Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Back to the Good Ole USA

Up and began putting everything back in the suitcases  - ready to get on the road!

We walked around the corner to a small cafe and had a good breakfast.  Ben had scrambled eggs, bacon and toast and Jane had something they called Eggs Bennie.  This place is small and has 6 breakfast choices – all $10.  Simple!  The Eggs Bennie was an english muffin, slice of sausage, poached egg with a orange chipotle hollandaise sauce.  It was good!!

Eggs Bennie
We left our luggage with the front desk and headed over to the museum for the IMAX show on the Vikings.  I learned some world history and even Ben learned a thing or two!  Hope our next long trip can be to Newfoundland to see the landing site of the Vikings in the new world.  The gift shop was nice but we did not purchase much – limited space you know!

Included here is a photo of the British Columbia National Christmas Tree and a statue of Queen Victoria. The grounds were getting their summer planting of annuals today as well as numerous school groups having the class field trip and picnic.

Queen Victoria and over 100 year old tree

Flowers, School class and Christmas Tree

We were planning to have “High Tea or Afternoon Tea” as our last activity here in Victoria.  After considering several locations we selected the Gatsby Mansion. We were seated at a small table on the porch of this lovely Victorian home overlooking their lovely garden.

View from Gatsby Mansion Porch

We selected our tea and enjoyed the first course of fresh strawberries, blueberries, and heavy whipped cream along with some biscotti.

First Course
  Then came a three tiered tray filled with all kinds of goodies.
So Many Goodies
 One level was savories – prosciutto and cheese on small croissants, cucumber sandwiches, pate, salmon with dill – all were excellent and tasty!  The second level had hot blueberry scones with butter, honey, and a sweet tart preserve.  The final level was filled with sweets – key lime tarts, chocolate mousse, and a sweet filled cream puff. All delicious! It was certainly a fun treat – maybe I will have a tea party to celebrate something !  Jenny and I have the tea cups for a large party from Ben’s grandmother!

One of Numerous Stain Glass Windows - Home built in 1897

After returning to the hotel to pick up our luggage we headed to the COHO ferry terminal. It was only about 1 1/2 blocks so we were there and waiting for the customs officer about 2.  The ferry pulled out exactly at 3 PM.  The crossing was smooth except for about 20 minutes when we had to cross the current.  The wind was high supposedly bringing in the bad weather. Some large waves even sprayed the people outside on the deck!  The crossing took 90 minutes from Victoria, British Columbia  to Port Angles, Washington.  Good to be back in the USA!!!  No dogs or inspections at all – just showed passports and answered a couple questions.

Good to see USA - low building along land is our hotel Red Lion

We had again selected our hotel for location. Two blocks from the Ferry terminal and with a coin operated laundry!  We were even able to upgrade to a water view for $10 so here I sit typing the blog looking out at a beautiful water view.

After a quick supper here at the hotel -  Ben is doing the laundry and will call me when it is ready to dry and I will take over from there and dry and fold.  Good division of the work! I took this photo of some snapdragons outside the door of our hotel - I can't believe the flowers here - their weather is much warmer than I had anticipated. There is a really stiff wind though - think I will be getting out the rain jacket tomorrow for wind.
Snapdragons at Red Lion Inn

Bad news for the day is we just received an email from AMTRAK that our Seattle to Chicago train is canceled – no reason just to call…so we will have to deal with that tomorrow.  Surely there will be someway to get back home! Remarkably so far there have been absolutely no glitches.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Victoria British Columbia

We slept so well, don’t think either of us moved. We slept fine on the train but it was so quiet here and so much space!

