Thursday, September 16, 2010

Vacation day 7 : Valemount to Vancouver

Date of trip 27/08

Distance travelled 746km

Valemount to Vancouver

This last day would be our longest drive so far, but by now we were confident veterans. We stopped halfway at Kamloops again, this time by accident we found the hotel we stayed in our honeymoon in 1999! Deciding to stop and check it out, we were hungry enough that a fried Breakfast at Denny's seemed like a good idea, and it certainly was. While we ate we got to listen in on a bunch of tweens comparing different pain killers in terms of the high, and the side effects. I remembered being in the hotel room back in 99 watching out the window as Friday night revellers stopped by Denny's, fighting and laughing with each other in the car park.

From Valemount to Vancouver

The drive from Kamloops to Mission went quick and soon we were in Langley but it seemed to take forever to get from there to Port Moody, even using the new toll bridge. I guess you get used to just hitting 120km along the highway, just slowing down for the occasional semi or RV as they struggle up the steep mountain roads.

From Valemount to Vancouver

We arrived home and back to summer, as it was still bright and sunny in the late afternoon when we got to our apartment. That was it, then end of the trip. In a week we'd covered over 3000km, and discovered a new Canadian city. Despite previously not being keen on the car part of the trip, I actually found it way more enjoyable than I expected, and it's so convenient on vacation to have your own vehicle with you. Now I'm wondering when we will next be able to spend the day at Waterworld, and at the same time planning a new road trip, this time south of the border, possibly to California!

Vacation day 6 : Edmonton to Valemount

Date of trip Thu 26/08

Distance travelled 488km

We got up early and spent an hour in the hotel pool, which we had to ourselves, then had cereal before starting the long drive home, which we would do in two parts. The first leg was to Valemount, which we'd already passed through, but today we would be spending the night at the Motel 7

It was the second last day of the vacation and my turn to drive, so Corbey directed me out of Edmonton, and it was her turn to make a mistake with navigation so we ended up driving around random suburbs, not for the first time, before we made our way back to the highway. On the way I noticed some cool place names like Camp He Ha Ho and a big Ranch called Mokoyoko (or something similar).

We stopped at Hinton for lunch which is about a third of the way to Valemount, and is a small town with some big stores and lots of chain restaurants. Sadly it would be our last fill up at Albertian gas prices.

Arriving at Jasper National Park gates we told the cashier we took the option to not pay the park fee, which means you're not allowed to stop in the park at all, but that was fine with us. It takes 40 minutes or so to drive through it and we had no time to visit Jasper again anyway. Although you're not allowed to stop in the rest areas, so this option means emptying your bladder before you enter.

The day was a little overcast, and Valemount was very quiet when we arrived in the early evening. The Super 8 motel was run by a young woman who seemed to do everything there; when she wasn't at the front desk greeting guests she was doing a tour of the rooms with towels, light bulbs and solving other problems. Despite her efforts there wasn't much that went smoothly with our stay. The room had only one bed instead of two, there weren't enough towels, and there was no lightbulb in our bedside lamp. So I took quite a few trips to the front desk. Jamie and I checked out the spa, which was one very old hot tub, a sauna that was marked closed with yellow tape and a steam room that was locked with a "staff only" sign on the door. Bizarrely it was one of the most expensive hotels on our trip, and she congratulated us on getting such a great rate.

Regardless we were comfortable in the hotel, and after a few minutes research I decided we were going to the Caribou Grill for dinner. The restaurant is a giant log cabin a couple of km off the highway, filled with authentic looking Cowboy and Indian knick knacks, including moose heads, saddles, bow and arrows and guns. I had a really good feeling about the place which increased when the waitress was super speedy and friendly. The food was fantastic, probably the best I've had in BC; I had Pork Tenderloin. In fact it was so good I had my arm twisted into having dessert. The NY Cheesecake was also excellent. It was about 9:30pm and dark when we left, happy, rosy faced and barrel shaped.

Happily we drove back to the hotel and went to bed. Next door to the hotel was a tiny greyhound depot, and a couple of times in the night a large bus arrived and backed up right past my window. Being a light sleeper I was wide awake for quite a bit of the night. Waking up about 6am I opened the curtains to find a large old bare chested man looking up at me from the patio, and disturbed I went back to bed for another hour.

