After a long day we arrived here in Switzerland at 7 this morning. Puhhh, home, sweet home!
We really enjoyed the few days in Chicago. Despite its size we found it pretty calm. It’s rather the laid back attitude of a west coast city than the hectic, bustling atmosphere of let’s say New York. We were lucky to visit Chicago during the best weeks – summer, the time of free events for the public. In and around Grant Park there all sorts of of events taking place. We enjoyed two free concerts as part of the Grant Park Music Festival (classical music, orchestras). It’s like magic: a warm summer night, the sun is setting behind the skyline, the moon rises, and you sit in this park encircled by skyscrapers and listen to classical music.
While in Chicago we also visited the Museum of Science and Industry. Maybe it was because we have seen many similar museums before, but the exibitions didn’t really ignite interest. A few things like the Whispering Gallery or Genectics: Decoding Life we thought were nicely done. The whole Basic Science floor could do with a serious overhaul. What personally disappointed me the most though, was the attitude most visitors (families and school groups) seem to have towards such an educational place. To get something out of it one needs TIME, you can’t just rush through. Kids need explanations and guidance from their parents/teachers. It was almost painful to see how “neglected” they were – no surprise most of them appeared to be bored.
One hint for fellow travellers: to get to the MSI take the CTA green line to Garfield then transfer to bus X55/55.
We also were at the Shedd Aquarium. Now that’s definitly an attraction we would recommend to anyone, despite high admission fees. However, again, it takes time to really get idea about marine life. The dolphine show is much less sophisticate than for example the shows at Sea World in San Diego. Nonetheless, we though that since much less is expected of the dolphines in terms of stunts they must deliver they might have a happier life in Chicago…
As in New York, Akiko and I managed to visit a local Toastmasters club, Toastmasters of Lincoln Park. As expected the corner stones of their meetings are very similar to ones in our club. Their meeting protocol and the setting is different, though. We had a good time and felt very welcome. It appears that they hadn’t had visitors from abroad in a long while. After the meeting we joined them for beer/dinner at a nearby bar. Later that night we went up to the 96th floor of the John Hancock tower to have a drink in the Signature Lounge. The view is awesome, but the drinks lack any sort of sophistication.
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On Monday morning 5:45 we started our long way home. ‘Long’ simply because it is not the most direct route available to us (ferry to Vancouver Island, ferry to Vancouver, flight to Chicago, 4 nights in Chicago, flight to Zurich via New York). The stay at the Eagle Lodge in Bella Coola was really wonderful. The Smarts truely made us feel at home.
So, in order to catch the ferry out of Bella Coola we had to show up at 6:30 for “marshalling” as they call it (lining up cars). The sailing down to Port Hardy took nearly 12 hours. As during the previous days in Bella Coola we had blue sky all the way to the horizon. Whales apparently like sunshine as well, for we saw several of them rather close to the vessel.
After the arrival in Port Hardy at 8 in the evening we hit the road immediately heading south to Nanaimo. The plan was to catch the first ferry the next morning from Nanaimo to Vancouver. We needed to return our rental car by 10 o’clock in the morning. So, we made it to Nanaimo just before midnight. We parked our car right in front of the ticket both (to be the first in the morning :-)) at the ferry terminal, rolled out our sleeping bags in the back of the minivan, and settled for a short night. At 5:30 we put all the seats in our car back in place and packed our gear.
Everything worked out just perfect. We returned the car on time, took the afternoon flight from Vancouver to Chicago, and arrived at the Best Western hotel here around 11 last night. As you can guess by that time we were pretty worn out. We felt we deserved a loooong nap. Therefore, it wasn’t until 11:30 this morning that we made it out of the hotel to explore the city.
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Sorry, I don't really feel like writing a whole essay here, but for those who follow this blog (I know some do…) I'll just post a quick update.
So, we spent two nights at a wonderful B & B in Williams Lake. If you happen to be in that area you should definitly put Rowat's Waterside Bed and Breakfast on your list. We then set out on the storied Highway 20 west towards the coast. On the way we stopped at Anahim Lake Resort for camping and fishing. We caught some rainbow trout, Jack showed us how to clean them (oh yes, we did it ourselves), and roasted over an open fire they made for a wonderful lunch.