Breakfast was in the lobby of the hotel where they had a small but adequate buffet. Other option was to go across to the Gatsby Mansion or a neighborhood cafe.  We may try one of those options tomorrow. The view out the window was pleasant.  There are flowers planted and blooming everywhere!
Walking to the BC Museum we passed by the BC Legislature Building.  Beautiful building and grounds. Tours were available but we passed that for right now but had a nice discussion with an young lady in 18th century dress.  The legislature is in session through the end of May and will then be out of session during the summer.
View of Gatsby Manor

British Columbia Legislature
There is a special exhibit on the Vikings from Sweden at the museum as well as a new IMAX film on the Vikings.  We  toured around the special exhibit as well  as 2 of their 3 large exhibits.  Very nice museum on the level of the Smithsonian.  The Viking exhibit was very interesting as we had never seen anything like it.  Their craftsman ship in silver and other mediums was excellent. Anyone from any walk of life could be a “viking”  (warrior or explorer) for a period of their life.  So you could be a farmer or trader or whatever for most of your life and occasionally go on a “viking” for 2 months – 6 months or any length of time.
Also of interest was the craftsman ship of the early inhabitants of  British Columbia.  Sounds like their history was much like that of the Indians in US. The British did not treat these tribes any better than we did in the US or maybe worse.  One group only got what they considered a fair agreement with the government in the 1990’s. The art and particularly the Totem poles were magnificent.

Viking Jewelry
Viking Silver

Lower part of a totem that was door to home

It is supposed to rain tomorrow so we will go back to the museum for visiting the gift shop, and see the Viking IMAX. 

We walked along the waterfront enjoying the sunshine and scenery.  We were looking for Red Fish, Blue Fish where we planned to eat Fish and Chips for lunch.  Located in a shipping container on the waterfront they are supposed to have some of the best fish in Vancouver.

Ben in line at Red Fish Blue Fish

Fish and Chips
Dining Room along wharf

We found it and enjoyed some excellent Fish and Chips.  You did indeed order at one end of the container – pick up your order at the other end and eat along the side of the wharf.  We ate beside a family from  Highpoint NC.  The visitors to this area seem to come from all over the globe.  On the other side of us were 3 ladies from Australia.

Panorama at Waterfront

After our lunch we strolled back towards our hotel. We stopped at the Empress Hotel to walk through the public areas – we noted the Tea Room, the Bengal Lounge, and several very interesting shops. You could easily spend $1,000 in very short order!  We also enjoyed walking around in the gardens. The rhodendron, azaleas, and roses are beautiful.

Garden at Empress Hotel

Beautiful !!
 We have discovered our stamina is not quite what it was 10 years ago so do not think we will try touring the gardens in the up island part of Victoria. Island  Just not enough time or energy to do it justice!
About 2 PM we chose to make the short walk back to the hotel and rest for a couple hours.

Water Taxi Victoria Harbor

About 5 PM we walked back down to the waterfront and  took one of the water taxies to China Town.  These little boats carry 1-10 people to variety of locations around the harbor. Quick little 10 minute ride with some narration about what we were seeing.  They left us with instructions to call when we were ready to return.

Walking around China Town was a bit underwhelming. It was interesting but most of the shops closed at 5 PM and it was a much smaller area than we had thought originally. Reading in Trip Advisor I was not expecting too much but it was still fun.  We chose to eat dinner at Don Mee which was one of the oldest and had good ratings. Dinner for 2 was good – some things excellent and some OK.  We had beef lettuce wraps, won-ton soup, 4 main dishes – crispy beef, lemon chicken, shrimp and veggies in bean sauce, and a chow mein dish.  The Beef Lettuce Wraps, Chow Mein and Lemon Chicken were excellent among the best we have had.  Ben found a beer he had tasted on the train – and says it is his new favorite.  We have found prices expensive here – maybe it is the city, the country, or just us used to East TN!  Examples – this dinner which might have been $25 - $30 at home was $45 here. 

Most of Dinner for Two
Earlier today a Pepsi from a vending machine was $2.25.  We are interested in seeing how the prices change when we reenter the US tomorrow. 

We walked back down to the taxi stop, called and within 10 minutes the taxi arrived.  Interesting driver.  He asked where we were from and when we said TN – he said did we know about Sam McGee ? We knew the poem written by Robert Service about Tennessean who died in the Yukon. He was amazed – said he had asked  many others and no one had known – we are just so well traveled and read!
Back at the hotel we watched a little TV, finished the blog, and read a bit.    