Vacation day 5 : West Edmonton Mall - Galaxyland

After we ran around at Waterworld on Tuesday until we were exhausted we slept in a bit later today, but Corbey managed to get Jamie and I out of bed before the maids arrived, just. We had breakfast cereal in the hotel (yes I'm thrifty and I plan ahead) and went to the mall again for one more day.

First we went to Galaxyland, which like most of the mall is somewhat dated, and a few of the rides were closed for maintenance. The most exciting looking ride, a roller coaster, I couldn't quite bring myself to go on, because Jamie wasn't tall enough and would have been way to jealous. We did go on a medium sized roller coaster instead, and made up for the lack of extremity by screaming and laughing all the way around. Honestly, I didn't think Galaxyland was that great; and by the time I'd spent $50 on ride tickets and lost a few tokens in crappy broken arcade machines I was ready to check out the rest of the mall.

We had lunch in the food court, then checked out the ship in the centre of the mall, which is nicely maintained. It's a replica of the Santa Maria, the ship Columbus sailed to America. We paid a couple of bucks to go in it, and were apparently the only people inclined to do so. Funnily enough the ship was built in Vancouver and had made the same journey that we just had, also by road, to it's home in the WEM. One striking thing was how small the ship felt, when you considered that the crew of 30 lived below deck together for the 70 day long voyage.

Also interesting, although we didn't go inside, was the Sealife Caverns. They have a giant tank right in the mall where sea lions and other large creatures do shows throuhgout the day. Without paying for the attraction you can watch the shows from behind a glass wall, just 15 feet or so back, which was fine for us. Throughout the day we did a bit of shopping, almost entirely window shopping. We took advantage of Alberta's low sales tax to buy clothes for Jamie, and he spent his saved up pocket money on an awesome Star Wars lego kit.

Next we played adventure golf, which was a little crowded so we spent more time waiting than playing shots, but pleasant enough for an hour of fun. Later in the evening we watched a handful of local kids, who could skate like NHL stars, whiz about on the ice rink in the centre of the mall, while we drank coffee in Tim Hortons and tried to ignore the staff mopping our feet to encourage us to leave.

Here's a handy page with the facts you need for WEM

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Vacation day 4: World Waterpark

On our first day at the West Edmonton Mall we went to the giant indoor World Waterpark.

I was excited about the waterpark, having spent many blissful hours in them in Majorca and Portugal as a kid. Jamie has been to some aquatic centres with wave pools and slides but nothing on this scale, so I was looking forward to his reaction too. In my research about the mall before the vacation I read that there may be a line up just to get in, and then lines on all the popular slides. So I bought tickets in the hotel on the way at a decent discount (they sell a ticket at a fixed price which you can use at the water park or as an unlimited ride ticket at Galaxyland), and we made sure we got there just before 10am when the pool opens.

As it turned out the line up was about 20 minutes if you don't have tickets, and only a minute or two if you did. There was plenty of family changing rooms, and it wasn't long before we'd put our belongings in the lockers (which are about $8 on top of admission). Shortly after that Jamie and I were heading to the very top of the park up a maze of staircases. Jamie and I came down a ride marked 'Extreme' first, which was a long and fast ride with lots of turns that whapped you into the side.

After that we went on all the slides, except I didn't let Jamie go on the big red ones that plummet straight down, almost vertically. I went on them and it was amazingly fast. My shorts were around my armpits as I plopped into the pool at the end, which was surprisingly deep. All the slides were fun, and in the morning there were no waits at all. As it got nearer to lunchtime the lines got a bit longer, and by the afternoon there was a 15-20 minute wait at the popular slides.

The wave pool is brilliant fun, with 5-6 foot waves coming in groups of 3 or 4. Each one would bring dozens of people on big yellow tubes (that you can rent) coasting right over our heads, and after each wave we'd try to find Jamie, who always managed to paddle off on his own just as the big wave was about to hit. None of us got hurt, but it's pretty wild with feet and legs flying everywhere as the waves roll by.

Also worth doing is a slide where you sit on a plastic float and then shoot down a 60 foot water slide and then skip along on top of the water at the bottom for another 60 feet. There's also a giant blue bowl which you slide into, then spin around before dropping through a hole in the bottom in the pool below.

For lunch we had hot dogs and chips at one of the cute little cafes dotted around the pool, and were quickly back in the water. We watched someone do a bungee jump, which is done over the end of the wave pool. Looked pretty wild, and I would have done it too, but my shoulder is not quite in one piece again yet since breaking it in a bike riding accident.

