Now that we have returned from our holiday and the blog is complete you read the daily entries below whilst I add the photo galleries. 

Date : 25 May 2013

Distance : 


Here we go again. Another bucket list trip underway.

Couldn’t sleep last night. Not that I was feeling that excited. Just couldn’t get things out of my head. Was up and about by 4 am and out for a last walk with the dogs by 5. They can tell when something is going on. And the bags stacked by the front door told them it was ominous. We do miss them when we are away. Don’t miss the kids though, sorry kids Winking smile. This is only our second holiday without the kids. But at 22 and 18 they are old enough to book their own holidays now. Daughter has asked Wifey to go on holiday somewhere in Europe later this year. That’ll be fun for them both. Suggest not Stockholm with all the rioting going on there at the moment.

After the things that have happened this week decided to wear my Help for Heroes t-shirt just to show a little solidarity and to make a statement I suppose.

Dale picked us up at 7:30 and we had a nice empty run in along the A303, M3 and M25. Last night the traffic on the A34 and A303 had been true bank holiday traffic. Nose to tail and people not allowing me to filter in the inevitable slow sections. Wind and rain didn’t help last night either. Nothing this morning though. Nice and dry with fluffy clouds. A bit nippey though for May, and virtually empty roads. So empty that it took less than an hour to get to Heathrow, Wasn’t expecting that. We were 50 minutes early for check in so had to wander around the Departure hall until official check-in opened at 9:15.

One half of the Departure hall was absolutely heaving the other half empty so we chose the empty half. Once in the queue were at the front of it in a couple of minutes. The girl on the BA check in desk was far more fun and chirpy than the one we had with Virgin Atlantic during the Route 66 trip. Didn’t even ask about hand luggage and no mention of the helmet even though it was clear I was carrying one. Chatted about where we got the photos on the passports done. As quick and effecient check-in/bag-drop as I can remember. Did warn us that the flight was 7 minutes late. I’d checked before we left and it was showing a 5 minute delay. That’s bearable.

After hearing the apologies over the Tannoy for the congestion in Departures I was expecting a big queue in security. It was as empty as I’ve ever seen it and we got straight to the front with no queue. Still think some of it is overkill, but I suppose better safe than sorry. Even had a bit of a laugh with the security guy about being cold and him having a pulley, could he share.it. As my bag was full of wires, chargers and cameras I was expecting it to be searched, but it looked like they already had a backlog of about 4-5 bags so mine got through miraculously.

So, check-in, bag drop and security among the fastest that I’ve ever seen and on Bank Holiday/Half-Term Saturday morning and after the engine fire that cancelled 200 flights yesterday. Surprised but happy by that.

Dove straight into Dixons. On a flight to Dusseldorf about a month ago I noted that they had a sSony e-fit 10-18mm lens at £579 rather than the £680 on the High Street, well on Amazon cos, let’s face it, the High Street doesn’t exist any more. Father’s Day present bought. The 10mm will be perfect in the mountains later in the trip. Thanks kids.

Quickly wandered around the shops. Not much else attracting the fancy other than the Breitlings. One day, oh, yes, one day. So stopped and had a coffee and cheese and ham croissant while Wifey had a tea and a slice of carrot cake in the quietest cafe in Terminal 5. Must look up the name but it is on the lower level in the far right-hand corner and never gets full unlike all the other food outlets. Out of sight I suppose. And the service is pretty good to boot.

After the second breakfast we had another wander and I was dragged away from the pens. Soon enough the flight was called. Thankfully it was an A gate and so we didn’t have to catch the awful train to the B and C terminal. However, there is a much longer delay than the 7 minutes we were told at check in. Boarding started 40 minutes late. Saving grace here was, as we had booked premium economy tickets, we got to use the fast lane. Flew through yet again. Liking this and the ticket price wasn’t hugely more than cattle either, think only a couple of hundred quid. Well worth it for priority boarding and the much greater leg room I think.