We're now at the Eagle Lodge in Bella Coola. Rosemary & Jim are wonderful hosts!
And of course I watched the Swiss soccer team win their important game versus Korea to make it to the final 16 at the World Cup in Germany! Hopp Schwiiiz!!!
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The days in Jasper weren’t really spectacular.
There’s not much to do in Jasper if the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor activities. It was pouring for 36 hours non-stop. So, we spent several hours at the library reading newspapers and magazins.
We did one hike up to The Whistlers, though. We hardly saw anyone on the trail, for there is a rather popular but old tramway that brings people up to the top. Since we’re getting a bit tired of hiking we nonetheless took the that tramway to get down to Jasper.
The next day we decided to go horse back ridding at a place next to our temporary home at the Patricia Lake. The horse ranch (i.e. stables) was rather big: 58 horses! 50 of them are boys, because – according to the guides – “girls are too moody and can get bitchy”…The two hour ride through the nearby forests was very enjoyable. Akiko liked it a lot.
She had to pay a high price, though. A few hours after the ride I noticed that her left eye was swollen and tearing. I looked like she had a blister right on her eye ball. So, I drove her to the hospital in Jasper right away (the clinic was already closed). The examined her eye thoroughly and found that it was only an allergic reaction. The doctor was, however, unable to determine what substance/particle actually had cause the reaction. Akiko was released with some eyedrops and allergy medication. The swelling was gone withing 24 hours.
We managed to check out quite a few of the restaurants in Jasper. Here’s our recommondations for fellow travelers: Kim Chi House (Korean), Denjiro (Japanese), Earl’s, and of course the Bear’s Paw Bakery.
Yesterday we drove from Jasper all the way to Prince George were we planned to go on a free tour through one of the local saw mills. However, we were stupid enough to make the reservation this morning and not yesterday when we had decided to go on that tour. Needless to mention that the tour was booked out by today…
So, I guess we’ll drive down to Williams Lake today and spend two nights there.
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After some serious grocery shopping we headed north on Monday on the famous Icefield Parkway from Lake Louise to Jasper. Spread along the highway are various viewpoints and hiking trails.
We stopped at Bow Lake to follow a trail along the lake back to the Bow Glacier Falls. From the edge of the cliff that marks the end of the glacier, water chutes down vertically some 100 meters. More impressed than the falls, however, left us the wonderfully serene and peacefull scenerie around the lake.
Later on we stopped at the Pyto Lake Lookout. The highest possible point on a Canadian highway is right there (2069m), but more importantly – and of course more impressively – is the gorgeous view over Pyto Lake. Certainly one of our highlights in the rockies! At such attractive and easily accassible points the effects of masstourism are just grose, though. Busses unloading herds of people who almost push you aside to get the best shot…after all, they've only got 5 or so minutes until they have to be back in the bus. Yuck!
Later that day we also stood next to the Mistaya Canyon mouth wide open in awe. It's amazing how the force of water can carve such marvelously wild canyons.
Another highlight was the wood-fired sauna at the Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel. Dark, steamy-hot, cozy, and right next to the ice-cold creek!!!
The next day we "did" two trails: the first up to Parker's Ridge, the second up to Wilcox Pass. Both are recommendable; especially Wilcox Pass was great. Hardly anybody hikes there (the oh so touristic Columbia Icefield so too close), but the view it offers is un-surpassed for that area. Even before, however, we hiked down a tiny unmarked trail to the Panther Falls. Those are certainly the coolest falls in both Banff and Jasper NP. That night we stayed at Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel. We thoroughly enjoyed it, but the plastic-wrapped matraces were terrible. You hardly dare to move, since you might wake up the entire dorm; the noise coming from the matraces is so loud.
Along the road we spotted another black bear and groups of mountain goats.
