Winter Wonderland!

Trip Start Oct 01, 2002
Trip End Aug 08, 2005

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Saturday, January 8, 2005

Happy New Year Everyone!

Well, here we are in Calgary, people said we were mad to come to Canada in the winter and the minus 25 temperatures have been a tad on the cold side, but we've really enjoyed exploring this amazing winter wonderland.

We said farewell to Winston, Jen and Baby Rebecca in Seattle on the 28th, catching a lift with their friends Wendy, John and Mike to Vancouver, Canada. The Canadian border guard was probably the funniest and friendliest that we have ever met but Kev was disappointed that the famed Canadian Mounties apparently no longer wear their red jackets! Upon arriving at Mike's, our home for the next 4 nights, Kev happily discovered one of Mike's Christmas presents (albeit to himself) was the Lord of The Rings trilogy on DVD. Finally he would be able to see the ending after so many failed attempts during this trip. We watched the first half (while Sian slept) and then headed downtown for the first of many gatherings of Mike's friends, all out for a drink. Altogether we had a very sociable time in Vancouver with a nice wander around the Granville Island market, Chinatown and a visit to the world's first steam powered clock in the touristy, but nice, Gas Town the next day. We watched Mike's team play ice hockey (and only narrowly get beat) but didn't take to the ice ourselves as Mike had hinted that he might seek revenge for Sian's constant teasing and Kev accidentally beating him at computer ice hockey in Seattle.

On the eve of New Year's Eve, John kindly drove us around, showing us some of the wilderness on Vancouver's doorstep with a trek to a deep river canyon (in the rain) and Stanley Park where the skyscrapers of the city meet the tall pine trees. Finally we visited the excellent Anthropology Museum detailing British Columbia's Native American Indian tribes (First People as they are locally known) complete with original Totem poles and other grand wooden carvings. After visiting John's downtown apartment with fabulous views of the city at night, Kev finally managed to see the last half of the final Lord of the Rings film at Mike's but it turned into a very late night and although New Year's Eve had fabulous weather, we only just caught sunset due to our late start.

We had arranged to meet a friend from our travels in Honduras and Guatemala, Dirk, who was also in Vancouver for New Year, visiting an old friend and treating himself to a fantastic 30th birthday present of a 'snowboarding by helicopter' day. Unfortunately, Dirk broke his ankle on his first run but amazingly kept on going to enjoy another 5 runs down the mountain, but his birthday ended in the hospital where they had to plaster him up. When we contacted him, Dirk's friend, Cheri, invited us to New Year's Eve dinner with her Scottish family. We were treated to a fabulous meal and it turned out to be a great evening catching up with Dirk before we joined Mike and the gang in Library Square in downtown Vancouver. With Dirk on crutches, we queued up for a Big Band concert and we were thoroughly entertained by the band and by Mike, John, Lourdes and Stephanie's swing dancing. Also thoroughly amusing was Dirk's attempts to dance despite his doctor's warnings. Just before midnight we all headed to the town centre where the countdown began, fireworks announced New Year 2005 and Auld Lang Syne rang out across the crowds. It was fantastic, just like a New Year celebration in Scotland, complete with a sprinkling of snow. John quickly found us a party to gatecrash and soon everybody was dancing and drinking, high in a downtown apartment. It was a truly great night and everybody had a fabulous time.

New Year's Day was unsurprisingly off to a slow start but we managed to pick up our hire car and got Mike to burn us a few great CD mix's (Thanks Mike!) from his collection for the long journey ahead. We left for Whistler, the famed skiing resort, North of Vancouver and got so lost that we ended up back in Vancouver city centre before we realised what had happened. When we eventually arrived in Whistler we met our host for the next couple of nights, Terry and we were treated to another home cooked meal and long chats about travelling in India. Kev went snowboarding the next day on Whistler mountain and although it hadn't snowed for a while the upper runs were pretty good and he slipped back into it despite a long lack of practice. Unfortunately at the start of his last but well planned run down the mountain, he was quite dramatically taken out by another 'fellow' snowboarder and going down the rest of the mountain was a bit of a trial. Kev was a bit spaced out for the rest of the evening but we enjoyed another night of Terry's excellent hospitality in his cosy wooden cabin while the temperatures outside plummeted to well below -20 C.

With Kev feeling still a little 'out of it' Sian decided to practice her driving skills on the wrong side of the road and we headed off into the hills on a route marked out by Terry, to take in some of the best scenery on our way to the Rocky Mountains. We passed through some gorgeous snow covered forest and mountain scenery with many frozen lakes, picturesque river scenes and small native indian villages. We stopped for the night in the town of Salmon Arm where we found a cheap but nice hotel-come-old folks home for the night. It was there that we got chatting to Merle, a 90 year old English woman, born in South Africa and with stories to tell from all over the world, including Aberdeen in the 30's. Hours later we sadly said goodnight and the next morning it was back on the spectacular scenic trail deep into the Rocky Mountains. This was an absolutely amazing drive, despite very deep snow, icy roads and minus lots temperatures, we stopped so often to take pictures of the spectacular scenery that we made very poor time and only reached Lake Louise just before sunset. Unfortunately there was no cheap accomodation here (despite a youth hostel being in town) so the credit card was hit hard and we enjoyed a night in a flash hotel with the use of a swimming pool, sauna and jacuzzi then on to a nice room and in the morning, an excellent cooked buffet breakfast (this was surprisingly still cheaper than dorm beds in the hostel!!). Lake Louise itself with it's dramatic mountain backdrop was completely frozen over and so we went for a walk on the lake to it's small ice palace which was really cool.

The Icefields Parkway is an absolutely spectacular drive North from Lake Louise into Jasper National Park. The roadside mountains are hanging with blue glaciers and the scenery is very dramatic, even in summer. Unfortunately, the road conditions were terrible and it took us so long to drive up that we had to turn back just before we reached the town of Jasper as we had heard that heavy snow was forcast for that night and we didn't want to get stuck in Jasper for a few days. We reached Banff later that evening and the next day it was snowing really heavily, so we visited the local museum and later in the afternoon we did a beautiful walk along a sheltered river gorge with a fantastic frozen waterfall at the end. The snow was pretty heavy that night too but we made it to Calgary and despite having no map whatsoever we eventually somehow found the home of our Global Freeloader host Carolyn, where for the past few nights we have been treated to home cooked dinners and long chats into the night. We were quite unsuccessful about seeing the few sights that Calgary had to offer in this weather but returned our faithful little hire car on time (our third Toyota of the trip) and wandered the warm downtown shopping malls all linked by walkways, successfully keeping us out of the -20 degree cold until the bus ride back.

We fly to Chicago tomorrow, where the weather is apparently even worse but where another Global Freeloader host will hopefully be expecting us. So until next time.....

Kev and Sian
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