Push off was again 40 minutes late and take off was further delayed so it was almost an hour later than the scheduled departure time that we actually launched into the sky. Not that we have anything to rush for. No connections to catch, nowhere to be until we meet Nancy tomorrow at 11. So chill, relax and get into the holiday spirit. Feeling like it could be a good one.

So her we are on the flight, typing away on the Smart PC. I do like it. Having fun already. Will break off from the writing now and do some reading and film watching, it is an 8 hour flight after all..

Well, just had lunch and the beef was very tastey. Wifey had fish and although she didn’t like the sauce the fish was good. After the diet of the last 18 months that lunch was one of the biggest meals I’ve eaten. Air line food seen as a big lunch, you heard it here first.

Bloke across the isle is really knocking them back. Three whiskeys from the first trolley. That’s going some.

Now watching Broken City and trying to work out exactly where the film is going.

Battery on the Smart PC is showing over 8 hours life even after writing all the above for an hour. I have to admit it is an impressive bit of kit.

Can’t really believe that we are on this trip. Can’t work out how this came around so quickly. Worked pretty much solidly since the the last holiday in 2011 and so am having difficulty adjusting to the fact that we are on it, It’s an almost surreal feeling. Can’t quite describe it. Going to be good once it does click though, of that I have no doubt.

Landed only 30 minutes behind schedule which wasn’t too bad. Straight off the plane as we were at the front of the premium economy section to be met by immigration officers at the top of the ramp. Not had that happen to me since a flight from Bogota to Miami. Strange.

Wait at immigration was very short. A flight from China had landed just before us but nearly all the immigration desks were open and we flew through. Baggage reclaim was as bad as I remembered Pearson. Took an absolute age. Feels like there is only one person throwing the bags through every minute or so, Eventually got them and charged out to the limos.

$60 for a limo from the airport to One King West not to shabby I thought. Wifey appreciated the comfort that Lincoln provides. Roads into Downtown were gridlocked. Blue Jays playing this afternoon and there were cars and fans everywhere.

Check in at the hotel was very slick and we were quickly up on the 34 floor in our room with a view. Room is a bit dated and has TV’s with ‘boxes’ on the back. But it’s a suite. A bathroom, a reception room / kitchen and a bedroom. It’ll do for three nights.

After a quick unpack we headed towards the CN Tower very much against the flow of fans departing the area after the game had finished. All the bars and restaurants were absolutely heaving. Walked under the CN Tower towards the Whistle Stop Brewery and the Roundhouse Park looking at some of the trains as they play a big part of the trip.

Walked up Lower Simcoe to King and headed past the theatres to John Street where we found an Indian restaurant for dinner. As usual, a non-descript and out of the way restaurant came up trumps. Wifey couldn’t find Madras on the menu and went for the next ‘best’ thing, butter chicken. I whimped out on the Lamb Vindaloo asking whether it was North American or Indian hot and had the Lamb Rogan Josh instead. Lamb was beautifully tender and the Rogan Josh just hot enough. One pilau rice did for the two of us. Wifey had a mango which works so well with hot curries and I had a bottle of Kingfisher. Very good meal, with tip, $60. Mmm. I like curries.

Then straight back to the hotel through much less crowded streets. A lot colder now and explained why so many were wearing thick coats and jackets. I just had my Help For Heroes t-shirt. Started to feel it by the time we got back to the hotel.

Tired now as it actually past midnight at home but only half eight here.

Can’t believe that I’ve just seen an advert for a certain Wonga.Com – now available in Canada!


Photogallery

Canadian Rockies Trip | Day 2 - Toronto

Date : 27 May 2013

Distance : 


Awake early again. Out of bed at 4:30. Glorious sunrise again to follow last night’s glorious sunset. Tried uploading photos again to my NAS but the WIFI in the hotel is really not up to it.

Trying to eat lighter today to keep the good work of the last 18 months going so just tea and toast for breakfast. Once Wifey was up and ready we wandered down to the concierge to check-out the sight-seeing hop-on-hop-off bus. Concierge was great, called the company up there and then and booked us on. next pick up was at 09:55 opposite the King Edward Hotel across the road from 1 King West. Worked for us.

