Searching for locations: Toronto, Canada

Usually, the transfer from the airport to the hotel is one of those serene moments after a long, or short, plane trip.

Usually.

Our first from Vancouver airport to the hotel was in something akin to a party bus, a stretch limousine that was very uncomfortable after 24 hours cooped up in an economy seat.  Surely they had a large enough SUV.

Apparently not.

This time around we got what the driver said was a town car, and our looks of amazement that it could take the three of us and 4 large suitcases and 3 cabin bags, was met with a shrug and a statement that the limo company had got rid of their larger cars a year ago.

This driver was determined.  He fitted the cases in, and we crammed in the back, all squishy.

But that was the best part of the journey.

We had the original kamikaze.  It was 140km or nothing, and being tossed about in the back of the car was just what we needed.

Score: 1 out of 10.

The driver just stopped long enough to toss the bags on the sidewalk and drive off, leaving us to fend for ourselves.

Of course, the hotel didn’t have a 24-hour concierge and I guess it was part of a learning curve for staying in downmarket hotels.

So, we’re staying in a Doubletree by Hilton, a downmarket hotel chain that we have stayed in before, in Melbourne, Australia.  That was a pleasant and surprisingly good experience, leading to giving the chain another go in Toronto, Canada.

Its a case of chalk and cheese.  Maybe it’s the late hour, maybe it’s my expectations, but the experience was flat, and for a chain that Hilton has put its name to, maybe it’s time they started policing the hotel’s standards.

Not that the over the counter experience was bad, I just didn’t feel like I was welcome in the usual Hilton manner.

It’s a long time since I was a Diamond HHonors guest, and I was not expecting a lot, but being a member, at whatever level you are on, should count for something.

Today, it didn’t.

But it didn’t end there…

The room on first viewing was a disappointment, but on reflection, I think my expectations were geared to what we have had in Australia where real estate is less expensive and therefore the rooms are larger.

This also means most rooms have double queen or double king beds, not twin double beds.  I have not slept in a double bed for about 40 years, anywhere.

Of course, I should have read the fine print.

My bad.

So…

I go down to the front desk and ask if there are larger rooms.  Of course, there are, if you want twin double beds, or a king bed and a fold away bed, which we do not.

I understand their dilemma, the rooms are just too small to fit larger beds.

Lesson learned for the next time if there is a next time.

On the upside…

Breakfast is included, and it’s really good, and the service is above expectations.

So, it’s the new year

I just watched America ring in the new year.

15 hours after we did here in Brisbane.  It was, if anything, a non event.  Covid put paid to anything as lavish as it had been in the past.  It reminded me of thetwo times we were in New York for New Year’s Eve and the first time we couldn’t get near tTimes Square, and saw the ball drop in Central Park, and the second, in a Times Square hotel not far from the action.

This year we saw it on TV.  Oh, hang on, the TV coverage didn’t cover the ball drop.  What the?

But not to put too fnei a point to it, I didn’t really miss it.  Notthere, and not here.

Any other year?  Perhaps.

Two years ago we were in Lake Louise in Canada, and it was amazing to say the least.  The Fairmont hotel had been setting up for it all day, right down to watching a hoard of staff trying to put together the portable dance floor, and later, when exiting the restaurant, watching the crowded hoards dancing to their own music.  Or so it appeared.

We dined in the restarant, and it was a magic night of dining, in a magical setting.

Just saying that I don’t think that New Years Eve will be topped in what might be the rest of my lifetime.

This year, nothing.  I was up writing, and on the dot of midnight there was 15 seconds of fireworks.

We usually watch Sydney’s New Year’s Eve party and the fifteen to twenty minutes of fireworks after, but Covid put paid to that too.

Ten or so years ago, when imbibed with more enthusiasm, we went to a club on the border between Queensland and New South Wales where one had daylight saving and the other didn’t.   It was fun to celebrate New Year’s Eve twice, but not when we went back to the motel and discovered, after a rain deluge, all our rooms had sprung leaks and everything was wet.