Although there's not much to write, it was the most fun day of the holiday. We were in the water park for from about 10am to 4pm in the afternoon. Once we were thoroughly exhausted from all the sliding, we went back to get changed. I vaguely remembered hanging my shirt up in the change room, but not putting it in my bag, so it turned out I'd lost it. It wasn't in the lost and found, so someday I may go back to Edmonton and see someone wearing the free shirt they got that day. Slipping back into my towel we slipped out the back door and went back to the hotel to get another one.

We returned the mall for further exploration, in particular the restaurant section which had a reasonable selection of different style restaurants. We decided on Mr Mikes, since Jamie and I were both in the mood for steak.

Feeling pretty tired after that we went back to the hotel and bought a movie on the hotel TV (Furry Vengeance).

West Edmonton World Waterpark

(The pictures from are from this Flickr stream, as we didn't want to take cameras in with us.)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Edmonton blog day 3

Jasper to Edmonton

Date of trip Mon 23/08

Distance travelled 355km

Edmonton day 1

Since we'd already been to Jasper, albeit 11 years ago on our honeymoon, it was exciting to be heading for the first time into new territory. The last leg of our journey would take us from Jasper to Edmonton, and is about 4 hours along the Yellowhead Highway (AB-16). First though we decided to retread some old ground, and take a short drive to Pyramid Lake, just 10 minutes from the guest house in Jasper.

From Edmonton day 1

I wanted to go for a horse ride, but it turned out the stables near the lake were closed, but luckily the canoe rentals were not. While we considered whether to try it or not, another family with two young boys hopped into boats and paddled into the distance with little effort. Next to the lake is an up-market hotel and restaurant, which takes care of the boat and bike rentals. We rented a big canoe, put on life jackets and paddled into the lake.

From Edmonton day 1

There were some scary moments as the canoe was very sensitive to tipping, and Jamie, wanting to help, kept leaning right over the boat to stick his oar in (literally). So it was that the Heyes-Jones family made it's way, neither effortlessly or quietly, into the centre of the lake. Making pretty good progress we paddled around corner out of view of the hotel (and any chance of a rapid rescue) and towards a small island. Despite the sun, the morning was cold, and once around the corner there was a strong breeze trying to turn the canoe. So it was, that after an hour we arrived back at the boat rental with dirty hands and bright red faces with the effort of paddling.

From Edmonton day 1

Leaving Jasper, we stopped in the Petro Canada and spent a small fortune on chips, gas and coffee, realising by now that you can't eat too much on a road trip (you somehow burn calories just sat there in the driving seat). Although we were now in Alberta so gas was about $0.86 per litre, compared with about 30c more back in Vancouver.

From Edmonton day 1

Not long after leaving Jasper, the mountains suddenly fall behind you, and in their place is a giant blue sky. There's not much between Edmonton and Jasper, as far as I could tell, except for farm land; wery much like the England green hedge lined countryside I grew up in fact, except scaled up to fill this vast flat area.

From Edmonton day 1

There are a couple of small towns you can stop in along the highway but we had plenty of supplies so stopped only in a rest area. On the way I was delighted to see what looked like a large grey fox running along the median. Jamie and Corbey were less delighted as they didn't see it time.

We arrived in Edmonton in the early evening, and I used my smartphone with GPS and google maps to drive us to the wrong part of the city in rush hour (I guess it's not smart enough to know when the user doesn't type the post code in correctly), so we spent 30 minutes touring the road works on Whitemud Drive. We also incidentally drove to the campus of the University of Alberta, instead of the West Edmonton Days Inn Hotel.

On reaching the right area for the Days Inn, we couldn't see it anywhere, and I, not trusting my smartphone any more, decided to use it as a dumb phone and call the hotel for directions. Unfortunately I'd used up the battery almost completely, and the hotel put me on hold. Still they came back on the line just in time, and were friendly and helpful despite the fact that we were getting tired and our brains were mush.

After checking in to our hotel room, which was really nice and a 5 minute drive from the West Edmonton Mall (WEM), Jamie and I hit the pool which we had to ourselves. It was deep and pretty big for a hotel pool, with a hot spa on the side. After that we showered and went for dinner. It was about this point I just gave up on navigating in Edmonton and let Corbey take care of it. The maze of one way streets were a puzzle I was not quite in the mood to solve. We had dinner at the Olive Garden which is a family favourite; the service was good and friendly which was a distinct pattern we were noticing with Edmonton folk.

