This October I was reminded of how amazing our world is and the very reason I love my job!
I was fortunate enough to be invited on a trip to Western Canada with Rocky Mountaineer, British Airways and American Airlines along with the tourist boards of Alberta and Vancouver.
So where better place to start than at the beginning with our flights? Sometimes a laborious part of an adventure, but we were given a golden ticket and upgraded to business class! Let me tell you there was no part of this that was difficult – the comfort was exceptional, thanks to very spacious seats that converted to a fully flat bed. The service and food were amazing, and the staff were friendly and courteous. It was certainly a reminder that its worth paying the extra when you can as it made the journey go in the blink of an eye.
Thanks to the introduction of the Electronic Travel Authorisation for entry to Canada, we got on the road quickly, and were in our hotel within about 20 mins, a nice relaxing evening before the adventure really got going. The following morning, we were up and about early to squeeze as much as possible into our day in this great city! There was a decent amount of snow on the ground, but that didn’t slow us down – we took in breakfast at Calgary Zoo, Heritage Park, Calgary Tower and WinSport. The Zoo is a great attraction, particularly for families. They are passionate about conservation, and currently have four giant pandas visiting from China!
Heritage Park is as it sounds all about the history of the area, but they have done this in such a cool way – it’s really a living history museum with something for everyone. Next up was Calgary Tower, standing 626ft up in the clouds, it’s a must do in the city, and the glass floor gives a fantastic view to the happenings below! Our final stop of the day was to WinSport, which is multi-purpose training and competition facility, and hosted the 1988 winter Olympics in Calgary. This facility is open year-round and has something for everyone. I must give a quick mention to an amazing restaurant in Calgary called Rouge - we had the most delicious four course lunch there, and it was excellent – the cuisine, staff and beautiful old house made it a real treat. So… after a busy day, we boarded the bus and head west to the town of Banff which was to be home for the next two nights.
Wow! Banff is awesome– the town itself is small and quaint, and with the Rockies as its backdrop, it really is a ‘picture postcard’ town. For a small town it has a lot of life – very welcoming, with plenty of shops, restaurants and bars. On this day we toured the surrounding National Parks and took in the truly jaw-dropping Lake Louise and Emerald Lake. These places had me lost for words, just remarkably beautiful.
Three different alarm calls later (I couldn’t risk sleeping in for this one!) we got up with the birds to join the infamous Rocky Mountaineer train. The route is aptly named ‘First Passage to the West’ and its one of the most popular journeys they operate. It was all so incredible it’s hard to know where to start!
The train itself – you wouldn’t have to be a train spotter to appreciate how stunning this iconic train is. We were in the ‘Gold Leaf Carriage’ which is of the highest level of comfort – reclining seats and a glass domed roof allow for uninterrupted views of the snowy mountains as the scenery is huge part of this trip. Downstairs you will find a great open-air vestibule and their restaurant which is reminiscent of a bygone era with beautiful white linen, fine wines and excellent food (their eggs benedict is phenomenal!)
The staff are such an integral part of this experience. They are ‘minds of information’ with interesting facts and anecdotes about the area and the train itself, but their genuine warmth and kindness really make this trip so special. What I hadn’t anticipated was the wonderful fall / autumn colours, I had always imagined tall spruce and pine trees. Indeed, the mountains were trooped with tall handsome evergreen trees, but the area beamed with vibrant shades of yellow, orange and red that you might expect in New England.
Another thing that surprised me was how quickly the day passes – a full day on a train may at the outset seem like a long time, but rest assured this is not the case. In addition to the beautiful scenery is the anticipation of spotting wildlife and there are many different species in abundance. Some of our sightings included Elk, Bald Eagles, osprey, long horn sheep, jumping salmon and even a coyote! Of course, this can vary at different times of the year, and quite often passengers will spot a bear.
Day one of this bucket-list trip brought us through the mountains (and tunnels) in the Rocky Mountains. A common misconception of this journey is that you sleep on the train – in fact you have a very good night’s sleep in a good hotel in the town of Kamloops. This is where the Rocky Mountaineer get to show off at how good they really are at what they do – you don’t have to touch your suitcases – you get to your hotel and they are already in your room, and when you depart the next day, you leave them behind you securely in the knowledge that they will be waiting for you at the next destination. It’s a small detail, but it’s the details that make this journey so perfect!
Day two and as we crossed the Thompson River and left Kamloops it was like arriving in another country – the temperature rose, but our clear blue skies continued as the scenery changed dramatically to almost desert, then through lush forests with waterfalls through the Fraser Valley ending in vibrant city of Vancouver.
Vancouver is a smashing city with a wealth of things to do. We made the most of our time, and saw Stanley Park, Gas Town and Yaletown. We also did a great ‘foodie tour’ of Granville island (yum!) and crossed the Capilano Suspension River… brilliant! We finished our day tour at the ‘FlyOver Canada Attraction’. This incredible ride is a flight simulation from east to west of Canada and which I would highly recommend and was a great way to finish up our magnificent escapade!
Phew… busy but what a trip! Someone asked me what my highlight was – it was all tremendous, but one of the memories that will stay with me for a long time is standing on the outdoor vestibule of the Rocky Mountaineer Train, staring up at the dramatic snow-capped peaks of the Rockies with the icy cold air blowing in my face, it was so exhilarating…. One of those moments in life that help put perspective on things and remind you so stop and breathe in the beauty of the world.
Canada you are beautiful, and I will be back!