The days of those adventures are more.

I’ve got used to staying in five and six star accommodation, but now we have retired and the income doesn’t match the lifestyle we used to have.

And with Covid always lurking in those dark corners waiting to pounce when least expected, I’m guessing my 2021 will be much the same as 2020, in isolation until we get a vaccine and the idiots finally realise they’re dicing with death, ours not theirs.

Still, it could be worse.

But, despire the glass half empty attitude, I hope everyone else has a happy new year and a much better 2021.

Searching for locations: Lake Louise to Toronto, via Calgary

All the worries we thought we might have in getting from Lake Louise to Calgary, in the end, it was just like driving to work, only a little longer.

When we left the Fairmont, the car had two frozen bottles of water and a frozen donut, left in the car for the two days we were there, so hiding in the garage might not be a good idea.

At the garage where we refueled, it was so cold I could barely clean the windows and glad to get back into the warmth inside the car.

Thankfully as we got closer to Calgary, it got warmer.

We bypass the city going to the airport, but, as it turns out, we would not have had much time to look around anyway.It’s nice to go to an airport and actually find the car rental returns first go with adequate signing to get there.

Returning the car took a few extra minutes because we were at the end of a dozen or so others who turned up at the same time.  All good, they remembered giving us a half full petrol tank.

At the check-in, it is very smooth sailing, the kiosk working and once the booking reference was entered, it spat out the desired number of boarding passes and baggage tags.

Then to baggage drop, through customs where I managed to lose my jacket, which is amazing that you would be allowed to leave anything behind.

So…

We have an hour and a half to kill, so a long soda and two long island teas settle the pre-flight nerves if we had any to start with.

Time to consider the vagaries of the flight.

Today we’re on an Airbus a320, and we are seated in the very last row, row 33.  It’s always a bad thing to look up planes on seatguru.com, because it has painted them as the worst on the plane.

What’s the downside, sometimes the seat pitch is less than further up the plane, the seats don’t recline and you get the seat in front in your face, and you get the constant flushing of the toilets.  And my major bugbear there’s no overhead luggage space.

What’s the reality?

To begin with, the seats recline, but not very much.  We’ll wait till the plane is cruising before judging how far the seats recline in front of us.

The seat pitch is good and it doesn’t feel like were cramped into a small space, but again this is relative to what happens with the seat in front.

Overhead baggage space, none whatsoever, so if you don’t get on first you are basically screwed.  We were almost first to the rear of the plane so I suspect others also know about the lack of overhead bin space.

Being at the read most part of the plane affords you a view of how the baggage handlers treat your baggage, and it’s interesting, to say the least.  They smile a lot, so I suspect that a few bags might get the ‘treatment’.

Enough already.

We’re now backing out of the bay ready to leave.

We’re getting endless announcements in foreign languages so when next I fly with Air Canada I should at least learn French.

Or not…

Ah, the smell of kerosene floods our end of the plane.  So much for air quality, which so it happens is being covered in the safety video at the exact same time.

But as it turned out, the flight was uneventful.

Searching for locations: Vancouver to Kamloops, Canada

This morning started with a visit to the car rental place in Vancouver.  It reinforced the notion that you can be given the address and still not find the place.  It happened in Washington where it was hiding in the back of the main railway station, and it happened again in Vancouver when it was hidden inside a hotel.

We simply walked straight past it.  Pity there wasn’t a sign to let people know.

However…

We went in expecting a Grand Jeep Cherokee and walked out with a Ford Flex, suitable for three people and four large suitcases.  It actually seats 7, but forget the baggage, you’d be lucky to get two large suitcases in that configuration.

It is more than adequate for our requirements.

Things to note, it was delivered with just over a quarter of a tank of gas, and it had only done about 11,000 km, so it’s relatively new.  It’s reasonably spacious, and when the extra seats are folded down, there is plenty of baggage space.

So far, so good.