Around noon we drove into Jasper today. Just before Jasper we saw a couple of female wapitis/elks grazing at the shoulder of the road.
It appears that high main season has finally started here in the canadian rockies. We feel that places get more crowed every day and for every single accommodation we have to pay the highest possible rate. A week ago we managed to get the cheapest room at the Patricia Lake Bunglows from tomorrow to Sunday, but for tonight we found a private room at the Miette Guest House.
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Yesterday despite warnings from the visitor center ("too much snow…not recommended…") we set off for a hike up to Sentinel Pass under a wonderfully blue sky. The sun had woke us up rather early shining right into our faces! What a nice way to start a day…
Apparently we were the first to try to make it up to the pass. Traces of other hikes in the snow had almost vanished. There was indeed still a bit of snow up towards the pass but not as much as expected. And after all…we were determined to make up to the pass. With hardly any traces of other hikers my determination became even stronger. Once up at the top we spotted about a dozen other hikers behind us following our traces. A wonderful hiking day!
This morning we left for a hike up to the highest peak in the region – Mount Fairview. It proved to be a very tough and steep almost 2-hour ascent. However, the view is simply AWESOME! Anybody in moderate shape and good boots should try that while in Banff NP.
Outlook: we'll leave Lake Louise tomorrow and will follow the Icefield Parkway north to Jasper. One could drive to Jasper in a day but we'll make it in 3 days the enjoy the beauty of nature along the way – even if it means to stay in rustic hostels without electricity and no running water.
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The weather didn't look any better this morning than it did yesterday, but we decided we wanted to go hiking anyway. We chose a nice round-trip up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, over the Big Beehive, and then up to the Six Glaciers Teahouse.
We set off without knowing what to expect of something named "teahouse". What we found were log mountain cottages similar to alpin huts in Switzerland. They are poorly equipped (no electricity, no running water), but compensate for that with friendly service, cosy atmosphere, and wonderful tea (50+ kinds).
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We’re in Lake Louise in Banff National Park and guess what – it’s raining.
As anticipated we did some fishing at the Mile High Adventure Resort near Kamloops. The only fish we caught though, got away due to Akiko’s bad “aiming abilities”. When she tried to hit the fish dithering from my fishing rod (trying to break its neck) she somehow managed to cut the fly line apart and the fish took off. We were sorry for him.
After two days at the resort we continued our journey east. Our travel guide’s recommendation to take highway 97 instead of following highway 1 proved to be worth the extra 30 or so kilometers. We stopped in Revelstoke at the bottom of Mount Revelstoke National Park. We planned to stay for just one night, but since we felt comfortable in that little town and since we got such a good deal at the Revelstoke Lodge motel we decided to stay another night.
Now here it comes: on the way down from mount revelstoke we spotted a young black bear right next to the road when we passed it. I stopped the car immediately and we just turned our head and starred at it in awe. After maybe ten seconds of looking at us the bear crossed the street and disappeared into the woods. It was soooo cute, I tell you.
We spent a night camping in the wilderness of Glacier National Park. Since there’s still quite a bit of snow even in lower altitudes most of the trails were closed. The one we chose to hike was only open half way. That meant we had to put up our tent down in the valley next to the Grizzly Creek. There was only forest around us, we didn’t see anything but trees and water – and we felt so alone out there. At least we could hang on to each other. However, we didn’t run into any animals except the omnipresent squirrels and a deer family.
The next day we drove all the way to Lake Louise. Except for New York this is the most expensive place we’ve hit so far. Some things are even more pricy than in Switzerland! The first two nights we spent at the Deer Logde. The lodge’s location is quite nice and from the hot tub we had magnificent view towards the mountains and glaciers.
We were glad about that since the weather yesterday wasn’t good enough for long hikes. So we spent the day reading (again) and relaxing the hot tub and the sauna.
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We ended up staying five nights in Squamish. After three nights at the hostel we transfered to Sunwolf Outdoor Center for the next two nights. They have very cosy and cute cabins with wooden furniture.