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Canadian to Victoria British Columbia

It was hard to believe today was our last day on the Canadian - after more than 3 days it seems like home! A small home but we had everything we needed and with the addition of the Panorama Car so close to us it was even better the last half of the trip. The breakfast was good as usual. Today we opted for what they call the Transcontinental - eggs, bacon, hash browns, and toast.  We ate with different people each meal - today it was a couple that live on Victoria Island.  They took the Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto - stayed a few days and are on their return leg.  Last evening we we are with a couple from outside Toronto that were on their 6th trip on the Canadian.  They go once a year and have been in nearly every month from February through October. We have had fun and enjoyed the trip but it would seem to me if you love train travel there would be lots of different trips! But then that is me.
Logs on the Fraser River
The first scenes out the window this morning were of a huge river rushing past - overnight two additional rivers joined the one I spoke about yesterday - it looked as wide as the Mississippi at Memphis. Floating on the river were lots of logs tied together into floating rafts.  We were ahead of schedule and were expecting to reach Vancouver about 1 hour early -8:45 instead of 9:45. Packing when you travel light took only a few minutes and we were saying goodbye to Carla and headed into the terminal.

WIFI was still not so good but Jane was able to get the blog posted without many photos.  Will just have to post them later.  Caught up on email and got our boarding passes for the next leg of our journey.  We were taking the Costal Pacific Bus to Victoria which included a ferry ride.  It worked perfectly.

Outside Central Station in Vancouver

Jane waiting in tine for bus to ferry

Bus drove us an hour to the terminal outside Vancouver.. Lots of traffic and construction in Vancouver. Ben was very glad he did not have to drive!  When we arrived at the terminal the bus drove right down into the lower level and along with many other large vehicles. Tractor Trailer Rigs, large trucks, buses and campers. 4 rows deep and 10 or so per row. It was a huge ferry.  We took an elevator upstairs to level 5 for a huge cafeteria - there were 3 restaurants, 2 gift shops, restrooms, and a business center. We sat in a very large area with probably 200 chairs.  There was another viewing level above us. Below us were 2 levels for autos.
The crossing through the channel islands took about 90 minutes.  Then we got back on the bus and were driven about 45 minutes to the southern end of Victoria Island - right to the center of Victoria. This is a wonderful set up for those who do not want to rent a vehicle.

Ferry makes way through the channel islands

From the Victoria Bus Station we were 1 block from the Empress Hotel, 2 blocks from the Royal BC Museum, 3 blocks from the Ferry Terminal we will use to depart on Wednesday - and 4 blocks from our hotel.  We are one block from the Waterfront and are able to walk easily.  We headed straight to our hotel which we had selected primarily due to its' location.  It turned out to be very nice with a balcony that overlooks the waterfront, a kitchen which we do not need, a couch and great bed.  After living in an area less the size of just the bed for 4 days - it seems like a palace!

Ben near the waterfront  on our walk to hotel

View from our hotel terrace

Resting a bit we read about the sights and began to plan our time here.  We will leave on the COHO Black Ball Ferry for Port Angeles Washington on Wednesday at 3 PM

We ate dinner at a highly rated nearby restaurant - Harbor House.  Ben had Oysters Rockefeller and Jane had a Haddock Filet with a shrimp and lemon sauce.  Both were very good and we had only walked 1 block!. Afer dinner we walked along the waterfront stopping in the Ferry Terminal to confirm we did not need a reservation to walk-on the ferry on Wednesday. 

Back at the hotel we planned to relax with books, trying to post the blog, and a relaxing bath and shower. There was a shower on the train but it left much to be desired. It was the only part of the train travel that was not A#1 - it was passable and they made it as good as it could be with their resources.

Day 3 on Canadian - Saskatoon to Canadian Rockies

Day 3 started a little after eleven PM when Jane looked out the window - reading a book because it is really a little after 10 – we just set our clocks back.  Wonder where we are ?  looking out the window as a few passengers are walking around – the following sign tells us although we are much earlier than our schedule tells us.  One thing we have learned is the only thing that is really on time is the meals!

Train Station at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Having just completed “The Book Thief” I was looking for something a bit lighter to read next and chose “The Christmas Train” by David Baldacci.  Ben is reading a WEB Griffin book – not sure which one. 
Morning comes early with an absolutely beautiful sunrise at 5:30 and I promptly went back to sleep.

