. A fair number of cars stopped to watch. One couple was completely obnoxious about getting too close and taking photos. There’s always one right? Laney and I half-hoped it would charge them. HA.

 

After that, we encountered Anne. A young backpacker girl hitchhiking on our road with a sign for Banff. I said to Laney, “she needs to be with us” – mostly because I just couldn’t bear the idea that she would ride with someone else, possibly someone ‘unsavory’. So, we stopped, moved some things around, and got on our way.

Our encounter with Anne was similar to the (only couple/few) other times we encountered hitchhikers on our trip. For starters, she was young (college age), and so full of life and wonderful adventures. She explained how she had been planting trees in western Canada as her summer job. Hard work she said, but lucrative. Guess how much she made planting trees? They pay her per tree…………… 11 CENTS! CRIKEY! And she says she hustled and makes a lot. WOW. Well, Anne lives and goes to school in the Toronto area, and she has spent a few months in the USA. Her mom is originally from South Africa, and when Anne was young, they spent a year there, before Mom decided to come back to Canada and have another little girl. Mom is a doctor and has always been a single mom – no dads in sight. Brave woman I say (and I’m not even thinking about the social repercussions). HA.

Anne explained how she loves to hike, and how she finished her tree-planting job 10 days ago and just completed an 8 day hike BY HERSELF in the wilderness (national park). She carried everything she needed on her back for a few days at a time, after which she would stop in a town and pick up supplies. How did she manage water??? – this was my biggest question. Well, she uses water purification tablets. Though, she told a story that ONE TIME the tablets were accidentally and unknowingly exposed to air, and therefore useless, but she didn’t know it. And got sick. REALLY sick. And was all by herself away from civilization. WOW. She survived, but clearly could have died. Now, she also carries a ‘life straw’, which is a special straw you can drink from any old nasty puddle of water and it’s OK. This is in addition to  the tablets (which I’m sure she now checks regularly for damage to the container).

What a cool and interesting person!!! LOVE THIS. It is truly one of my favorite experiences in travel is the people and their stories!!!

She took this photo of us. Wish I had taken her photo too but I was a little embarrassed to ask (creepy old lady ha).

waterfall

After driving through the Jasper National Park, we arrived in the adorable town of  Lake Louise, we checked into the Lake Louise Inn. Laney was tired so I headed out to dinner myself at the adorable Station Restaurant. It was SO lovely, and a couple trains arrived while I was there.

Walk along the stream on the way to the restaurant.

View from my table. That’s a train right there! Yes, it was a little noisy when they came and went, but they all stopped, so not too bad. Not like a train rushing by at 80 mph!!

YUM fresh trout!

AMAZING salad!!

View on the way to the restaurant.

The next day, Laney and I took the shuttle bus to Lake Moraine, which I had heard was as nice (or more) vs. Lake Louise, but less ‘commercial’. Well, it was GORGEOUS. WOW. We climbed the rock structure (small mountain?) nearby then rented a canoe and paddled around the lake. Part way through our paddle we saw a bumble bee struggling in the water and Laney wanted to save it. So we pulled it out and left it on our bailer bucket until it dried out. Laney was really worried it couldn’t fly but once it’s wings were dry, off it went! We were so happy. I was so pleased, since when we left home Laney HATED bees. HA.  She’s still a bit afraid but better, especially with bumble bees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

That night, I headed to Chateau Lake Louise – a very posh and fancy hotel right on the lake (and too rich for our budget, ha). I decided to have dinner there at the bar, at a friends recommendation. Well, it was lovely, and as usual I met some very nice people. A father/daughter who were traveling from the US.

My wonderful salad with crab cakes

It was hard to capture the beauty of the place. Very elegant. Check out the chandeliers!

The view at Lake Louise was stunning! Unfortunately, some smoke dimmed the beauty a bit.

And the gardens at the Chateau Lake Louise were STUNNING!

After that, it was a night near Calgary (in Canmore), one night in Calgary and a flight home!

I took advantage of the small, quiet ambiance of Canmore to hit a spa for a nice massage, pedicure, etc.  So so nice!! Laney took the time to catch up on some ‘homework’ and talk to her friends online.

This is us, getting ready to board the last flight – HOME!

Here we are, arriving home in Philadelphia!

YES, we still like each other! HA

 

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