The first day in Squamish we hiked up the famous climbing rock 'The Chief'. Supposedly, its the world's second largest free standing rock (~650m) after the one in Gibraltar. The trails are rather spectacular and very steep – even for a Swiss. Unfortunately, the peak was wrapped up in clouds. The visibility was about 20m when we arrived at the summit. We met a nice Canadian couple and were able to feed squirrels, though.
The next day we decided to rent mountain bikes to explore Squamish' backcountry. And we sure did – but not as we expected! At the visitor center we had previously bought a hiking/biking map. It turned out it wasn't very accurate (anymore). We had been following the route of the famous Test of Metal bike race for a few kilometers when all of a sudden we found ourselves deep in the rainforest one tiny single trails. The map actually told a different story, but we just kept following the 'Test of Metal' signs. There were so many roots and rocks on those trails and they went up and down that we had to push the bike rather than to ride it. It went on and on…until we were totally lost in that jungle. Akiko was afraid we would have to spend the night in that forest and was at the brink of tears. All we could do was just to follow those yellow signs. Finally, after almost two hours we spotted houses through the trees. Home! Safe! So, left the marked trails and headed for the houses straight away. Thanks to the street signs in that area and with the help of our map we managed to make it back to the bike store before they closed.
When we arrived at Sunwolf around noon their "school bus" was about to leave with a couple of British for a riverrafting trip. Since it was a warm and sunny day (nice for a change :-)) we decided to hop right on. So, our host ran out to the bus and held them back. We jumped into wet suites and off we went! We had an awesome time on the water, but it was frikkin' cold.
On our last day in the Squamish area we decided to see some snow in the Garibaldi Provincial Park. From the parking at the park entrance we followed a trail up to the Red Heather shelter. Very soon we ran into snow on the trail and the higher we ascented the thicker the snow layer became. However, since that snow must have been there all winter and spring (after all its June already) it was very compact and rather easy to walk on. Up at the shelter there was about 1.5m of snow on the ground still. If we had planned a two day trip we would have proceeded all the way to the Elfin Lakes. The area up there is beautiful and so quiet at that time of the year.
Yesterday we spent a few hours in the car driving from Brackendale to Kamloops following the highways 99 and 97. Once we passed Whistler the landscape changed and signs of civilization became rarer and rarer. 100km without a house, a shop, not even a gas station…
The next two days we'll spend at the High Mile Adventure Resort about 25 minutes from Kamloops doing ??? Probably, some kanoeing and fishing.
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It's raining; again or still…
From Tofino we drove to Campell River on the east coast of Vancouver Island. The plan was to spend a couple of days in Strathcona Park and then drive north to board a ferry that would bring us to Bella Coola or Prince Rupert. Well, neither of it worked out as expected.
We camped one night in the Strathcona Park since it looked like the night was gonna be a dry one for a change. We found a wonderful spot at the Upper Campell Lake to put up our tent. The next morning we set out on a two day hike along the Elk River. So, we packed our two backpacks with everything we would need to spend some time in the lone wilderness and started hiking up through quiet forrests. After less than 20 steps light rain set in but we just kept going. It wasn't until two hours later that we realized…that we had forgotten to pack our stove fuel! How stupid! This meant: no chance of fixing a warm dinner (camp fires forbidden, and even if..all the wood was wet), not enough other food, and bad mood. We decided to return.
That night we stayed at a logde again to dry our gear. Ok, next we tried to arrange our ferry trip to northern B.C. First we found out that services to Bella Coola only start on June 7th, which meant we would have to spend two more weeks on Vancouver Island. Not an option for us. The fiendly B.C. Ferries staff also told us that they had recently lost one of the two vessels operating those northern passages. As a result this means that the only vessel left is booked until August. That's three months from now. Awful!
So, our trip is ful of surprises. Given the circumstances we decided to take the ferry back to Vancouver and head north towards Whistler. We didn't wanna drive into Whistler directly, though. Too many other tourists -> too expensive.
We're currently at a wonderful hostel in Squamish about 30 minutes south of Whistler. We like it here and might even stay a couple of days. We'll just see day by day.
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