That evening we were itching to check out WEM, so even though it was due to close any minute we drove over there to investigate. Looking through the windows at a giant rollercoaster got Jamie super excited. We were able to wander through the mall, even though the stores were closing, and plan out our next couple of days. Jamie was blown away by Galaxy Land, Water World, and the fact that there is a full size ship right in the mall.

From Edmonton day 1

Finally we went back to the hotel and settled into the giant comfortable beds.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Road trip to Edmonton day 2

Clearwater to Jasper

Date of trip Sun 22/08

Distance travelled 317km
We woke up to the sound of light rain, and Jamie enjoyed riding his bike around the big car park while we packed. Then we crossed the street to the restaurant attached to the Motel, the Dutch Lake Village Restaurant. In the evenings this is a Chinese buffet, but in the mornings they make great fried breakfasts. In fact in the evening before I had been dreaming of bacon and egg, so I was delighted. The food was good quality, not obscenely greasy, and the waitress super efficient.

From Clearwater to Jasper

Hitting the road again, this time Corbey as the wheel, we drove about 200km before stopping in Valemount for lunch. When we arrived we'd reached that critical level of hunger where you don't want to spend a lot of time looking for food, so we decided to go to a gas station and buy sandwiches. Corbey couldn't find anything she liked in the two we tried, so as a little black cloud grew over my head we got creative. Seeing a little cafe with a sign for sandwiches, I went inside. Turned out the store was actually a launderette, busy with hikers and campers and the air thick with steam and soap smells. As we were about to turn around a little lady came out of a side door, and showed us that she had a little kitchen and dining area (with exactly one table) set up in the other side of the store. So there we sat, the three of us, as she brought out a pretty nice selection of sandwiches and some great coffee. Even better while we ate she entertained all of us with stories of bear encounters with campers in the night. Her eyes even looked a little bit bear-like and I couldn't help entertaining the idea that maybe she turns into a bear at night! Turned out to be a lot more interesting than eating Petro Canada sandwiches in a minivan.

From Clearwater to Jasper

Just outside Valemount we stopped at the majestic Rearguard Falls, recommended to us by the bear-lady, who told us we may see salmon jumping up-stream. We didn't see any, and it looked virtually impossible against the sheer power of the water. But I know from the fact that Salmon are not extinct that they must be able to do it, which is incredible.

Shortly after that we arrived at the Jasper park gates and I paid the $20 for a 24 hour park pass. You only need this if you intend to stop in the park, which also includes pulling off the highway for any kind of break. In our case we were intending to stay the night.

From Clearwater to Jasper

Arriving in the town of Jasper late afternoon we were pleased to find a warm welcome from the lady that runs the Miette Guest House, and even thought it was slightly older and smaller than the other grand houses on the street, it was very clean and nice inside. Built on a slight slope, most of the house was at the back at basement level and hidden from the street. There are about six rooms, and the one we had was big enough to run around in, and Jamie set about doing that right away, possibly to the annoyance of the more grown up and sedate other guests.

Once our baggage was dumped in the room we returned to the main street, which was just a few minutes walk from the guest house. Accidentally I was seperated from my smartphone for the first time since I bought it a week prior, and made more of a fuss about it then I ought to have. Meanwhile Jamie found a toy shop and several desirable purchases there. I told him that since we were going to be in the West Edmonton Mall in just a couple of days, he would have to wait until then for a better selection (and non-tourist priced toys).

For dinner I had a fairly reasonable Lasagne at a Greek Restaurant called Something Else. The service was quick and friendly.

From Clearwater to Jasper

Despite Vancouver still being lit with warm summer sunlight, Jasper was pretty cold, and somehow I'd managed to arrive with no rain coat or even a sweater of any kind. I got cold enough we checked out the local gift shops, but the cheap "Jasper" sweaters were so crappy I didn't think it was worth it and decided to risk dying of cold instead.

There's not a lot to see in the town really, once you've eaten and done any shopping, there's just the bars and movie theatre left. It's strange, but because the town of Jasper is built facing a railway, and the view is obstructed by goods trains, it has a very beach front feel to it. There's a pretty cool train and tourist centre, so we checked those out before returning to the guest house.