While waiting we grabbed teas and coffees in the Starbucks opposite watching the workers trundling to work in Downtown. Surprised at just how many people call in to Starbucks for a coffee before work.

There was another family waiting for the bus which turned up about 20 minutes late. One of the buses had had problems knocking their schedule out a bit. Just like Chicago it was an old topless Routemaster. Unlike Chicago it was completely manned by University students. Bryony was English. Very plummy but with lots of ‘guys’ and ‘good stuff’. Would have preferred a Canadian, but she was confident and interesting. Just her voice was rather annoying.

24 stops that take about 2 hours to go around and a ticket that lasts three days  and a 40 boat trip around the islands for $35, I think it worth it, although the PATH subway probably a lot cheaper but do you get a description of the areas you travel through?

The bus takes you up to the shops and museums and Castle Lomas and down to the CN Tower, docks and Distillery districts. To get our bearings we stayed on it all the way round to the CN Tower. They then had a 15 minute break and we decided to make a break to catch the boat. If we’d waited for the bus to resume we would have missed the 11:45 sailing so we dashed over the railway tracks, between the CN Tower and Rogers stadium, round the Roundhouse and then to the Ann Tindal Park on the waterfront to jump on the boat.

As it was and absolutely glorious day the boat was absolutely packed and we only just made it. Seats we got weren’t great an some girls tried to squeeze in which wasn’t happening. Still, got some fantastic pictures. Last time I did this was back in 2006 when I worked for RIM and we had a team building day. Looked the same but the weather was much better today.

After the boat we looked for a light lunch and happystanced upon a little cafe next to the Simcoe Wave Deck, Williams.. Nice open tuna wasabi melt for me and chicken quesadillas (why had we never tried them before Qatar?). Very nice. The cafe was in a pet information centre that had water fountain for dogs. Missing the girls.

Walked back to the Roundhouse and took some photos of the trains. One of the bus stops was here and whilst waiting we had a good long chat with one of the students working on it. As Canada only has two semesters they have 4 months off during the summer. Plenty of time to earn some money to pay for their tuition fees. However, the girl we talked to, being Quebecois, had her education paid for by McGill University. Having said that, the tuition fees in Canada appear to be about two thirds that in the UK. She was very chatty and helped pass the time waiting for the bus.

Next up as narrator was Vit. Could hardly hear her and when we could she wasn’t very engaging. Took the bus all the way to the top of the journey, Castle Lomas. $20.95 each which I thought was a bit steep, but an interesting history and a big and attractive house, used today as a wedding venue. Poor bugger that built it had his company taken from him by the council with no compensation and then promptly became bankrupt. That’s councils for you the world over.

Back on the bus with a young bloke, obviously a comedian who brought us back to the CN Tower. Very funny young man Better than Bryony and Vit. Saving the Museums for tomorrow when the weather is meant to be wet with thunderstorms.

Decided to have dinner at East Side Marios. Used to enjoy the ESM in Waterloo when I visited so had no worries. Ah. Hmm. Didn’t enjoy the experience at all. Staff not exactly happy to serve us. I ordered a pizza that was only half covered in toppings and had no tomato sauce and was very dry. Couldn’t eat it. Left. Never again.

Finally for the day walked back to the hotel.

For tomorrow we will have to check out before 11:00 am and the train doesn’t leave until 22:30 pm. This means we need to find somewhere to leave the bags for the day. Asked the concierge and he said we could leave bags with them for as long as we wanted. Sounds perfect.

Long day and tired now. More of the same tomorrow and then, the Canadian…


Photogallery

Day 2 - Toronto | Day 4 - Toronto and The Canadian

Date : 26 May 2013

Distance : 


After going to bed at 9:15 local, that’s nearly 24 hours awake, I thought I’d have a particularly bad night’s sleep. I never usually sleep well on the first night in a new bed but the bed I have to confess was very comfortable and I slept like a log.

Unhappy this morning though as the SD card I used to take all my pictures yesterday has become corrupted so I’ve lost a lot of pictures. Rather frustrating as I was trying to back them up to my NAS as it corrupted itself. Annoyed.

