Thursday, July 19, 2012

Canada 2012

Our next destination was Canada. We made it through our very full flight (kids shared one screen as Laura’s wasn’t working and no spare seats to move to - but we did get a free meal to compensate) and arrived in Toronto. We stayed in a hotel in North York on the outskirts of the city, but right above a subway station. We set about going around town, seeing the Bata shoe museum (thanks Caroli!), walking around the city and enjoying the train system. We met up with Fiona’s Newcastle choir friend, Anthony, for dinner one evening, and bought an e-reader ready for our train journey. Fi enjoyed checking out the local grocery store - a huge underground shop with everything you could imagine. Breakfast supplies, lunch, fruit and munchies were purchased.
After killing some time in the city and a late dinner, we boarded our VIA rail train at Toronto at 9.30pm and quickly set up for the night - carriage 121 (near the back of the 21 carriages). The kids had a bed each on the top and us adults slept on the bunks below, facing into the aisle. The beds were quite big and very comfortable, although we found it hard to sleep the first night. In the mornings while we had breakfast they folded up the beds into two 4 seater booths. The kids enjoyed exploring the train, listening to the talks in the activity car and eating! Boy did we eat. So much food and it was really nice. The landscape continually changed from trees and lakes to prairies, oil rigs, lakes and finally snow-capped mountains which we could watch from our carriage, a ‘dome’ carriage or later in the journey the panoramic carriage. Time went so quickly as we were continually eating and looking at the views. There were also nice people to talk to (lots of retired people and train buffs who were there to enjoy the journey). Occasionally we stopped and could get out to stretch and feel our landlegs again! We stopped in Winnepeg for a morning and explored ‘The Forks’ (where 2 rivers join) and the shops - we found a wonderful toy shop where we bought a very apt game - ‘Ticket to Ride’ (the North American version with some of our train stops of course!). We’d played the game with Niall’s cousins in Stellenbosch and it was a big hit with the kids - so we just had to buy it! After 3 days of travelling we disembarked at Jasper and stayed for a week with our friends, Ray and Diana and their 2 kids, Pascale and Mikaela. We met this wonderful family on our holiday to Vietnam in 2010. They made us feel very welcome with our own unit underneath their house and lots of planned activities! Jasper is a very beautiful place within a national park, surrounded by huge snow-capped mountains. Elk and bears roam through and nearby the town and there are so many lovely lakes and walks nearby. We came on the long weekend, so got to spend a number of days with the girls before they returned to school. On our first morning it snowed (lightly, but there were actual snow flakes!); everything had a dusting of snow - so beautiful! This was the highlight of the trip (other than Legoland) for the kids - they were desperate to see real snow AND touch it!
Some of the places we visited were the glacier, hot springs, Five lakes, tramway (cablecar, complete with Aussie guides!) where we had snow fights and amazing views and then Lake Maligne, which was still half covered with ice. All the lakes were crystal clear, and most and no vegetation as it’s too cold - glacial water! Our walk around Lake Maligne was half in snow, which the kids mostly enjoyed. Many snow fights were had - but there was not enough snow for a snowman! Hot chocolate was a welcome relief at the end of our 3km snow walk (Connor still wanted ice tea though). We didn’t see any moose or goats, but we saw mountain sheep, a grizzly bear and 4 black bears, very close to our car. We visited a museum to see some more static versions of all the animals in this area.
Our hosts made sure we tried the local cuisine including ‘poutine’ (basically hot chips with gravy and melted cheese curd), and we had plenty of great home cooking as well. We made an enormous bobotie for dinner one night, bringing our South African influence in, and bolognaise another time. It’s great to be able to cook in a well equipped kitchen when you’ve been travelling! The kids had a wonderful time playing together and jumping on the trampoline, sitting in the hot tub and playing with Laddie the dog (Lassie lookalike). We also enjoyed the hot tub - it was light until 10pm, so you could sit and watch the mountains from the tub. Eventually it was time to get back on the train. The train was delayed slightly so we did some last minute shopping in town and waited for the train to arrive. What a sight to see when the train came in with the snow-capped mountain backdrop and the station full of excited passengers (many Australians and a few Canadians) straining to get a look at the train, keen to board. I managed to get in quick to the reservations to get an early dinner sitting (9pm is too late to eat for us!) and soon we were on the train again.
We wanted to make sure we got a good spot in the ‘dome’ car where you can see all around. We soon found some vacant seats and set in for a spectacular afternoon viewing Mt Robson and the lakes. Niall and Fi watched until sunset (while the kids played in our bedroom) with the car to themselves. We briefly stopped at Kamloops and stretched our legs before bed, then had a nice shower and slept. We arrived on the outskirts of Vancouver while we were having breakfast and soon after alighted and collected our luggage. We were very sad to say goodbye to the train. A quick taxi trip to our hotel, and we were able to check in early to our hotel and get out and about along the river to Stanley Park. Such a gorgeous sunny day! We decided not to hire a bike ($40/person/day!) and instead enjoyed walking around town eating our left over snacks from the train. At night we headed into Chinatown for the night markets and caught a tram home again (we’d had enough walking). Next day we spent at the Granville Island Markets (a short walk over the bridge from our hotel) and by chance ran into Noel and Margaret from our Newcastle church. The weather was just warm enough for the kids to use the free waterside, which they virtually had to themselves, so wore themselves out going up and down in the waterpark. Then a quick trip back to our hotel and we were picked up by Sheila, the mother of a friend of ours, for a visit to her neighbourhood. After meeting the family, we took a quick trip to the swinging bridge and walked through the huge, mossy forests to see the waterfall, then a home cooked roast dinner and conversation about Australian friends and visits. On our last day we spent shopping in Vancouver - buying another e-reader (everyone was wanting to use it, so 2 were necessary!), last minute presents and seeing around town (Niall spotted Aussie swimmer Stephanie Rice) and at the waterfront, we flopped down to kill a few hours in a huge bookshop where the kids devoured some books! Dinner was at a seedy bar, which turned out to have excellent food (only $5.95 each, plus tax of course!). Although we’d checked out of our hotel, we managed to have showers at a nearby gym and then pick up our luggage from our hotel lobby ready for our midnight flight back to Australia. After a few hours waiting to board, we were on our way to Australia - a very full flight - not one seat free! Kids didn’t eat, but managed to sleep enough (Connor threw up a few times, so just as well he didn’t eat!). And soon we were back in Sydney seeing our family again! Niall’s mum and Jeff and Fi’s mum and Hilary and Fi’s sister, Ange, met us with big hugs and then we quickly headed back to Newcastle to our old house. Waiting for us at our house were welcome signs made by Laura’s friend, Lara, and some cupcakes! And most of our unpacking had already been done, so we could move straight in. The kids were keen to stay with nanna, so Niall and Fi had the house to ourselves for the first night.


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