At 6:30 we heard an announcement that we would be in Edmonton for 1 hour…. so quickly got dressed thinking the blog could get posted there – no such luck but it was an interesting stop with Jane walking from one end of the train to the other and we watched them add a new car to our train.  The new car called a Panorama car will give lots more viewing area fir the remainder of the trip through the mountains. 

Bullet car at rear of train
Two 85 ton engines in the front

We got back on the train and enjoyed coffee and a croissant in the activity car.  Today the meal schedule is a bit different with Brunch between 8:30 and 11:30 and then dinner. We headed for seats in one of the dome cars to enjoy the morning as the scenery continued to change.We gradually changed from the plains and farmland to rolling hills to mountains. The scenery is spectacular.

Canadian rounds a curve

Mid-morning we headed down to the dining car for another excellent meal. 

Stuffed French Toast for Ben   
Green Onion, Tomato, Feta Cheese Omelet for Jane

We returned to the dome car and began our entry into the Canadian Rockies.  Our next stop was Jasper Alberta. While there was not as much snow as we had expected – the mountains were beautiful.

Beginiing of Canadian Rockies

We arrived in Jasper about 45 minutes late so our time off the train was 45 minutes not 90 minutes as anticipated. Jane struggled to post the blog with no success.  There an issue that simply would not resolve.  Ben walked around and took a few photos and we left at 3:00 PM

Washing windows on the dome cars

We decided to sit in the new Panorama Car to compare it with the dome cars. They are both nice and have different pro’s and con’s.
Panorama Car
More Canadian Rockies

At 5 PM we took a break from viewing to have dinner.  We both had Prime Rib and it was very good…so good I forgot to take a photo!

The water is melting quickly and the waterfals off the steep mountains are beautiful. It has proved impossible to get a good photo as they arrive with no warning. We did get an announcement about one large one but alas the camera battery chose that moment to die! And my phone was also getting charged… but rushing is simply not sufficient.  The rivers as you might imagine are overflowing and at many points have whitecaps. The other thing that has been enjoyable to observe is the variety of evergreens. Huge trees and with such variety right beside the train windows. If we had a book we could identify them all.  We saw large groups of skunk cabbage with beautiful yellow blooms. The evening was  also filled with reading, down loading photos, writing the blog and more viewing from the Panorama car. One pro for the Panorama car it is 1 car from us and the Dome Car is 5 cars from us!

Tomorrow morning we arrive in Vancouver – it is hard to believe this portion of our trip  is nearly over.  The level of relaxation is high – we eat when they say first call for dinner or lunch; we read, take photos, talk to other travelers, walk here and there, don’t have any concerns when the train has to stop for a freight train – they own the rails – and there is nothing we can do about it at all.  We get where we are going when we get there – maybe a good lesson to learn. 

Narrow Hallway down side of each sleeping car

I end with a poor photo of the very narrow passage way down the side of each sleeping car. The rooms like ours are off this passage way. On each end is another short section of seats that are made into berths at night. It is also quite narrow. I think we have both finally gotten our “train legs” and can make it back and forth without catching on to the walls or seats!

Day two on the Canadian – Manitoba and Saskatchewan

It stayed light until nearly 10 PM.  I had forgotten how daylight lengthens as we go north.  I took some photos before we went to bed and took some again at first light  - still not much change in the terrain.  Time changed by an hour overnight so we set our watches back before going to sleep.  Breakfast was again excellent – today blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and or a 4 cheese omelet. No boring food on this train!
Scene at First Light

The train arrived in Winnipeg at 8 AM and would board at 11:30 for a 12 noon departure.  We had breakfast and left the train about 8:30.  Our first stop was in the rotunda of the station in Winnipeg to post the blog. No problem at all and in 15 minutes we had downloaded and checked email and posted the two days of blog.  Using Livewriter  from Microsoft allows Jane to write blog and insert photos off line and then quickly post it when internet is available. The rotunda was beautiful with a lovely ceiling. They are in the midst of a major renovation here like they were in Toronto.