The view from our perch on the 34th floor is unobscured by tower blocks and so we can see for miles to the north of Toronto with lake Ontario over on the right. Not quite as impressive as the views from our room in Chicago or for my hotel in Japan but at least it’s not a view into a dark and dingy alley that I’ve had in some places I’ve visited.

Wondering what to do for breakfast. I don’t need much after yesterday and we are eating at the 360 tonight and going to lunch with friends. There is a Starbucks across the road and an Artisan Bakery next door although we did pick up a couple of croissants last night.

Coffee machine is on. Noticed when firtling through the kitchen that there is a dishwasher, a washing machine and a drier hidden away. Could almost live here, well they do call it hotel and residences.

Went for a little walk at about 7 am in a loop north along King Street to St James cathedral snapping away trying to make up for yesterday. Grabbed the first Timmies of the trip. Just as bad as I remember. Turned south on St James Street and then cut back towards Downtown on Front Street and St Lawrence Market. Too early for most things to be open on a Sunday morning but we did stop at  a Metro supermarket for some groceries. Good to see a good selection of teas. There were also a lot of people setting up for a car boot type-sale opposite the Market.

Dropped the shopping off and went to recce Union Station. Lots and lots of building works on Front Street and in the station itself. Glad we didn’t choose the Freemont Royal Oak to stay in/ It did take us a bit to find our way into the station and then into the Departure Hall. Very impressive space. Considering the Victorians in the UK built some very attractive an light stations, I’m surprised at how ‘heavy’ the building looms. Reminded me of St George’s Hall and the art galleries in Liverpool. Big, solid stone structures. Saw where the baggage drop was and the way to the business lounge so now know where to go.

We then followed the Skywalk back towards the CN Tower. After everything that we ate yesterday and the fact we’ll be having lunch and dinner today, we need to walk. Quite an interesting walk with some fantastic photography opportunities. One particular shot down a set of stairs to a glass domed walkway particularly pleasing.

Tried to make up for some of the lost photographs from yesterday although didn’t do the trains at Whistle Stop Brewery, will do that tomorrow.

Then back to the hotel to meet Nancy for lunch. Great to meet her and catch-up. Been far too long. Lunch at another Canadian institution: Swiss Chalet: really good food but much better company. Time with Nancy went far too quickly and she was soon dropping us back off at the hotel.

Our reservation at the 360 was for 7pm so we left in what we thought was plenty of time. Got to the base of the CN with 10 minutes to spare, but then we’d forgotten we actually had to get to the top. Luckily mentioning that we had reservations saw us to the front of the queues, much to some other visitors consternation. I did like the fact that one of the staff manning the security puffers loudly explained that as we had reservations we had to be there on time or not get a seat. The way he explained it really did sound like “well, they bothered to make reservations, did you?”. Went into smug mode.

There is airport style security at the base bit I suppose this would be a target. But this is Canada. Home of nice people, shy would anyone want to target Canada? Ho hum, way of this world.

We were given our reservation tickets and again ushered to the front of the queue for the lift to the restaurant. 58 seconds is all it takes at 15 mph to get to the restaurant. Glass floor in the lift showed the ground dropping away below us.

Quickly and efficiently shown to our table. I must say that it is a very strange sensation sitting on a moving platform. The restaurant floor rotates a full 360 degrees every hour. Very disconcerting for the first 15 minutes until ‘acclimatised’ to it.

The views are spectacular and, as it is the tallest structure in Toronto, everything else is below it. A much less built up city than Chicago so you can see more than atop the Sears or Hancock towers. Thankfully it was an awesomely clear evening with not a cloud in sight and so you could see right across Lake Ontario to ???. Watching planes landing below us was strange though.