We finally leave the hotel at about half-past ten, and it is raining.  It is a simple task to get on Highway 1, the TransCanada Highway, initially, and then onto Highway 5, the Coquihalla Highway for the trip to Kamloops.

It rains all the way to the top of the mountain, progress hampered from time to time by water sprays from both vehicles and trucks.  The rain is relentless.  At the top of the mountain, the rain turns into snow and the road surface to slush.  It’s 0 degrees, but being the afternoon, I was not expecting it to turn to ice very quickly.

On the other side of the mountain, closer to Kamloops, there was sleet, then rain, then nothing, the last 100kms or so, in reasonably dry conditions.

Outside Kamloops, and in the town itself, there was evidence of snow recently cleared, and slushy roads.  Cars in various places were covered in snow, indicating the most recent falls had been the night before.

We’re staying at the Park Hotel, a heritage building, apparently built in the later 1920s.  In the style of the time, it is a little like a rabbit warren with passages turning off in a number of directions, and showing it is spread across a number of different buildings.

It has the original Otis elevator that can take a maximum of four passengers, and a sign on the wall that says “no horseplay inside the elevator” which is a rather interesting expression that only someone of my vintage would understand.  And, for those without a sense of humor, you definitely couldn’t fit a horse in it to play with.

The thing is, how do you find a balance between keeping the old world charm with modern day expectations.  You can’t.  Some hotels try valiantly to get that balance.  Here, it is simply old world charm, which I guess we should be grateful for because sooner rather than later it’s going to disappear forever.

In my writer’s mind, given the importance of the railways, this was probably a thriving place for travelers and once upon a time, there were a lot more hotels like this one.

Searching for locations: Vancouver, Canada – 4

Staying at Hampton Inn and Suites downtown, whatever that means because it looks like we are in the middle of nowhere.

But, judging by the crowd in the breakfast room, it’s a popular hotel.  Of course, it is Sunday morning so this could be the weekend escape people.

Two things I remember about staying in Hampton Inns is firstly the waffles and whipped butter.  It’s been five years but nothing has changed, they are as delicious as ever.  The other, its where I discovered vanilla flavored milk for coffee, and it, too, is addictive.

They also used to have flat burgers that were made out of sausage meat which was delicious, but on the first day, they were not on the menu.

Nevertheless, it was still a very yummy breakfast.

After some research into where we might find this pixmi unicorn, it appears that it is available at a ‘toys are us’ store in one of the suburbs of Vancouver.  So, resuming the quest, we took a taxi to West Broadway, the street the store is located.

A quick search of the store finds where the toys we’re looking for are, after asking one of the sales staff, and we find there are at least a dozen of them.  Apparently, they are not as popular in Canada as the might be in America.  Cheaper too, because the exchange rate for Canadian dollars is much better than for American dollars.  Still, 70 dollars for a stuffed toy is a lot of money.

We also get some slime, stuff that our middle granddaughter seems to like playing with.

After shopping we set off down West Broadway, the way we had come, looking for a taxi to return us to the hotel.  There’s no question of walking back to the hotel.

A few hours later we walk to the observation tower, which was not very far from the hotel,

a place where we could get a 360-degree view of the city of Vancouver although it was very difficult to see any of the old buildings because they were hidden by the newer buildings, nor could we see the distant mountains because of the haze.

After leaving the tower we walked down Water Street to see the steam clock and the old world charm of a cobbled street and old buildings

We stopped at the Spaghetti Factory Italian restaurant for dinner and is so popular that we have to wait, 10 minutes to start with.  It doesn’t take all that long to order and have the food delivered to the table.  Inside the restaurant, there is an actual cable car but we didn’t get to sit in it.

I have steak, rare, mushrooms, and spaghetti with marinara sauce.  No, marinara doesn’t mean seafood sauce but a very tasty tomato-based sauce.  The steak was absolutely delicious and extremely tender which made it more difficult to cut with a steak knife.

The write up for the marinara sauce is, ‘it tastes so fresh because it is made directly from vine-ripened tomatoes, not from concentrate, packed within 6 hours of harvest.  We combine them with fresh, high-quality ingredients such as caramelised onions, roasted garlic and extra virgin olive oil’.