Jane posting blog in Winnipeg Station
Beautiful Ceiling in  Rotunda

Within walking distance of the train station was a huge outdoor park and a market area called “The Forks”.  We first visited the market and enjoyed some looking.  Good thing we had just eaten.  Ben loves cannoli and one of the vendors in the market had more types than I had ever seen.  He did buy a little bag of Jelly Belly’s!  There were several gift shops and I was able to find a post card to send Daniel.

Bakery at "The Forks"

Inside "The Forks"
After some window shopping we headed out for some sunshine and fresh air – it was in the 80’s and very pleasant.  There was some sort of Scottish Bag Pipe Competition as well as some type of athletic competition among some college age students. There was also a skateboard park.  Being Saturday morning it was a BUSY place.  People watching was fun and I have to post one photo  for my neice Amanda to share with Ryan – her husband -who is an accomplished part of a bag pipe group.  Just wondering is they would be interested in adding skateboarding to their interests?!

Ben in park at The Forks"
Unique Skateboarder
Back on the train it was again time to eat. The lunch was great – grilled scallops and shrimp on a salad with Saskatoon berry chutney. Ben had an equally good ham and cheese sandwich on foccia bread.

Shrimp and Scallop Salad with Saskatoon Berry Chutney

Soon after leaving Winnipeg we passed through Portage La Prarie known as an area food processing center for all the produce raised in this fertile area.  Their other claim to fame is having the largest “Coke” can in the world.  I had forgotten that many small towns have the largest something – seems we have a lot of those photos from our AK trip.
Largest Coke Can

Our afternoon adventure was to make the hike to the very back of the train. There is a car called the bullet which has two lounges on the lower level and an observation car to the upper level.  I think I reported earlier the train had 21 cars – no it has 24.  We eat lunch in a car about 5 cars from the front of the train – so we came back to our car and then headed further back to the end….19 cars we walked through.
We sat in the upper level enjoying the view – changing as we are now in Manitoba – the plains – flat with some rolling hills. We have seen deer, various types of ducks, geese, grebes, coots, etc. Lots of beaver ponds and lodges but  no beavers to be seen.

Colorful Containers on Freight Train passing us

The only disconcerting thing about the train travel is when we pass a train and the cars fly by so close.  We the passenger train always stop for the freight trains to go by – they own the tracks so have priority.  During our time in the dome car we had one pass us that was VERY long – as far as the eye could see.  The colors of all the containers made a great photo.

Ben and Jane in Bullet Car

We staggered around on the lower lounge car – and I do mean staggered. It is difficult to walk anyway but in that last car – it really swayed from side to side.  We probably stayed a hour or so in the back lounge and view cars.

Dinner was excellent as usual. We both had short ribs.  I had never had them before – like pot roast on a bone. Very tender and tasty but way more than we could eat.

We have a new attendant for our car – Carla and she will stay with us all the way to Vancouver.  Time to download photos and write something. This blog is to stay in touch but also keeps my mind straight about what happened when and where.

Ben says to write about the electronics – well we do have a lot of cords and cables to keep  us connected and entertained.  1) 2 kindles and a charging cord 2) 2 iphones and a charging cord 3) camera, 2 batteries, a battery charger, and a cable to transfer photos to computer 4) my old dell computer, charging cord, and mouse (only thing I have not used) .  All these fill up one pocket on one carryon. The thing we did not bring that we see all the young people with is earphones.  Guess if we were big music listeners we would have that too.  I only wish the cords were in different colors for quick Identification.

No problem with being disconnected from WIFI – having periodically keeps us connected but we are certainly not tied to anything. Hope to post this tomorrow afternoon in Jasper Alberta.  We are looking forward to seeing the Canadian Rockies.  Since we have seen patches of snow both yesterday and today we expect the mountains to be fantastic.

Ben just added a fox to our wildlife count. It was running through a just planted field.  He is observing the various farm equipment. The fields are huge like Texas – fields stretch from horizon to horizon. We are now in Saskatchewan and have just entered another time zone – that is one yesterday and one today – I believe a 3rd will be when we enter British Columbia late tomorrow.  This is one huge country!