Food was expensive but very, very good. Wifey had duck confit followed by Cornish chicken. I had calamari followed by steak and Yukon frites (yes chips) and asparagus with a cabernet jus. Really enjoyed it. Waiter was attentive and chirpy. I’d read some reviews that said that people said they felt rushed. I certainly didn’t. Have to admit that the starters were at the table seconds after ordering which did feel odd, but happy with service like that. I have waiting hours for starters. After that the courses came when they came and I did not feel any pressure to finish quickly. We had dessert, chocolate mousse tower for Wifey and cheese and walnut bread for me. The brandy steeped pear was lovely and accompanied the cheese perfectly. Coffee to finish.

Really good meal and stunning views to boot. Definitely a bucket list moment.

After coffee we wandered down to the observation deck where the sunset was drawing a big crowd. But the views did not compare with those from the restaurant. The wait for the lift down seemed to last forever. Wifey hit the souvenir shop in earnest. They have them in Canada a well it seems. She got very excited about pre-stamped postcards. Simple pleasures.

Slow stroll back to the hotel which we arrived at 10:30. Bedtime and tired.


Photogallery

Day 1 - London to Toronto | Day 3 - Toronto

Date : 28 May 2013

Distance : 


Actually had a lie in until gone 6 this morning. Very unlike me. As the Canadian doesn’t leave until 22:00 tonight and check-out isn’t until 11:00 we want to make the most of the room. Slow breakfast and final packing of the on-board bags. At about 10:00 we gave up the waiting around and went and checked out.

As I mentioned on the first day the hotel is not in it’s first flush of youth and I probably would not stay there again as there are, I think, probably better hotels available in Toronto for the price. Final thing that put me off was finding bill pushed under the door this morning. I’ve travelled the globe but I’ve never had a hotel bill pushed under the door before.

Check out took seconds and while Wifey was paying I crossed over to the concierge to take advantage of the free bag drop off. Well, I wasn’t going to wander around Toronto from 11:00 until 19:00 (train check-in time) with a load of bags in tow.

Forecast was rain this morning in Toronto and we had watched it getting heavier as we were packing. By the time we were wandering up Yonge Street to Dundas Square it had set in to a fine mizzle. Glad of the rain coats.

Had a gander around the Easton Street Mall, supposedly the largest in Canada but tiny compared to similar things in Basingstoke. Quick fly round but did stop and buy a new, bright orange strap for the NEX7. Wifey was getting fed up of the Nikon strap I’d been using so far. The little Japanese shop assistant was trying just a little too hard to be engaging, trying to explain to me that the strap may not fit my camera. Sigh. I’ve been using and collecting cameras for 30 years. How would I not know whether a strap fits my camera.

Across Yonge Street to Dundas Square to wait for the Bus. We still had two of the three days left on the pass so we’re using it. Luckily there is cover so we didn’t get too wet.

Bus was standing room only on the lower deck as no-one was stupid enough to sit upstairs in the mizzle. A group of four Italian oldies with not a word of English between them got on and gave the girls running the bus a hard time. After being sorted out they encountered another couple of Italians and proceeded to do what Italians do: talk long and talk loud. Could barely here the poor girl trying to do the talk. Different girl same patter.

We got off at stop 6 by the Museum of Ontario. Have to say I was spellbound. This was a museum that showed exhibits and didn’t pander unnecessarily to the instant gratification and dumbing down that we too often get in the UK. Look at what they’ve done to the Liverpool Museum for God’s sake. Not sure about the new ‘crystal’ facade if I’m honest.

Had a bite to eat for lunch and as unimpressed with the cafe food as much as any I’ve had in the UK. Can’t have everything.

Started on the ground floor in the Far East section and worked through to the First Nations exhibits. Some absolutely stunning pieces in all sections. Highlights too many to mention.

Second floor was more of the same starting with Mammals and then going through the giant South American fauna to the dinosaurs. Have to admit there were a couple of stand outs. First was  the giant sloths and armadillo fossils. Remember reading and being fascinated by them as a kid. Second was the skeleton of a pteradon. How did something that large actually take to the air and, more importantly, land? I was was transfixed by both.

The NEX7 was getting a real work out and by the T-Rex skeleton I was approached by a girl with a Canon SLR. She asked if I wouldn’t mind taking her photo with the T-Rex. I said of course not. Her response made me laugh. “I’ve been waiting for ages to ask someone with a big camera to do this for me. I just don’t trust the iPhone crowd.” Loved it. Took about 5 of her with the T-Rex. Hopefully at least one worked for her.