Oh, and did I mention they have a streetcar right there in the middle of the restaurant

I’m definitely going to try and make this when we get home.

After dinner, we return to the observation tower,  the ticket allowing us to go back more than once, and see the sights at night time.  I can’t say it was all that spectacular.

Another day has gone, we are heading home tomorrow.

Searching for locations: Vancouver, Canada – 3

It’s always a given that whatever city you stay in unless it’s overnight, you go on a tour and see the sights.

Even when you’re staying a short distance from the city, you may make the effort to catch a train or bus, then get on the hop on hop off tour.  There’s always one in just about every city you visit.

Vancouver was no exception.

Except…

We arrived in the rain, went to sleep while the rain came down, woke up to the rain, and a heavy dose of jet lag or perhaps it was more that we had spent 24 and a half hours traveling from Brisbane to Vancouver via Shanghai.

We had an excellent view out the window of our room looking towards the shopping mall, and the steady falling rain.

 I felt sorry watching the construction workers on the building site that was the main vista we had to look at.

It could have been worse.  Endless mountains with snow on them.

What to do.  Venture out in the rain and go on the tour, on pop over to the shopping mall and pick up a few boxing day bargains, no, sorry, boxing week bargains.

We have had some experience going on hop on hop off tours in open-top buses in the rain.  And the last time was not a pleasant experience, even though we learned a valuable lesson, not to stand in front of a cannon and yell ‘fire’.  Apparently, that’s how Admiral Nelson lost his arm.

But…

The shopping mall won.

We’d wait and see if the weather improved.  Hang on, isn’t Vancouver near Seattle and doesn’t it rain 300 days of the year?

Not holding my breath.

I feel sorry for the construction workers again.  Still raining, still cold, and still no reason to get out of bed.

Day 2 in Vancouver turned out to be the same as day 1.

Hang on, there’s a development.

We’re on the 16th floor and up at those lofty heights, we can see not only the rain but intermingled with it a few flakes of snow.

Whilst we procrastinate about what we’re going to do, the snowflakes increase into small flurries.

Yep, we’re off to the mall again and go for a walk in the snow.

On the way back we drop into the Boston Pizza, which has a sports bar and there you can sit, drink, eat, and watch the ice hockey, or whatever sort is going at the time.

Today it’s a junior ice hockey tournament, but Canada was not playing.  Just the same, a long cold beer and ice hockey? How close to heaven is that?

I can now cross that off the bucket list.

Day 3, we’re going on a great rail journey, well, we are going to get the train to the city and collect the rental car, a car on the booking form that was supposedly a Jeep Grand Cherokee or similar.

Of course, ‘or similar’ are the words to be feared here because in truth the rental company can throw anything at you, so long as it matches the brief, three people and three large suitcases.

And, you guessed it…

The ‘or similar’ got us a Fort Flex.

Sounded like some place where exhausted soldiers were fending of the Indians in a last ditch battle.

Perhaps one or two too many American movies I think.

Searching for locations: Vancouver, Canada – 2

This morning we wake up to rain.  Or so we thought.  Taking a closer look out the window of our room on the 16th floor, we notice the rain is speckled with snowflakes.  As the morning progressed the snow got harder until there were flurries.

 Later we discover this is called wet snow by the local Vancouverians, and whilst they winge a lot over the endless rain, to them rain is infinitely better than snow.

To us, by the afternoon, it was almost blizzard conditions, with lots of snow.  Then the only thing is that it does not accumulate on most of the ground so there are no drifts to play in.

Because the weather is so dismal we decided not to go into Vancouver to do some sightseeing because the clouds were down to the ground and then the snow set in.

Another interesting fact is that construction workers do not go off the job if it’s raining, or worse when it is snowing.  Our room overlooks a new apartment complex under construction and the workers battled on through what seemed like appalling conditions.

