Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “Rocky Mountaineer”

Canada: the Alien Next Door – Day 7-8 – Kamloops -> Vancouver

Continental Divide

Another early day, another gourmet breakfast aboard our luxury train, the Rocky Mountaineer.  We head into our final day of mountain scenery – the northern Cascade range.  As our black-and-gold bubble threads its way in and out of tunnels and alongside the westward-bound Fraser River, we catch one postcard view after another: glimpses of bald eagles perched on power poles, rafters shooting through rapids, and funicular cars trundling on cables overhead.  We pass the Continental Divide (actually a tri-vide, as from this point rivers flow into the Arctic as well as into the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico). We follow the Fraser River down the slope, and too soon we are rumbling along next to  tankers and flatcars as we enter the railyard under the bridges of Vancouver – end of the line.  Rafters on the Fraser River

The  Hotel  Vancouver is the last of the chain of hotels built by the railroads to encourage travelers to tour westward. (They ran out of track at the ocean)  It is a stately building, with the hallmark high ceilings and decorative interior pillars that mark the Gilded Age of its birth.  It has been  renovated a few too many time, though – it doesn’t have the rich patina of age that coats its sister hotels in  Banff Springs and Edmonton.  I spied no exuberant self-congratulatory murals showing the founders, nor was there any truly campy pseudo-oriental or pseudo-Spanish décor left to amaze and delight.  Just large rooms, tasteful colors, and a lot of gilt paint to evoke the luxury intended by the builders. [p1050068web – (Kamloops-Vancouver folder)] Maybe it was the cafeteria-style breakfast option which broke the illusion of bygone grandiosity – can you image Jane and Leland Stanford pushing their trays along at a cafeteria?Hotel Vancouver Lobby

The  Hotel Vancouver is located in a bustling area near the University of Vancouver and the Art Museum.  I took advantage of a bright morning to enjoy a walk around the neighborhoodand includes architecture ranging from the ultra-classic columns of the  Art Museum to the playful ramps of the University Library.  This section of Vancouver has a sprightly, humourous vibe –the public art display called “soft rocks” which conists of giant beanbags ideal for sprawling in the sun, the pretty young fashionistas striding to work in their ridiculously impractical platform shoes, the bright banners on the buildings.  I would like to explore more but… Soft Rocks - Vancouver

We had planned an extra day or two in Vancouver, but family issues called us home a bit sooner.  I saw and heard so much that was new to me on this visit to the north  – places, politics and people surprised me at every turn.  I  only took baby steps in exploring this alien land.  Knowing that it IS alien, not just a colder clone of the US, still feels like a breakthrough. In this lifetime I hope to learn more. Vancouver Central (Hotel, Concert Hall, Art Museum)

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Canada: The Alien Next Door – Day 6 (continued) – Kamloops

Lights of KamloopsIf you are traveling from Edmonton to Vancouver, you go through mountains.  If you are on the Rocky Mountaineer, the luxury tourist train, you are promised that you will the mountains in daylight.  The first day you see the Canadian Rockies.  The second day you see the northern Cascades.  And in between  you have to stop somewhere.  That would be  Kamloops.Kamloops Casino

After the historical majesty of Banff Springs, Kamloops is barebones, down-to-earth, and offers everything you need for a one-night stay.  There are at least two hotels with serviceable accommodations (we stayed at the Thompson).  There is a downtown, which features a brightly lit library and an even more brightly lit casino run by the Indian tribe whose reservation is across the river.  It is summer, and there is a college in Kamloops, so there is a lot of life on the streets even though it is mid-week.

Flood MarkerRiverside Park just over the railroad bridge sits at the confluence of the north and south branches of the Thompson River. Historically and pre-historically, the river has been even larger:  a marker at the edge shows the height of the river during several 20th century floods (Ankle, knee, and waist- high lines), during prehistoric times (head-high) and during the epochal flooding of 1894 (about twenty feet up there).

The park features lots of rolling lawn, graceful trees, a sandy beach, and a bandshell where free music concerts are given every night of the summer season (Heavy on the country-western genre.) Thanks to the balmy temperatures and the slow-moving river, it also features economy size mosquitoes, which limited our attention span for the concert.

RiversideBandshellWe strolled back from the park past a pizza parlor overflowing with families, an ice cream shop overflowing with children (including one practicing with a hula hoop). From the turn of the century opulence of the Banff Springs Hotel we had time traveled all the way to the 1950’s., We settled for dinner at The Noble Pig brewhouse, where the modest cuisine was considerably enhanced by the friendly service and outdoor dining.   I expected to see Ozzie and Harriet at the next table, with young David and Ricky fighting over the last piece of pizza.

Tips on travel with the Oldest Old – Part IV– Trains and buses

Maybe you get seasick in swimming pools.  Maybe you get claustrophobia if there is no escape route from a boat.  A second alternative available in some areas is old-fashioned luxury rail travel.  I’m not talking about AmTrak with its erratic schedules and limited meal service.  There are excellent tours by rail if you search diligently – and are willing to pay.

For example, Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer luxury train starts in either Jasper or Banff and winds its way through the Canadian rockies past glaciers,, wildlife, and snowcapped peaks.  You can choose to travel with three different levels of luxe– a car with picture windows with a box lunch brought to your seat,  a dome car with hot breakfast and lunch served at your seat, or a dome car with an open bar and a dining service below offering a choice of excellent gourmet meals with white tablecloths, crystal glassware, and attentive service.   The train travels only in daylight so as not to miss a scenic moment, and you disembark in the evening to stay in 4-5 star historic hotels  along the route.

Other luxury train travel opportunities are available in the UK, Europe, Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa.

Caveats:

You are likely to have different stopping points each night – lots of unpacking and re-packing

Use of the premium service requires that you must be able to negotiate the  narrow spiral staircase between the sightseeing and dining levels of the rail car.

Options are pricey, pricier, and priciest

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A third alternative – luxury bus travel

Advantages:

Bus tours cost depends on the tour company, but are generally  more affordable than either cruise or rail travel

There is a wider variety of destinations available by bus than by boat or train. A top-end bus tour company will put its travelers into the same hotels as the luxury train might offer, and has more flexibility in offering excursions to restaurants and other attractions outside the hotel.

Caveats:

Bus travel, no matter how well sprung the bus and how insulated the engine, is more tiring than cruise or train travel, with more on-and-offs for trick knees and hips to endure.

Compared to cruise or train travel, there is more “dead time” on the bus between destinations, and less ability to move about.  If you get carsick trying to read on a bus, you have few entertainment alternatives, no matter how many sing-alongs and Draw-the-Moose competitions your tour guide instigates.  And if sing-alongs and Draw-the-Moose competitions are not your thing – so much the worse!

Like train travel,  bus travel is likely to  involve multiple overnight locations.  If you don’t want to pack and repack every day, check   itineraries for tours that have a central hub for overnights with tours branching out to different destinations each day.

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