Up to the third floor and visited the bats in the cave. Lol. A few more interactive kiddy things up here but happy that most of what I’d seen treated me like an adult. Ancient and world culture exhibits here. Rome, Greece, Egypt, Persia, Africa, South America. Some really good artefacts: coins, vases, busts, armour, etc. And a really engaging photographic exhibits.

Down to the ground floor again and a trip around the souvenir shop.

Rain had stopped and the roads were drying out as we left. Which was good as there was nowhere undercover to wait for the bus which very handily turned up 5 minutes after we did.

Mark, the comedian, was our host, and as yesterday, was far more engaging than any of the other guides. Even had a little banter going with him. Bus had to miss a couple of stops around the CN Tower due to traffic. The Blue Jays were playing a day time match and lots of the schools had been invited for an ‘educational’ afternoon at the Rogers. What it meant was that there were hundreds of school buses parked up blocking lanes for blocks around. And at the start of rush-hor. Gridlock.

Took the bus all the way round to the Distillery District. Not having read up on this area before arriving wasn’t sure what we were turning up to. Well, it’s a rather high-end boutique kind of place built in an old distillery. Really quick fly back to downtown with the rain starting again and then into Marche for dinner.

Interesting Swiss idea here. You get a tab ‘credit card’ at the desk and then wander around the various food sections deciding what you want. There’s Chinese, German, Pasta, burgers, salads etc all set-up like separate stands as you would find in a supermarket. When you’ve decided what you like and chosen you hand the tab card over to the cook to be swiped. Once you’ve finished you hand over the tab card to the desk and pay. Very different.

I decided on something simple, bratty mit pommes and Wifey went for pasta. Have to admit it was much better than East Side Marios last night. However, once you add sales taxes and the 12% service charge it is not cheap for what it is.

We were trying to leave it as close to 19:00 as possible as baggage drop off at the station doesn’t take bags, without a heavy surcharge, until 3 hours before departure.

By now the heavens had opened and it was torrential. Rain coats on and heads down up the couple of blocks to the hotel. Got the bags out of storage and asked for a taxi. Although it is only a 5 minute walk we had a lot of bags and it is torrential. Due to the roads still being gridlocked the concierge couldn’t find a taxi and suggested we took the PATH to the station.

Wasn’t happy as I knew that we would struggle getting the bags there but we had very little option. And struggle we did. Although it kept us dry, it was very warm and had more than one flight of stairs. By the time we made it to Union Station we were very hot and bothered.

Transferred the reservations to tickets very quickly and got the bags loaded with no fuss. Being there 3 hours before departure meant there were very few other people there and we whistled through and into the Panorama Lounge to wait for check-in.

Check-in opened at 20:00 and the queue was huge. Waited for 30 minutes and as the queue showed no sign of getting smaller decided to join it. Some people obviously didn’t get the fact that the bunks are top and bottom and were requesting side by side. Say what? Dealt with quickly and efficiently. Car 117 cabin D. Lunch and dinner booked for first sitting as second sitting had already gone. That’s lunch at 11:15 and dinner at 17:00 tomorrow. Breakfast is a free for all, first come first served.

Panorama Lounge is now absolutely heaving as we wait to board and I’d say that approximately 95% of our fellow travellers are older than us. There are a few kids and one or two toddlers. Do so hope we are not next to them.

One interesting fact gleaned from the sightseeing crew was that the Silverstreak was filmed at Union Station.

Will write more later although may not be able to post anything more until Winnipeg on Thursday (today being Tuesday).

Laters.

Called through at about 21:30 for boarding. All very efficient but they appeared to change the ramp from 16 to 21 without telling anyone which really confused some of the old dears. Down the damp wooden ‘platform’ under the eyes of construction crews to mount up on car 117, cabin D, our home for the next three and half days.


Photogallery

Day 3 - Toronto | Day 5 - The Canadian