At four in the afternoon, the Maple Leafs are playing the Ohio Blue Jackets, in Ohio.  It is a game we expect they will win.  Sparks is the goalkeeper, not Anderson, they’re playing back to back games and Anderson’s starting tomorrow.

They win, four goals to two.  

Just before darkness falls, about four thirty, the snow stops and there is a little rain, which melts the snow.

Time to go up to the executive lounge to get some snacks and coffee, then sleep because the next day we’re taking on the Trans Canada highway from Vancouver to Kamloops.

The forecast is for snow, more snow, and just for a change, more snow.

Searching for locations: Vancouver, Canada – 1

It’s raining.  There should be no surprise there.  And cold.  It’s late December and well into winter.

Perhaps not as cold as it could be, somewhere between three and four degrees.

We are staying at the Hilton Metrotown, at Burnaby.  Metrotown is also the largest shopping mall in British Columbia.  I agree that it is large and found it a great way to get some exercise after being in and off planes for the previous 24 hours.

The first discovery for the day was a trolley bus, something that I thought didn’t exist anymore. 

The second was to discover so many global brands, but how different the products are to what we can get back in Australia.  This is particularly so for cars where we discover that GM-based vehicles and Mazdas are so much better than what is available for us.

The third was to discover it seems we are almost in the heart of Chinatown, where going out an exit on the second floor takes you to a Chinese food court, with all manner of food types, and, it seems, tea bars.  It also explained why, in one supermarket we went in, signs were in both Chinese and English.

Being still tired from the travel, we don’t venture further than the mall where we have lunch, for me, the Canadian version of KFC, which seems to defeat the purpose of trying local food.  It seems most of the food that I can see in the food shops does not seem that appetizing.

Later we go out and find a Boston Pizza with a sports bar where we indulge in a 21 ounce Molton on tap, and a lime mojito, while watching the ice hockey on the big and surrounding small screens.  The ice hockey is some world junior championship (but mostly north hemisphere hockey playing nations) and seems as ferocious as the NHL.

But it does raise a question, why isn’t there a female NHL?  I guess this wasn’t the time to canvass opinions in the bar.

Something else we discover is that alcohol is relatively cheap, and get a case of Molten Canadian ale, Bacardi Black label, and maple flavored whiskey, for about a third of what it would cost at home.  Of course, it must be cheaper than firewood in keeping Canadians warm in the dead of winter.

We didn’t try the pizza, which kind of defeated the purpose of going there.

Meanwhile back at the room, we find the local ice hockey channel, and then to make sure we get to see the Maple Leafs, plug in the computer so that we can test it.  Good to go.  

That’s tomorrow, tonight we watching the Vancouver Canucks.

Searching for locations: Vancouver, Canada – again

It’s always a given that whatever city you stay in unless it’s overnight, you go on a tour and see the sights.

Even when you’re staying a short distance from the city, you may go to the effort of catching a train or bus, then get on the hop on hop off tour.  There’s always one in just about every city you visit.

Vancouver was no exception.

Except…

We arrived in the rain, went to sleep while the rain came down, woke up to the rain, and a heavy dose of jet lag, or perhaps it was more than we had spent 24 and a half hours traveling from Brisbane to Vancouver vis Shanghai.

We had an excellent view out the window of our room looking towards the shopping mall, and the steady fall of rain.

 I felt sorry watching the construction workers on the building site that was the main vista we had to look at.

It could have been worst.  Endless mountains with snow on them.

What to do.  Venture out in the rain and go on the tour, on pop over to the shopping mall and pick up a few boxing day bargains, no, sorry, boxing week bargains.

We have had some experience going on ha op on hop off tours in open-top buses in the rain.  And the last time was not a pleasant experience, even though we learned a valuable lesson, not to stand in front of c as mons and yell ‘fire’.  Apparently, that’s how Admiral Nelson lost his arm.

But…

The shopping mall won.

We’d wait and see if the weather improved.  Hang on, isn’t Vancouver near Seattle, and doesn’t it rain the 300 days of the year?

Not holding my breath.

I feel sorry for the construction workers again.  Still raining, still cold, and still no reason to get out of bed.

Day 2 in Vancouver turned out to be the same as day 1.

Hang on, there’s a development.

We’re on the 16th floor and up at those lofty heights, we can see not only the rain but intermingled with it a few flakes of snow.

Whilst we procrastinate about what we’re going to do, the snowflakes increase into small flurries.

Yep, we’re off to the mall again and go for a walk in the snow.

On the way back we drop into the Boston Pizza, which has a sports bar and there you can sit, drink, eat, and watch the ice hockey, or whatever sort is going at the time.

Today it’s a junior ice hockey tournament, but Canada was not playing.  Just the same, a long cold beer and ice hockey?

I can now cross that off the bucket list.

Day 3, we’re going on a great rail journey, well, we are going to get the train to the city and collect the rental car, on the booking form, supposedly a Jeep Grand Cherokee or similar.

Of course, ‘or similar’ are the words to be feared here because in truth the rental company can throw anything at you, so long as it matches the brief, three people and three large suitcases.

And, you guessed it…

The ‘or similar’ got us a Fort Flex

Searching for locations: Vancouver, Canada

Staying at Hampton Inn and Suites downtown, whatever that means because it looks like we are in the middle of nowhere.

But, judging by the crowd in the breakfast room, it’s a popular hotel.  Of course, it is Sunday morning so this could be the weekend escape people.
Two things I remember about staying in Hampton Inns is firstly the waffles and whipped butter.  It’s been five years but nothing has changed, they are as delicious as ever.  The other, its where I discovered vanilla flavored milk for coffee, and it, too, is addictive.

They also used to have flat burgers that were made out of sausage meat which was delicious, but on the first day, they were not on the menu.
Nevertheless, it was still a very yummy breakfast.

After some research into where we might find this pixmi unicorn, it appears that it is available at a ‘toys are us’ store in one of the suburbs of Vancouver.  So, resuming the quest, we took a taxi to West Broadway, the street the store is located.

A quick search of the store finds where the toys we’re looking for are, after asking one of the sales staff, and we find there are at least a dozen of them.  Apparently, they are not as popular in Canada as the might be in America.  Cheaper too, because the exchange rate for Canadian dollars is much better than for American dollars.  Still, 70 dollars for a stuffed toy is a lot of money.
We also get some slime, stuff that our middle granddaughter seems to like playing with.

After shopping we set off down WestBroadway, the way we had come, looking for a taxi to return us to the hotel.  There’s no question of walking back to the hotel.

A few hours later we walk to the observation tower, which was not very far from the hotel,

a place where we could get a 360-degree view of the city of Vancouver although it was very difficult to see any of the old buildings because they were hidden by the newer buildings, nor could we see the distant mountains because of the haze.

After leaving the tower we walked down Water Street to see the steam clock and the old world charm of a cobbled street and old buildings

We stopped at the Spaghetti Factory Italian restaurant for dinner and is so popular that we have to wait, 10 minutes to start with.  It doesn’t take all that long to order and have the food delivered to the table.  Inside the restaurant, there is an actual cable car but we didn’t get to sit in it.

I have steak, rare, mushrooms, and spaghetti with marinara sauce.  No, marinara doesn’t mean seafood sauce but a very tasty tomato-based sauce.  The steak was absolutely delicious and extremely tender which made it more difficult to cut with a steak knife.

The write up for the marinara sauce is, ‘it tastes so fresh because it is made directly from vine-ripened tomatoes, not from concentrate, packed within 6 hours of harvest.  We combine them with fresh, high-quality ingredients such as caramelised onions, roasted garlic and extra virgin olive oil’.

Oh, and did I mention they have a streetcar right there in the middle of the restaurant

I’m definitely going to try and make this when we get home.

After dinner, we return to the observation tower,  the ticket allowing us to go back more than once, and see the sights at night time.  I can’t say it was all that spectacular.

Another day has gone, we are heading home tomorrow.